MLS playoff preview: Houston Dynamo at Sporting Kansas City, a place in MLS Cup at stake

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  • 7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and Univision Deportes
  • Kickoff temperatures will be in the 20s
  • The first leg of this aggregate goals series finished in a 0-0 draw
  • Saturday’s survivor earns a spot in MLS Cup 2013; Kansas City would host the league championship it advances
  • Houston has eliminated Sporting KC from the last two playoffs

(Originally posted Friday afternoon)

If it seems like we’ve been here before – Houston visiting Sporting Kansas City in a huge, tense MLS playoff encounter – it’s because we have. Players and coaches from Houston will be drawing on the fond memories, in fact of recent, previous post-season face-offs between these two.

Sporting Kansas City types … not so much.

It’s hard to escape the history factor in this series, so fresh of memory and so meaningful. This is where Sporting KC’s seasons died in 2011 and 2012, in high-stakes matches at Sporting Park on the Midwest city’s outskirts.

It’s all on the line once again on Saturday as Houston visits Kansas City in the second leg of the teams’ aggregate goals Eastern Conference final series. The first leg finished 0-0, which makes it “Advantage KC” for the back half of this one. (If does if you can avoid considering all that recent history, that is, a backdrop that makes things lean a bit more Houston’s way.)

A spot in MLS Cup 2011 was on the line two years ago when the teams met at what was then called Livestrong Sporting Park. Houston’s Andre Hainault and Carlo Costly (neither of whom remain with the club) scored in a game also remembered for an injury to Brad Davis, which took the Dynamo’s best attacker out of the subsequent league final. But Houston advanced that day to meet the L.A. Galaxy, leaving Kansas City and its relentless, pressing ways to wonder about what had gone wrong in a 2-0 loss at home.

(MORE: Notes on Sporting Kansas City ahead of tonight’s match)

A year later, the teams met again in the same park, this time in the Eastern Conference semifinals, a two-leg aggregate set, just like this year’s. Kansas City needed a two-goal win to even the series that night; the Dynamo had prevailed by a 2-0 margin in the opening leg. This one looked quite different, with Kansas City completely dominating (a 20-3 advantage in shots provides a fair, accurate snapshot) but doing no better than a 1-0 win. That left Kansas City eliminated (2-1 on aggregate) and put Houston on a path to a second consecutive MLS Cup appearance.

Kansas City has the look of a team that could play for the championship, a tough-minded, tactically wise bunch that also happens to be the league’s top defensive side. In fact, those loses convinced KC manager Peter Vermes to re-think his team’s commitment to all-out, high-pressure soccer. Now his teams play with just a little more possession and press high more selectively.

Still, at some point those sharp edges of recent history surely must work on some minds around the Kansas City locker room. “The great thing for us,” Vermes said late this week, “is that we don’t have a deficit to overcome, which was the case a year ago.”

(MORE: Notes on the Houston Dynamo ahead of tonight’s match)

The weather will have a fall playoff feel; high tomorrow in Kansas City is expected to be in the low 30s, with temperatures by game time falling perhaps into the upper 20s. The night should be dry, at least.

The other oddity about this one is the big break involved. Both teams had been quite busy in the run-up to the uneventful 0-0 draw in Houston – but there has been almost two full weeks since that one. So the teams will be better rested, at least. Both were cautious or tired or both to open the series, and the result was a contest where the teams evenly divided a total of just six shots on target. It was hardly an advertisement for open, attractive, flowing soccer.

With plenty of time to restore the legs and lungs, not to mention the cold temperatures that will help players stay on the move, Saturday’s match inside a sold out building should have more energy about it. It will, that is, unless the break makes things weird.

“There’s been a lot of time to think about this one,” Vermes said. “We want to play! It’s not easy to navigate the two weeks leading up to this game, keeping the guys sharp.”

The contest certainly has enough star power, with Kansas City center back Matt Besler and playmaker Graham Zusi set to lead the home team. Both were excused from U.S. national team duty over the past week and a half to ensure readiness for this one.

Injuries (well, one in particular) will be a huge influence in how this one plays out; Dynamo do-all midfielder Ricardo Clark remains questionable. This side of U.S. midfielder Brad Davis or perhaps goalkeeper Tally Hall, there is no more important Houston figure.

UEFA Champions League Weds. preview: Spurs need W

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Tottenham Hotspur’s UEFA Champions League dreams aren’t quite hanging by a thread, but anything less than six points from their next two matches will leave them all but dead.

Spurs and PSV Eindhoven begin a home-and-away run in Group B on Tuesday, with both sides 0-2 from matches against Barcelona and Inter Milan.

[ MORE: PL club power rankings ]

The Premier League side showed better than its Eredivisie hosts, but that matters little as both sides hope for a double while Barca and Inter square off in Spain and Italy over the next fortnight.

Eric Dier is hopeful that Spurs’ away form can carry over to the Netherlands:

“We’ve done well away from home so far this season. We’ve had some tough away games. Last weekend at West Ham was another and we managed to get another win. We feel very good at the moment. We have to try to continue that feeling tomorrow.”

Liverpool, meanwhile, has to get off the UCL mat following a stunning late loss in Napoli. The Reds are hopeful that a pair of matches against the weakest side in the group, Red Star Belgrade, does the trick.

At Anfield for the first match, Liverpool will be atop the group if it manages a win while PSG wins or draws Napoli in France.

American winger Christian Pulisic and Borussia Dortmund open their pair of matches with Atletico Madrid as well, and the opener comes at the Westfalenstadion. The other group match sees Thierry Henry’s AS Monaco away to Club Brugge and hoping for a an almost necessary three points.

Finally, there’s the chaotic Group D, with Porto and Schalke opening Wednesday atop the group. USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie and Schalke are at Galatasaray, while Porto visits desperate Lokomotiv Moscow.

Schalke boss Domenico Tedesco has prepared his men as best he can for Turkey:

“During the training session we had soundbites from Galatasaray’s last home game playing through the Veltins Arena’s sound system, in order to give the players a taste of what to expect,” Tedesco said.

Schedule
PSV Eindhoven vs. Tottenham Hotspur — 12:55 p.m. ET
Club Brugge vs. AS Monaco — 12:55 p.m. ET
Barcelona vs. Inter Milan — 3 p.m. ET
Liverpool vs. Red Star Belgrade — 3 p.m. ET
Borussia Dortmund vs. Atletico Madrid — 3 p.m. ET
Paris Saint-Germain vs. Napoli — 3 p.m. ET
Galatasaray vs. Schalke — 3 p.m. ET
Lokomotiv Moscow vs. Porto — 3 p.m. ET

Premier League Club Power Rankings: Week 9

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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This is getting good.

[ ARCHIVE: Premier League club power rankings ]

Five teams sit within two points of the Premier League lead following nine weeks of play, and Champions League midweek action will only raise the potential for tumult atop the table.

And there are a number of eyebrow-raising litmus tests for mid-table sides once we reach another weekend of PL play.


20. Huddersfield Town — Scorers of four goals through nine matches, the Terriers were stout but non-threatening against Liverpool. Better needed, and fast, with points for the taking in their next six PL fixtures.
Last week: 20
Season high: 18
Season low: 20

19. Newcastle United — The weekend’s loss to Brighton and Hove Albion was the first one in some time which couldn’t be written off due to opponent or injury. That the Seagulls were without Davy Propper and still controlled the midfield is not a good sign for Rafa Benitez‘s punchless attack.
Last week: 18
Season high: 13
Season low: 19

18. Fulham — Fulham has allowed 25 goals through nine matches.

Googles “Most goals allowed in Premier League season.” 100, Swindon Town, 1993-94. 

That’s history-making pace, Slavisa.
Last week: 18
Season high: 11
Season low: 18

(Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

17. Burnley — A week after drawing Huddersfield at home, the Clarets were absolutely worked by Man City. That happens. Chelsea, West Ham, and Leicester are next.
Last week: 13
Season high: 13
Season low: 20

16. Cardiff City — Huge win for the Bluebirds, who clobbered Fulham to show a bit of hope to their supporters ahead of trip to Anfield.
Last week: 19
Season high: 16
Season low: 20

15. Crystal Palace — Three-straight league losses and a slumping Wilfried Zaha have taken the shine off Roy Hodgson‘s tenure at Selhurst Park. A visit from high-flying Arsenal in next.
Last week: 15
Season high: 6
Season low: 15

14. Southampton — A visit from Newcastle provides Saints an inviting chance to experience breathing room from the relegation race.
Last week: 16
Season high: 13
Season low: 17

13. West Ham United — Andriy Yarmolenko‘s injury is a concern for an attack which was coming together. Two-straight losses, but a litmus test at Leicester City awaits the Irons.
Last week: 12
Season high: 9
Season low: 20

12. Leicester City — Maybe the most difficult team in the league to read on a week-to-week basis, the Foxes were a bit hard done by after taking a lead at Arsenal. See: West Ham for prognosis.
Last week: 11
Season high: 7
Season low: 13

11. Brighton and Hove Albion — Back-to-back wins have Chris Hughton‘s men envisioning a run up the table, and a win over Wolves would be wonderful for those ambitions.
Last week: 10
Season high: 9
Season low: 19

10. Wolves — A 2-0 home loss to Watford? We didn’t see that coming.
Last week: 5
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

9. Watford — Javi Gracia‘s men are capable of any result in the book on any given week. Can they built on win at Wolves by getting an expected win when Huddersfield visits?
Last week: 14
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

8. Everton — Three-straight wins on the road to Old Trafford, and a fixture worth circling on Sunday.
Last week: 8
Season high: 5
Season low: 13

(Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)

7. Bournemouth — There have been few stumbles this season for Eddie Howe‘s men, who simply must handle their business at Fulham this weekend.
Last week: 6
Season high: 6
Season low: 12

