Boy, Houston Dynamo could sure use some Calen Carr

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Hey, did you hear that the Houston Dynamo have been struggling? If you read this blog on a regular basis, you may have heard enough. Kyle Bonn offered his thoughts last week, while I gave my own perspective after Houston’s 2-0 loss in New Jersey on Sunday. Fifth place in the East, the team many thought would compete for their conference’s title has struggled, with goals having dried up in the Texas heat.

There are a number of theories as to how Houston can correct their problem. The issues may work themselves out once Brad Davis and Boniek Garcia get right. Some would suggest adding a more attacking presence to a midfield currently occupied by Ricardo Clark and Adam Moffat. Other smight hope for Will Bruin’s return to form, while a true Chicken Little may need all three.

There is another possible solution, one that returned to practice today. Calen Carr, injured in last year’s MLS Cup final, has resumed  training as part of his recovery from knee surgery. While there is no set date for his full return (he only participated in non-contact activity today), Wednesday marked a big step for a player who hasn’t seen action since early December.

Carr, from the league’s web site:

“It’s just nice to come outside at the same time as the guys … I think I definitely need a couple of more weeks to work on my physicality as far as fitness and strength … and then integrate into full training. From there, I hope will be another couple of weeks to get in the groove to be available for selection.”

Carr on his own is not an answer to Houston’s attacking problems, but slid into a team that needs some energy, he may end up being the perfect fit. While Giles Barnes may be the overall more talented player, Carr’s versatility and willingness to do the legwork both in defense and attack provide a nice complement to Bruin. Barnes, who has four goals, two assists in 1352 career regular season minutes, has produced smilar numbers, though he’s been unable to help pull Dominic Kinnear’s team out of their slump.

By the time Carr’s ready to return, Davis and Garcia may be back to pull strength. And once Will Bruin returns from the Gold Cup, Houston will have last year’s MLS Cup finalist XI in place.

That should be enough to claim at least a fifth place finish, and as the Dynamo showed last year, all they need is MLS’s proverbial chip and a chair to have a chance.

La Liga releases schedule: First El Clasico coming in December

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It’s Christmas in July for fans of La Liga Friday as the Spanish league published its schedule for the upcoming season.

Defending champions Real Madrid travel to Deportivo La Caruña on August 20, the opening match of the season while its rival Barcelona hosts Real Betis.

As it’s La Liga, the first date most fans searched for was the first El Clasico of the season, and the biennial battles between Real Madrid and Barcelona will take place on December 20 and May 6, with Real Madrid hosting the first match.

The first match comes just ahead of the Spanish winter break, while the second match comes at a busy period at the end of the season, where both teams will be hoping to still be competing in the UEFA Champions League.

Other interesting matches to keep an eye on in the first few weeks of the season include Real Madrid hosting Valencia in week two, the Barcelona derby between Barca and Espanyol in week three and Atletico Madrid taking on Sevilla in week six.

Here’s a look at this year’s La Liga schedule.

Conte: Costa “situation was very clear” in January

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At this point, there is no doubt Diego Costa‘s future lies away from London and Stamford Bridge.

Chelsea manager Antonio Conte broke his silence on the Brazilian-born Spain international striker, saying he’s been ready to move on from Costa since January, when Costa and Conte had a disagreement following a big-money offer from Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian during the winter transfer window.

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“I don’t like to talk about players who are not here but the only thing I can tell you [is that] in January, the Costa situation was very clear, for the club for him and his agent,” Conte told reporters Friday. “For me the situation is closed.”

It’s an amazing turn of events after Costa scored 20 Premier League goals in Chelsea’s title-winning 2016-2017 season, including 14 goals through the end of December. But after falling out with Jose Mourinho a year earlier, the same issue happened again under Conte, with Costa proving much less effective down the stretch.

But Conte and Costa were able to put their differences aside on the field, photographed multiple times hugging after wins, as well as after winning the title.

Costa is reportedly now agitating for a move back to his former club Atletico Madrid, but the Spanish club’s transfer ban until the next window complicates matters. In a World Cup year, would Costa be willing to sit out half a season just to leave Chelsea?

If Costa’s time in the Premier League is up, he’ll go down as one of the league’s best pound-for-pound goalscorers. He scored 52 goals in 89 Premier League appearances, with seven more cup goals in his three-year spell at Chelsea.

And if he is gone, defenders across the Premier League will sure be happy to wave goodbye.

Sparta Prague signs France midfielder Rio Mavuba

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PRAGUE (AP) Sparta Prague says it has signed France midfielder Rio Mavuba to a three-year contract.

The 33-year-old Mavuba comes from French club Lille, which he joined in 2008. Before that, he played for Bordeaux and Spanish club Villarreal.

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Mavuba was on the France team at the 2014 World Cup.

He is the 10th player signed by Sparta after Italian coach Andrea Stramaccioni took charge in May.

Mexico 1-0 Honduras: Pizarro strikes early to put El Tri in Gold Cup semifinals

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Mexico had little trouble dispatching Honduras as El Tri won 1-0 in Glendale, AZ and eased into the Gold Cup semifinals.

Just four minutes into the game, Mexico took the lead as they got Honduras on its heels, with Rodolfo Pizarro sticking the ball in at the far post at the end of a scramble. Jesus Duenas carved a ball through the defense, and while Elias Hernandez whiffed on the tap-in, Pizarro was right behind him to finish the chance.

Mexico settled in after scoring, while Honduras tried to out-muscle El Tri, with the latter receiving a pair of yellow cards in the first 45 minutes. There were precious few other chances throughout the first half, with Honduras completely incapable of creating anything in the attacking half.

Mexico continued to dominate out of the halftime break, but they lost Monterrey midfielder Jesus Molina in the 65th minute with discomfort, replaced by Chaka Rodriguez. The best moment for Honduras as they chased the game late came in the 78th minute as Jose Corona made a spectacular save when substitute Alexander Lopez nearly scored directly from a corner. They came close again in stoppage time after a set-piece as Alfredo Mejia scuffed a shot agonizingly wide.

Honduras ended their Gold Cup without a single goal scored. They technically defeated French Guyana 3-0 in the group stage, but that came on the typical forfeit scoreline, whereas the actual game played ended in a 0-0 draw.

Meanwhile, Mexico will take on Jamaica in the semifinal in a rematch of last tournament’s final.