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.

Mourinho looks to pile title pressure on Chelsea

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A week ago, just before their 2017/18 Premier League season began, Antonio Conte declared Chelsea to be an underdog for the title. It’s right not to put Chelsea to be a favorite,” Conte said.

Jose Mourinho disagrees.

Looking to deflect pressure away from his Manchester United squad, Mourinho declared Chelsea to not only be the favorites to win the Premier League this season and defend their title, but proclaimed it would be a massive disappointment if they didn’t.

[ MORE: Liverpool in an advantageous position regarding Coutinho ]

To Mourinho, the simple fact that Chelsea won last season means they should consider themselves the team to beat going forward. “For me the favorite is the champion,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s game against Swansea City on Saturday. “Always. Because for some reason [they were] the champion. It doesn’t mean you are going to win it – I think it is the stamp that you have when you are champion, it is that the next season you are the favorite.”

Chelsea seems to have a depth issue at the moment, with injuries plaguing the squad. New signing Tiemoue Bakayoko leaves a big hole in midfield, especially with Nemanja Matic sold to the Red Devils. In addition, Gary Cahill and Pedro will miss time in the near future with suspensions, while superstar Eden Hazard remains out as he recovers from a broken ankle.

Despite all the missing players, Mourinho believes that Chelsea always comes through in the transfer window, and that will solve their problems. “If they have [depth problems], in a couple of weeks the problems are over. They have very good teams, very good players and I don’t see any reason for them not to be fighting for the title.”

Manchester United next meets Chelsea on November 5th in Premier League action at Stamford Bridge.

LA Galaxy offloads Jelle van Damme to native Belgium

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The 2017 season continues to punch LA Galaxy fans right in the gut.

With the club near the basement of the Western Conference standings, the LA Galaxy have officially announced the sale of defensive rock Jelle van Damme to Royal Antwerp of the Belgian top flight. The club confirmed a transfer fee of $235,000.

While van Damme is 33 years old, the sale of fan-favorite van Damme is still a blow both on and off the pitch. With the Galaxy in a period of transition, van Damme was a likeable personality who was known for leaving it all out on the field on gamedays.

The official news release of the transfer made it clear the club did not initiate the transfer with the intention to sell, but instead the player himself requested a return home as his career comes nearer to a close. Van Damme is from Lokeren, Belgium, a town between Antwerp and Ghent.

“Jelle came to us and requested to return home to Belgium to be closer to his children,” LA Galaxy General Manager Pete Vagenas told LAGalaxy.com. “We worked closely with Jelle and Royal Antwerp so that we could make this move possible for Jelle and his family. Our top priority remains the success of the LA Galaxy. We thank him for his time with our club and wish him the best going forward.”

Van Damme joined the Galaxy in early 2016 on a free transfer from Belgian giants Standard Liege. He made 55 total appearances across all competitions, including 46 in league play and another three in the playoffs. The defender’s contract was set to expire in December.

The team has taken a total nosedive in the last two months. Without a league win since June 21st against Colorado, the Galaxy have collected just a single point in league play, and they currently sit just a point off the bottom of the Western Conference standings.

Liverpool holds all the cards in Coutinho saga

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In a time of heightening player control in a rapidly expanding transfer market, one club sticks out as grasping a clear understanding of the shifting business landscape and how to retain its grip on its most valuable assets.

Following the sudden departure of superstar playmaker Neymar, Barcelona is trying desperately to pry Philippe Coutinho from Liverpool. On Friday, numerous reports in England claimed that Barcelona had gone in with a third bid, one even more ridiculous than the previous two. But they’re fighting a losing battle.

For a number of reasons, the Reds hold complete control over Philippe Coutinho’s transfer saga, a saga that will likely end with no transfer having been completed.

First and foremost, Coutinho just recently signed a contract extension in January that runs through 2022. As far as we know, there is no release clause in the deal, meaning at the most basic of levels, Liverpool maintains contractual control. However, as we’ve seen the past few years, that alone hasn’t stopped a number of players forcing their way out.

Yet this time, Liverpool finds itself in an advantageous position outside of just the contract. With the 2018 World Cup right around the corner, the Reds know that should they force Coutinho to stay, he is obligated to play at his best, knowing that any less would see him miss out on a spot in the packed Brazil roster, or at the least a starting position. Thus, Liverpool can be sure that even if their denial of his departure renders him despondent, he will likely remain the quality player he has proven to be.

The money Barcelona is offering – a whopping $151 million according to the most recent reports – is indeed a ludicrous amount for a player who, while quality, does not have nearly the marketability of his countrymate now residing in Paris. On talent alone, Coutinho likely isn’t worth that total, meaning Liverpool should sell. And yet, even with that cash in hand, in this hyper-inflated market where more is less, could it really do justice in replacing his impact in the club? This late in the transfer window, there’s no chance they could replace the 25-year-old, meaning they’d likely be torpedoing their entire season – Champions League included – to feel the warmth of $151 million burning a hole in their pocket until January, or even next summer.

Liverpool has built its entire roster around Coutinho. The arrival of Salah, the use of Firmino, the wide deployment of Mane, the makeup of the midfield. He’s good enough and young enough to be considered a “franchise player.” In two games without Coutinho this season, they’ve scored five goals, but that is a poor metric to describe the 180 wild minutes. The money alone isn’t worth the cost of his departure.

It’s quite possible that Barcelona’s stubbornness, brought on by the sudden loss of a beloved player and the meteoric rise of their rivals to all-time greatness, could see the Catalans come back with an even more preposterous bid. It’s true every player has a value, and at some point, should Barcelona’s blind rage see them flail wildly into the transfer window, the Reds should sell, and will. But with Fenway Sports Group not in dire need of cash and in an advantageous position, in all likelihood they won’t. Barcelona can throw all the Neymar money at Liverpool their heart desires, but nothing will force the Reds to budge.

Top 25 moments in Premier League history: 19-21

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To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Premier League we thought it would be great to count down our top 25 moments from a quarter of a century of action.

[ VIDEO: Top 25 moments in PL history ]

Each week we will release our best moments and you can keep track of the full list here.

Below are numbers 19-21 to as we continue our list.

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