The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(Nos. 11-19 are here)

10. D.C. United – The pressure is clearly mounting for a team last seen in the playoffs in 2007. On everyone, from the top of the organization to the last man on the roster. Question the performance of referee Mark Geiger in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home if you like, but the tactics weren’t right from the start, the roles of key players remain an exercise in instability and the players’ ability to keep their cool needs a lot of work, clearly. Club leaders and coaches who pin too much blame the referees aren’t helping matters.

9. Real Salt Lake – The choice to rest two key starters (Alvaro Saborio and Kyle Beckerman) will be seen differently if RSL prevails in tonight’s must-win CONCACAF Champions League match. As it is, the decision did some damage as FC Dallas came into Utah and left with all the points. The club is 3-7-1 in league play since a win over Chivas USA in early June and has now lost four in a row in all competitions.

8. Columbus Crew – Supporters around Crew Stadium have every reason to be excited after seeing just a little bit of Federico Higuaín, who was a bundle of ideas and energy in the Crew’s 2-2 draw at Houston. Chad Marshall doesn’t get the recognition he once did, but he’s still a big cop on the beat for Columbus’ defense. And Eddie Gaven is quietly have a fantastic season.

7. Seattle Sounders – The Sounders responded to a bummer week with a professionally managed win over Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver. Fredy Montero’s role is an increasingly interesting topic. He clearly has starters’ talent, but the man is so doggone effective as a game-changing sub. Five of his eight goals have come off the bench this year, including last week’s second-half strike in the 2-0 win.

6. Angeles Galaxy – Say this for Robbie Keane: he tends to rise in matches when the two big Galaxy men, Landon Donovan and David Beckham, aren’t around. Keane’s goal and his overall play were instrumental as the Galaxy managed a 1-1 draw last week in Columbus, where hearts were heavy and emotions were understandably in a tough place for all. Meanwhile, whispers keep growing that this team is better without injured striker Edson Buddle.

5. Chicago Fire – Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald look like quite the central, attacking tandem. (Rolfe plays behind recently acquired striker MacDonald.) In fact, that looks like a major upgrade over the previous, primary tandem of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro. Rolfe’s five goals in 2012, all coming recently, helps explains Chicago’s recent strong form; including last week’s win over New England, Frank Klopas’ side has won three in a row.

4. New York Red Bulls – Tim Cahill’s goal was a point of contention, but probably shouldn’t have been. (C’mon, ref! Call the penalty kick there. Chances are, the home team scores and nobody cares about the decision.) Bottom line here was a dramatic 3-2 win at home over Portland. Heath Pearce (pictured above), looking like quite a mid-season pick-up, provided the late game-winner. In fact, all three scorers Sunday (Pearce, Cahill and Kenny Cooper) were 2012 acquisitions.

3. Houston Dynamo – The sample is still quite small, but historically speaking, no MLS stadium has been as tough for opposition to pull points from. The Dynamo is 8-0-4 at BBVA Compass Stadium following last week’s 2-2 draw with Columbus. Some of the good results have come late; Adam Moffat hit the last week’s equalizer in the 82nd minute.

2. San Jose Earthquakes – Chris Wondolowski’s chances of reaching the MLS single-season record of 27 goals looked pretty good at one point. Now? Not so much. He did score Saturday against Montreal, although he would have preferred a win (or even a draw) over hitting No. 18 on the year. Colorado, struggling mightily, visits this week. The Earthquakes may have fallen out of the top spot here but a relatively soft schedule ahead provides every opportunity to zoom away with the Supporters Shield.

1. Sporting Kansas City – Peter Vermes’ team is wonderfully managing a difficult August slate. The latest positive result came Saturday in Toronto, where Kei Kamara’s sneaky little shot finally served to break down the home team’s stingy defense. Sporting is involved in a big one this week, hosting the New York Red Bulls in an ESPN2 contest on Sunday. That’s No. 1 (SKC) against No. 2 in the East, so it could say a lot about who eventually claims the conference title.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.