World Cup Qualifying: is CONMEBOL all but sorted?

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Friday saw four games played out in South America, and absolutely no surprises in CONMEBOL qualifying. There’s been no shift in the table, and in each match, the higher placed country came away with the win. Now, with three games maximum left to play for each country, many observers believe the top teams are etched in stone. But with difficult matches ahead for many of the teams, it’s still possible that a surprise contender could sneak in, at least into the playoff round.

Who’s Out?

Bolivia. Bolivia lost 4-0 to Paraguay on Friday night, are out of the running, with just 10 points from 14 games played.

Paraguay. Despite Paraguay demonstrating their impressive goal scoring abilities against Bolivia, they’re pretty much out of the running as well. Sure, they could pick up three wins from their last three matches, but they’d also have to rely upon Uruguay not picking up another point. And then they’d still end up in the playoff round facing the fifth placed AFC team.

Who’s In?

No one has yet to mathematically clinch a spot at the World Cup, but three countries are assured of at least making the playoff round (Which, you’d think, would mean that at least two of those countries would be into the tournament. But that sort of thinking can cause the head to hurt).

Argentina. La albiceleste got a rest this weekend, but still managed to remain top of the CONMEBOL table, with 26 points. They’re set to face Paraguay on Tuesday and will most likely have no problems taking all three points.

Colombia. The most fun team in South America, and possibly the world, is now even on points with Argentina. A 1-0 victory over 10 man Ecuador gives the Colombians a 8-2-3 record and 26 points. Their free flowing attack is balanced by a solid defense, which has conceded just seven goals in 13 games, the best in CONMEBOL.

Chile. Chile are an interesting one, currently coming in third in South America despite their all-or-nothing attitude. That’s right, la roja have played 14 matches and have yet to record a draw. Still, they’re on 24 points and will at least make the playoff round, so little Jorge Sampaoli must be doing something right.

Who’s Got a Chance? 

Ecuador. Ecuador made qualification that much more difficult for themselves on Friday night, when Gabriel Corozo got himself sent off in the 28th minute. But they’ve still got 21 points from 13 matches, so really, finishing third isn’t out of the question. But with Uruguay and Chile left to face in their last three games, Ecuador will have a tough time staying above fifth place.

Uruguay. Remember how Uruguay made it to the semi-finals of the last World Cup? And then won Copa América the next year? Then came this team, aging, creaking at the joints, and only able to finish fourth in the Confederations Cup. La Celeste have managed some impressive wins during their qualification campaign, but have also recorded some devestating losses. To avoid the playoff, Uruguay need to get three more points than Ecuador, which is tough when the two face each other, with Uruguay also needing to play Argentina and Chile.

Venezuela. Venezuela had a tough time of it on Friday, losing 3-0 to Chile. But they’re only three points back of Uruguay and have just Peru and Paraguay left to face. With Uruguay’s remaining matches looking quite difficult, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that La Vinotinto could slip into the fifth spot and head to the playoffs.

Peru. Ok, things look bad for Peru. A Luis Suárez brace and a sending off for Peru’s Yotún put Friday’s match out of reach for them, with only a consolation goal from Jefferson Farfán giving the Peruvians anything to smile about. But three wins from their last three matches can put them right back in it — provided Uruguay and Ecuador cooperate, of course. Still, it ain’t over til it’s over, right?

Chivas Guadalajara wins 12th Liga MX title

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A nail-biting finish saw Chivas Guadalajara lift the 2016/17 Liga MX title, beating Apertura champions Tigres to earn the club’s 12th Liga MX title.

The title makes Guadalajara the joint-most successful club in Mexican top flight history, even with Club America on titles.

With the aggregate score at 2-2 coming into the second leg at Chivas Stadium, the home side took the lead on an 18th minute expert finish by former Tigres youth product Alan Pulido. Oswaldo Alanís delivered a brilliant deep, looping ball to the far post, and under one-on-one pressure with a defender, Pulido struck it first-time and buried the ball into the far corner.

The game waited until midway through the second half for the next strike, as the eventual winner would fall to Jose Vazquez. The 29-year-old charged down a bounding ball that Tigres failed to clear, and his effort on net took a sizeable deflection off the midsection of a visiting defender, leaving the ball to trickle in uncontested.

Despite a 4-2 aggregate lead, it was by no means comfortable down the stretch for Chivas. Tigres pulled one back in the 88th minute on a fabulous strike by Ismael Sosa from just outside the top of the box. The visitors pressed for a stunning late equalizer, but it wasn’t to be.

The title is sweet for Chivas, who has endured a decade of struggles since winning its last championship, even coming close to relegation at times. In addition, the starting lineup for the second leg was fully domestic from top to bottom, with all 11 players from Mexico. On that same note, Pulido outdueled expensive Tigres striker Andre-Pierre Gignac, putting in on of the most impressive shifts of the match.

MLS Snapshot: FC Dallas 0-0 Houston Dynamo

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The game in 100 words (or less): The goalkeepers starred as the first Texas derby of the season ended goalless in Frisco, leaving both teams winless for at least three matches. A relatively slow start to the match gave way to an electric pace before halftime, as both goalkeepers made incredible saves, and FC Dallas had a goal correctly ruled out for offside. The second half saw two more fantastic stops, and each team had little else to offer the game.

