The Money Shot: top o’ the heap in MLS Weekly rankings

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(Part I with Nos. 13-19 is here; Part II with Nos. 7-12 is here.)

6. Colorado Rapids – Jeff Larentowicz’s return from suspension, along with the club’s return to DSG Park, had the predictable, stabilizing effects in a 2-0 win over Chicago. Center back steady-eddies Drew Moor and Marvell Wynne continue to lead the way. But the smooth midfield operating of newcomer Martin Rivero was the real revelation from Sunday’s win, which kept the Rapids right on top of the Western table.

5. San Jose Earthquakes – The penalty kick in a win over Seattle was certainly soft, but all credit to Frank Yallop’s side for seeing out its second road win of 2012. Sam Cronin and Rafael Baca look terrific in center of the park, while Shea Salinas and Marvin Chavez are making life difficult for opposition on the wings. The reward for two big wins on the road is a home match against Vancouver in a matchup of two defenses on top of things.

4. Houston Dynamo – Houston had a weekend off, which means a rare weekend at home for the South Texas side stuck on this extended road trip. Dominic Kinnear takes his team north to Chicago this week. They’ll have to deal with Adam Moffat’s absence, as the important midfield enforcement arm serves his one-game disciplinary suspension. Further midfield depletion comes in Colin Clark’s suspension.

3. Seattle Sounders – Cracks were showing last time out at CenturyLink Field, when Houston made such a good account but couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard. So last week’s loss at home to San Jose can’t be a complete surprise. There’s very good news around the Sound, however, as Steve Zakuani got into a weekend reserve match and Eddie Johnson nears his own return to full health.

2. Real Salt Lake – Jason Kreis’ team certainly will win more games in 2012, but how many will be more memorable than the smash-and-grab job Saturday night at Jeld-Wen Field? Trailing by a goal in the 88th minute, Johnny Steele and Kyle Beckerman came shining through for a mighty win. That’s two wins from two road matches for RSL.

1. Sporting Kansas City – Quick question – which is more impressive: That Sporting Kansas City is 10-2-3 its last 15 matches (including playoffs)? Or that Sporting Kansas City has begun the season 4-0-0 for the first time ever? … Never mind, that’s a silly question. Both speak pretty well for things around Livestrong Sporting Park. And speaking of impressive, Graham Zusi leads the league with five assists, while Jimmy Nielsen (pictured above) shares the league lead with three shutouts.

Premier League notes: Wanyama, Bolasie return after long layoffs, Sakho injured

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Two Premier League clubs saw a pair of players return to the field after long spells on the sidelines.

Tottenham revealed that Victor Wanyama took part in training on Monday for the first time since suffering a knee injury in late August, which has kept him off the field since then. Wanyama started in both of Tottenham’s first two fixtures of the season before the injury.

[ MORE: Premier League stats ]

At the same time in the northwest of England, Yannick Bolasie returned to the field for Everton’s reserves for the first time since suffering a torn ACL last December against Manchester United. Everton manager Sam Allardyce hinted recently that Bolasie could even make the first team subs bench before the end of the calendar year as he continues his rehab.

(more…)

Report: Sporting KC on verge of signing French midfielder Croizet

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Sporting Kansas City could be adding some European flair to its midfield this offseason.

According to multiple reports, the MLS club is in negotiations to sign French midfielder Yohan Croizet, who currently plays for Belgian first division side KV Mechelen. Croizet, who reportedly cost Mechelen a transfer fee worth more than $1 million, has started all 15 games he’s played for his side this season but has been substituted off on seven occasions and Mechelen are currently struggling in the league, sitting in 13th place with 18 points from 18 games.

Croizet hasn’t played since November 17, and appears on his way out.

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Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes, a Hungarian-American, is no stranger to the European market and has brought over plenty of diamonds in the rough from Europe to star with Sporting KC. Some previous examples, though in different positions from Croizet, include current winger Gerso, Krisztián Németh, Uri Rosell, and Aurelien Collin.

It will be interesting to see where Croizet plays in the Sporting KC side should it sign him, and how he works with Benny Feilhaber, who is turning 33-years old in January.

Arsenal lands Ostersunds in Europa League draw

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Arsenal will face a team with an English connection in the UEFA Europa League Round of 32.

The Gunners were paired with Swedish side Ostersunds in the Europa League knockout stage draw Monday, with matches set to be played on February 15 and February 22. Ostersund are managed by Englishman Graham Potter, who played in the Championship and lower in England before starting his managerial career with Ostersunds in 2010 in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer.

[READ: UCL draw+analysis]

Ostersunds surprised many earlier this year winning the Swedish Cup to qualify for the Europa League, and then advanced out of a group that included Hertha Berlin and Athletic Bilbao.

It represents an interesting draw for Arsenal, which will have to balance the squad during a tough February. The weekend prior to the first-leg match is the second leg of the North London derby against Tottenham, and following the second match with Ostersunds is a showdown with Manchester City.

Here’s a look at how the rest of the draw shook out:

Champions League last 16 draw sets up huge clashes

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The Round of 16 draw for the UEFA Champions League did not disappoint.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule

We have some monster clashes with Chelsea facing Barcelona, once again, and the reigning champs Real Madrid paired with the favorites Paris Saint-Germain.

With five Premier League teams remaining, Tottenham have been handed a tough draw against Italian champions Juventus who were also runners up in the UCL last season, while Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool will all be rather happy with their draws.

United have been drawn against Spanish side Sevilla, Liverpool will face FC Porto and Man City clash with Basel.

Below is the draw in full, while UEFA has also released the schedule for the games with Man City, Spurs, Liverpool and Man United all playing their second legs at home.