The Money Shot: top clubs in this week’s MLS Weekly rankings

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We’ve already dropped knowledge and quasi-science on Parts II and III; here are your top money-makers and heart-breakers (Nos 1-6) in our weekly MLS Rankings countdown, following Round 6:

6. Seattle Sounders – Brian Mullan’s first trip into Seattle since the incident came and went without any drama, and ended just fine in Seattle fan minds in a 1-0 win over Colorado. Speaking of all that incident, on Monday hopeful news drifted out of Seattle that Steve Zakuani may finally get into a reserve match. We’ve had Lucy pull the football away from us on this one before, so we’ll see.  Right back Zach Scott was impressive in Saturday’s win. I liked him a lot, and so did Seattle Times writer Joshua Mayers.

5. New York Red Bulls – Is there any reason to expect that more games won’t play out the way Saturday’s did inside Red Bull Arena, with goals raining like spring showers over Manhattan? Kenny Cooper and Thierry Henry keep hooking up beautifully on the attacking end, but that defense is all thumbs. Hans Backe scratches at the bottom line when he says it’s all about ball watching, but it’s truly worse than that. Guys are running into each other back there! The Red Bull’s 10 goals allowed is second-worst in the East, behind only expansion Montreal. And Rafa Marquez is being a naughty, naughty boy. Again.

4. San Jose Earthquakes – Nobody claims a playoff spot in April, of course. On the other hand, heading into late April at the top of the Western Conference standings would be a splendid place for the Earthquakes to find themselves. A victory over conference toppers Real Salt Lake this Saturday would put Frank Yallop’s team there. With a game in hand, no less. Rafael Baca was especially impressive, but the entire San Jose midfield was on top of things in last week’s 2-2 draw with New York. This injury to Shea Salinas is a concern, and the disciplinary committee could have something to say later this week that could further deplete San Jose’s roster.

3. Houston Dynamo – With seven points already from this difficult seven-game road swing to open the season, the Orange may already have done enough to keep things happily afloat ahead of the May 12 downtown stadium debut. Just three games to go after Sunday’s soggy 1-1 draw in Chicago. This week’s trip is into Columbus, where the depleted Dynamo midfield will get one player back, at least, as Adam Moffat returns from his one-game suspension.

2. Real Salt Lake – They didn’t give up a ton of chances in last week’s big meeting with Sporting Kansas City, but they didn’t direct a whole lot toward opposition goal, either. No time to rehash that one, thought; RSL retains its spot atop the Western Conference standings, but the chief threat of the moment is up next. Things get no easier this week as Jason Kreis takes his team into Buck Shaw Stadium to meet confident San Jose. Real has prevailed in its last two matches at San Jose, so recent history sides with the gang from Utah.

1. Sporting Kansas City – The league’s best side has its work cut out this week, traveling for a mid-week match Wednesday (Vancouver) and then navigating a quick turn-around before Saturday’s match down the coast (Portland). Will one of these be the match that trips up Peter Vermes’ high fliers?  By the way, one media frequent flier on the Sporting KC scene suggests nobody what happens this week, this is already the best start in MLS history.

Javier Mascherano leaving Barcelona after 8 seasons

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says defender Javier Mascherano is leaving the club after eight seasons.

Barcelona says there will be a farewell ceremony on Wednesday with Mascherano, club president Josep Bartomeu and the rest of the squad.

[ MORE: Man City to buy $86m CB ]

The 33-year-old Argentina international will say goodbye to the fans before Thursday’s game against Espanyol at Camp Nou in the Copa del Rey. He is reportedly going to play in China.

Mascherano, who also played as a defensive midfielder, arrived in Barcelona in 2010 from Liverpool and helped the Catalan club win 18 titles. He has made 334 appearances with Barcelona, but recently hadn’t been playing much.

The club earlier this month signed Colombia international Yerry Mina to boost its defense.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

Man City reportedly agrees $86m price for Laporte

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Sky Sports reporter Guillem Balague is reporting that Manchester City is set to seal an $86 million purchase of center back Aymeric Laporte from Athletic Bilbao, and all that’s left is for City to agree to contract terms with the player.

[ MORE: MCFC into League Cup Final ]

The 23-year-old has been with the Basque outfit since 2012, making more than 200 appearances for Athletic. Balague issued a Tweet saying Man City opted for Laporte over $34 million Jonny Evans of West Brom.

Laporte is a smooth and technical passer at center back who shouldn’t have a problem with the physical nature of the Premier League either. He’s yet to break into the French national team, and is only the second French player to play for Bilbao.

Rumors have circulated for some time, though a Tuesday report was dismissed because Laporte was in advanced discussions with Man City during a previous transfer window when he changed his mind.

It’s more big money from City, a boon for Athletic Bilbao, and terrific competition for John Stones and any Man City center back not named Nicolas Otamendi (and Vincent Kompany when healthy).

Rapids hire Patel as director; Highest ranking female exec in MLS

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The Colorado Rapids have hired Ena Patel as their new director of player personnel. She becomes Major League Soccer highest ranking female executive, according to the Denver Post.

[ FOLLOW: PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to the Rapids, she’ll report to club GM Padraig Smith and “oversee player contracts, salary budget, regulatory compliance, and soccer operations protocols.”

The move comes about a month-and-a-half after Sporting KC hired Megan Cameron as an assistant director of player personnel, the first woman hired to an MLS team’s technical staff.

Patel’s resume is outlandishly strong, though this is her first foray into the sports world. Here are some words from Smith, from ColoradoRapids.com:

“Ena’s hiring is the final piece of the puzzle for us on the front office side,” Smith, the Rapids executive vice president and general manager, said in a statement released by the club. “Bringing in a sharp, legal mind who can oversee our contractual processes and complex league mechanisms is a really important part of ensuring that we’re fielding the best possible team. We can’t wait for her to get started.”

Guardiola happy to reach final, knows Man City to be judged by hardware

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Bristol City made its interesting late with a pair of goals, but Manchester City’s League Cup destiny was never in jeopardy in a 3-2 second leg win at Ashton Gate Stadium on Tuesday.

[ RECAP: Bristol City 2-3 (3-5 agg.) Man City ]

That sent the club into the Feb. 25 final with a 5-3 aggregate win, and it’s very difficult not to leap to the story line that is Pep Guardiola‘s chance at a first significant title in his reign at Man City.

The closest City came to hardware last season was being bounced by Arsenal in the FA Cup semifinal. This time, City is the favorite to win at least three of its four entered competitions: the Premier League, the League Cup, and the FA Cup.

But to hear Pep say it, for now the club is just happy to have earned one final berth. From the BBC:

“We are so happy to be there, to reach this final. We played an amazing game until 2-0 and then we lost control, these type of games never end until the end. This is a lesson for next weekend in Cardiff in the FA Cup and especially for the Champions League.

“It’s not for me, it’s for Manchester City, a club who are trying to reach another level. … I know that we will be judged by trophies we win but we are so happy. Nobody can take away what we have done, but Chelsea or Arsenal are strong teams.”

Guardiola was serious about not overlooking the Robins, as he rolled out a very similar lineup to the full-strength bunch that beat Newcastle United 3-1 at the weekend. That may have cost City late, but it had already built a 4-1 aggregate lead with two superior away goals.

Yes, Guardiola is a man who measures himself by the way his club plays but also by winning in that attractive fashion. Expect a determined club to stride into Wembley late next month.

Chelsea and Arsenal square off Wednesday at the Emirates Stadium for the right to match up with Man City, who won the tournament in 2014 and 2016. Even year dominance?