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Has the MLS West playoff race already been decided?

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You know we’re getting to the business end of Major League Soccer’s season when they draw a red line in the official MLS standings, indicating the playoff demarcation line.

I mean … it’s red! That means it’s serious, and no one is messing around anymore.

We have reached the playoff backstretch. This is where supporters and journos start leaning in close, where we start talking scenarios and match-ups, where we commence to dissecting remaining schedules and such.

Only, the way I’m seeing things, the playoff race in one conference is more or less decided.

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In the West, five teams have clearly distinguished themselves over the remaining foursome. It could change, of course, but I would wager a sixer of cold Pacifico that the five teams currently on top after Round 21 will remain on top when the season wraps up on Oct. 28.

I know that’s three months away, but let’s take a look:

Here’s why I see San Jose, Real Salt Lake, Seattle, Vancouver and Los Angeles still occupying all the playoff chairs when once the regular season music stops:

  • The Round 21 results only reinforced the positioning. In two cases, home teams in the bottom half fell to visitors from the top half. Dallas desperately needed to top Los Angeles in Texas – but Bruce Arena’s team won. And Colorado needed to make up ground on Seattle – but the Sounders won outside Denver. Both results carry psychological weight.
  • I just don’t see anyone among the bottom foursome capable of making a big move. Dallas has George John back on the field, and Blas Perez should be back soon. Still, that team has badly lost its way, and I just don’t see any reason to believe a dramatic rally is  in the works.
  • Colorado keeps going the wrong way, having just tied a franchise record with its sixth consecutive loss. Conor Casey can’t quite get both scoring shoes on (two goals in 12 games since returning from injury), and captain Pablo Mastroeni isn’t around to help steel the recovery.
  • Portland? Please.

Chivas USA is the one team that could upend my theory, especially since Robin Fraser’s men have three games in have on two of the teams they would probably have to catch. The problem is that Los Angeles, Seattle or Vancouver would have to simultaneously lose their way.

Seattle and Vancouver are aggressively fortifying their rosters. Los Angeles is about as fortified as they can get, already blessed with three world class Designated Players.

So, Chivas could get there – but I don’t see it happening.

There may be some mystery going forward in the West, but there’s a good chance it will only be about positioning and the new benefits of home field advantage.

USMNT WCQ roster includes mix of young and old

HOUSTON, TX - JUNE 21:  Head coach Jurgen Klinsmann of the United States looks on prior to a 2016 Copa America Centenario Semifinal match against Argentina at NRG Stadium on June 21, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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With the fourth round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualification back underway in five days and the United States still somewhat hanging in the balance, Jurgen Klinsmann has decided to lean on much of the core group of players he has for the last couple of years.

However, with Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes both finding themselves on the sidelines in recent days, the U.S. manager has been forced to include a couple of unexpected faces.

Usual suspects in Tim Howard, Kyle Beckerman, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Jozy Altidore glue together the roster. Brad Guzan is in as well, after having started twice in Premier League play for Middlesbrough in place of an injured Victor Valdes. Jordan Morris is back in the attack, along with Bobby Wood who scored a goal on his Bundesliga debut with Hamburg. Young Christian Pulisic is there as well as an attacking option in midfield, with Darlington Nagbe also an option more centrally.

Alongside them is another familiar face in Chris Wondolowski, likely part of the roster because of the recent injuries to Clint Dempsey and Gyasi Zardes. Dempsey is sidelined indefinitely with an irregular heartbeat, while Zardes was injured while playing for the LA Galaxy on Saturday night.

Some other decisions by Klinsmann make it clear he went with established and experienced bodies over youthful energy in key places. Paul Arriola and Kellyn Acosta at a thin outside back position rather than call in Lynden Gooch for his first senior cap. Gooch has surprisingly seen time in the Sunderland starting lineup, but Klinsmann likely wished to leave him in England to help settle in at the club level.

Timmy Chandler does not appear despite appearing as a substitute for Frankfurt in their Bundesliga season opener this weekend. Omar Gonzalez is back, hoping to make just his second national team appearance since last September. Julian Green also doesn’t make the cut despite earning a spot on the Bayern Munich first team, although he has not made a league appearance yet.

