WEEKLY RECAP

Weekly Soccer Recap: Stellar week in the Bundesliga; Dynamo fall to Sounders in Western Final

The Houston Dynamo fell at home to Seattle Sounders FC and will be without Alberth Elis for the second leg on Thursday. Diego Dlouhy

The MLS Cup Playoffs resumed after a long layover, Liga MX playoffs got underway and the action heats up in Europe as November came to a close. Manchester City, FC Barcelona, Bayern, PSG and Napoli all remain atop their leagues but one took a stumble this week.

Premier League

The top of the table remains fairly unchanged as there were many close matches this weekend. A Nicolás Otamendi own goal had Manchester City fighting their way back to a 2-1 win at promoted side Huddersfield Town, Manchester United get a 1-0 win thanks to a Brighton own goal and Tottenham drew 1-1 with West Bromwich. The big name match was between Liverpool and Chelsea where Mohamed Salah scored again - his 10th goal in 13 appearances - before a Willian wonder goal would save a point for the Blues. Arsenal jump back into the top five after Alexis Sanchez converted a penalty in stoppage time at Burnley.

Top 5: Manchester City (37), Manchester United (29), Chelsea (26), Arsenal (25), Tottenham (24)

La Liga

The big news of the weekend was Barcelona’s contract renewal of Lionel Messi and his newly imposed €700m buyout clause. Of course he was a topic of conversation again as the top teams in Spain met, having a goal disallowed and sparking the conversation for video review in La Liga. Valencia jumped to a 1-0 lead in the 60th min. before Jordi Alba’s 82nd min. goal tied things up. The two sides split points and Barcelona maintains its four point lead at the top.

Cristiano Ronaldo scored the game-winning goal in a Real Madrid’s 3-2 victory over Málaga while Antoine Griezmann scored a double in three minutes in Atlético’s 5-0 win at Levante. The other top five team, Sevilla, won 3-2 at Villarreal.

The 5: Barcelona (35), Valencia (31), Real Madrid (27), Atlético Madrid (27) and Sevilla (25)

Bundesliga

Just when it looked like Bayern Munich may have been running away with the league, Borussia Mönchengladbach pull off a 2-1 win to keep the leaders within three points of second place. Leipzig may be ruing last week’s result after bouncing back to win 2-0 this week at Werder Bremen. As far as the other two top five teams? They delivered the match everyone was talking about.

Rivals Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04 delivered a match that will be remembered in the latest edition of the Revierderby. Dortmund jumped to a 4-0 lead at home before Schalke made their way back to salvage a point from the matter. Dortmund are know winless in their last six across all competitions as the opportunity to bounce back from a midweek Champions League defeat just took more air out of their season. To make matters worse, leading scorer Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was red carded and will mix the next match.

Top 5: Bayern Munich (29), RB Leipzig (26), Schalke 04 (24), Mönchengladbach (24), Dortmund (21)

Ligue 1

A Neymar penalty was the decider as Paris visited Monaco to hand them a 2-1 defeat. Monaco know slips out of what was their habitual second place spot as Lyon delivered a 5-0 thumping at Nice. Florian Thauvin was the hero for Marseille as they get a 1-0 victory at Guingamp and Nantes suffered a 2-1 setback at Rennes.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (38), Lyon (29), Monaco (29), Marseille (28), Nantes (23)

Serie A

Napoli simply cannot be beat as a Jorginho goal secured a 1-0 win at Udinese to keep them undefeated at the top. Icardi was the man of the match after scoring a double for Inter Milan and Juventus picked up a 3-0 win vs. Cotone. Roma tied 1-1 at Genoa as Daniele De Rossi was handed a red card while Lazio tied 1-1 with Fiorentina.

The biggest news off the field came after the weekend when both A.C. Milan and Sassuolo parted ways with their managers. Milan legend Gennaro Gattuso has been named the interim for the Rossoneri.

The top 5: Napoli (38), Inter Milan (36), Juventus (34), Roma (31), Lazio (29)

Major League Soccer

Columbus Crew could not take full advantage of home field as they battled to a nil-nil draw against Toronto FC in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship. The second leg will be on Wednesday in Toronto as the league leaders will welcome back two of their best players in Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

In the Western Conference Championship, the Houston Dynamo fell 2-0 at home against defending MLS Cup Champion Seattle Sounders FC. Gustav Svensson and former Dynamo Will Bruin were the men who helped their side to the lead and the two important away goals. The two teams meet again Thursday night in Seattle with Houston needing at least two goals to force extra time and likely three to advance to the MLS Cup Final.

Conference finals:

Toronto FC, Columbus Crew SC tied 0-0

Seattle Sounder FC leads Houston Dynamo 2-0

Liga MX

No side could find separation in the series between Tigres and León with both sides splitting 1-1 draws in their home field. The same can be said in the series between Morelia and Toluca where both sides split 2-1 wins. Mexico City rivals América and Cruz Azul also split results, playing to nil-nil draws. Thanks to the tie-breaker that gives the edge to the higher seed it will be Tigres, América and Morelia who advance to the semifinals.

The only series with a definite winner was between Monterrey - the best club during the regular season - and Atlas. Atlas immediately gave up the lead in the first leg and could never fight their way back. Monterrey won 6-2 on aggregate.

MVP of the Week - Antoine Griezmann

The MVP this week goes to Atlético Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. The French forward - who last year gave Cristiano Ronaldo a run at the Ballon d’Or - was reignited this week with a goal against Roma in Wednesday’s Champions League match, followed by a double on Saturday against Levante. Spain’s La Liga has been by and large a two-team race but Atleti has been hanging around the top during the last few seasons. For the Colchoneros to be the disturbing force that has led them to two of the last four Champions League finals, they will need Griezmann to be at the top of his game.

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Wednesday, Nov. 29:

6:30 p.m.- Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew SC (FS1)

9:00 p.m.- América vs. Tigres (Univision Deportes)

Thursday, Nov. 30:

7:30 p.m.- Morelia vs. Monterrey (Univision Deportes)

9:30 p.m.- Seattle Sounders FC vs. Houston Dynamo (ESPN)

Friday, Dec. 1:

1:20 p.m.- Freiburg vs. Hamburg (FS2)

Saturday, Dec. 2:

6 a.m. - Barcelona vs. Celta Vigo (beIN Sports)

8:30 a.m. - Bayern Munich vs. Hannover 96 (FS1)

8:30 a.m. - Leverkusen vs. Dortmund (FS2)

10 a.m. - Strasbourg vs. PSG (beIN Sports)

1:45 p.m. - Bilbao vs. Real Madrid (beIN Sports)

11:30 a.m. - Arsenal vs. Manchester United (NBC)

11:30 a.m. - Schalke vs. Cologne (FS2)

7 p.m.- Tigres vs. América (Univision Deportes)

Sunday, Dec. 3:

8 a.m. - Bournemouth vs. Southampton (NBC Sports)

10 a.m. - Manchester City vs. West Ham (NBC Sports)

6 p.m.- Monterrey vs. Morelia (Univision Deportes)

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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