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Major League Soccer team previews: HOUSTON DYNAMO

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Significant additions and subtractions: Which Omar Cummings did the Dynamo get in that trade from Colorado, the deflated and measurably less effective version seen recently or the 2010 version who scares the bejeebers out of defenses with all that speed? (Cummings had 14 goals that year.)

Scottish left winger Andrew Driver has been signed on loan from Hearts. If it works out, look for Houston to attempt a longer-term signing. If Driver can make a dent around BBVA Compass Stadium, where the paint is barely dry, look for Brad Davis to operate in more inside spaces. He mostly drifts inside anyway, straying reliably from his old left-sided midfield home.

Eric Brunner arrives via trade with Portland to provide center back depth.

Colin Clark, who never quite gained full velocity in Houston, is now with Los Angeles. Je-Vaughn Watson, mostly a depth provider in midfield around BBVA Compass Stadium, went to Dallas in a late preseason trade.

Strengths: Look where this team is in offensive firepower compared to spring 2012 – and prepare to be impressed. Honduran flash Oscar Boniek Garcia proved his dynamic worth upon summer arrival last year. English league veteran Giles Barnes needed more time, but glowing reports are coming out of Houston’s preseason camp.

As mentioned, Driver’s arrival gives manager Dominic Kinnear different options for Davis and for the midfield in general.

Jermaine Taylor filled in so well last year once Geoff Cameron finally made his move to Stoke City, he now ranks as one of the league’s top 15 center backs. Alongside Bobby Boswell, flanked by Corey Ashe on the left and the improving Kofi Sarkodie on the right and backstopped by goalkeeper Tally Hall… that’s a darned solid back five.

Like Hall, forward Will Bruin will benefit from the confidence boost of a January spent with Jurgen Klinsmann’s national team.

The Dynamo move into 2013 having not yet lost at its home ground. It’s only one season’s worth of games (a 11-0-6 mark), but still…

Pressure points: Injuries took some preseason prep time away from central midfielder Ricardo Clark and left back Ashe. Cummings remains on the mend, as well.

There’s no easing into things; following Saturday’s MLS opener (a real goodie as D.C. United visits in a reprise of last week’s last fall’s Eastern Conference finals series) they motor directly into CONCACAF Champions League play. Houston faces Mexico’s Santos Laguna on March 5 and March 13 in quarterfinal action. Busy, busy, busy.

Past that, it’s really just about navigating a busy schedule and getting past the MLS Cup hump; Houston has lost  in the league final the last two seasons.


Difference maker: Talk about Mr. Consistency: Davis (pictured right) has supplied at least 12 assists in each of the last four seasons. And while Davis gets so much credit for all that wonderful set-piece service, he probably doesn’t get as much credit as deserved for an overall game that has matured. He adds so much in midfield possession, and his defensive tracking remains reliable.

Potential breakout player: Six goals and four assists in 17 matches does not tell the whole story with Oscar Boniek Garcia. With half a season to adjust to MLS, he could be a blur along Houston’s right side. And with an improved midfield, paying extra attention to the Honduran international will be less of an option for opposing defenses.

Bottom line: The roster looks stronger, and that’s saying something considering this is the two-time MLS Cup runner-up. The defense is strong, the midfield is stacked and the forward line has the potential to be special depending on health/recoveries for Cumming and Calen Carr, and if Brian Ching, now 34, can continue being a force off the bench.

(MORE: the entire roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)

Arsenal 0-0 Middlesbrough: Gunners slip up at home

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  • Gunners unbeaten since opening day
  • Ramirez hits bar for Boro
  • Boro without a win in 7

Arsenal were held to a 0-0 draw at the Emirates Stadium against Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger‘s side had won six Premier League games on the bounce going into this game but Aitor Karanka‘s Boro went close on several occasions as Arsenal had an off day.

With the point Arsenal still go top of the Premier League table on 20 points, while Boro has eight points after a resolute defensive display as they always looked dangerous on the break.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Early on Mesut Ozil went down in the box after a cutback but referee Mike Dean waved away the penalty appeals.

Middlesbrough then had a glorious chance as on the break Adama Traore saw his shot blocked by Petr Cech and then Alvaro Negredo’s follow up was saved.

From that attack Boro then won a free kick ans Gaston Ramirez struck the angle of the post and bar. Agonizingly close.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Alexis Sanchez then went close from a similar free kick as Victor Valdes pushed it out of the top corner. Traore then whipped a cross in which Negredo flicked on to Ramirez who sent his header straight at Cech.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]  

Arsenal almost went ahead as Valdes made came out and made a hash of it but Laurent Koscielny completely missed the ball.

Alexis then went close as his free kick was tipped around the post by Valdes and Arsenal continued to pour forward. Boro looked dangerous on the break as Mustafi was caught out by Ramirez as the Teeside club hung in there until the end.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Valdes stopped Sanchez late on as Arsenal poured forward but at the other end Negredo and Traore combined on the break but the former couldn’t make the most of the opportunity as Koscielny made a superb tackle.