A new face many may not recognize is 23-year-old defensive midfielder Caleb Stanko, who comes into the national team from Liechtenstein club FC Vaduz where he was sent on loan from parent club Freiburg. Stanko is uncapped, and was called into camp in May but did not appear in the subsequent friendly against Puerto Rico.

ROSTER

GK: Brad Guzan (Middlesbrough), Ethan Horvath (Molde), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids)

DEF: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Steve Birnbaum (D.C. United), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach), Michael Orozco (Club Tijuana), DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle)

MF: Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Kyle Beckerman (Real Salt Lake), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (Colorado Rapids), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund), Caleb Stanko (FC Vaduz), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

FWD: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), Rubio Rubin (FC Utrecht), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes), Bobby Wood (Hamburg SV)

Manchester City 3-1 West Ham: Sterling shines with double

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28:  Raheem Sterling of Manchester City celebrates scoring the opening goal with Nolito, Gael Clichy (2ndL) and David Silva (L) during the Premier League match between Manchester City and West Ham United at Etihad Stadium on August 28, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
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West Ham gave Manchester City a bit of a scare early in the second half, but Raheem Sterling‘s second goal of the afternoon provided the home side with all three points at the Etihad Stadium.

The Citizens held on for a 3-1 win on Sunday after Sterling found the back of the net twice, with the second coming in the dying minutes from a close-range tap in.

In the 18th minute, Kevin De Bruyne hit a superb free kick directly into the path of Fernandinho, who smashed home a header to give the hosts a 2-0 advantage.

Without a host of players for the visitors, City took it to their opposition early on when David Silva started a strong attack down the center of the West Ham defense. The Spaniard played the ball out wide to Nolito before finding an open Raheem Sterling, who calmly slotted his effort into the corner for the lead after seven minutes.

Michail Antonio provided West Ham with a lifeline following halftime, however, it wasn’t enough for the visitors to complete the comeback. Antonio headed home at the far post just prior to the hour mark after Arthur Masuaku beat his man and found the attacker.

Video: City clinical on set piece to double lead

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Manchester City has lived up to the billing early on in the Pep Guardiola era, and the first half of Sunday’s match against West Ham has been everything the Spaniard could hope for.

After taking an early lead through Raheem Sterling after seven minutes, Fernandinho doubled the City lead in the 18th minute after a stellar set piece situation.

Kevin De Bruyne‘s stepped up for a free kick before the Belgian curled his effort directly into the path of Fernandinho, who headed home the hosts for the 2-0 lead.

Even though West Ham is understandably undermanned with Dimitri Payet, Andy Carroll and others, City is putting on a show right now at the Etihad.

West Brom 0-0 Middlesbrough: Guzan holds Baggies scoreless

WEST BROMWICH, ENGLAND - AUGUST 28: Cristhian Stuani of Middlesbrough takes on Brendan Galloway and Claudio Yacob (R) of West Bromwich Albion  during the Premier League match between West Bromwich Albion and Middlesbrough at The Hawthorns on August 28, 2016 in West Bromwich, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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It wasn’t the most attractive perfromance all around but Middlesbrough remained perfect on Sunday after finishing level in their 0-0 draw with West Bromwich Albion from The Hawthorns.

Brad Guzan earned his second start in net on Sunday since joining Middlesbrough, and the U.S. Men’s National Team keeper was active early on, making two key saves in the first half to keep the match scoreless.

Despite Boro’s success in possession, the team lacked a final touch early on and failed to register a shot on target in the opening 45 minutes. West Brom was successful in limiting Alvaro Negredo’s touches early on, which prevented the road side from getting any sort of offensive rhythm.

West Brom continued to press for the opener in the second stanza, however, the home side’s remained limited and largely unthreatening. Craig Dawson had an opportunity to open the scoring in the 63rd minute with a header from close range, but the attempt missed wide of net after Matt Phillips played in the service.