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.

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle teams picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

Kim In-chul/Yonhap via AP
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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.

Zabaleta staying in Premier League with West Ham move

@WHUFC
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A week after bidding Manchester City an emotional goodbye, Pablo Zabaleta has announced he’ll be staying in England.

The 32-year-old right back is moving to London, where he’ll join West Ham United on a two-year deal beginning July 1.

[ MORE: Three key battles in FA Cup Final ]

The San Lorenzo youth product went to Espanyol in 2005 to begin his European adventure, joining Man City in 2008. He won two PL titles, two League Cups, and an FA Cup, and was named the club’s player of the season in 2012-13.

From WHUFC.com:

“Manchester City gave me the opportunity to come to this wonderful league, the Premier League, something I’ve been enjoying a lot as a player and of course for me it was probably the right time to move on.

“Also, as a player, I thought I wanted to keep playing in the Premier League. For me, after being in this country for so long, this is a new challenge for me in the Premier League and I’m ready for it and looking forward to it.”

Maybe he just wanted 3G.

Young Sam Byram can learn plenty from Zabaleta, and the signing means that star right-sided man Michail Antonio likely won’t have to be wasted at right back in emergency situations. Good risk by the Hammers.

Valencia extends Man Utd deal to great Mourinho praise

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his Antonio Valencia appreciation, and the Manchester United manager has rewarded his fullback with a new deal.

Valencia is nine appearances away from 300 in a Manchester United kit, with 22 goals and 61 assists as a Red Devil.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

Valencia said United has “been my life” since arriving from Wigan Athletic in 2009, while Mourinho heaped praise on the Ecuadorian captain’s character with glowing praise.

“It is no secret that I had been an admirer of Antonio’s long before I joined the club. I knew what a fantastic player he was and he has not disappointed me on that front. However, what I could never have imagined was what a great person he is. I know I have said this before but I truly believe it is a real privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man. I am delighted he has extended his contract.”

Only Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly recorded better tackle rates at Old Trafford last season, and Valencia was credited with a team-best 1.5 crosses per game.