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MLS Preview: Houston, Red Bulls hope for playoff push, Vancouver and Sporting KC battle for West supremacy

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With just four games left on the docket, teams around the playoff cut line are desperate for points. And yet, the top of the West remains wide open, with plenty of questions to be answered.

Things may look much clearer after this weekend, with lots of games that could provide space, or simply muddy the waters further.

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The marquee matchup sees Vancouver and Sporting KC meet each with a chance to take charge of the Western Conference, separated by just a point at the top. Neither has a realistic shot at the Supporter’s Shield, but a #1 seed could make a world of difference in the playoff picture.

Plenty of teams are simply fighting for a playoff spot, with the New York Red Bulls with a brutal trip to Eastern Conference leaders Toronto. New York is four points clear in the final playoff spot, but with Montreal taking on basement-dwellers Colorado, they’ll want to maintain the distance. On the other end, the Houston Dynamo host Minnesota United while sitting a point back of a playoff position, trailing FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake.

Here’s a look at this weekend’s MLS preview:


Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

Either side has the opportunity to take control of the Western Conference as Sporting K.C. hosts current leaders Vancouver. With just one win in the last three, the Whitecaps have just a single point lead over the trio of Portland, Seattle, and KC all knotted up. Most recently, a 3-0 loss to Seattle has Whitecaps fans on edge.

On the other side, the hosts are rolling, unbeaten in four across all competitions including victory in the US Open Cup final, and with a pair of league wins in a row. They have outscored opponents 8-4 in that span, a relatively poor performance for the league’s best defense that will have to contain Fredy Montero and company.

Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls — Saturday, 7 p.m. ET

The Red Bulls are still safe for a week in a playoff position, but with a daunting task in front of them, a loss and other results elsewhere could leave them clinging to just a single point advantage.

They head to Toronto, where the home side has lost just once all season en route to a seven-point advantage in the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, the visitors will just want a result of some kind, currently four points above Montreal in the final playoff spot.

New York will feel they have a chance as Sebastian Giovinco will likely sit thanks to quad tightness, and Toronto has lost its last two with the Italian on the sidelines, although Jozy Altidore returns from a three-game absence of his own. He’ll look to take advantage of a recently leaky Red Bulls back line.

Chicago Fire vs. NYCFC — Saturday, 9 p.m. ET

A potential playoff preview sees NYCFC hit the road – where they’ve been vulnerable – to visit Chicago. The Fire have been just as vulnerable at home of late, with just one loss in its last four home games to go along with a pair of losses.

The Fire could see Bastian Schweinsteiger come back, having missed the last four matches with a calf problem, and his return matches that of a number of NYCFC midfield starters.

Both these teams are firmly in the playoff picture, and could meet down the road in the postseason. Now, their view is on a bye. Chicago sits in 4th with 51 points, while NYCFC is in a more advantageous spot with 55 points to put them in second.

Full MLS schedule (All Times E.T.)

Saturday

Orlando City vs. FC Dallas — 4 p.m.
Toronto FC vs. New York Red Bulls — 7 p.m.
New England Revolution vs. Atlanta United — 7:30 p.m.
Colombus Crew vs. D.C. United — 7:30 p.m.
Houston Dynamo vs. Minnesota United — 8:30 p.m.
Chicago Fire vs. NYCFC — 8:30 p.m.
Colorado Rapids vs. Montreal Impact — 9 p.m.
Sporting KC vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 9 p.m.
San Jose Earthquakes vs. Portland Timbers — 10:30 p.m.
LA Galaxy vs. Real Salt Lake — 10:30 p.m.

Sunday

Philadelphia Union vs. Seattle Sounders — 1 p.m.

La Liga: Sevilla squeaks by Levante, La Real back to winning ways

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Real Sociedad put its two-game losing streak to bed and remained in the mix at the top of the La Liga table, turning around an early 1-0 deficit and winning 3-1 at home over Real Betis.

Lorenzo Moron scored 12 minutes in for the visitors, but a Javi Garcia own-goal leveled the score while Willian Jose and Portu sealed the three points. Martin Odegaard was fantastic again for La Real, constantly proving a threat in the buildup. Man of the Match, however, was Mikel Merino who was active in the midfield and popped up occasionally in the attacking third. The win pushes La Real up to fourth in the table, two points behind second-placed Real Madrid and three back of leaders Barcelona.

Sevilla was held for 86 minutes at home by Levante, but Luuk De Jong gave the hosts all three points as he rose high above Erick Cabaco to head home Jesus Navas’s cross from deep. Sevilla held over 60% possession throughout the match and racked up nine corners to Levante’s one, but didn’t create much in front of net until the final 15 minutes. Chicharito and De Jong both missed within two minutes of each other, and the latter eventually converted to push Sevilla to sixth in the La Liga table.

Alaves picked up a big three points over Celta Vigo with a 2-0 home win on second half goals from Lisandro Magallan and Lucas Perez. The visitors managed just two shots on target and had just one clear cut chance that Santi Mina failed to put on frame seconds out of halftime. Former Newcastle striker Joselu had a bad miss past the half-hour mark but proved a threat for much of the match, ripping off six shots on his own. Alaves also picked up five yellow cards in the match, but ultimately jumped out of the relegation zone and past Celta Vigo into 14th.

Villareal moved to seventh in the table with a 1-0 road victory at Espanyol. Cameroon international Karl Toko Ekambi scored his third goal of the season in the 17th minute and the visiting defense spoiled the Espanyol attack all game long. The hosts put forth 18 shots but managed to get just three of them on target. Santi Cazorla has been stellar all season for Villareal, and he went the full 90 minutes again, not adding much up front but proving a menace in midfield.

Athletic Club drew 1-1 with Real Valladolid as Inaki Williams put Athletic up just after the half-hour mark, but an Inigo Martinez own-goal pegged them back with 20 minutes to go. Athletic popped off 17 shots to Real Valladolid’s seven but Jordi Masip made six saves in net for Real Valladolid to spoil the home side’s day, leaving Athletic in eighth with 13 points.

Fabian downs Red Bulls in extra time, sends Philadelphia to conference semis

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A wild and wacky game saw Philadelphia come from two goals down to force extra time, and Marco Fabian bagged the eventual winner in the 105th minute to put the Union into the Eastern Conference semifinals with a 4-3 win. The victory is the first in playoff action for the Union in club history.

New York held a 3-1 advantage at halftime as Josh Sims, Tim Parker, and Tom Barlow all found the back of the net for the visitors in the opening 45 minutes, while Alejandro Bedoya found the back of the net himself.

After the break, things got even more wild. New York coughed up the lead, with Jack Elliott and Fabrice Picault each striking once despite a solid display from Red Bulls goalkeeper Luis Robles. With the game level, the final 15 minutes were all Philadelphia as the Eastern Conference three seed peppered New York’s penalty area, but Robles made a fabulous save on a Jamiro Monteiro effort from point blank range at the back post.

In extra time, Fabian found the back of the net with what appeared to be a chipped cross that took a slight deflection and snuck into the top corner from a tight angle.

The Union will get a matchup with Atlanta United in the semifinals, after Frank De Boer engineered a 1-0 win over New England.

 

Serie A: Lukaku brace helps Inter win shootout, AC Milan caught late

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Inter Milan kept pace with Juventus atop the Serie A table with an exciting 4-3 win on the road at Sassuolo. Romelu Lukaku scored a brace, as did Lautaro Martinez to go up 4-1 with 20 minutes to go, although the visitors nearly coughed up the big lead.

Martinez opened the scoring just two minutes in with a far-post snipe, but Domenico Berardi leveled things back up before the 20-minute mark. Lukaku put Inter back in front on 38 minutes, taking a feed down the center from Stefan de Vrij and posting up Federico Peluso before producing a strong turn and finish. He hit again from the penalty spot just after halftime after Martinez was hauled down in the box, and the Argentinian got his second also from the spot on 71 minutes to go three goals in front. The win moved Inter back to just a point behind leaders Juve.

Krzysztof Piatek struck in the 81st minute to seemingly rescue AC Milan, but Lecce hit back in the 92nd minute to earn a 2-2 draw at the San Siro. Goals from Hakan Calhanoglu and Khouma Babacar had cancelled each other out by the hour mark, but Piatek was on hand to bag his third of the season after Calhanoglu did the hard work down the right. Marco Calderoni was on hand to pip the hosts, however, with a last-gasp strike from distance that found the back of the net and gave AC Milan yet another disappointing result, having won just once in its last five games.

Roma was held to a scoreless draw on the road at Sampdoria, with Justin Kluivert seeing red on a pair of cautions and leaving the visitors to finish the match with 10 men. Roma held 65% possession throughout the match, but managed just a single shot on target amid their nine efforts. Edin Dzeko began the match on the bench, and while he came on at halftime, he did little to change Roma’s fortunes. The draw leaves Roma with just one win over its last four matches, sitting sixth in table, nine points back of the top.

Parma hammered Genoa 5-1 behind a hat-trick from Danish international Andreas Cornelius. The 26-year-old came on in the 12th minute for an injured Roberto Inglese and scored all three goals in an eight-minute stretch that bracketed halftime. The second was a vicious half-volley that impressively rippled the netting. He got his third in the 50th minute by beating Ionut Radu at his near post with a low blast.

Cagliari continued its impressive start to the season with a comprehensive 2-0 win over SPAL. The first goal came inside the opening 10 minutes on a rip-roaring thunderbolt by Radja Nainggolan from miles out, a candidate for Goal of the Season. You can watch the goal here.

Udinese pulled away from the bottom third with a 1-0 win over Torino at home. 30-year-old Stefano Okaka scored the game’s lone goal just before halftime, nodding in with his head while essentially standing right on top of the left post after Rolando Mandragora sent a looping header of his own that way.

Joao Felix injured, but not as bad as feared

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Atletico Madrid will be without its teenage sensation for a few weeks, but will still breathe a sigh of relief.

Joao Felix limped off in the 78th minute of the 1-1 draw with Valencia on Saturday, leaving Atleti with 10 men with all substitutes having been used. Simeone after the match said the medical staff believed the injury was “serious” but later that day scans showed just a Grade II ankle sprain, meaning Felix will miss approximately two to three weeks according to a report by Spanish publication AS.

Felix has been critical to the otherwise anemic Atletico Madrid attack, scoring two goals and assisting another. The team has bagged just three total goals over the last six matches, being held off the scoresheet in four of those games.

The injury means Felix will miss a Champions League match against Bayer Leverkusen plus league matches against Athletic Bilbao, Alaves and Sevilla. AS reports that he could be back at the start of November when Atletico plays the reverse Champions League group stage fixture with Bayer.

The 19-year-old arrived at the Wanda Metripolitana this past summer for an enormous $140 million fee.