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Mexico’s Jimenez stars as Wolves clinch UEL knockout round berth

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Wolves blew a 3-1 halftime lead at Braga but hung on for a draw to clinch a place in the Europa League Round of 32.

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men can still win the group if it beats Besiktas on the final match day and Braga loses at Slovan Bratislava.

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Andre Horta put Braga ahead, but Wolves answered with three goals in the next half hour. Raul Jimenez, Matt Doherty, and Adama Traore all got on the board, with Jimenez also picking up an assist.

Paulinho and Fransergio scored twice in 15 second half minute for Braga, who ruined Espirito Santo’s trip back to Portugal.

El Tri star Jimenez now has 15 goals and four assists in 24 matches, including markers in the last three UEL matches.

Report: LAFC agree deal to sign Benfica MF Horta (finally)

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Andre Horta-to-Los Angeles FC is the transfer saga that’s dragged on all winter and spring long, but it’s reportedly set to reach the end of its painful, natural life, according to reports from Kristian Dyer and ESPN’s Jeff Carlisle.

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The MLS expansion side has reportedly landed its (new) main midfield man after weeks and months of agonizing over the details and negotiations — between not just two, but three, clubs.

A quick refresher/introductory course: Horta, Benfica’s 21-year-old Portuguese playmaking midfielder is currently on loan to fellow Portuguese first-division side Braga; Braga really like Horta being a Braga player, because he’s an above-average player; Braga have Horta’s services locked up through the end of the current season; Braga would not like to lose a key player three-quarters of the way through the season, when they’re unable to sign a replacement; Benfica have the opportunity to cash in on Horta, now, but said loan agreement with Braga poses a problem; Braga have been unwilling to roll over and play dead for the benefit of Benfica and LAFC.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from MLS week 4 | Ancelotti to Miami? ]

Unfortunately for LAFC, this means Horta won’t be able to arrive in MLS until the summer transfer window. Braga could still, of course, release Horta from his loan (prior to MLS’s primary transfer deadline on May 1) at which point he could move immediately. According to Carlisle’s source, though, “the chances of this [are] slim.”

LAFC will reportedly pay Benfica $7 million to acquire the former starlet.

As for how Horta will fit into Bob Bradley‘s plans once he lands in LA, the answer is far from obvious: Diego Rossi and Carlos Vela have been dynamite in LAFC’s first two games; meanwhile, the most obvious point of weakness lies deeper in midfield, where no true ball-winning, destroyer-type exists; Horta’s talent is obvious and will undoubtedly shine through, but the bigger in-season signing would almost certainly be a no. 6 to bring a bit of balance to LAFC’s midfield.

Crew breaks transfer record for Portuguese midfielder Santos (video)

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The Columbus Crew is using all three of its Designated Player slots for the first time in club history, and doing it in style.

Columbus boss Gregg Berhalter has brought in Braga playmaker Pedro Santos for what the club reports is its highest acquisition fee in history.

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The DP also carries Discovery Status, which is fairly hilarious for a 29-year-old player who has 15 Europa League appearances under his belt, but such is the processes of our oddball top flight here in America.

This is another promising signing for MLS, as Santos is in fine international form and joins Crew DPs Jonathan Mensah and Federico Higuain. The Crew currently occupy the final Eastern Conference playoff spot.

Here’s Berhalter, from the Crew press release:

“We are excited to welcome Pedro Santos to Columbus Crew SC and look forward to him making an immediate impact on this club this season,” said Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter. “Pedro brings extensive tenure at a high European level and also has Europa League experience which we believe will be an asset to Crew SC and will fit well into our style of play. I want to thank [Investor-Operator and Chairman] Mr. Precourt for his continued support and investment in helping shape this roster as we make the push for the postseason and continue to compete for championships.”

Houston lands third DP in Argentina U-20 vet Martinez (video)

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As if Houston’s attack wasn’t dynamic enough, the Dynamo have added another young talent to complete its corps of Designated Players.

Argentine attacking midfielder Tomas Martinez, 22, joins Alberth Elis and Erick Torres as Houston’s youthful DPs, and he looks the part.

The River Plate product arrives from an underwhelming stint at Braga in Portugal, but made 10 appearances with two goals for Argentina’s U-20s. That includes 90-minute runs in all three matches of the 2015 U-20 World Cup on a squad with Angel Correa and Giovanni Simeone.

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Currently sitting third in the Western Conference, Houston’s turnaround under Wilmer Cabrera has been dramatic; The Dynamo finished second-last in points last season, just three ahead of bottom-feeding Chicago.

The question in adding another young focal point is how much is too much? The Dynamo have yet to win on the road, and Cabrera will need to lean on DaMarcus Beasley and Ricardo Clark for continued leadership.

Europa League preview: Klopp faces old friends, La Liga v. La Liga, more

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Whether it be odds-on favorite Borussia Dortmund or long shots Braga and Sparta Prague, one of eight teams is just five matches away from lifting the UEFA Cup.

[ UCL: Wolfsburg shocks Real Madrid | PSG, Man City draw ]

The Europa League quarterfinals provide us a high-profile match between Liverpool and Borussia Dortmund, as well as an all-Spanish faceoff in Sevilla and two chances for big upsets in Portugal and Spain.

All matches kickoff at 3:05 p.m. ET

Borussia Dortmund vs. Liverpool

If history mattered in this competition, Liverpool would be buoyed by its three titles. The Reds would join Sevilla as the most decorated club in Europa League/UEFA Cup history if they ran to the finals and won. BVB are no slouches either, yet to win the tournament but twice a finalist.

Villarreal vs. Sparta Prague

Sparta is arguably the darling of the tournament, entering in the playoff round and defeating Thun, finishing second to Schalke in Group K and then knocking out Krasnodar and Lazio. Now, they get a Villarreal team who’s likely headed to the UEFA Champions League next season.

Considered the biggest underdog in terms of getting a result on Thursday, Sparta is hoping to sneak up on the Yellow Submarines.

Athletic Bilbao vs. Sevilla

The champ is here! Sevilla is looking to keep up its bid to repeat as Europa League winners, but will have to get through domestic rivals. Los Leones, for their part, boast the tournament’s leading scorer in Aritz Aduriz.

How even are these two? They’ve the same amount of La Liga points and are just two goals apart in differential. Sevilla nabbed the only head-to-head honors of the season so far, a shutout win in Seville on Jan. 9.

Sevilla has won four Europa League titles, while an Athletic title would be arguably the highest honor won by the club.

Braga vs Shakhtar Donetsk

Each of these sides has been to the mountain top, though Shakhtar won it all in 2009 while Braga fell in an all-Portuguese final two years later.