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.)

Pochettino: Dembele “next to Ronaldinho, Maradona”

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Mousa Dembele‘s been appreciated as a midfielder for sometime, but the Belgian is getting as many rave reviews as any other non-scorer these days.

Tottenham’s middle man got the twice-over from his manager on Friday, as Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino prepares for Crystal Palace.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

Calling Dembele a “genius,” Pochettino heaped praise on the 30-year-old.

“I’ve told you, I put him next to Ronaldinho, Maradona, Okocha – players I’ve been lucky enough to play with. For me he’s one of the unbelievable talents in the history of football.”

The temptation is to make a joke about Dembele being next to Ronaldinho and Maradona in the lobby of an awards ceremony, but the player has been dynamite for some time.

The advanced stats, for what they’re worth, aren’t incredibly kind to Dembele aside from his club-best 93 percent passing percentage and average of 2.2 successful dribbles per game. Still, it’s improbably hard to ignore the eye test, and Dembele passes that one every time.

Spurs are off to Selhurst Park for a Sunday match with Palace (Watch live at 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fonte leaves West Ham after one year (for Dalian Yifang)

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Surely it was supposed to go a bit better than this: West Ham has moved center back Jose Fonte to the Chinese Super League.

Fonte, 34, is the latest member of Dalian Yifang, the Irons announced Friday. Reports say it’s a move for about $7 million.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

It ends an unexceptional 12 months for the center back, who made just 24 appearances for West Ham after engineering a move away from Southampton.

Fonte was publicly criticized by West Ham’s co-owner David Sullivan earlier this season as Sullivan said his children “begged him” not to sign Fonte and Robert Snodgrass last January. Ouch.

Injured for much of this season, Fonte was one of the Saints’ heroes as the club moved from the disappointment of League One to the Europa League.

Those heroics inspired this longform piece from Joe Prince-Wright.

Premier League TV, streaming schedule

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Week 28 of the Premier League season is here and the main talking points are the battle for the top four and the ever-changing relegation situation.

MORE: Sign up for NBC Sports Gold ] 

Remember: due to the League Cup final on Sunday, finalists Arsenal will host Manchester City on Thursday, Mar. 1 as they were also scheduled to play in the PL this weekend. That worked out smoothly.

The full TV schedule for the games this weekend are below, plus you can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports.com,the NBC Sports App and by purchasing the new “Premier League Pass” via NBC Sports Gold.

Gold also includes an extensive selection of shoulder programming such as Premier League News, Premier League Today and NBC Sports originals such as Premier League Download and much more.

[ STREAM: Premier League live here ] 

You can also watch Premier League “Goal Rush” at for all the goals as they go in around the grounds. Goal Rush is available via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports App.

[ MORE: Premier League “Goal Rush” ] 

If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here for the games streamed on NBCSports.com and here for the games on NBC Sports Gold.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.


FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday
7:30 a.m. ET: Leicester City vs. Stoke City – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Liverpool vs. West Ham – CNBC [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Bournemouth vs. Newcastle United – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Brighton vs. Swansea City – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Burnley vs. Southampton – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. Huddersfield Town – NBC Sports Gold [STREAM
12:30 p.m. ET: Watford vs. Everton – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday
7 a.m. ET: Crystal Palace vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Chelsea – NBCSN [STREAM

Pep sticking with Bravo for final: “Locker room more important”

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Petr Cech and Ederson will watch from the bench as their clubs start the League Cup Final on Sunday.

Pep Guardiola announced that Manchester City will turn to Claudio Bravo between the sticks against Arsenal, which has already appointed David Ospina as its backstop for the final.

[ MORE: Europa League draw ]

And if you think Pep, having seen his side lose to Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, should go back to Ederson for the final, he gets it.

“You can have an opinion, I am the manager. We are here for Claudio. He saved two lots of penalties. He deserves to play in the final. The locker room is more important than the final.”

The points aren’t completely independent, of course, but at this point the final is pretty darn important as Man City could see its trophy potential drop from 4-2 in little more than a week’s time.

Bravo has played just 45 minutes in the Premier League, against Liverpool in relief of Ederson, but has been the man for each of eight League and FA Cup matches.

City has just one clean sheet in that group, but won the seven matches apart from the 1-0 Wigan defeat. Two of those, against Wolves and Leicester, came in penalty kicks.