2011 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo Training Session

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

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6. Vancouver Whitecaps – Camilo’s sweet, curling ball made the difference, although the Whitecaps backed off from the accelerator way too early in the 1-0 home win over Dallas. So it’s tough to say if Martin Rennie’s lineup changes made a big difference, especially the interesting move to start Omar Salgado (whom everyone assumed was being developed as a target striker) out to the left wing.

5. Seattle Sounders – Mauro Rosales got into the Sounders most recent reserve game, so his potential return this week at Chicago might punch up Seattle’s flat attack. Sigi Schmid’s team has just one goal in three games. By the way, things are about to get seriously busy; the Sounders play nine matches over 32 days starting this weekend.

4. Real Salt Lake – A mid-week trip into Dallas without suspended starters Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola is hardly ideal. But if Jason Kreis’ men, still presumably steaming from Olave’s iffy red card Saturday, can deal with matters in Texas, a better opportunity awaits for taking out frustration, as battered and bungling Toronto FC travels West to Rio Tinto this weekend.

3. San Jose Earthquakes – No Marvin Chavez, no Victor Bernardez, no Shea Salinas? No problem. They claimed all the points in a 3-1 win at Buck Shaw. Yes, Real Salt Lake was reduced to nine men by the end, but the Earthquakes found a way to goal and now find themselves atop the Western Conference. Besides, what’s to say the Earthquakes would not have won Saturday with the teams at even strength?

2. Houston Dynamo – Brian Ching (pictured) is into his 10th season of scoring important goals for this franchise. The veteran striker worked his way into the right spot yet again, equalizing late for a Dynamo team that keeps ticking off the points on the road. Up next: Match No. 6 in the long road adventure to open 2012. This time the Orange bus heads to D.C. to face longtime Dynamo midfield force Dwayne De Rosario. (RFK Stadium, site of Saturday’s game, is where Houston won its last MLS Cup, but the way, back in 2007.)

1. Sporting Kansas City – The high-spirited men and women of the Cauldron at Livestrong Sporting Park won’t be happy that Portland upset the perfect-mark apple cart late Saturday night along the coast. Then again, a split of two road matches strung closely together isn’t anything to be upset about. And it’s definitely nothing to knock SKC off its top ProSoccerTalk spot. Center back Aurelien Collin enjoyed yet another good week; Are we looking at the early frontrunner for Defender of the Year?

Agent: “There’s no hatred” between Bale, Ronaldo

Gareth Bale & Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid CF
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Gareth Bale doesn’t at all dislike Cristiano Ronaldo — or vice versa — despite what may seem a lukewarm on-field relationship between the two Real Madrid superstars, insists Jonathan Barnett, agent of Bale.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Instead, Barnett insists that the two men with very different personalities have a healthy relationship, and competition, that pushes each Galactico to be the best player he can be.

Barnett, on Bale’s relationship with Ronaldo — quotes from the Guardian:

“They don’t go out eating every night together, but it’s fine. There’s no hatred there. Gareth is a quiet guy. They’re complete opposites. But I think Gareth can learn a little bit from Ronaldo as well, interacting maybe a little bit. But he wants his own life and he lives it. Gareth is a great footballer, he doesn’t want anything more. He has some very good endorsements but his whole life is to be the best footballer in the world. I don’t think he wants to be the best model in the world or the best underwear seller. That’s not him.”

That’s a hilarious closing quote from Barnett, but he knows exactly how some folks are going to interpret it: “Bale thinks Ronaldo loves himself too much.”

[ MORE: Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott ]

There’s nothing better for the ultimate success of a team than healthy, friendly competition between teammates who are spectacularly talented as Ronaldo and Bale. The former will only be around to perform at his current level for so much longer, but at what point does the latter officially take the torch and supplant Madrid’s biggest star, and how accepting will he be of passing that proverbial torch?

Olivier Giroud: “I must harden myself” to unseat Walcott

Olivier Giroud, France
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Is it just me, or does the press really only ever get noteworthy quotes from players during international breaks?

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

I suppose it’s not surprising, given Premier League players get away from the mean ole British press, go back to their respective homelands and speak with journalists they’ve likely known since their early playing days, thus feel more comfortable opening up about key issues.

Anyway, today we have Olivier Giroud essentially calling himself out for having lost the starting striker’s job at Arsenal because he’s been outplayed of late by Theo Walcott. As discussed before, this is bad news for Giroud because he’s now falling down the depth chart for France with next summer’s European Championship on the horizon.

[ MORE: Aguero admits he wants Guardiola link-up ]

Giroud, on losing his place at Arsenal — quotes from the Guardian:

“At Arsenal, I am in competition with Theo for the striker position. But he is doing well at the moment, so there is no reason to change.

“Whether it was at Tours, Montpellier or Arsenal, I have never experienced a situation like this, I have often played from the start. I need to take positives and to harden myself mentally. It is something new for me.

“I was in [Walcott’s] place in previous seasons at Arsenal. I imagine what he must have been thinking. But I feel that the coach believes in me.”

Giroud goes on to cast into doubt his own confidence, stating in very certain terms he needs “to believe more in [his] abilities.” Giroud’s always come across as a bit of an existentialist, but it’s always strange to hear players publicly call themselves out — particularly their confidence — as if that’s not going to increase the pressure currently weighing down on them.

[ MORE: Rodgers reportedly chosen to take over at Aston Villa ]

The next eight months are going to be monumentally important in Giroud’s career, as the 29-year-old attempts to prove he’s worth keeping around at Arsenal and deserving of a place in the national team squad for next summer’s EUROs, which are to be played in France.