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Around the Leagues: World Cup qualifying and domestic playoff races are cause for excitement

By Alex Crook, 10/12/21, 4:15PM PDT

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Italy falls, CONCACAF stirs up drama while USL, MLS, NWSL playoff races remain on chaotic course

Domestic competitions in Europe took a backseat to qualification for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and the UEFA Nations League, but in no way did that lead to a lack of excitement. A world-record unbeaten streak fell while five matches in, CONCACAF World Cup qualifying has turned into must-see television. 

USL Championship

Pittsburgh Riverhounds SC and El Paso Locomotive became the newest members of the 2021 USL Championship playoff corps. Pittsburgh scored a 2-0 win in a high-level clash with Tampa Bay Rowdies, while El Paso won 2-1 at FC Tulsa. 

OKC Energy FC is winless in its last three matches, but remains just two points below the playoff line in the Central Division. Energy FC faces a tall task in playoff-bound Birmingham Legion FC on Sunday. 

New Mexico United finds itself in a similar situation as OKC. United has not seen a win in its last three matches, but are still in the hunt in a wide open Mountain Division where four teams are separated by seven points. 

LA Galaxy II jumped above the playoff line over the weekend with the 1-0 win at Las Vegas Lights FC, while Tacoma Defiance kept their foot in the playoff scene with a convincing win over Orange County SC. 

CONCACAF World Cup Qualifiers

The United States Men’s National Team fell in Panama with a flat performance on the road, but can bounce back on October 13 with the October Octagon finale against Costa Rica at Lower.com Field in Columbus. 

The Stars and Stripes have split two contests in their three-game slate in the Octagon during October, taking down Jamaica before faltering in Panama. 

With the win, Panama pulled level with the USMNT on points in Group 1. Mexico took sole possession of first with a 3-0 win over Honduras, while Canada is knocking on the door of the top three after draws with Mexico and Jamaica. 

International

Domestic competitions were put on pause for an international break that included World Cup qualifying and the second installment of the UEFA Nations League. 

France upended Spain in Sunday’s Nation’s League Final at Giuseppe Meazza in Milano, Italy. After going down 1-0 in the 64th minute, goals from Karim Benzema and Kylian Mbappé lifted Les Bleus to the title with a controversial winner from the PSG striker. 

The host country had their world-record 37-match unbeaten streak snapped in the semifinals, falling 2-1 to eventual champion France. Azzurri took the consolation match on Sunday, downing Belgium 2-0 at Juventus’ Allianz Stadium in Torino.

Qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar entered the October schedule both at home and abroad. Denmark continued mowing down the field in the Group F with a 1-0 win over Austria on Tuesday, increasing their goal differential to +27, the best among all 10 groups in Europe. 

MLS 

The Seattle Sounders clinched a spot in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the 13th straight season over the weekend with the dominating 4-1 win over Cascadia neighbors Vancouver Whitecaps. 

The Eastern Conference playoff race remains unpredictable with six clubs divided by five points. New York Red Bulls jumped into the picture with a 1-0 win over Inter Miami CF on Saturday, thanks to Patryk Klimala’s strike in the 25thminute, while the Philadelphia Union hung on for a 2-1 win over FC Cincinnati that pushed the Sons of Ben into home-field advantage territory while eliminating the Ohio side from playoff contention. Kacper Przbylko scored his fourth goal in five games to help lift Philadelphia in the conference table. 

NWSL

With both Cascadia sides Portland Thorns FC and OL Reign having clinched playoff spots, spots three through eight are separated by just four points ahead of a jam-packed match week. 

Chicago and Orlando face off on Wednesday night in Bridgeview, with the winner jumping over the playoff line. Also on Wednesday, a Cascadia clash goes primetime with Thorns FC and Reign colliding in the Rose City.