The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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10. Columbus Crew – A 1-0 loss at D.C. United didn’t seem like such a big deal when news came the next morning of rookie Kirk Urso’s death. A home match this week against Toronto will be a real test; who could blame the Crew for not being fully focused on a soccer game?

9. Angeles Galaxy – OK, getting on the wrong end of a 5-1 thumping at home by one of the world’s best sides (Real Madrid) is one thing. But then to go get clobbered by Seattle on the same week (4-0) …? That’s the kind of week that deserves a very strong response, lest things begin sliding the wrong way. And the Galaxy’s poor start in 2012 won’t permit much of that.

8. Seattle Sounders – Eddie Johnson went into double digits in scoring and his chemistry on the field with Fredy Montero continues to improve. Meanwhile, German playmaker Christian Tiffert got on the field for the first time in the big win over L.A.  Good timing, too, considering the Sounders’ busy schedule, starting with tonight’s U.S. Open Cup final in Kansas City.

7. Sporting Kansas City – Peter Vermes’ team will be without center back Aurelien Collin at Livestrong Sporting Park tonight as the year’s first trophy is on the line. Roger Espinoza is back from Honduras’ stirring run in Olympic soccer, but his status is reportedly in doubt. Either way, Livestrong Sporting Park is the focus of American soccer for the evening.

6. Chicago Fire – Marco Pappa gave away, and Marco Pappa took back. The Fire midfielder’s dreadful pass gave Toronto hope and an early lead as the teams met at Toyota Park. But Pappa finished wonderfully from a tough angle and rookie Austin Berry supplied the game-winner as Chicago held serve in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

5. D.C. United – Say this for the new day under Ben Olsen: these guys are tough as a battleship at home. They’ve won seven in a row (following last week’s 1-0 result over Columbus) at RFK and are 8-1-2 with plus-15 goal difference there.  Nick DeLeon’s reemergence (assuming it continues) and Andy Najar’s return from a successful Olympic stint can only help.

4. New York Red Bulls – We can talk all day about Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry, but the Red Bulls man who seemed missed the most last week was Dax McCarty (pictured). There’s still some sifting and sorting to do in the midfield, as the 2-0 loss in Houston showed. Up again this week: Houston. Go figure.

3. Real Salt Lake – Last week was a clear demonstration of “Be careful what you ask for” in MLS. Yes, CONCACAF Champions League creates juicy opportunities for MLS teams. On the other hand, RSL looked pooped upon return from Costa Rica and lost at rival Colorado as a result. Meanwhile, Jamison Olave continues to deal with a frustrating series of injuries, which isn’t helping a bit.

2. Houston Dynamo – Quirky scheduling remains an MLS bugaboo. Case in point: The Dynamo will meet New York for the second consecutive Friday. Groundhog Day, eh? This week’s contest in Harrison, N.J., doesn’t figure to be as comfortable as last week’s 2-0 win in Houston, when the Red Bulls rarely threatened. Ricardo Clark is in place, ready to contribute, but awaits finalization of the Geoff Cameron transfer.

1. San Jose Earthquakes – The Earthquakes had a weekend off following a mid-week friendly against Swansea City (a 2-2 tie). The schedule is favorable this week as Seattle visits the Bay off a busy week, following Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup final in Kansas City.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday