ON THE PITCH

Weekly Soccer Recap: Landon Donovan is soccer’s Brett Favre, Man City finally loses

Weekly Soccer Recap: Landon Donovan is soccer’s Brett Favre, Man City finally loses
Landon Donovan is coming out of retirement to play in Liga MX. Victor Araiza/SportsMap

Liverpool and Manchester City delivered a thriller while - what at first looked like a massive troll job - Landon Donovan left many wondering why he is coming out of retirement. Here are the most important moments in soccer this week:

Premier League

There are several storylines to dive into after this weekend’s results in the United Kingdom but none will garner much attention than Liverpool’s 4-3 win over league leaders Manchester City. The Reds were up to a 4-1 lead at home before the Citizens scored two in the last seven minutes. Ultimately time ran out on City’s undefeated season but this may not me anything more than a blemish as City still hold a 12-point lead at the top of the table.

Manchester United enjoyed a 3-0 win over Stoke while Tottenham got a home win of its own, 4-0 over Everton. Chelsea could not undo Leicester City as that match ended in a scoreless draw. Arsenal, meanwhile, sees a spot in the top four slipping after a 2-1 loss at Bournemouth. Among other notable results are West Ham’s 4-1 win over Huddersfield and Newcastle’s 1-1 draw with Swansea City. Stoke, West Brom and Swansea are currently in the last three.

Top 5: Manchester City (62), Manchester United (50), Liverpool (47), Chelsea (47), Tottenham (44)

La Liga

The Barcelona show continues in La Liga, this week with a 4-2 win at Real Sociedad where Luis Suarez and Leo Messi stood out for their marvelous goals. Atlético Madrid managed a 1-0 win at Eibar while Valencia saw out a 2-1 win at Deportivo La Coruña. A long ways away from contention are defending champions Real Madrid in fourth who suffered another stunning loss at home, this time 1-0 to Villareal. That win, plus Alavés’ 1-0 win over Sevilla, places Villarreal in the top five.

The 5: Barcelona (51), Atlético Madrid (42), Valencia (40), Real Madrid (32), Villarreal (31)

Bundesliga

The Bundesliga winter break is over but not much changed. Bayern Munich picked up another three points with a 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen, with Martinez, Ribery and Rodriguez as the scorers. Leipzig broke the deadlock for second and took sole position of that spot - for now at least - with a 3-1 win over Schalke. Dortmund moves up to fourth after only picking up a point in scoreless affair against Wolfsburg at home.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (44), RB Leipzig (31), Schalke 04 (30), Dortmund (29), Bayer Leverkusen (28)

Ligue 1

The second half of the season begins to pick up steam as the Paris trains continues to chug along, this time with a 1-0 win at fifth-place Nantes. Meanwhile, Monaco and Lyon both picked up a point - giving PSG no cause for concern in a title race where they hold an 11-point lead. Marseille was the only other top five side to pick up a win this week, a 3-0 result at Rennes.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (53), Monaco (42), Lyon (42), Marseille (41), Nantes (33)

Serie A

Normally soccer in Italy takes a winter break from Christmas (Dec. 25) to Epiphany (Jan. 6) as both are major Catholic holidays. This season, the Italian league broke tradition by playing during the holidays and prolonging the winter break until now. The Serie A returns this weekend.

The top 5: Napoli (51), Juventus (50), Inter Milan (42), Lazio (40), Roma (39)

Liga MX

It was a big week of news in Mexico but let’s begin with the results. Tijuana and Morelia each won their match, 1-0, over Necaxa and Puebla respectively. Queretaro picked up a massive 2-0 win against Lobos BUAP in a match of two teams fearing relegation. América and Pachuca battled to a 2-2 draw at the Azteca, while Tigres, León, Pumas and Monterrey all saw out three points this weekend.

Off the field, León made the biggest noise with two transfers with ties to MLS. The first was former Houston Dynamo Giles Barnes - an Englishman with Jamaican roots - who will ply his trade south of the border after his contract has expired with MLS. As if that wasn’t enough of a shock, León decided to bring the all-time MLS leader in goals, Landon Donovan, out of retirement. Barnes and Donovan share the same agent which is how talks began. Donovan - who has now become US Soccer’s version of Brett Favre - has not played a professional match since November of 2016. Donovan was in Houston last month in the Kick In For Houston match that raised funds for Harvey Relief efforts.

The top 5: Pumas UNAM (6), León (6), Cruz Azul (4), Monterrey (4), Club América (3)

MLS offseason

Major League Soccer clubs will all report next week for the start of preseason but before that, clubs will have the opportunity to bolster their squads in Friday’s MLS SuperDraft. Teams are in Orlando getting one last look at the best talent coming out of colleges in the 2018 MLS Combine.

That’s not the only way teams are making their rosters betters. Transfers continue to heat up in the MLS offseason with the inclusion of more young talent from South America. On Monday, Orlando City announced the signing of 19-year-old Josue Coman. According to reports, the Timbers are close to signing Peruvian international Andy Polo (age 24) while Chicago Fire have their eyes set on Colombian Juan Quintero (age 24). The biggest splash, however, was made last week as Atlanta United paid an MLS-record $15 million transfer fee for 18-year-old Argentinian Ezequiel Barco.

Upcoming Matches (All Times CT):

Tuesday, Jan. 16:

12 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Marseille vs. Strasbourg (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [FA Cup] Leicester vs. Fleetwood Town (FS2)

2 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Monaco vs. Nice (beIN Sports)

Wednesday, Jan. 17:

12 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Atletico Madrid vs. Sevilla (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - [FA Cup] Chelsea vs. Norwich (FS1)

2 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Espanyol vs. FC Barcelona (beIN Sports)

Thursday, Jan. 18:

9 a.m. - 2018 NWSL Draft (Facebook LIVE/YouTube)

2:30 p.m. - [Copa del Rey] Leganes vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

Friday, Jan. 19:

10 a.m. - 2018 MLS SuperDraft Draft (Facebook LIVE/YouTube)

1:30 p.m. - [Bundesliga] Hertha Berlin vs. Borussia Dortmund (FS1)

1:45 p.m. - [Ligue 1] Caen vs. Marseille (beIN Sports)

Saturday, Jan. 20:

6:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Brighton vs. Chelsea (NBC Sports)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Hoffenheim vs. Leverkusen (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Freiburg vs. RB Leipzig (FS2)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] Burnley vs. Manchester United (NBC Sports)

9 a.m. - [Premier League] Arsenal vs. Crystal Palace (CNBC)

11:30 a.m. - [Premier League] Manchester City vs. Newcastle (NBC)

11:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Hamburg vs. Koln (FS2)

Sunday, Jan. 21:

8:30 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Bayern Munich vs. Werder Bremen (FS1)

9:15 a.m. - [La Liga] Real Madrid vs. Deportivo (beIN Sports)

10 a.m. - [Ligue 1] Monaco vs. Metz (beIN Sports)

11 a.m. - [Bundesliga] Schalke vs. Hannover (FS2)

1:45 p.m. - [La Liga] Real Betis vs. FC Barcelona (beIN Sports)

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

ESPN Houston 97.5 FM
Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome