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Score predictions for 2018 World Cup playoffs

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Just nine places are up for grabs ahead of the 2018 World Cup and six of those spots will be decided by the winners of two-legged playoffs.

The other three spots will be sewn up in the final round of games in the African (CAF) qualifying region.

Four playoffs take place around the UEFA region this week, while Honduras do battle with Australia and Peru square off with New Zealand for a place in the tournament in Russia next summer.

Below is a look at the six playoffs over the new few days with a score prediction and winner selected for each series.


UEFA

Denmark vs. Republic of Ireland (First leg, Nov. 11; Second leg, Nov. 14)
Ireland are the slight favorites here, especially given the fact that they have vast experience in these playoff situations and also that they play the second leg at home in Dublin. That said, Denmark must not be underestimated with Christian Eriksen pulling the strings and Kasper Schmeichel organizing the defense. Ireland’s ability to grind out results is impressive and I think they’ll just get the job done to qualify for their first World Cup since 2002. 2-1 on aggregate to the Republic of Ireland.


Northern Ireland vs. Switzerland (First leg, Nov. 9; Second leg, Nov. 12)
The first leg is so key in this game. Northern Ireland’s supporters create one of the best atmosphere’s in world soccer on the international stage and Windsor Park will be rocking in Belfast. Scoring goals could be an issue for Michael O’Neill’s side but they have a solid defensive core and the experience of Jonny Evans and Steven Davis is key. That said, the Swiss won nine of their 10 qualifying games but lost out on automatic qualification on goal difference to Portugal. Xherdan Shaqiri, Breel Embolo and Haris Seferovic will be the danger men and Switzerland may have just too much firepower for Northern Ireland. 3-1 on aggregate to Switzerland.


Croatia vs. Greece (First leg, Nov. 9; Second leg, Nov. 12)
A huge clash as regional rivals do battle. Given the quality of their squad, Croatia should ease past Greece. But given their stubborn displays in recent major tournaments, we all know how tough this Greek side can be to break down. Luka Modric, Ivan Perisic and Mario Mandzukic will be the key men for Croatia and they’ll look to end Greece’s hopes in Zagreb in the first leg. Kostas Mitroglou is Greece’s main man up top and he will give Dejan Lovren a tough time over two games. 4-1 to Croatia on aggregate.


Sweden vs. Italy (First leg, Nov.10; Second leg, Nov. 13)
This will be a tight, tense series between two teams who love to defend. The first leg in Stockholm will be all about Italy defending and trying to hit the Swedes on the break with the likes of Ciro Immobile and Lorenzo Insigne. Marcus Berg and Ola Toivonen aren’t the most prolific of strikers on the international stage (any chance of a comeback, Zlatan!?) but Sweden finished above the Netherlands in qualifying for a good reason and impressed in their recent home win against France. This is not a vintage Italy side and Gianluigi Buffon will be a little concerned that his international career may finish on a low. The upset is on. 2-1 to Sweden on aggregate. 


ASIA-CONCACAF

Honduras vs. Australia (First leg, Nov.10; Second leg, Nov. 15)
The first leg in San Pedro Sula will be an eye-opener for the Socceroos who edged past Syria in extra time over two legs to set up this clash with CONCACAF’s fourth-place team, Honduras. Tim Cahill is struggling with an injury for Australia with Aaron Mooy and Mile Jedinak set to play in central midfield and scrap it out ahead of the second leg in Sydney. Honduras will be hoping to take a lead to Australia with them for the second leg and with the vast experience of Maynor Figueroa and Boniek Garcia, they will stay calm and look to feed off the incredible home crowd. 3-2 to Honduras on aggregate.


CONMEBOL-OCEANIA

New Zealand vs. Peru (First leg, Nov.11; Second leg, Nov. 15)
There’s no doubt that Peru are the heavy favorites for this game but the All Whites, led by a talented young coach in Anthony Hudson, will look to keep it tight and play direct to Burnley’s Chris Wood up top. Winston Reid will skipper New Zealand and lead the defense by example in Wellington during the first leg. As for Peru, well, they impressed mightily in CONMEBOL qualifying and came agonizingly close to sealing World Cup qualification (for this first time since 1982, no less) automatically. Jefferson Farfan and Andre Carrillo will be the danger men in attack as Ricardo Gareca’s men will relish taking New Zealand back to Lima for the second leg. 3-1 to Peru on aggregate.

MLS Snapshots: Fire in 1st; FCD coast past TFC; SKC extend streak

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Sporting Kansas City 1-1 Portland Timbers

The game in 100 words (or less): Sporting KC extended their home unbeaten streak in MLS play to 18 games with a 1-1 draw against the Portland Timbers on Saturday, but only just by the skin of their teeth. The visitors controlled and dominated in every aspect for the game’s opening 55 minutes and held a 1-0 lead before Sporting came to life just before the hour mark. Diego Valeri fired Portland ahead with a long-range striker in the 26th minute, but Daniel Salloi’s first MLS goal pulled the home side level after 60 minutes. Tim Melia saved his third penalty kick (he’s faced only four) of the season in the 75th minute, denying Valeri after Fanendo Adi won the spot kick in controversial fashion.

Sporting were far from their best, playing without Matt Besler, Graham Zusi and Dom Dwyer (international duty), on the day that their lead in the Western Conference was cut from five points down to three.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

26′ — Valeri’s blast from distance makes it 1-0 — No one stepped to Valeri as he approached the 18-yard box (due in large part to Sebastian Blanco‘s full-sprint run to occupy Kevin Ellis), and the Argentine playmaker-turned-sniper made them pay.

60′ — Espinoza sets up Salloi for 1-1 — Everything about Salloi’s equalizer — from Roger Espinoza‘s pass, to Salloi’s first touch and finish — is perfect.

74′ — Melia denies Valeri from the spot — Adi threw himself to the ground and won Portland a penalty with just over 15 minutes left in the game, but the ball simply refused to lie, as Melia atoned for his “mistake” and stood tall as Valeri hit his penalty down the middle and into the goalkeeper’s waiting hands.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Tim Melia

Goalscorers: Valeri (26′), Salloi (60′)


FC Dallas 3-1 Toronto FC

The game in 100 words (or less): The first half of the 2017 season was about one thing for FC Dallas: biding their time until Mauro Diaz returned to full fitness and form after rupturing his achilles last October. Through their first 15 games (before Diaz returned to the starting lineup last weekend), Oscar Pareja’s side managed to tread water and hold onto a top-three place in the Western Conference throughout. On Saturday, making his second start of the season, Diaz was unleashed, and FCD’s sky-high potential was unlocked. Hosting league-leading Toronto FC, the Hoops found themselves 2-0 ahead after 21 minutes (a brace from Roland Lamah, the second of two set up by Diaz), were pegged back by Marco Delgado in the 56th minute, and sealed the victory courtesy of Maximiliano Urruti’s 10th goal of the season in the 78th minute. The win moves FCD, who have two games in hand, to within three points of Sporting KC at the top of the West. TFC, meanwhile, relinquish their hold on the East and league’s top spot, due to results elsewhere.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

5′ — Lamah pokes it past Bono for 1-0 — Maynor Figueroa released Urruti into the channel, and Urruti cut it back for Lamah who arrived in the nick of time to poke it past Alex Bono.

21′ — Lamah reels in Diaz’s through ball to make it 2-0 — The brilliance that is Mauro Diaz, on full display.

78′ — Barrios feed Urruti for 3-1 — Totally stretched while chasing an equalizer, TFC were caught out and Michael Barrios set up Urruti, with ease, to put the game out of reach.

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Man of the match: Roland Lamah

Goalscorers: Lamah (5′, 21′), Delgado (56′), Urruti (78′)


Chicago Fire 4-0 Vancouver Whitecaps

The game in 100 words (or less): The only way to describe Chicago’s current standing as the first-place team in MLS is as rarified air, or unfamiliar territory.

Saturday’s 4-0 thrashing demolition destruction of Vancouver was but the latest in a string of impressive results, spurred on by a string of star performances by newcomer Nemanja Nikolic, who’s presently miles and miles ahead of everyone else in the Golden Boot and MVP races. Nikolic scored two more on Saturday, four minutes apart before the clock read 20:00, taking his 2017 tally to 16 (David Villa and Erick Torres are second, with 11 each). Nikolic turned provider on Chicago’s fourth, setting up Michael de Leeuw to complete the rout. The most impressive part? Dax McCarty and David Accam were away on international duty, and Bastian Schweinsteiger left the game after 43 mintues with an injury.

[ MORE: Saturday’s transfer rumor roundup | Friday | Thursday ]

Three moments that mattered

14′ — Nikolic slams home Polster’s cross for an early lead — Matt Polster’s future is undoubtedly as a right back. A central midfielder up until last season, the 24-year-old still has the patience and vision required to excel in his former position, and showed it off in picking out Nikolic for the opener.

18′ — Nikolic slots past Ousted for 2-0 — Right down Main Street this time, Chicago create scoring chances from every level and every area of the field.

25′ — Alvarez volley’s Polster’s cross for 3-0 — See again: Polster, Matt, above. Arturo Alvarez does incredibly well with the finish, and it was “game over” after 25 minutes.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Nemanja Nikolic

Goalscorers: Nikolic (14′, 18′), Alvarez (25′), De Leeuw (84′)

MLS roundup: FCD win battle of unbeatens; POR rebound vs. VAN

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With seven MLS Saturday afternoons/evenings officially in the books, only 27 more to go…

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FC Dallas 1-0 Sporting Kansas City

The only two remaining unbeaten teams faced off in Frisco on Saturday, and only one came out still unblemished. FCD dominated in the two most important facets of the game — chances created, and goals.

Maynor Figueroa scored the game’s only goal, a 77th-minute header to put home Michael Barrios’ floated cross toward the back post. If not for the (increasingly typical) heroics of Sporting KC goalkeeper Tim Melia (five saves), FCD would have already been 3-0 or 4-0 in front by that point. Sporting’s only shot on target didn’t arrive until the 47th minute, and it was far from a clear-cut chance, as Jimmy Medranda fired from the corner of the 18-yard box and hardly tested Jesse Gonzalez with the effort.

The win sees FCD move to six games unbeaten to start the season (four wins, two draws), while Sporting suffer their first defeat in seven games.


Portland Timbers 2-1 Vancouver Whitecaps

Darlington Nagbe and Darren Mattocks bagged goals for Portland, who wasted little time in bouncing back from last weekend’s home defeat to Sporting. Nagbe’s goal, a stunner from outside the penalty area (WATCH HERE) opened the scoring in the 18th minute, and Mattocks made it 2-0 five minutes before halftime.

Fredy Montero scored his third goal in two games to bring Vancouver back to 2-1 just before the hour mark, but that’s as close as the visitors would get.

Diego Valeri was carried off the field in the 80th minute, which is the worst scare that Timbers fans could have possibly imagined, though the Argentine superstar told reporters after the game that he was feeling much better.


Real Salt Lake 1-3 Atlanta United

The honeymoon period is over for Mike Petke who, after back-to-back wins to open his tenure as RSL head coach, suffered his first defeat since taking over for Jeff Cassar five games into the season.

A series of comedic errors doomed RSL just about from the start, as Hector Villalba (9th minute) and Yamil Asad (46th), two of Atlanta’s South American starlets, put the visitors 2-0 ahead a minute into the first half — the latter was set up by Miguel Almiron, another of the young, South American attackers at Gerardo Martino’s disposal. Albert Rusnak pulled RSL back to 2-1 in the 69th minute, but it would remain that way until second-half stoppage time, when Brandon Vazquez beat Nick Rimando for a 3-1 clincher.


New York Red Bulls 2-0 Columbus Crew SC

Columbus’s defeat away to New York went from bad, to worse, to worst, in 39 minutes’ time on Saturday. Midfield revelation Artur went off with a nasty arm injury in the 6th minute, Alex Muyl put the home side 1-0 up in the 11th minute Daniel Royer made it 2-0 from the penalty spot in the 38th minute, and defensive revelation (and rookie) Alex Crognale went off injured immediately thereafter.


Houston Dynamo 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes

Wilmer Cabrera’s side will live and die by the form of his young attacking quartet this season. On Saturday, Erick Torres and Alberth Elis delivered the goals (read: goals) as Houston picked up a rather comfortable him win over San Jose.

Torres opened the scoring in the 9th minute, and though Elis didn’t double the advantage for another 63 minutes, the result was rarely, if ever, in doubt. San Jose managed just two shots on target (Houston had just three, for what it’s worth), as Adolfo Machado, Tyler Deric and Co. kept their first clean sheet of the season.


New England Revolution 2-2 D.C. United

In a battle of bottom-half Eastern Conference sides, New England and D.C. drew 2-2 after Lee Nguyen and a Sean Franklin own goal stalemated tallies from Jared Jeffrey and Sebastien Le Toux.

Shorthanded USMNT looks to build momentum against Honduras

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Avaya Stadium will have a different feel on Friday night when the U.S. Men’s National Team hosts Honduras as CONCACAF World Cup qualifying resumes.

[ MORE: Five questions for USMNT ahead of Honduras WCQ ]

USMNT manager Bruce Arena will be coaching his first competitive match with the Stars and Stripes since the 2006 World Cup in Germany, and now it’s his job to help guide the squad back to the World Cup after stumbling early on in qualifying under previous manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up?

The U.S. currently sits bottom in the Hexagonal with zero points through its first two matches, while Friday’s opponent — Honduras — holds three points after picking up a victory over Trinidad & Tobago on Matchday 2.

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news ]

Arena will have his hands full though, not only with the U.S. opposition, but also with his lineup, which is set to see some serious changes both due to injuries and suspensions.

[ MORE: Cameron eager for USMNT return

Jermaine Jones won’t feature for the USMNT as he serves a yellow-card suspension against Honduras, while Bobby Wood, DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson and Brad Guzan are among those left off the 26-man roster after sustaining injuries in the lead up to the match.

[ MORE: Wondolowski grateful for USMNT call up after Wood injury

There is some good news for the U.S. though, as Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard and Geoff Cameron return to the squad after going through their own injury layoffs. Dempsey has already scored twice for the Seattle Sounders since MLS action resumed earlier in March, while Howard has also found his form through the opening three weeks for the Colorado Rapids.

Meanwhile, Honduras will look to make matters worse for the Americans as Los Catrachos attempt to beat the USMNT for the second time on U.S. soil. The only time the USMNT has lost to Honduras in the U.S. was back in September 2001 when the Americans fell 3-2 at RFK Stadium in Washington D.C.

Several familiar faces will take the field for Los Catrachos, including five MLS players and various other former MLSers. Houston Dynamo trio Boniek Garcia, Romell Quioto and Alberth Elis all figure to play a role for Honduras, while Sporting KC’s Roger Espinoza and captain Maynor Figueroa of FC Dallas will also play dangerous roles for the visitors.

One name to keep an eye on will be 24-year-old midfielder Andy Najar, who now plays for Belgian side Anderlecht after previously plying his trade in MLS with D.C. United.

CONCACAF World Cup qualifying preview: Beyond USMNT-Mexico

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Outside of the United States’ rivalry match with Mexico — just about everything you need to know for that is here — CONCACAF’s other Hex contestants debut on Friday as well.

[ CONMEBOL: Argentina in trouble ]

Panama opens up its Hex at home with a visit from Honduras. Panama’s six MLS players star with longtime LA Galaxy keeper Jaime Penedo and captain Felipe Baloy. Contrast that veteran squad with what’s across the field: a Honduran corps that mixes veteran savvy in the form of Boniek Garcia, Maynor Figueroa, and Roger Espinoza with electric young Olympic stars Alberth Elis and Romell Quioto. That one kicks early, at 3:35 p.m. EDT.

Costa Rica is on the road before its Tuesday home match with the U.S., and its destination for Friday’s opener is Trinidad and TobagoLos Ticos still rank ahead of the United States in FIFA rankings at 18th, and new coach Oscar Ramirez has a Hex-experiences squad including Keylor Navas, Bryan Ruiz, Michael Umana, Celso Borges, and Joel Campbell amongst others. Kickoff from Costa Rica is scheduled for 6 p.m. EDT.

T&T takes the place of Jamaica, and will hope for a better fate than the Reggae Boyz of 2014. Jamaica scooped up just five draws in finishing six points shy of the interconfederation playoff spot.