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Mexico’s playoffs start Wednesday: Looking at the quarterfinal matchups

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The two clubs that contested CONCACAF’s championship finished at the top of Mexico’s standings. Santos Laguna, who lost Champions League to Monterrey last week, finished four points clear of the Rayados, earning the Liguilla’s top seed.

In Mexico, that seeding’s particularly important, for four reasons:

  • Like most playoff formats, the top seed gets matched against the highest seed in the playoffs; however,
  • Since Mexico re-draws their bracket in the semifinals (pairing the lowest surviving seed with the highest), the qualification stage’s winner always has the easiest road to the final.
  • The lowest seed always gets the second leg (in each round’s two-legged matchup) at home, and
  • If a matchup ends tied after both legs, the lower seed advances (until the final).

But even with all those advantages, it would surprise no one if Santos bowed out early.

#1 Santos Laguna (36 points, 17 games) vs. #8 Jaguares (27 points)

Though this is a rematch of the Apertura’s playoffs (won by Santos), a different kind of history is leaning on this matchup.

The fall of 2009 was the last time a top seed (superlider) advanced beyond the quarterfinals. Even then, it was only via a tiebreaker.

Year Tournament Superlider Quarterfinal Result Champion (Seed)
2011 Apertura Chivas lost to Querétaro, 1-2 Tigres (3)
Clausura Tigres lost to Chivas, 2-4 Pumas (2)
2010 Apertura Cruz Azul lost to Pumas, 3-2 Monterrey (2)
Clausura Monterrey lost to Pachuca, 1-3, quarterfinals Toluca (3)
2009 Apertura Toluca defeated San Luis, 1-1 Monterrey (5)

The last time a superlider won a Liguilla was the 2007 Clausura (Pachuca).

Beyond the premature exits for one seeds, there’s another pattern in there: Superliders have won the subsequent competition in their off the last four tournament (presumably motived by defeat). That won’t happen this time. Chivas was so motivated by their loss to Querétaro that they didn’t qualify for the Liguilla. Copa Lib may have had something to do with that.

Back to Santos. There’s no reason to believe there’s an actual superlider curse. Since people have come to think the qualification stage as something completely separate from the playoffs (and only slightly predictive), there’s no real pressure on the number one seed.

A more likely explanation for the curse: Teams that finish top in the regular season aren’t necessarily the best teams. They’re just the ones that tried harder during the regular season.

With Santos balancing CONCACAF Champions League’s knockout stages throughout the Clausura, that reason doesn’t hold up as well this tournament. Regardless, they finished number one, they have to debunk the curse, and in truth, they probably aren’t the tournament’s best team.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Jaguares, 8:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Santos, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Santos 1-0 Jaguares (Jan. 2012), Santos 1-2 Jaguares (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 2-2 Santos (Nov. 2011), Jaguares 3-2 Santos (Sep. 2011), Jaguares 1-2 Santos (Jan. 2011)

#2 Monterrey (32 points) vs. #7 Tijuana (28 points)

Most would contend Monterrey is the best team in this tournament. Long regarded as the most talented team in Mexico, the Rayados just completed their second-straight CONCACAF Champions League triumph. If there was any fear that result would cause them to flick it in neutral for league, it was alleviated by their second place finish.

They’ve got an easy first round matchup. Tijuana started the Clausura strong but evened out through the last half of qualification. They finished with the league’s best defense (allowing only 11 goals in 17 matches), but their 18 goals scored are four less than any other Liguilla qualifier.

This being their first postseason, it’s difficult to see them getting past a team of Monterrey’s pedigree, but talent won’t be enough. After all, Cruz Azul – also regarded as one of the league’s most talented squads – didn’t even make the playoffs.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Tijuana, 10:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at Monterrey, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tijuana 1-0 Monterrey (Jan. 2012), Monterrey 4-2 Tijuana (Aug. 2011)

#3 Club América (32 points) vs. #6 Pachuca (28 points)

Club América blew a two goal lead on their final match to lose the second seed. As a result, they face Pachuca instead of Tijuana, an opponent few would prefer.

