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.

Serie A: Juve keep winning to remain 1 point back of Napoli

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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus closed the gap on Serie A leader Napoli back to just one point as the six-time defending champion eased past Genoa 1-0 on Monday.

Douglas Costa scored in the 16th minute, the first conceded by Genoa in five league matches. It was a less than convincing performance from Juventus but it was never really troubled, as goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny – standing in for the still-injured Gianluigi Buffon – was little more than a spectator.

“What was important was to win,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “At the end there was a bit of nervousness because we were lacking in energy a bit.

“We could have finished off the match in the first half, and again with a couple of occasions after the break. We didn’t manage to so compliments to Genoa.”

The battle for the Serie A title is shaping into a two-horse race. Juventus moved 10 points clear of third-placed Lazio, although the capital side has a match in hand.

“The season is still long and all those who are behind us can still get back into the race,” Allegri said. “It was important to stay in Napoli’s slipstream.”

Juventus needed to win after Napoli beat Atalanta 1-0 on Sunday.

Allegri’s side started brightly and had an early chance to take the lead but Genoa goalkeeper Mattia Perin did well to keep out a free kick from specialist Miralem Panic.

However, it did not take much longer to strike. Douglas Costa passed out left to Mario Mandzukic, who played a delightful return ball for the Brazil midfielder to slot into the bottom left corner.

League Cup semi: Man City take 2-1 lead into 2nd leg vs. Bristol

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Manchester City can move one step closer on Tuesday to claiming their first of four potential trophies this season, when Pep Guardiola‘s men take on Bristol City in the second leg of the League Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Monday’s transfer rumor roundup | Sunday | Friday ]

After coming back to beat the Robins in the first leg at home, Man City must now go on the road and take care of business to reach the Feb. 25 final at Wembley Stadium. As he has done so many times — and so famously — in the sky blue of City, Sergio Aguero grabbed the late winner (91st minute — WATCH HERE) 14 days ago.

For a few not-so-insignificant periods of the game, Bristol were very much the aggressors and appeared more likely to make the score 2-0 than for City to get back to 1-1. Bobby Reid converted from the penalty spot in the 44th minute after her was brought down under John Stones‘ wild, sliding tackle. Kevin De Bruyne leveled things up 10 minutes into the second half, setting the stage for Aguero’s late heroics.

[ MORE: Alexis-for-Mkhi swap complete | De Bruyne’s new contract ]

Since the first leg on Jan. 9, City have failed in their bid to finish the PL season with an unbeaten record before bouncing back to beat Newcastle United on the weekend, courtesy of a hat trick from Aguero — Guardiola quotes, from Sport24:

“I said many times it was going to happen, we can lose, so (it is) important the reaction we have. Still we have 42 points to play (for). It is 14 games. It is a lot of games to play and difficult games like Saturday and like Liverpool. It is important to show the team is still there but I don’t have the feeling we give up.

“We want to go through to the final in the (League) Cup and the FA Cup, so (we have) a lot of games but I think the people have the desire to keep going, to keep going, to keep going.”

[ MORE: One dream January signing for each top-six side ]

Bristol, meanwhile, have fallen on hard times: it’s been nearly a month (Boxing Day, to be specific — five losses, one draw) since Lee Johnson’s side last won a game in any competition, and they’ve fallen from second to fifth in the Championship table — Johnson quotes, from the Guardian:

“We don’t want to be brave losers, we want to compete to win. It’s up to the players to be focused and tactically aware, and who knows what will happen if we can show the same quality as we have shown in the previous rounds?

“We have to make sure we’re really bold. If you’re going to deliver a corner, do it like you mean it. I’d rather fail bold than fail timid. We know we have to score. I hope Pep picks his absolute best team and we can give them a right go. I’m not sure you could go and play an under-23 side against us at the moment and I think he’ll know that.”

The winner of Arsenal versus Chelsea (0-0 after the first leg) awaits in the final.

The 2 Robbies: Alexis-Mkhitaryan Swap Becomes Reality

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Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe react to the Alexis Sanchez-Henrikh Mkhitaryan swap deal between Arsenal and Manchester United finally becoming reality (0:20), Swansea’s stunning 1-0 victory over Liverpool (9:20), Southampton’s much-needed draw with Spurs (22:30) and Watford’s decision to part ways with Marco Silva (36:20). The gents end the show sharing their memories of the late English striker, Cyrille Regis (39:45).

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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Inter Milan sign Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan

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MILAN (AP) Inter Milan completed the signing of Barcelona midfielder Rafinha on loan until the end of the season, with a view to a permanent move.

Inter can sign the Brazil international permanently for $43 million plus $3.7 million in bonuses, and said on Monday that option “must be taken up before the end of the season.”

Rafinha, who was born in Sao Paulo, had been at Barcelona since 2006, when he joined its youth team. He spent the 2013-14 season on loan at Celta Vigo.

After nine months out after surgery on his right knee, he made his first appearance of the season last week as a late substitute in Barcelona’s Copa del Rey defeat at Espanyol.

“It’s an important stage in my life,” he said, “and I had a lot of desire to approach this new phase in my career.”

Inter has slipped to fourth in Serie A, 11 points behind leader Napoli.

It could slip out of the Champions League places if Roma wins its match in hand on Wednesday.

“I hope to play in as many matches as possible and help the team to reach our objective which is Champions League qualification,” Rafinha said.