Fabian Espindola, Paulo Junior

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

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We like to avoid big jumps and general instability in our weekly rankings – but sometimes it can’t be helped. Real Salt Lake made the big leap after a big-leap kind of  week, a shakeup assisted by losses from others highly placers. Here are your top money-makers and heart-breakers in our weekly MLS Rankings countdown, Nos. 1-6:

6. Houston Dynamo – I know it looks strange to see the 7th place team in the East this high in the ProSoccerTalk rankings. But starting with seven on the road isn’t easy. And if the back line remains steady as she goes, with equally reliable backstopping from Tally Hall, there’s no reason to think the Orange (and there is a LOT of orange around the new Dynamo grounds) can’t begin a slow climb up the table.

5. New York Red Bulls – Yes, Hans Backe is holding the team together with Swedish duct tape and baling wire. (Probably the good stuff, not the dollar store variety.) But however the fashion, the Red Bulls are stitching together one impressive result after another. Four wins in a row have left Backe’s boys atop the East (albeit with a game in hand over Sporting Kansas City). Rafa Marquez’s return was a mix bag; but isn’t he always?

4. D.C. United – Ben Olsen’s team has lost two of three, but both Ls were on the road to quality teams (San Jose and Houston). So, no need to panic, although Perry Kitchen’s injury during Saturday’s loss to Houston is concerning. It doesn’t look long-term, at least. Bill Hamid’s solid play in goal Saturday was a check mark. He’ll need more of that as well-rested Colorado visits Wednesday.

3. Seattle Sounders – The Sigi Sounders navigated their difficult scheduling well enough until Saturday’s loss to Real Salt Lake. Seattle looked OK for a half, but the miles and minutes seemed to catch up after the break. Alvaro Fernandez is back in the lineup, but getting Brad Evans healthy will be important for all the little things he does. Midfielder Andy Rose: “It’s been a tough five games and to come out of it with a good amount of points and near the top of the table is good. It hurts a little bit not to be on top, but we’re definitely moving in the right direction.”

2. San Jose Earthquakes – They huffed and puffed and finally blew one past Chivas USA’s Dan Kennedy to secure a 1-1 draw at home. (San Jose outshot the visitors, 24-5.) Draws at Buck Shaw aren’t what Frank Yallop wants, especially coming off a loss (at Vancouver). On the other hand, getting a goal from Alan Gordon says good things. If Gordon is past all his injury concerns, that’s one more offensive weapon for Yallop on a shelf that’s well stocked already.

1. Real Salt Lake – Who wouldn’t take a scoreless draw at Chicago and a win at Seattle over a four-day stretch? Jason Kreis’ team handled the rough patch with aplomb thanks to Fabian Espindola’s slick finish at CenturyLink.  (Espindola is pictured above) That makes in five in a row without a loss for RSL. And that leaves them atop the Western Conference standings – depending on how you like to add up the points. (RSL is on top but has played more matches than the field.)

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?

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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.