Then, Arsenal thought they’d won the game in stoppage time but Ozil was offside as he finished. The game ended 0-0 with Arsenal missing out on the chance to go three points clear at the top of the table.

West Ham 1-0 Sunderland: Reid scores at the death

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22: Dimitri Payet of West Ham United and Lamine Kone of Sunderland compete for the ball during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Sunderland at Olympic Stadium on October 22, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images)
(Stephen Pond / Getty Images)
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  • New Zealand defender scores late
  • Sunderland continues struggles
  • USMNT’s Gooch subs on late

West Ham United dominated visiting Sunderland but looked destined for a frustrating draw with the lowly Black Cats at Olympic Stadium on Saturday.

That’s when Winston Reid stepped in, belting a shot through traffic in what could only be described as the final ticks of stoppage time to give the Hammers a 1-0 win.

Sunderland remains dead last with two points, while the Hammers are 15th with 10 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Referee Bobby Madley denied a pair of penalty appeals in the early moments, and one — a blocking foul just outside the six — was almost certainly valid enough to give the Hammers a chance from the spot.

West Ham was simply better for the entire first half, but their finishing continued to elude the Olympic Stadium set. Simone Zaza was emblematic of their problems, very strong but without goal (just missing an acrobatic bicycle kick just before half).

How dominant were they? See below:

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Sunderland had the first chance of the second half, with Adrian called on to parry a hard shot from outside the 18.

Otherwise the half was almost exclusively West Ham, and Reid ripped a Dimitri Payet — who else? — pass through traffic for the win.

American midfielder Lynden Gooch came on for the final quarter hour.

Hull City 0-2 Stoke City: Shaqiri’s magical brace is enough

HULL, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Xherdan Shaqiri of Stoke City and Curtis Davies of Hull City compete for the ball during the Premier League match between Hull City and Stoke City at the KCom Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Hull, England.  (Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images)
Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images
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  • Shaqiri scored first half blast
  • Adds free kick in second half
  • Potters 100th PL win
  • Tigers have lost five-straight

Xherdan Shaqiri scored a pair of wonderful goals to pull Stoke City out of the drop zone and send Hull City to 18th in a 2-0 win at the KC Stadium on Saturday.

Stoke moves 14th with 9 points, two ahead of the relegation zone. Hull have seven points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The Potters got on the board when Hull’s defense allowed plenty of room to work the ball.

Shaqiri blasted the ball inside the near post from yards beyond the 18 for a goal you’ll see on all the highlight reels.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Make that four, Opta, as Shaqiri scored a very nice free kick after halftime to make it 2-0 and ensure a trip away from the drop zone.

There just wasn’t much to like for Mike Phelan’s Tigers, who were outshot and outplayed at home.

Leicester City 3-1 Crystal Palace: Foxes look the part in win

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 22:  Ahmed Musa of Leicester City (R) celebrates scoring his sides first goal with his team mate Danny Simpson of Leicester City (L) during the Premier League match between Leicester City and Crystal Palace at The King Power Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images)
Photo by Ross Kinnaird/Getty Images
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  • Musa, Okazaki break slumps
  • Fuchs scores gorgeous goal
  • Foxes first win in four
  • Palace winless in three

Leicester City’s Champions League form is carrying into the Premier League, as Claudio Ranieri‘s Foxes controlled proceedings in a X-X win over Crystal Palace on Saturday at King Power Stadium.

Ahmed Musa scored his first Leicester City goal, while Shinji Okazaki added his first tally in 14 PL matches to help salt it away. Unlikely goal scorer Christian Fuchs celebrated his new contract with a terrific left-footed shot in the 80th minute.

Yohan Cabaye scored for Palace.

Leicester joins 11th place Palace on 11 points.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The first half was certainly in Leicester City’s wheelhouse, albeit without traditional finish.

Islam Slimani in particular seemed a touch off, but the Foxes’ man played a big role in the opener.

Slimani’s lay-off found Musa, who ripped the ball through traffic and to the left of Steve Mandanda to make it 1-0.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Leicester seemed best prepared to score the next goal, and Danny Drinkwater had a shot deflected wide around the hour mark.

The goal came through Okazaki, who darted onto a blocked cross and blasted a shot by Mandanda inside the near post from 15 yards.

Cabaye was a lively player for Palace, and Kasper Schmeichel denied his point blank chance in the 74th minute. The ensuing corner saw Danny Simpson clear Christian Benteke‘s header off the line.

Fuchs then tore into a left-footed volley from just outside the 18 for a goal of the weekend contender.

Schmeichel blocked a partial Benteke breakaway in the 83rd minute, and Cabaye redirected Wilfried Zaha‘s cross to dirty Leicester’s clean sheet. That was the only goal of a furious fightback from Palace.