ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer rankings: Week 1

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1. Los Angeles – One defeat does not a rankings-changer make. But you’re on warning, Galaxy! Consider this a good “talking to,” and don’t make us have to re-think things with a second consecutive MLS loss. Meanwhile, important CONCACAF Champions League matters await this week.

2. Real Salt Lake – Are the Galaxy really best in the West? Kyle Beckerman, RSL’s cop on the beat in the Rio Tinto midfield, has a little something to say about that. Delicious! When your side goes into Los Angeles for a smash-and-grab like we saw last weekend (3-1), you get to say these things.

3. Seattle – They’ve got one foot in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, with only this week’s return leg at Santos still in the way. The Sigi Sounders need a tie down in Mexico. It  won’t be easy, but the MLS side should be well rested after being idle in Week 1.

4. Sporting Kansas City – Remember all that stuff about Sporting Kansas City being the class of the East, with too many offensive weapons to contain for very long? Rinse. Repeat. Peter Vermes’ side was in control in the 1-0 win at D.C. United.

5. Colorado – All the talk of new formations (4-3-3), bright coaching debuts (Oscar Pareja) and this concerning head injury to captain Pablo Mastroeni has partially obscured this: right back Kosuke Kimura looked like a world-beater out there, with both assists in the 2-0 season-opening win over Columbus.

6. FC Dallas – The Red Stripes can feel good about downing New York at home, but things are already looking perilously thin, with Brek Shea (Olympic team) out and Fabian Castillo (ankle) perhaps questionable for this week. That’s going to mean Blas Perez will have even more to do in making the Dallas offense go.

7. Houston – The Dynamo finally gets its goal inside the Home Depot Center – just a few months too late. Inside the same stadium where Dominic Kinnear’s men fell last November to the Galaxy in the MLS Cup final, Andrew Hainault’s late game-winner got the Houston season off to a good start against stadium second-citizen Chivas USA.

8. Portland – First half: Meh. Second half: “Hell, yeah!” Three strikes at Jeld-Wen after the break, including one by scoring hope Kris Boyd help take down Philadelphia (3-1) in the league’s Monday night special.

9. Vancouver – Tough to say what to make of the 2-0 win over Montreal. At home. Against an expansion team in its very first MLS contest. It’s a win, for sure, and the Whitecaps’ shape and passing looked good at times. But let’s just consider this “taking care of business” and hold off on bigger pronouncements.

10. San Jose – It wasn’t the prettiest win, and you can debate the true worth of downing a side in high transition. Still, the opening-day triumph over New England will look like just another three points by season’s end, and that’s the most important thing for a management unit that simply must get it right this year.

11. Chicago – Who can possibly enjoy being idle on MLS FirstKick weekend?  It just leaves you hungry.  Probably for Polish deli greatness or Chicago-style hot dogs when we’re talking about matters of Toyota Park. Anyway, the Fire’s season opens this week at Montreal.

12. New York – It’s come to this around the Eastern Conference’s highest profile side: they clearly miss the linking play of Rafa Marquez, who perhaps can keep Thierry Henry from dropping so far back into midfield to collect possession. Up next, a trip into Utah to face Real Salt Lake.

13. Toronto FC – Aron Winter’s men have a big advantage over Los Angeles going into tomorrow’s CONCACAF Champions League second-leg: they had the weekend off, able to rest and recuperate while nine of 11 Galaxy starters from last week’s first leg had to deal with an MLS contest.

14. Philadelphia – Last year started with a 1-0 win at Houston, immediately pushing things in the right direction for Peter Nowak’s men. This year’s reconfigured (and young) squad didn’t get anything close to the same start in a 3-1 loss at Portland. Freddy Adu was awfully quiet for the Union.

15. D.C. United – D.C. United officials are pedaling hard on the “Give us time, we’ll get better” campaign. And that’s fair enough, I guess. But just one, lonely little shot on target in your home opener? And being out-shot overall, 17-7, by Sporting Kanas City in a 1-0 loss? That’s not a great place to start.

16. Columbus – Some nifty work from replacement goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum kept his Crew in the game, but his inability to handle one routine cross was the genesis of an opening goal in the 2-0 loss at Colorado. And the hamstring injury to young midfielder Dilly Duka put another black mark on the season opener.

17. New England – There was some good (Benny Feilhaber, Lee Nguyen off the bench) and some bad (an off night from Shalrie Joseph, a quiet debut from promising rookie Kelyn Rowe) in the road loss to San Jose.

18. Chivas USA – Forced into a makeshift lineup due to a pair of key absences – winger Michael Lahoud (hamstring strain) and center back John Alexander Valencia (quadriceps strain) – the Goats nonetheless offered a touch of promise. But when you can’t score so much as a lone goal at home, you become vulnerable – which is exactly what happened in the 1-0 loss to Houston.

19. Montréal – Using a lineup with too many men better suited as role players or backups, the Impact fell at Vancouver. Things will get better. It takes a while to truly sort out which players can hack it going forward.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.

World Cup bribes, death threats: Corrupt world of FIFA

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Hour after hour in a New York City courtroom, the schemes to corrupt world soccer are spilling out.