6. Manchester United — Where’s the mentality? That’s the question after a comeback win over Newcastle and draw with Chelsea yielded to Tuesday’s loss to Juventus. If Mourinho has hold of this crew, it’ll be just fine when Everton arrives on Sunday. If he doesn’t?
Last week: 9
Season high: 4
Season low: 14

5. Chelsea — The draw with Manchester United keeps Chelsea unbeaten, but the Blues have just one win in their last four PL matches. A trip to Burnley three days after Europa League duty is next.
Last week: 1
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

4. Spurs — Four-straight wins, three away from home and three without conceding a goal. Hugo Lloris and Tottenham are breathing a bit easier and have until Monday to regroup and face Man City.
Last week: 7
Season high: 3
Season low: 8

3. Liverpool — Here’s the good news: Liverpool’s first “slump” of the year has cost them very little and includes a number of “gut it out” results. Expect the Reds to “get healthy” at Cardiff.
Last week: 4
Season high: 1
Season low: 4

2. Arsenal — A tricky week for the red-hot Gunners, who start a Europa League pair with Sporting Lisbon before visiting desperate Crystal Palace. Arsenal has now won 10-straight in all competitions under Unai Emery since losing its first two matches of the PL season.
Last week: 3
Season high: 3
Season low: 9

1. Man City — Kevin De Bruyne is back, and the Citizens are basically beating back anything in their path. A trip to Tottenham is next.
Last week: 2
Season high: 1
Season low: 2

Champions League wrap: Dzeko dominates again; Real wins (just)

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Another terrific day in the UEFA Champions League saw goals, fine finishes, and star performances across Europe.

[ MORE: Champions League standings ]


Roma 3-0 CSKA Moscow

Powerful striker Edin Dzeko scored twice and assisted Cenzig Under’s 50th minute marker as Roma joined Real Madrid on six points in Group G.

How about a little love for Dzeko, by the way? The Bosnia and Herzegovina striker has five goals for Roma in this season’s UCL, and has 17 goals and seven assists in 23 appearances for Roma in the competition.

[ READ: PST’s talk with Dzeko on Serie A chase ]

Manchester United 0-1 JuventusRECAP

A spirited second half wasn’t enough for Jose Mourinho’s men to overcome another sloppy start, as Paulo Dybala’s 17th minute goal holds up at Old Trafford.

Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Manchester CityRECAP

David Silva‘s star show could’ve produced 7 or 8 goals, but he’ll settle for the match winner as Bernardo Silva and Aymeric Laporte also scored to send Man City atop its group.

Hoffenheim 3-3 Lyon

Talk about a back-and-forth affair.

Lyon led 1-0 and 3-2, in between overcoming a 2-1 deficit, but fell apart in stoppage time as Hoffenheim kept its UCL hopes alive via a Joelinton stoppage time finish.

Andrej Kramaric had the Bundesliga club’s other goals, while Bertrand Traore, Tanguy Ndombele, and Memphis Depay bagged goals for Lyon.

Hoffenheim and Shakhtar are three points back of Lyon and four behind Man City after three matches.

Real Madrid 2-1 Viktoria Plzen

Wobby Real built a 2-0 lead through Karim Benzema and Marcelo, but Slovakian midfielder Patrik Hrosovsky’s 78th minute goal gave the champions quite a fright at home.

Young Boys 1-1 Valencia

Michy Batshuayi struck first, but this one was all Young Boys. The Swiss side converted a 55th minute penalty through Guillaume Hoarau and out shot the La Liga side 18-8.

Ajax 1-0 Benfica

Dutch-born Moroccan right back Noussair Mazraoui scored in stoppage time to move Ajax level with Bayern Munich and in pole position to reach its first Champions League knockout round since 2005-06.

AEK Athens 0-2 Bayern Munich

Scoreless at halftime, Javi Martinez and Robert Lewandowski scored within a 3-minute run at Bayern. It was a fine leaping volley for Martinez.

Mourinho praises Manchester United effort, Juve center backs

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In case you haven’t heard, Jose Mourinho wanted defensive reinforcements this summer and Manchester United was largely unable to deliver any.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 0-1 Juventus ]

Was Mourinho slyly pointing the finger again after Juventus beat Manchester United 1-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday in the UEFA Champions League?

Maybe, or maybe he just really admires Juventus’ center backs.

The United manager mentioned center back Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini no less than three times in his recap of the loss, praising The Old Lady as well as his own side’s effort. From the BBC:

“Juventus is a different level of quality, I have to be honest. A level of quality, stability, experience, know how. The base of the team they have Bonucci and Chiellini.

“That’s the base that allows them to play with the freedom in attack. ‘Lose the ball, no problem, we are here’. We could deserve a goal for the effort of the boys but it was not possible. I have no complaints with my boys. I have a positive feeling for their effort.”

Bonucci admitted that United tried to sign him from AC Milan this summer before the 31-year-old opted for a return to Juventus.

United hosts Everton and goes to Bournemouth in the Premier League before heading to Turin for a rematch with Juventus. After that, it’s the tiny matter of a Manchester Derby at the Etihad Stadium.