But as evidenced on Sunday, América has a trump card. Christian Benítez might be the best attacker in the region. In this weekend’s Clasico Joven, he scored twice within the first 13 minutes (though missed what would have been a game-winning penalty kick). His double left him with a league-leading 14 goals.

Unfortunately, he was bit of a one-man gang. While he led the league in goals, the rest of his team only scored 16.

It’s difficult to see Pachuca winning if they can’t slow down Chucho.

Quarterfinal matches: Wednesday, at Pachuca, 9:30 p.m. ET; Saturday, at América, 7:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: América 1-0 Pachuca (Feb. 2012), Pachuca 2-0 América (Aug. 2011), América 0-2 Pachuca (Jan. 2011)

#4 Morelia (31 points) vs. #5 Tigres (31 points)

Tigres rode incredible defending to win the Apertura, allowing only 1 goal through the Liguilla. It would be a mistake to doubt the resourcefulness of Morelia’s Miguel Sabah and Rafael Marquez Lugo, though Monarcas’ defense will need to make every goal count.

Just like superliders, Tigres have history to defy. The last time a team won consecutive tournaments was 2004 when Pumas won the calendar year’s Clausura and Apertura. No team has won both tournaments within a single season since the two short tournament-format was adopted 16 years ago.

Quarterfinal matches: Thursday, at Tigres, 10:00 p.m. ET; Sunday, at Morelia, 9:00 p.m. ET

Recent meetings: Tigres 4-1 Morelia (Mar. 2012), Morelia 2-0 Tigres (Oct. 2011), Morelia 0-3 Tigres (Apr. 2011)

USWNT cruises past Costa Rica in final pre-Olympic warm up

CHICAGO, IL - JULY 09: Julie Johnston #8 of the United States shoots past Nomoumelelo Nyandeni #18 of South Africa during a friendly match at Soldier Field on July 9, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois. The United States defeated South Africa 1-0. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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The U.S. Women’s National Team wasn’t really lacking confidence heading into Friday night’s clash with Costa Rica, but the squad’s utter dominance certainly didn’t hurt things as Jill Ellis’ group gets ready to head to Brazil for next month’s Olympic Games.

[ MORE: Pulisic says Klinsmann links to England job made sense ]

The USWNT captured a 4-0 win against Costa Rica in the side’s final send-off match before the Olympics, extending the no. 1 ranked team in the world’s unbeaten streak to 15 matches.

It only took a quarter of an hour the USWNT to find the lead, but it always looked like it was coming for Jill Ellis’ group. Meghan Klingenburg made a great run deep into the Costa Rica area, and played a perfect square pass across the face of goal for Crystal Dunn to give the U.S. the lead in the 15th minute.

Mallory Pugh got her name on the scoreboard in the 22nd minute after making a brilliant darting run forward and beating the Costa Rican goalkeeper at the near post.

The U.S. pushed their advantage to 3-0 on the stroke of halftime when Becky Sauerbrunn’s free kick was headed home by Carli Lloyd in first-half stoppage time.

With a number of chances in the second half that didn’t take the right bounce for the USWNT, Christen Press made no mistake from close range in the 79th minute and gave the home nation a four-goal lead.

Dunn continues to impress on the international stage, and nearly gave the U.S. an advantage after just seven minutes. The 24-year-old gathered the ball inside the penalty box before unleashing a strong effort that struck the crossbar and stayed out.

The U.S. found another dangerous opportunity three minutes later, when Carli Lloyd was brought down from behind on the edge of the penalty area. Costa Rica defender Katherine Alvarado was shown a yellow card for the rash tackle, but the USWNT couldn’t make anything of the ensuing free kick.

While Costa Rica put in a valiant effort against their competition, the Ticas were no match for the Americans, and failed to muster up any shots on target throughout the night. The 29th ranked team in the FIFA World Rankings struggled to move the ball past midfield for most of the outing largely due to the USWNT’s constant press.