The millions of dollars in “inducements” to secure contracts to televise matches. The bribes sought by FIFA executives with the power to determine World Cup hosts. The death threats for cooperating with investigators.

It took the intervention of the U.S. Department of Justice to disrupt years of embezzlement by officials who abused roles in the global soccer governing body, FIFA, to enjoy a gilded lifestyle. Two years after a sprawling investigation of FIFA led to waves of arrests that shook soccer, the trial of three men is underway and about to enter its second week.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked | What’s next for WBA? ]

Though the trial in Brooklyn is dealing with corruption allegations before new FIFA leaders emerged in 2016, officials still prominent in soccer are not untouched by the evidence already heard in court – particularly relating to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Here is a look at the talking points from the first week of the trial:

ON TRIAL

The three men on trial pleaded not guilty to charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for prestigious tournaments:

– Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich in May 2015.

– Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Swept up in a second wave of arrests at the same hotel in Zurich in December 2015. As president of South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of reform who could clean up FIFA before being indicted.

– Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president detained along with Napout at the Baur au Lac hotel close to FIFA’s Swiss headquarters.

STAR WITNESS

More than 40 other officials, business executives and entities have been charged. Many have pleaded guilty, hoping to receive reduced sentences, including Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of the Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, who is a star witness for the prosecution.

QATAR WORLD CUP

No decision has proved more toxic for FIFA than the 2010 vote that handed the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The bid has been stained by suspicion of wrongdoing for years, although FIFA has been unable to uncover evidence it says would warrant stripping the Middle East of its first World Cup.

Usually quick to defend their integrity, the Qataris have been silent on the fresh claims of vote-buying divulged in court.

According to Burzaco, three South Americans were among 22 FIFA executive committee voters who took million-dollar bribes to support Qatar, which beat out the United States in the final round of voting in December 2010.

[ MORE: Busy week for PL big boys ]

A rule-breaking voting pact between Qatar and the Spain-Portugal campaign in the 2018 bidding – twice investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee but unproven – was given fresh credence in court by Burzaco, a trusted associate to the late former FIFA senior vice president Julio Grondona, to whom he channeled bribes worth millions.

Grondona was the most influential of South America’s trio of FIFA voters, and would surely have been indicted but for his death in July 2014. The other two voters, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, were indicted by U.S. prosecutors in 2015 but have avoided extradition from their home countries.

Burzaco testified to conversations and incidents with Grondona in 2011, including a confrontation about media reports of bid bribes with Qatari officials at the five-star Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.

An angry Grondona, Burzaco testified, later complained he got into “all these mess and scandal for only” $1.5 million while two others had fooled him and got $75 million. Those two, the court was told, were Teixeira and Sandro Rosell, a former Nike executive and then-president of Spanish club Barcelona who had business ties to Qatar.

FIFA has not directly commented on last week’s courtroom allegations, inevitably waiting for the conclusion of the trial. Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has come under fresh attack in recent weeks by neighboring countries that have severed diplomatic ties with the emirate.

BROADCASTERS’ BRIBES

While the probity of the World Cup vote has been thrust back into the spotlight, much of the evidence so far relates to how officials sprayed illegal cash payments to secure broadcasting rights in the Americas.

Leading broadcasters have been implicated by Burzaco’s evidence about the trail of bribes, including Fox Sports (United States), Televisa (Mexico) and TV Globo (Brazil), which deny wrongdoing.

SLIT-THROAT GESTURE

The most dramatic moment in the opening week of the trial saw Burga accused of threatening Burzaco by making a slashing motion on his neck as the witness testified. Burga claimed he was scratching his throat but still had his bail conditions tightened. Burzaco earlier disclosed he became the target of death threats after it emerged he was cooperating with authorities.

SUICIDE

A former Argentine government official, Jorge Delhon, killed himself hours after the court was told he took millions in bribes in exchange for handing out television rights.

Jorge Delhon, a lawyer who worked in the administration of former Argentina President Cristina Fernandez, dealt with the now-defunct government program Futbol para Todos (Football for All), which broadcast local soccer matches on public TV. Burzaco implicated Delhon in taking bribes.

POLITICAL LINKS

The close ties in South America among lawmakers, judges and soccer leaders are becoming clearer.

In a series of WhatsApp messages detailed in court Wednesday, Napout revealed his links to the current state president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes.

Napout passed on to Burzaco a request from Cartes’ private office to buy eight tickets for Argentina’s game against Iran at the 2014 World Cup. Around that time, Napout also noted CONMEBOL had been in a legal case with a businessman and that Cartes “resolved the entire trial and did it all because of me.”

Cartes also advised Napout to “stay close” to Grondona of Argentina to fulfil his ambition to lead CONMEBOL, the WhatsApp messages revealed.

When Argentina reached the semifinals, Napout asked Burzaco to get four tickets for Paraguay’s attorney general to buy. In a WhatsApp message, Napout tells Burzaco, “we have a trial over there. There are two judges mad because I refused” to get tickets.

CURRENT OFFICIALS

The desire by FIFA to characterize the trial as dealing with officials long banished from world soccer is made harder when officials currently influential in the game are mentioned in court.

FIFA’s current finance committee chairman, Alejandro Dominguez, was referred to during the trial on Wednesday as “not a very successful businessman (who) will probably request” a bribe.

Burzaco, the prosecution’s star witness, said he was told this about Dominguez by Napout in early 2015. Napout is a Paraguayan like Dominguez, and his predecessor as CONMEBOL leader.

Under current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Dominguez is a key ally in Zurich as one of FIFA’s eight vice presidents and was rewarded with being made chairman of the finance panel.

Among many soccer officials whose photographs Burzaco was asked by prosecutors to identify on Tuesday were Sunil Gulati, the most influential American at FIFA, and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Qatari who heads French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and broadcaster beIN Sports. Al-Khelaifi is under criminal investigation in Switzerland for suspected bribery linked to FIFA awarding beIN broadcast rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

The U.S. has not accused Gulati or Al-Khelaifi of any offenses.

EVADING JUSTICE

Several soccer officials indicted in 2015 are absent from court as they fight extradition to the United States:

– Jack Warner (Trinidad and Tobago): Charged in May 2015, four years after quitting as a FIFA vice president to avoid sanctions in the bribery case connected to a presidential election. Later banned for life by FIFA for misconduct during the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding process.

– Marco Polo del Nero (Brazil): Despite being charged with corruption, remains president of the Brazilian federation and met with FIFA’s Infantino during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee after missing meetings and was then indicted in the U.S. in December 2015.

– Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay): President of CONMEBOL from 1986 to 2013, when he resigned for receiving $130,000 in payments from a former FIFA marketing partner. Wanted in the U.S. on charges of receiving millions of dollars in bribes linked to marketing and television contracts, Leoz’s extradition was finally approved by a judge in Paraguay last week just as the FIFA trial was getting underway in Brooklyn.

– Ricardo Teixeira (Brazil): A former son-in-law of Joao Havelange, FIFA’s president in 1974-98, Teixeira quit as Brazilian federation head and a FIFA executive committee member in 2012 as corruption allegations mounted.

Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

MLS Conference Final preview: Rematch spoilers?

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There’s an MLS Cup Final rematch on the cards if you play the favorites for this week’s conference finals.

Seattle beat Toronto in last season’s Cup final via penalty kicks, and Brian Schmetzer could again match wits with Greg Vanney come 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 9 in Ontario.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked | What’s next for WBA? ]

The finals begin Tuesday with a doubleheader of sorts, scheduled 90 minutes apart in Columbus and Houston.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew
First leg — 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Ohio
Second leg — 7:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Ontario

The Trillium Cup rivals meet with a lot more on the line, and the subplots are many. Toronto FC is aiming to win its first MLS Cup title after a record-breaking season lifting the Supporters’ Shield. The Crew is being held hostage by its owner who’s done his level best to engineer a move to Austin come 2019, and the players are giving their fans on-field thrills to go with #SaveTheCrew protests.

There’s a terrific chance for Columbus to pull ahead in leg one as it did against New York City FC, as the Reds will be without suspended stars Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

The Crew are led by the wizardry of Justin Meram (Iraq) and the finishing of Norwegian striker Ola Kamara. Then there’s rejuvenated and/or ageless playmaker Federico Higuain, and young USMNT backstop Zack Steffen.

Managers Greg Vanney and Gregg Berhalter are both capable of sublime tactics, and how Tuesday looks may go beyond the missing stars if Vanney is able to trump his Columbus counterpart.

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo
First leg — 9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday in Texas
Second leg — 10:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Washington

Clint Dempsey’s defiant comeback tour rolls on. One year after he was relegated to street clothes champagne celebrator in Canada, Dempsey is rollicking through MLS with his heart surgery a poignant but distant memory.

Dempsey scored twice in the conference semifinal defeat of Vancouver, the lone two goals, and has been no worse for the wear despite an injury to key attack partner Jordan Morris. On the season, he’s nabbed 14 goals and 4 assists.

“Deuce” joins Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan as key pieces in trying to deconstruct Wilmer Cabrera’s Dynamo, who are trying to add a second title to the city’s trophy haul following a difficult summer for Houston.

Houston has its band together for this critical time of year, with no Gold Cup or CONCACAF World Cup qualifying to deprive them of Alberth Elis or Erick Torres. Can it knock off the No. 2 seed after handing top-seeded Portland its demise?

Arsenal hires Dortmund man who “found” Pulisic, Aubameyang

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Arsenal has a new head of recruitment, and he’s the scout who helped bring Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Christian Pulisic, and Ousmane Dembele to Borussia Dortmund.

The name is Sven Mislintat, and he’ll take the place of 25-year Arsenal vet Steve Rowley. Reports say Bayern Munich unsuccessfully recruited him in the summer.

[ MORE: Busy week for PL big boys ]

Mislintat also has perhaps the beck nickname of any scout in recent memory: “Diamond Eyes.”

Here’s Arsene Wenger on the move, from Arsenal.com:

“We are delighted that Sven is joining us. Identifying and developing talent is a core part of our philosophy and Sven has an outstanding track record over many years. We look forward to him taking our existing recruitment approach forwards.”