MLS: D.C. United at Houston Dynamo

MLS Playoff Preview: Montreal Impact at Houston Dynamo

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  • Kickoff on Thursday is 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN
  • This is the Eastern Conference’s 4th-place finisher (Houston) hosting 5th-place in a single-elimination contest
  • Houston’s Dominic Kinnear, something of an MLS playoff king, is 13-7-3 in the post-season with Houston
  • Montreal finished the season on a 1-6-1 skid

Neither team enters Thursday’s playoff elimination match riding particularly tall in the saddle – although Houston has quite a few more reasons than Montreal to like its chances when the teams open Major League’s Soccer’s Eastern Conference playoffs at BBVA Compass Stadium.

Start with Dynamo manager Dominic Kinnear, who, plain and simple, has the MLS playoff thing figured out. That doesn’t mean Houston will definitely win when the teams kick off at 8:30 p.m. (NBCSN). But it does mean that every man in Dynamo colors will stride confidently into that very orange, two-year old ground field backed by sufficient stores of “been there, done that” from the coach’s office. And that looks like a swell place to start.

Kinnear’s 13-7-3 record with Houston in the playoffs looks even better if you take away the two MLS Cup finals (the last two), both played inside the LA Galaxy’s ground. He has guided the Dynamo to four of the last seven MLS Cup championship contests overall – and you can mark that under “flat out, getting it done.”

There is also the fact that Houston is at home. BBVA wasn’t quite the fortress it was last year, when the Dynamo went an entire season of home matches without a loss. In fact, the team’s 31 points at home this year ranks just 8th among the 10 playoff clubs.

Still, home field means a lot here. Montreal was just 4-9-4 on the road this year, compared to the Dynamo’s 9-4-4 mark at home.

Finally, we can circle the teams’ recent form as a reason to think Marco Schallibaum’s club has its work cut out Thursday in South Texas. The Impact has been on the skids since beating New England back in early September, just 1-6-1 since then. The club’s only victory came at home over Philadelphia, which didn’t make the playoffs. In fact, that was also the only game in Montreal’s last five where they actually found goal. Yes, Schallibaum’s club was blanked in four of its last five matches.

Last week, needing a win to officially clinch a playoff spot (or even a draw to improve positioning), Les Bleus found themselves on the wrong end of a 1-0 result at Toronto.

Houston’s form has been something of a mixed bag, a 4-3-3 record over the last two months. But Kinnear’s men did win last week in what was essentially playoff contest, downing bedraggled D.C. United at RFK when only a win would put the Orange into the post-season. The “must-win” scenario seems to bring out the club’s best.

“Everybody knows we’ve been in the situation many times and we can only use that to our benefit,” midfielder Ricardo Clark told “I think it’s always an advantage to play at home, you don’t have to deal with the travel and things like that, it’s a little more comfortable so we’re hoping that’ll help us out. Everybody knows what time it is, it’s a different vibe going into the playoffs.”

source: AP
Marco Di Vaio (on the right) just completed a rather rare 20-goal season in MLS.

But if we’re tallying up edges, Montreal does have a couple leaning its direction. First, the Impact can call upon some success this year versus Houston, especially a relatively recent 5-0 thumping at Stade Saputo north of the U.S. border. That was Kinnear’s worst loss ever.

Montreal also won, 2-0, over Houston in Montreal this year. And they were quite competitive recently in a 1-0 loss at BBVA Compass.

Plus, home field has been far less than an automatic “W” in this one-game knockout bit. Since MLS introduced the format for 2011 – where the playoffs begin with the fourth-place team hosting the conference’s fifth-place finisher in a one-game knockout match – the home teams are just 2-2. In fact, Houston is responsible for one of the visitor wins, launching last year’s playoff drive with a win at Chicago.

And we certainly can’t fail to mention the Marco Di Vaio factor. While Houston’s forwards have struggled to finish chances this year (or to create them) Di Vaio just had a sensational, 20-goal campaign. In fact, the veteran Italian forward, one of the league’s purest, most clinical finishers was third in final MLS goal scoring.

Both teams will miss an important defender: Jermaine Taylor is missing for Houston and Alessandro Nesta is out for Montreal.

How can Chelsea qualify for last 16 of Champions League?

HAIFA, ISRAEL - NOVEMBER 24: Willian of Chelsea celebrates scoring his teams second goal during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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With one match left in UEFA Champions League group play, Chelsea control their own destiny.

After beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv 4-0, the Blues sit tied with FC Porto on ten points at the top of Group G.

[ MORE: Champions League standings

However, with Dynamo Kyiv earning a big win over Porto on Tuesday, Chelsea must wait until the final matchday to qualify for the knockout round, as there is a possibility of a three-way tie for the top spot in Group G.

With Chelsea hosting Porto on December 9, here are the scenarios for Jose Mourinho’s men to assure advancement.

  • A win over Porto will clinch Chelsea the top spot and a place in the last 16.
  • A draw against Porto will see Chelsea advance.
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo win: Chelsea win group, Dynamo finish second
    • Chelsea draw/Dynamo draw or loss: Porto win group, Chelsea finish second
  • A loss to Porto and a Dynamo Kyiv draw/loss to Maccabi Tel-Aviv will see Chelsea finish second in the group and advance to the last 16.
  • The Blues have secured at least a berth in the Europa League, regardless of the result in their final match.

Simply put, get a point at Stamford Bridge and Chelsea advance.

Mourinho says bad pitch in Tel-Aviv injured Ramires, John Terry

during the UEFA Champions League Group G match between Maccabi Tel-Aviv FC and Chelsea FC at Sammy Ofer Stadium on November 24, 2015 in Haifa, Israel.
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Chelsea left Israel with a 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel-Aviv, but also left with some injuries.