UEFA confirms 3 entries for presidential election

SAINT DENIS, FRANCE - JULY 08:  In this handout image provided by UEFA, UEFA Vice President Angel Maria Villar addresses the UEFA Euro 2016 closing press conference at Stade de France on July 8, 2016 in Saint Denis, France. (Photo by Handout/UEFA via Getty Images)
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NYON, Switzerland (AP) Contenders from Slovenia, the Netherlands and Spain have entered the UEFA presidential contest to replace the banned Michel Platini.

[ MORE: Sam Allardyce officially named England manager ]

UEFA confirmed the three national federation presidents on Friday: Aleksander Ceferin, Michael van Praag, and Angel Maria Villar.

[ MORE: Steve Bruce has resigned at Hull City ahead of PL season ]

All must pass an integrity check to be accepted as a candidate for a job which includes the role of FIFA vice president.

UEFA’s 55 member federations will vote on Sept. 14 in Athens.

Van Praag and Villar are currently UEFA vice presidents, and Ceferin is a relative newcomer to European football politics.

Van Praag stood against Sepp Blatter for the FIFA presidency last year, then withdrew days before the vote.

Villar, who already is a FIFA vice president, has been a member of FIFA’s ruling committee for 18 years and leader of Spanish football for 28 years.

The winner will complete Platini’s third four-year presidential term which expires in early 2019.

A four-nation group of Nordic federations, Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, said in June it would support Ceferin. The group also wants to co-host the 2024 European Championship.

UEFA should make that hosting decision during the current presidential term.

In a separate election due Sept. 14, there are two contenders for the UEFA position of a women’s delegate to the FIFA ruling council.

Evelina Christillin of Italy and Laura McAllister will also be subject to a FIFA eligibility check, UEFA said.

Nottingham Forest signs former Toronto FC defender Damien Perquis

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 13:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC kicks the ball past Damien Perquis #24 of Toronto FCat Yankee Stadium on March 13, 2016 in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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Damien Perquis has found a new home after recently leaving MLS side Toronto FC in search of a new challenge.

[ MORE: Man City expected to land Everton defender John Stones ]

Nottingham Forest confirmed the signing of Perquis on Friday after making 37 appearances for Toronto dating back to the beginning of the 2015 MLS season.

[ MORE: Crystal Palace has entered race for West Brom’s Saido Berahino ]

Perquis, 32, began his career with French side Troyes, and played domestically in his homeland for over 10 years before moving to La Liga side Real Betis.

After playing briefly for France at the Under-21 level, Perquis opted to switch his national team allegiance to Poland and appeared in 14 matches for the White Eagles between 2011-2013.

Report: Man City expected to land Stones for $65 million

BOURNEMOUTH, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 28:  Ross Barkley (L) of Everton celebrates scoring his team's third goal with his team mate John Stones (R) during the Barclays Premier League match between A.F.C. Bournemouth and Everton at Vitality Stadium on November 28, 2015 in Bournemouth, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Everton appears set to lose one of its most prized young players, albeit for a pretty penny.

[ MORE: Steve Bruce leaves Hull City prior to Premier League season ]

After heavily pursuing England centerback John Stones this summer, Manchester City looks to be closing in on a deal for the 22-year-old, according to the Telegraph.

[ MORE: Wijnaldum officially completes move to Liverpool

The Toffees had placed a fee of roughly $65 million on Stones as more teams became interested in the young defender, but the sizable fee doesn’t seem to have swayed City’s front office from pursuing Stones.

Since taking over as the club’s new manager this summer, Pep Guardiola has been adamant about acquiring Stones, particularly with centerback being one of City’s biggest needs. Currently, the squad boasts captain Vincent Kompany, Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala as their only true options to man the central defending positions.

The Citizens and their relentless pursuit for Stones will likely leave Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona searching elsewhere to improve their defenses. The Blues were favorites to acquire Stones last year, however, Chelsea had its bid of nearly $48 million turned down by Everton.