Houston goes Scottish, acquires Driver on loan from Hearts

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Between Kris Boyd, Kenny Miller, and Barry Robson, Major League Soccer got its fill of underperforming Scots last season, so there’s reason to raise eyebrows when you see another MLS team go back to the Scottish Premier League well. But there are a couple of big differences between those failed moves and what Houston is doing bringing in Andrew Driver.

The Heart of Midlothian left winger, whose loan was confirmed by Houston today, isn’t coming with the Designated Player tag. He’s just another player, one that will be out of contract with his club in six months. If he works out, great. If not, he’s just something Houston tried. They didn’t have to allocate a DP spot to get him.

But one of the puzzling things about Boyd and Miller’s acquisitions were their relative failures outside Scotland. Despite that, they still garnered big MLS deals. For Driver, this will be his first time playing outside of Scotland. We don’t have that built up data set to reference and wonder.

He’s also not an attacker. Granted, he’s a wide midfielder, so he’s going to have to contribute going forward, but Driver is not going to be defined by his numbers. In Scotland, he was only good for a goal every eight games. If he can be a worker bee, he can be a valuable part of Dom Kinnear’s team. Designated Players need to be more than worker bees.

The winger is also a few years younger than his countrymen. At 25, he’s four years younger than Boyd, the youngest of last year’s trio.

I have no idea if Driver will fit in Houston (surprise, I’m no expert on Hearts), and based on the trouble other SPL imports have had of late, there’s reason to question whether the transition will be a smooth one. But while previous moves have conditioned a knee-jerk reaction concerning Scottish players, there are a number of reasons to give this move the benefit of the doubt.

Driver comes with less risk and commitment. He’s younger. We don’t know yet if he can succeed outside of Scotland, but he’s also not somebody who’ll have to create goals to be a successful player. Plus when you see the words “valuable depth” (below), you know Driver’s not going to be expected to be a star.

In that way, he’s not your “typical” Scottish import. And that’s a good thing.

The word from Kinnear:

“Andrew is good at taking people on, he crosses a good ball and can take set pieces … He is a hard-working player and I think he will definitely fit in with the team. He has a good attitude on the field and is versatile. He can play on the left or right side of midfield.”

From Driver:

“I am very excited about the opportunity to come and play for the Dynamo … I have followed MLS over the years and Houston has stood out as one of the top teams. I know a lot of success has been because of the work of Dominic Kinnear, so I am delighted to have the chance to learn from him and improve as a player under him.”

From Chris Canetti:

“It’s always exciting to add a young international player with talent and experience … Andrew will add valuable depth to the squad at a time when we are set to face a heavy load of games between MLS and Champions League.”

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.

Wigan shock themselves: “Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet”

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Wigan Athletic didn’t just shock Manchester City with their FA Cup fifth-round slaying of the runaway Premier League leaders; nor did they merely shock the rest of the footballing world; they also shocked themselves into disbelief, according to defender Dan Burn.

[ MORE: Goodbye, quadruple! Wigan bounce 10-man City from FA Cup ]

Speaking following Monday’s triumph over Pep Guardiola‘s quadruple-chasing side at the DW Stadium, Burn admitted he himself didn’t know what to make of the night that would undoubtedly highlight and change his own professional career — quotes from the BBC:

“Not sure how it feels, hasn’t sunk in yet. It was a really tough game. The belief was always there. We’ve got Will Grigg, who does what he keeps doing.

“We pride ourselves on our clean sheets. We had a couple bad results before, so we wanted to prove ourselves, so a clean sheet against the best team in England is great.

“Once we scored, the fans really got behind us, just knew we needed to hang on. It was the longest 10 minutes of my life.”

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Manager Paul Cook was able to articulate his happiness and pride only slightly better — “It feels great” — but offered the highest of praises to his players, whom “had to ride [their] luck at times” during the game, and gave everything they had to the cause, because that’s the only way you beat a team like Man City:

“It feels great. It’s such a severe test. They’re such a strong side and move the ball so well. We had to ride our luck at times and the sending off is always a big incident.

“Our lads deserve credit for their work and some of the blocks they made were outstanding, and to beat Man City you have to do that.”