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Houston Dynamo: brace for impact

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The Houston Dynamo official website released a baffling article Thursday night in a valiant yet floundering attempt to calm the nerves of anxious fans.

With just three points from their last six matches, including a whopping zero wins, the article claims winless slumps are “to be expected in parity-driven MLS.”

While yes, the top division of American soccer is different than most in its quest for competitive balance, to justify winless streaks in the dog days of the season as “expected” is diluting the value of each match the Dynamo play.

The article begins by pointing to the MLS form guide, claiming it looks like a smattering of pizza toppings thanks to the mixture of color-coded results.  While the “anything can happen” point is understood, here’s another form guide that displays the same varying array of colors. Know what that’s from? That’s the results list from the last season of the Barclays Premier League, which is about the farthest from parity a league can get.

If there’s one thing for sure in the world of any top-level sport, it’s this: results may vary.  But to dismiss a poor streak of results as “expected” is suggesting that the Dynamo’s recent scorelines are a random generation of binary code based on a statistical formula, and that because of the law of averages it should return to normal any day now.

Sorry, that’s incorrect.  The Dynamo have found themselves in the midst of a slump for other on-the-pitch reasons. They’ve got two goals during their six-game winless streak thanks to abysmal finishing.  Injuries and suspensions are abound. Dominic Kinnear has hardly been able to maintain a relatively stable starting eleven.

The article points to both 2012 and 2011 as blueprints for late runs after winless streaks.  While both those seasons did see an uptick in form later on, there are still some ominous signs why this year may be different.

In 2012, the game that put the lid on their 5-match winless streak was a 4-0 win against D.C. United, leading the squad to make a run for the playoffs.  Unfortunately for Houston, this season’s 4-0 win over D.C. United on May 8 was the precursor to their slide – they haven’t won since.

The article cites 2011, where a 7-match winless streak was turned around and became four wins and a draw in the last 5 matches of the season, pushing the club all the way up to second place.

The problem with that is the 2011 Eastern Conference was a mess.  The point totals in the East were all out of whack thanks to each team beating up on the next.  It was easy to jump all the way up to second place with a bit of a run towards the end.  In fact, the final two wins of the season jumped Houston from fifth all the way up to second.

Unfortunately, this year isn’t going to be the same.

Houston already sits in fifth place, 9 back of Montreal.  It’s true, they’re only 2 measly points back of second place (somehow), marking what could be a jump identical to 2011’s late-season surge.

What’s not the same is the upcoming schedule.

Here’s Houston’s next nine matches: @ New York, vs. Philadelphia, @ New England, vs. Chicago, vs. Columbus, @ Salt Lake, vs. Seattle, @ Montreal, @ Chicago. Ouch.

Mixed in that melting pot of fixtures are two dates with the surging Fighting Mike Magees, a visit to the Juan Agudelo redemption show, a shot at Jack McInerney, and a trip to the best team in the East who have dropped 2 points at home all year.

Oh, I almost forgot, a flight to New York who have lost 3 straight and yet still sit in second place, and a visit from the often explosive Seattle Sounders.

Houston have to play every single team in front of them in the Eastern Conference in that stretch.  The only teams Houston play behind them in the standings are either red hot or Columbus. Talk about gut check time.

Finally, don’t forget about the Gold Cup, which will snatch up co-leading scorer Will Bruin and defender Corey Ashe who has the second-most minutes played of any outfield player with Houston this season.  Those two could be gone potentially the entirety of July.  Omar Cummings better be 100% or Houston will be very thin up front.

It’s a very fun race in the Eastern Conference, but with clubs like Chicago and New England finding their stride, it seems Houston may be the odd team out.

Watch: Scott Sinclair nets stunning curler in Celtic victory

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Celtic is enjoying another fine campaign in Scotland, and much of the team’s success can be attributed to the play of Scott Sinclair.

[ MORE: Burkina Faso, Cameroon progress at AFCON 2017 ]

The Englishman was at it again on Sunday during Celtic’s 3-0 Scottish Cup win over Albion Rovers when the 27-year-old curled an absolutely sublime effort into the top corner for the game’s opening goal.

The finish, Sinclair’s 13th of the season in all competitions, came after the winger picked up the ball on the left side of the Albion penalty area. Sinclair then proceeded to slot his dipping shot just under the bar and into the far post.

Celtic now moves on to the fifth round of this season’s tournament, joining the likes of Rangers and Aberdeen. In addition to the team’s success in the competition, the Bhoys have yet to lose a match in the Scottish Premier League this campaign (19 W, 1 D).

La Liga & Serie A: Sevilla avoids Osasuna upset, Barcelona cruises

EIBAR, SPAIN - JANUARY 22:  Lionel Messi of FC Barcelona competes for the ball with Ander Capa (L) and Dani Garcia of SD Eibar during the La Liga match between SD Eibar and FC Barcelona at Ipurua stadium on January 22, 2017 in Eibar, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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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 ]

Eibar 0-4 Barcelona 

Four different goalscorers and three points has put Barcelona inches closer to Real Madrid at the top of La Liga, and it certainly was a complete effort for the Blaugrana. Denis Suarez gave Barca the lead ahead of halftime before Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar each netted in the second stanza to give Luis Enrique’s side a strangle hold on the match. Barca now sits just two points behind Real as the season nears its halfway point.

