A quick survey of South America’s World Cup Qualifying

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Now past the half-way post on South American qualifying, three nations have distinguished themselves as favorites to qualify for Brazil 2014. Argentina, led by a captain (that guy to the right) that has closed his club-country divide, is four points at the top (24 through 11 games). Ecuador, who qualified for two World Cups before missing out on South Africa, sit second and have a game in hand on Argentina. Colombia, also with a game in hand, sit one point back of their neighbors. The trailing pack of Venezuela, Chile, and Uruguay are each at least four points back, and each have played one more match than the pair from the north.

Look at the underlying numbers and you find little reason to think the lead three can be caught. They’re the only teams in the qualifying tournament with positive goal differences (Argentina having posted a remarkable +16 through 11 games). Theirs have been the three best defenses on the continent as well as the three best attacks. A serious drip in form will need to happens for any of the top three to miss out on Brazil.

That leaves the region’s other six aspirants vying for two spots: one an automatic qualifier; the other going into a playoff against an Asian nation. Paraguay’s been miserable, collecting only eight points (and eight goals) from 11 games. They have no real chance of returning to the finals, nor do Bolivia, who sit one point higher thanks to their draw on Tuesday with Argentina.

As far as the remaining contenders are concerned, they would each bring a unique and compelling story to Brazil, though only two of them (at most) will qualify.

Chile, one of the quiet darlings of the last World Cup, sit fourth thanks to Tuesday’s win over visiting Uruguay. After the departure of Marcelo Bielsa in Feb. 2011, the nation had struggled to maintain the momentum they carried out of the 2010 qualifying cycle. With former Universidad de Chile head coach Jorge Sampaoli having taking the reigns earlier this year, optimism is starting to return, even if Chile suffered a mild setback Friday at Peru (1-0 loss).

Venezuela, the only nation in this tournament to never qualify for a World Cup, sits fifth. For the first time in their history, they were actually expected to compete for a spot in the finals, their semifinal appearance at the 2011 Copa America crystallizing the ambitions of an emerging soccer nation. Unfortunately, those ambitions haven’t translated into goals, with the Vinotinto having found the net only nine times in 11 games. Salomón Rondón and Juan Arango have combined for six of them.

As Michael noted, Uruguay sits on the outside looking in as of now, and while they’re only two points back of an automatic qualifying spot, their poor form fuels the notion the South American champions could be left out. It’s been six rounds since La Celeste won, with Friday’s home draw against rock bottom Paraguay cementing the notion this team’s experiencing more than a slump. Fortunately for Óscar Tábarez’s side, a process that could qualify over half its teams is ultimately a pretty forgiving tournament (just ask Diego Maradona).

And finally, there’s Peru, who haven’t qualified for a World Cup in over 30 years. Like Venezuela, they were surprise semifinalists at the last Copa, and like Venezuela, they’re having trouble scoring goals in qualifying. But a Friday win over Chile puts them in a similar boat as Uruguay. They’re a little farther back (four points instead of two), but if they find the form that carried them two summers back in Argentina, Sergio Markarián’s team can make it back to the finals. At a minimum, they can put themselves in position to team advantage should others slip up.

La Liga & Serie A: Real Madrid dominates, Messi stars

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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s La Liga coverage ]

Real Madrid 4-0 Alaves

Cristiano Ronaldo and Real are finding their form at the perfect time, and that should concern a lot of teams in Europe.

Although La Liga is likely out of reach given Barcelona’s brilliant play in 2017/18, the Madridistas have turned up another gear in the second half of the season.

Ronaldo’s brace on Saturday lifted Real to yet another victory in Spain’s top flight, and the club’s run in all competitions simply won’t be halted. Over their last seven matches, Real has scored an absurd 26 goals.

Barcelona 6-1 Girona

For two minutes, Girona looked like they were going to be en route to a stunning victory at the Camp Nou. That was only for two minutes though…

Lionel Messi decided to steal the show, in typical Messi fashion, sparking four unanswered goals before halftime from the Blaugrana, including two from the Argentine international.

The superstar forward picked out Luis Suarez for the equalizer in the fifth minute, before unleashing two brilliant goals of his own. Suarez found his second of the game prior to halftime, before completing his hat-trick in the second stanza.

For every piece of brilliance that Messi completed though, Philippe Coutinho did his very best to show up his teammate in the second half. The former Liverpool attacker bent a tremendous curler into the far corner in the 67th minute to extend the lead, and it was a thing of beauty.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Celta Vigo 2-0 Eibar
Leganes 0-0 Las Palmas

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Villareal vs. Getafe (6 a.m. ET)
Athletic Bilbao vs. Malaga (10 a.m. ET)
Valencia vs. Real Sociedad (12:30 a.m. ET)
Sevilla vs. Atletico Madrid (2:45 p.m. ET)


Inter Milan 2-0 Benevento

For the time being, Inter is up to third place in Serie A. The Milan side still sits a ways away from league leaders Napoli and Juventus, however, Inter managed to pass both Roma and Lazio with the victory on Saturday. The defeat for Benevento keeps the bottom dwellers firmly buried at the bottom of Italy’s top flight, 11 points behind 17th-place Crotone.