Three moments that mattered

27′ – A pair of incredible saves, one on each end. In a game that had slogged through the opening half-hour and just seen FC Dallas defender Walker Zimmerman off injured, the match sprung to life. First, Kellyn Acosta delivered a beautiful free-kick from just off-center to the right. Tyler Deric was there, acrobatically reaching the top-right corner with his fingertips to deny the USMNT youngster. The save was so good, Acosta appeared to be prematurely celebrating a goal before he was forced to pull up after seeing the stop.

Then, immediately down the other end, Alberth Elis charged down a loose ball and ripped a shot on net, but Jesse Gonzalez produced an equally stunning save to keep the game scoreless.

66′ – FC Dallas dominated the opening stages of the second half, but they’d need their goalkeeper again to keep the score level. Alex delivered a dangerous cross from the left flank, and while it went over the head of Cubo Torres, it fell to Mauro Manoutas sliding in at the back post who met it on the slide. Unfortunately for Houston, Gonzalez was in the right place to make an admittedly awkward save.

80′ – In a 0-0 game, with no goals to speak of, the loudest cheer of the night was for Mauro Diaz. The 26-year-old made his return from an Achillies tear, subbing on with 10 minutes remaining for the first time since early August. He received a standing ovation from the FC Dallas home crowd.

Honorable mention – Kellyn Acosta delivered this eye-popping through-ball just before halftime. Feast your eyes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Jesse Gonzalez

Goalscorers: None

Championship Playoff Final preview: Huddersfield Town vs. Reading

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These two teams weren’t supposed to be here, at Wembley on Monday at 10:00 a.m. ET playing for a spot in the Premier League.

Everyone talked about how beautiful Fulham played. Everyone talked about how Sheffield kept on winning. Everyone kept talking about the favorites. Everyone wrote off the other guys.

Yet here we are. Reading, owner of a +4 goal differential. Huddersfield Town, owner of a -2 goal differential. Reading, winners over Fulham thanks to a bogus handball. Huddersfield, on to Wembley after a penalty shootout in the rain.

Here we are. The game that will catapult one team to the riches of the Premier League, the game that will send another team back to the depths of the Championship, consigned to progress with the heartbreak of knowing they were so close.

[ MORE: USMNT roster announced for upcoming World Cup qualifiers ]

The Championship playoff final is one of the biggest enigmas in the European soccer landscape. Teams like Reading looking to return to familiar lands of plentiful bounty, others like Huddersfield looking for glory never experienced before.

Huddersfield has not seen top flight action since 1972, and former American international David Wagner has them on the precipice. “There were a lot of statements before the semi-finals about momentum and about form,” Wagner said. “It is another example where we have proven that experience and what has happened in the past is irrelevant. After the 120 minutes against Sheffield Wednesday there were a lot of tired legs, but now after a training camp in Portugal and training on the grass here, everybody is ready to go.”

As far as form goes, Town is struggling. They drew both legs of the Sheffield Wednesday playoff semifinal 0-0, and finished the regular season on a three-match losing streak. They haven’t won a match since April 14th.

Reading, meanwhile, finished the year with wins in seven of their final nine regular season games, and they downed an attacking Fulham side 1-0 at home in the second leg of their semifinal. They’ve been stellar at winning close games all year, winning 18 regular season games by just a single goal, and losing just four, with seven draws. If Jaap Stam can lead his side back to the Premier League, it would mark just a four-year turnaround from their previous relegation from the top flight.

Riches await the winner. The sides couldn’t be more different, and yet on Monday, they both face the same brick wall.

Epic fake injury mars Hungarian league title match

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Sometimes it works out perfectly. Two teams, a title on the line, one match to decide it.

The top two teams in the Hungarian top flight, also known as the NB I, were set to play each other on the final day of the season to decide the title winner.

Budapest Honved hosted Videoton, with the winner set to win the league title. A draw would have given Videoton the victory on goal differential.

With the match 0-0 at halftime, it progressed tensely through the second half. So tense, in fact, that the teams felt they needed to do everything in their power to earn an edge. Even fake injuries. Terribly.

34-year-old Videoton striker Danko Lazovic, a veteran who has been around Europe with Zenit St. Petersburg, Bayer Leverkusen, and a host of Eredivisie teams,  looked to earn a foul in the attacking half. He put so much effort into selling the foul that, well, he went a little overboard. And by a little overboard, we mean he went berserk on the field, rolling around and flailing on his back.

There are many factors that make this an absolutely epic moment. First, his team had already earned a foul without the dive. The referee had blown the whistle for a shove moments before Lazovic went down. Second, his teammate looks to come over and help him sell the foul a little more realistically, and instead of accept his teammate’s assistance, he shrugs off the help and continues to flail. Third, as karma would have it, Honved would score the title-winning goal six minutes later as they would go on to win 1-0.

Kids, don’t try this at home. It’s not a good look.