Meanwhile, Barca suffered a major loss during the match when Sergio Busquets was carted off the pitch after sustaining an ankle injury. Busquets left the game after receiving the brunt of a Gonzalo Escalante tackle in the eighth minute.

Osasuna 3-4 Sevilla

There were goals galore at the Estadio El Sadar, however, Osasuna remains at the bottom of La Liga despite their best efforts. The last place side led on two occasions against Sevilla, but a strong second half from the visitors allowed Los Rojiblancos to remain within a point of league leaders Real Madrid. Vicente Iborra recorded a brace for Sevilla, with goals on both sides of halftime, while Franco Vázquez and Pablo Sarabia also inked their names on the score sheet.

Athletic Bilbao 2-2 Atletico Madrid

Atleti went ahead early on against Bilbao, but Diego Simeone’s men needed a late Antoine Griezmann finish to earn a point on Sunday. Koke struck inside of three minutes to give Madrid the early advantage before goals from Íñigo Lekue and Oscar de Marcos gave Bilbao the lead. Atletico has now fallen eight points behind Real Madrid, while Bilbao sits seventh on 29 points.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Betis 0-0 Sporting Gijon
Real Sociedad 1-0 Celta Vigo


Juventus 2-0 Lazio

Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain each found the back of the net early on for Juventus and Massimiliano Allegri’s side never looked back from there. After scoring in the fifth and 16th minutes, respectively, the Bianconeri remain atop of Serie A after picking up the team’s 16th win on the season. Lazio remains fourth following the defeat, now sitting eight points behind the league leaders.

Roma 1-0 Cagliari

Edin Dzeko netted his 14th league goal of season for Roma on Sunday en route to the team’s fifth consecutive victory in all competitions. The win sees Roma move to within a point of Juventus at the top of Italy’s top flight, however, the Bianconeri currently hold a game in hand. Meanwhile, Cagliari sits 11th in Serie A on 26 points.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

Bologna 2-0 Torino
Empoli 1-0 Udinese
Genoa 2-2 Crotone
Palermo 0-1 Inter Milan
Pescara 1-3 Sassuolo
Atalanta 1-0 Sampdoria

AFCON wrap: Burkina Faso tops Group A, Cameroon also through

AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - SEPTEMBER 29:  Bertrand Traore of Ajax is chalenged by Darwin Andrade of Standard Liege during the UEFA Europa League group G match between AFC Ajax and  R. Standard de Liege at the Amsterdam Arena on September 29, 2016 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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One down, three to go.

Two nations advanced out of Group A on Sunday, and neither of the spots were held by the tournament’s hosts.

[ MORE: All AFCON 2017 coverage ]

Cameroon 0-0 Gabon

Hosts Gabon needed a victory to reach the final eight, however, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and co. struggled mightily to break down the Cameroonian backline.

The Panthers failed to manage a shot on target on Sunday, while Cameroon — who finishes second in Group A — recorded a shot goalward just once.

Cameroon will likely face Senegal in the knockout phase after the Lions of Teranga locked up a spot in the next round.

Guinea-Bissau 0-2 Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso topped the group based on goal differential after an early own goal and Bertrand Traore added a second after halftime.

Rudinilson Silva was caught in an uncomfortable position after 11 minutes when the Guinea-Bissau defender put the ball into his own net. From there, Traore doubled the advantage for Burkina Faso after finishing off a Prejuce Nakoulma pass.

The Stallions will face the runner up of Group B, currently Tunisia, in the quarterfinals.

Group A table (* indicates teams that advanced)

*Burkina Faso (5 points, +2 GD)
*Cameroon (5 pts., +1 GD)
Gabon (3 pts., 0 GD)
Guinea-Bissau (1 pt., -3 GD)

Monday’s AFCON schedule

Senegal vs. Algeria — 11 a.m. ET
Zimbabwe vs. Tunisia — 2 p.m. ET

Henry bashes Arsenal’s Xhaka after second red card of season

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 22:  Granit Xhaka (2nd R) of Arsenal talks to Steven Defour (1st R) of Burnley before shown a red card during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Burnley at the Emirates Stadium on January 22, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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It’s become a trend, albeit one that the Gunners certainly aren’t too fond of. Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka was sent off for the second time this season and while his side did manage to hold on to three points, the Swiss international has quickly made a name for himself in England for all the wrong reasons.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger apologizes for sending off ]

Xhaka, 24, was dismissed in the second half of Sunday’s 2-1 win over Burnley after making a rash challenge on Clarets midfielder Steven Defour in the 65th minute.

[ MORE: Gunners up to second place after handling Burnley ]

Former Arsenal legend Thierry Henry sounded off on Xhaka’s latest dismissal following the match, calling out the midfielder for his lack of discipline.

“It’s not the first time. He did the same thing against Swansea,” Henry told Sky Sports. “This one I just don’t get it. Against Swansea it was a counter. Here, he gives the ball cheaply away.

“Why are you doing that 60 yards away from your goal, 25 minutes to go, you’re in control of the game? You misplace a pass. So what? Stay on your feet.

“As soon as you do that, the rules say it’s a red. Is it worse than [Marcos] Rojo who didn’t get a red? No. But the rule says both feet off the ground, it’s a red.”

Since the beginning of 2015, Xhaka has been shown red cards on six occasions dating back to the midfielder’s time with German club Borussia Monchengladbach, and including appearances for both club and country.

Xhaka’s suspension will keep him out of Arsenal’s next three matches, including home fixtures with Watford and Hull and a difficult road visit to Chelsea.