Bologna 2-0 Genoa

Second-half goals from Mattia Destro and Cesar Faletti helped Bologna move into 11th in Serie A on Saturday, while Genoa sits three points behind in the table. Faletti, who was only on the field 10 minutes prior to scoring, nabbed his first Serie A goal of the season in the outing for the hosts.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Crotone vs. SPAL (6:30 a.m. ET)
Fiorentina vs. Chievo (9 a.m. ET)
Hellas vs. Torino (9 a.m. ET)
Sampdoria vs. Udinese (9 a.m. ET)
Sassuolo vs. Lazio (9 a.m. ET)
Juventus vs. Atalanta (12 p.m. ET)
Roma vs. AC Milan (2:45 p.m. ET)

Report: Sounders suffer big loss with Jordan Morris injury

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The Seattle Sounders are aiming to find their way back to MLS Cup in 2018, but they’ll likely have to do it without one of their most important attacking players.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson gives Werder big three points in Bundesliga ]

U.S. Men’s National Team striker Jordan Morris looks to be sidelined for some time, with Fox Sports analyst Stu Holden reporting that the American has suffered a right ACL tear.

Last season, Morris missed some time with a hamstring injury, but now his latest setback could cost him the entire 2018 MLS campaign.

In two years with the Sounders, the 23-year-old has tallied 15 goals and added five assists in the regular season, while also playing a big role in the club’s 2016 MLS Cup title.

NASL denied injunction to obtain temporary Division II status

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The latest gut punch to a league hanging on by a thread was thrown on Friday when the North American Soccer League (NASL) was denied its injunction to obtain temporary Division II status.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit was in charge of bestowing the decision, which went in favor of the U.S. Soccer Federation — who had previously lifted NASL’s Division II standing for not meeting several criteria set forth by the U.S. Soccer Federation Board of Directors.

[ MORE: PST takes a look at which PL sides will be relegated ]

NASL and USL had previously been granted temporary Division II status, including prior to the 2017 season, however, USL is the only league currently operating under Division II sanctions heading into the 2018 campaign.

The latest decision from the Court of Appeals doesn’t affect the antitrust lawsuit currently ongoing being NASL and USSF, which was filed in 2017.

NASL is seeking to be reinstated by U.S. Soccer to be recognized with Division II priority, after allegedly being wrongfully stripped of its status. The lawsuit also alludes to a conspiracy that USSF is working in conjunction with Major League Soccer and Soccer United Marketing (SUM) in order to drive NASL out of operation.

As NASL is currently constructed, just six teams remain intact in the league, although Miami FC and Jacksonville Armada have pursued other opportunities while NASL awaits its future.

The New York Cosmos, Puerto Rico FC and expansion sides 1904 FC and California United FC round out the field of clubs that remain.

The league lost several of its clubs in the last 12 months due to a variety of reasons, including Indy Eleven and North Carolina FC (both of whom have entered USL) and defending NASL champions San Francisco Deltas (club folded).

PL roundup: Liverpool runs rampant; Brighton, Huddersfield victorious

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Get caught up on all seven of Saturday’s Premier League fixtures…

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Liverpool 4-1 West Ham — FULL RECAP

When Philippe Coutinho departed for Barcelona there was a question as to how Liverpool would perform without the Brazilian. Now, it’s safe to say the Reds are going to be just fine without him. Another dominating effort at home on Saturday has pulled the Reds up to second place in the PL, courtesy of goals from Emre Can, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah. Jurgen Klopp‘s side has now totaled 65 league goals in 28 matches.

Leicester City 1-1 Stoke City — FULL RECAP

Xherdan Shaqiri‘s brilliant finish before halftime looked like it would be enough to give the Potters a much-needed three points, however, Stoke goalkeeper Jack Butland cost his side dearly with a howler in the second stanza. A powerful cross from Marc Albrighton, coupled by a darting run from Jamie Vardy, gave the keeper troubles, before he spilled the ball into his own net.

West Bromwich Albion 1-2 Huddersfield Town  — FULL RECAP

Second-half finishes from Rajiv Van la Parra and Steve Mounie helped go three points clear of the bottom three on the day, while West Brom looks very much buried in the relegation race. The Baggies pulled a goal back through Craig Dawson‘s finish, however, it was too late to provide a comeback for the last-place side.

Burnley 1-1 Southampton FULL RECAP

The Clarets sit seventh in England’s top flight, however, Sean Dyche and Co. have not won a PL match since early December. Southampton’s form hasn’t been much better though, with the Saints winless in their last 15 matches. Manolo Gabbiadini‘s finish was vital for Southampton, who are one of 10 teams separated by a mere six points.

Bournemouth 2-2 Newcastle — FULL RECAP

A victory would have been massive for the Magpies, who are muddled in the heap of relegation sides, but a strong second-half effort from Bournemouth helped secure a point for the hosts.

Brighton 4-1 Swansea City — FULL RECAP

The promotion side has opened up a four-point cushion in the relegation race after a brilliant home showing on Saturday. A brace from Glenn Murray, combined with Anthony Knockaert and Jurgen Locadia goals, helped the Seagulls move into 11th place, while Swansea’s offensive woes continue to prove critical in their attempt to stay afloat in the PL. The Swans have score a league-l0w 21 goals in 28 matches, nearly 0.75 goals per game.

Watford 1-0 Everton — FULL RECAP

Troy Deeney‘s strike with 10 minutes to play was the difference for the Hornets, closing the gap between the two sides to just one point. Everton struggled mightily on the day to muster up any quality chances, although to be fair, both clubs didn’t look like they were in the finest of form up front. The Toffees have been dreadful away from home this campaign, with just one victory away from Goodison Park.