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 HoustonDynamo.com. “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.

Jonas nets 2 late goals to keep Benfica in title hunt

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LISBON, Portugal (AP) Jonas scored two late goals to lead Benfica’s 3-1 comeback win at Pacos Ferreira on Saturday, keeping it close to Portuguese league leader FC Porto.

Jonas equalized in the 72nd minute and gave the defending champion the lead in the 88th.

[ MORE: Man United-Chelsea meet in giant Sunday PL clash ]

Rafa Silva added a third goal after the host was reduced to 10 men in stoppage time when Gian dos Santos was shown a direct red card.

Luiz Phellype gave Pacos Ferreira the lead in the ninth.

The double increased Jonas’ league-leading tally to 27 goals.

Benfica moved to within two points of Porto before the pacesetter visits Portimonense on Sunday.

Sporting Lisbon is third at five points behind Porto. It hosts Moreirense on Monday.

Orlando City trades defender Jose Aja to Whitecaps for allocation money

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The Vancouver Whitecaps have struck a deal with an Eastern Conference side to help solidify their back line.

[ MORE: USMNT’s Johannsson leads Werder Bremen to win ]

On Saturday, the Cascadia club finalized a deal to acquire Orlando City defender Jose Aja in exchange for $125,000 in Targeted Allocation Money (TAM) for 2019.

Additionally, Orlando could receive another $100,000 in TAM if Aja remains on the Whitecaps roster next season and a 2021 second-round MLS SuperDraft pick if Aja is in Canada for the 2020 campaign.

Aja has made 25 appearances for Orlando since coming to MLS in 2016 from his native Uruguay.

The timing of the deal is intriguing, given Tim Parker’s willingness to exit the Whitecaps ahead of the 2018 MLS season.

PST reported on Thursday that Parker is seeking a move back to the East Coast, and the New York-native is being tracked by several Eastern Conference sides, including the New York Red Bulls, D.C. United and the Montreal Impact.

Parker is considered one of the top American defenders in MLS, and is actively seeking a massive pay raise ahead of the new season, after making just under $100,000 in 2017.

PL Sunday preview: Red Devils battle Chelsea at Old Trafford

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It will surely be one of the biggest fixtures of the season when Manchester United and Chelsea get together on Sunday, and for both clubs a victory could be vital in projecting their form for the rest of the 2017/18 campaign.

Meanwhile, a crucial meeting at Selhurst Park pits teams on opposite ends of the table against one another. Crystal Palace enters the weekend levels on points with 18th-place Swansea, while Tottenham could leap Chelsea for fourth if results go in favor of Spurs.

[ MORE: Liverpool continues to score at lightning pace against West Ham ]

Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The injury bug has hit Palace hard as of late, with a total of 12 senior team players being left out of Roy Hodgson‘s squad. The list includes Wilfried Zaha, Yohan Cabaye and Mamadou Sakho, which won’t make things easy against a talented Spurs side.

Tottenham have had a ton of success in this fixture recently, winning the last five encounters and only allowing one goal in the process.

Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have hit the ground running in the second half of the season thus far, picking up a league-high 15 points in the Premier League since the start of 2018.

If there is a saving grace for the Eagles though, it is that Palace has been solid at home this season, and gone unbeaten in nine of its last 10 fixtures at Selhurst.

Manchester United vs. Chelsea — 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN

After a pair of draws from the PL sides kicked off their Champions League Round of 16 campaigns midweek, United and Chelsea can now focus their attention back to England; at least for the time being.

Jose Mourinho’s team came away from Seville with a crucial scoreless draw after the hosts tested goalkeeper David De Gea on numerous occasions, while Chelsea were close to pulling out a victory against Barcelona had it not been for a big-time mistake from Andreas Christensen late in the match.

Nonetheless, this is a fixture that always garners significant attention, especially from the Blues, who tend to have a better go of it. United has won just once against Chelsea in their last 14 fixtures, with the lone victory coming last season.

That said, Antonio Conte and his side have failed to exemplify consistency this year, and that includes road matches. The Blues have just two road wins in their last nine attempts across all competitions, which bodes well for the Red Devils.

The good news for Chelsea is the recent form of attacking duo Willian and Eden Hazard. The Brazilian was constantly in dangerous positions up the pitch against the Blaugrana in their recent UCL encounter, nabbing the lone goal for the Blues, while Hazard has scored six times in his last six PL matches.

The 2 Robbies: Unstoppable Liverpool, Man United-Chelsea and more

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In today’s episode, Robbie Earle and Robbie Mustoe discuss Liverpool’s emphatic win over West Ham (0:17), breakdown an extremely complicated relegation situation where nearly half of the league is in jeopardy of going down (10:05), before closing the show with a preview of tomorrow’s Man United v. Chelsea match (28:10).

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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