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Whitecaps are back in the win column, but Houston impresses in Vancouver (video)

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Back at home, back playing a team that only deals with BC Place’s turf once every 24 months, Vancouver again looked like the team that dominated New York on opening day, a performance that delivered the Whitecaps’ second win of the season. In the process of posting their 2-1 result, however, we may have learned more about visiting Houston than the team that ended up on top. After going toe-to-toe with the swift Vancouver attack, the Dynamo proved the quality it showed the season’s first two games was more than the function of an easy schedule.

Before Saturday, we just didn’t know how good Houston was. The Dynamo’s 4-0 win over New England on opening night was impressive, but the Revolution proceeded to be shut out in its next two games. And while Houston beat Montréal 1-0 two weeks ago, only a huge deflection on Will Bruin’s goal separated them from a team that’s now 0-3-1. Particularly after that Impact game, there were reasons to doubt.

Those reasons appeared to come out early in Vancouver. After an initial feeling out period, the Dynamo were having the predictable problems with the speed in the Whitecaps’ attack. In the 13th minute, that quickness led to a corner kick, with a Pedro Morales cross after an initial clearance producing the opener for Jordan Harvey. After Andy O’Brien knocked down Morales’s ball at the far post, Harvey got to a bouncing ball before Tally Hall, poking the home side in front.

(ELESWHERE: Sporting Kansas City breaks out, overcomes penalties in Colorado)

Near the 30 minute mark, though, Houston adjusted. Instead of the Vancouver attack continuously hitting their block with speed, the game started to slow down. The midfield of Brad Davis, Ricardo Clark, and Boniek Garcia began getting a better hold on the game. David Horst’s shoulder blocks started cleaning people out. Over the last hour, the game looked less like a BC Place track meet than a typical Dynamo affair. Dom Kinnear’s team had solved the puzzle.

Unfortunately, one final hint of BC Place’s influence doomed Houston. In the 57th minute, right back Kofi Sarkodie slipped as former Akron teammate Darren Mattocks cut behind him into the left side of the Houston penalty area. Once down, the defender’s left arm, extended above his head, blocked the ball, making Kevin Stott’s call almost obligatory. Kenny Miller’s second conversation of the season made it 2-0.

Houston would come back with a goal in the 75th minute after Clark headed home a perfect restart from Brad Davis, but the consolidation only served as a wakeup call. David Ousted was never truly tested with a potential winner as an awoken Vancouver played out the clock, sending Houston to its first loss of the season.

(ELSEWHERE: D.C. United finally into goals, points columns, but Chicago takes result out of RFK (video))

But consider what Houston was up against. I mentioned it a lot on the blog, but it’s difficult to overstate the effect of the Whitecaps’ turf. It is the strangest surface in the league — the only one of its kind (LigaTurf) — and plays like the top of a pool table. For Western Conference teams that play there every year, coaches and players learn to adjust. For Eastern Conference teams that only visit British Columbia once ever two seasons, the experience has to be surreal. The typical training session a team has before a road game isn’t enough to adjust.

Houston also has one of the slowest central defense pairings in the league: David Horst and Jermaine Taylor. Horst’s familiarity with BC Place from his time in Portland seemed to help him adjust to Vancouver’s runs, but the lack of speed was still a disadvantage, especially since Houston’s formation also left the team outnumbered in midfield.

I can’t wait to watch this one later this week. I want to know how Houston overcame all these obstacles. I suspect it’s the same formula as ever — quality players, willing to work hard, executing the basics — but that doesn’t make the performance any less impressive. Even if is just just Rico Clark adjusting, working harder, and outplaying his opponents, I want to be able to focus on it.

(ELSEWHERE: Late Di Vaio goal makes Philadelphia pay, gives Montréal first point of 2014 (video))

Against some other teams, particularly Eastern Conference teams, Vancouver would have ran away with today’s game. But after they adjusted, Houston were their equals at BC Place. Despite the loss, it was a very impressive performance.

LIVE – UCL group stage finale: Leicester, Tottenham both in action

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 06:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring his sides first goal with team mates during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur at Emirates Stadium on November 6, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The final matchday of the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League group stage takes place on Wednesday with two Premier League teams in action.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Leicester City is already through and has topped Group G with Claudio Ranieri‘s men securing a top spot for next Monday’s Round of 16 draw. The Foxes face FC Porto in Portugal with the hosts needing just a point to secure second place in the group and their spot in the last 16. Putting their Premier League worries aside, Leicester will aim to stay unbeaten throughout all six of their UCL group games.

Tottenham Hotspur wish they could say the same but Mauricio Pochettino‘s men have already crashed out of the Champions League with one game to go. They host CSKA Moscow at Wembley Stadium in Group E with Spurs needing just a draw to secure a place in the Europa League knockout stages. Bayer Leverkusen and AS Monaco has already qualified from Group E but Spurs’ Harry Kane insists they now want to go on and win the Europa League.

[ MORE: Permutations for each UCL group ]

Elsewhere Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund clash to decide top spot in Group F, while Juventus, Lyon and Sevilla are all still in the mix in Group H with the final game to come.

Below is a full schedule for Wednesday’s Champions League games, with each game kicking off at 2:45 p.m. ET.

You can follow live commentary and stats of each game by clicking on the link above, while we will have reaction right here on ProSoccerTalk.


Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League schedule

Group E
Tottenham Hotspur vs. CSKA Moscow
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Monaco

Group F
Real Madrid vs. Borussia Dortmund
Legia Warsaw vs. Sporting Lisbon

Group G
FC Porto vs. Leicester City
Club Brugge vs. FC Copenhagen

Group H
Juventus vs. Dinamo Zagreb
Lyon vs. Sevilla

Power Rankings: Top five players in the Premier League, right now

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The Premier League Player Power Rankings are out and now it is time to focus on the top five.

[ MORE: PST’s top 20 players, Week 14 ]

With two players from Chelsea and two from Arsenal, plus another from Tottenham Hotspur in the top five, Week 14 delivered plenty of goals and attacking players dominate our rankings.

Click on the link above to see our full list of the top 20 players in the Premier League, while in the video above Jenna Corrado and I discuss my top five players based on the last seven days of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game on NBC Sports ] 

Hit play on the video above to enjoy watching some silky skills and terrific goals as we guide you through the creme de la creme.

Why are Leicester struggling so much? Where can Man City improve?

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Last season Leicester City vs. Manchester City was a clash between two rivals fighting for the Premier League title.

This season? Not so much.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Leicester host Man City on Saturday at the King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), with the reigning champs embroiled in a relegation battle with just three wins from their 14 PL games this season.

As for City, Pep Guardiola is finding the Premier League a little tougher to handle than Spain and Germany early on with City winning just three of their last eight games in the Premier League but they’re still sitting just four points off top spot. That said, City has lost to both Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea already and their status as preseason title favorites is already being severely questioned.

For Leicester, their problems are worse than those at Man City.

There are multiple issues at play which could explain their stunning drop-off compared to last season. After 14 games this season the Foxes have 13 points. At the same point of their incredible title-winning campaign in 2015-16 they had 29 points and were joint-top of the table with Manchester City who actually have one more point this season than they had at this stage last season.

Back to Leicester and right now they are just two points off the relegation zone and have lost three of their last four games. Ranieri is very worried about relegation, as his recent comments in press conferences show.

“This moment is not the right moment for us. We wanted to get points here but of course it was a relegation battle, they won, well done to them,” Ranieri said after the defeat at Sunderland. “I said two, three weeks ago, always I look behind me. We are in the battle of relegation. For this reason we must stay calm, together and continue to work hard.”

At least Ranieri knows it, but how has it got to this point with Leicester breezing through their UCL group and into the knockout stages?

The loss of N'Golo Kante in midfield has been huge for Leicester with the French international midfielder already proving indispensable for Chelsea this season as he breaks play up, shields the back four and sets the tempo of the game for his team. Kante’s departure has left a huge hole in Leicester’s midfield but they’ve been equally hit just as hard with a lack of goals from Jamie Vardy who has scored just twice in the PL and Riyad Mahrez has suffered from a lack of creativity.

Mahrez set up 22 goalscoring chances for Vardy last season. This season the duo have combined just once. Maybe that is because Ranieri has been chopping and changing his team so much to cope with the demands of the UCL and PL, with Mahrez and Vardy often preferred for European action, but there’s no doubting that their level has dropped off and that’s happened across Leicester’s entire squad.

When you look at Leicester’s defensive displays, not much has changed but perhaps the rub of the green is going against them and they are falling behind to opponents extremely often which is making them chase the game and they’re getting out of their comfort zone. Simply put: Leicester isn’t doing what it is best at.

Ranieri knows it and said as much after their latest defeat at Sunderland which has put them further in trouble with plenty of tough games on the horizon.

“It is difficult to say what we miss. We miss everything,” Ranieri said.

In the latest PST Extra Jenna Corrado and I discuss the recent poor form of both Leicester and Man City and if fans of both teams should be worried heading into this big match on Saturday.

Click play on the video above to see us break it down.

Report: FIFA president backs 48-team World Cup, 16 groups of three teams

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - OCTOBER 14: FIFA President Gianni Infantino poses for a photo after part II of the FIFA Council Meeting 2016 at the FIFA headquarters on October 14, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland. (Photo by Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)
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Gianni Infantino wants to freshen things up a bit.

The new president of FIFA has been steadfast in his desire to increase the number of teams participating at a World Cup to 48.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars

After all it was a huge part of his presidential mandate which got plenty of the smaller nations of the soccer world on board to vote for him, and reports from AFP are now circulating that Infantino and key figured at FIFA have indeed backed a 48-team World Cup from 2026 onwards.

Members of the FIFA Council had previously received outlines of four proposed formats, including staying with a 32-team World Cup, but it is believed Infantino wants a 48-team World Cup and the decision could be made next month at a FIFA Council meeting.

It is also being widely reported that Infantino wants to try something new and have 16 groups with three teams in each. It is also believed the top two teams would go through from each group to a Round of 32 knockout stage and then to a Round of 16 and so on.

On the face of it, that doesn’t seem too bad an idea.

It would certainly eliminate some of the boring third group games we have endured at most World Cups recently as the two teams going through to the last 16 are usually sewn up by that point and the two other teams are left around with another game to play. However, it will be intriguing to see how the game schedule is set up in the three team group scenario.

The cynical folks out there suggest that Infantino is merely trying to ramp up more revenue from increasing the number of teams from 32 to 48 but when you look at it, the number of games would actually stay the same if there were 16 groups with three teams in each.

Think about it: more upset stories, more first-time qualifiers and more riding on each of the two group games for each team before heading straight to the knockout rounds.