Ramires was hurt in training the day before the match, and John Terry was forced off in the second half.

[ RECAP: Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea ]

Jose Mourinho talked about the condition of the pitch before the match, and was even more upset after it as two of his players are now hurt, although the extent of those injuries is not yet known.

Terry was stretchered off and looked to be in quite a bit of pain after going up for a challenge, as his ankle twisted awkwardly when he landed.

The pitch in Tel-Aviv was in poor condition, as large chunks of turf could be seen flying up when players planted or went in for tackles. Mourinho himself was seen on the field trying to fill in divots before the match.

While Mourinho said he didn’t want to jump to conclusions before getting test results, he believes John Terry will be unable to play this weekend, a huge Premier League match away at Tottenham.

[ MORE: Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” in match vs. Olympiacos ]

Other than his issues with the conditions, Mourinho was relatively happy with the team’s play and believes they are getting some confidence back, now with consecutive wins after beating Norwich City over the weekend.

UCL roundup: Barcelona, Bayern clinch spots in the knockout round

BARCELONA, SPAIN - NOVEMBER 24:  Gerard Pique (C) of Barcelona celebrates scoring his teams fourth goal with Luis Suarez (L) and Lionel Messi during the UEFA Champions League Group E match between FC Barcelona and AS Roma at Camp Nou on November 24, 2015 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Two more teams booked spots in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League, as perennial powerhouses Barcelona and Bayern Munich earned big wins to advance out of their groups.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]

Barcelona 6-1 Roma

Barcelona fared well without Lionel Messi, and now with him back in the lineup, they look unbeatable. The Catalans advance to the last 16 with an absolutely dominating performance, thrashing Roma 6-1. Messi and Luis Suarez scored two goals each, with Gerard Pique and Adriano adding the others. Edin Dzeko would ruin the clean sheet with a goal for Roma in stoppage time, but it was another Barcelona masterclass at Camp Nou.

Bayern Munich 4-0 Olympiacos

Continuing with the trend of dominating performances, Bayern Munich eased past Olympiacos 4-0 to clinch a spot in the knockout round. Bayern scored early and often, going three goals ahead in the opening 20 minutes through Douglas Costa, Robert Lewanowski and Thomas Muller. Despite going down to ten-men in the second half after Holger Badstuber was sent off, Bayern continued to dominate as the young Kingsley Coman scored the fourth and final goal.

Arsenal 3-0 Dinamo Zagreb

Arsenal is clinging on to hope of advancing out of Group F with a 3-0 win at home over Dinamo Zagreb. Mesut Ozil opened the scoring and Alexis Sanchez added two more as the Gunners now head into the final matchday in need of a win over Olympiacos.

Maccabi Tel-Aviv 0-4 Chelsea

Chelsea got a big win away from home in Group G, beating a ten-man Maccabi side 4-0. Willian scored another free kick for the Blues, as the Brazilian has now scored from a set piece in four of Chelsea’s five Champions League matches. Tied with Porto atop the group, Chelsea needs just one point from their final match to advance.

Elsewhere in the Champions League

Group E

BATE Borisov 1-1 Bayer Leverkusen

Group G

Porto 0-2 Dynamo Kyiv

Group H

Zenit St. Petersburg 2-0 Valencia (Zenit clinch top spot)
Lyon 1-2 Gent (Lyon eliminated)

Arsenal ready to “play for our lives” vs. Olympiakos to remain in UCL

Alexis Sanchez
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Following their 3-0 win over Dinamo Zagreb on Tuesday, Arsenal know what they must do in two weeks time at Olympiakos.

Win by two goals or more — or by a margin of one if they score three goals — and they’re in the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League for the 16th straight.

[ MORE: How can Arsenal make last 16? ]

Anything less means Arsene Wenger‘s side will crash out of the UCL at the group stage and will be competing in the last 32 of the Europa League when European play restarts in 2016.

Hope remains. Just.

It’s a simple equation but don’t underestimate how hard the Gunners have battled to put themselves in this situation. After losing both of their opening Group F games at Zagreb and then at home against Olympiakos, they looked dead and buried.

Now, they have a chance to advance.

“The team knew it was a very important day today – everyone had to turn up and they did. Now we’re going to play for our lives [against Olympiakos],” Arsenal right back Hector Bellerin said. “This was an important test for us, to be alive in the Champions League. The team responded very well. The team is showing we have got a lot of quality, a lot of creativity. When we have all our players back, we’re going to be up there.”

Wenger’s men have been in these kind of situations in the UCL before, but usually in the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: Chelsea hammer Tel Aviv, face tricky final day ]

In each of the past five seasons they’ve fallen at the last 16 hurdle but often that exit has come after after putting themselves in perilous situations from dreadful displays in the first legs and then nearly clawing things back in the second legs. Last season they lost to AS Monaco 3-1 at home in the first leg and won 2-0 away, going out on away goals. The season before that they lost 2-0 at home to Bayern Munich in the first leg but drew 1-1 away from home in the second leg and battled hard in Bavaria.

Simply put, Wenger’s men have been in this kind of “do or die” situation many times in the UCL over the past few seasons. It’s all about one game in Greece in two weeks. Wenger knows it as he spoke following their win over Zagreb which set up the tantalizing encounter in Athens on Dec. 9.

“It promises to be a very interesting game [against Olympiakos], but at least we have a chance,” Wenger said. “I think Mesut Ozil had an outstanding first half, he has got the taste for scoring now. I have never seen Ozil in the box so many times as in the last five or six games. The Europa League is not the target – let us give everything to remain in the Champions League.”