The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(MORE: Nos. 11-19 are here)

10. Montréal Impact – Quietly, the Impact has become one of Major League Soccer’s better clubs lately. Only, the Impact ran up against another of the “better clubs lately” in a weekend loss to the fortified Crew. It’s hard to see a path that would put Jesse Marsch’s side into the playoffs at this point. Not impossible, but quite difficult – especially with just two matches remaining at home.

9. Real Salt Lake – There’s been a little late-summer uptick around Rio Tinto Stadium, after a couple of months where RSL news mostly landed between “Meh” and just plain bad. But the Champions League train got back on its Utah tracks two weeks ago, followed by a useful MLS draw on the road. The chaser was last weeks’ 1-0 win over D.C. United. It was far from perfect, but Jason Kreis and Co. will take it at this point. They play a big one Thursday down in Houston.

8. Houston Dynamo – Dominic Kinnear’s team needs to get hold of things – and his players know so. The last Orange win was Aug. 3 over New York, a full five games back. Success in Champions league is masking some of the league slippage, although the CCL wins do serve as a useful reminder that not everything around BBVA Compass Stadium has hit the skids. The inability to win on the road (last week’s 3-1 loss at Chicago was the latest clunker) is as concerning as the poor, late-season timing of the slide.

7. Chicago Fire – After a Round 25 stinker against D.C. United, the Fire were back on top of things in a 3-1 win at home over Houston. There were good performances all around the park, starting with Sean Johnson in goal, up through center back Arne Friedrich and reserve midfielder Daniel Paladini, on into … well, a lot of the Fire men had big nights. Along those lines, Alvaro Fernandez (pictured above), a summer acquisition from Seattle, is fitting in quite nicely at Toyota Park.

6. Columbus Crew – Mark it down: If Federico Higuain, Jairo Arrieta, Eddie Gaven, Chad Marshall and Andy Greunebaum remain healthy, the Crew will make the playoffs.  Book it, I tell ya. In all honesty, they could probably lose one of those (except perhaps the suddenly irreplaceable Higuain) and probably still be OK. Last week’s pair of 2-1 wins (both after trailing) were nothing short of massive. They moved into fifth place and now completely control their playoff destiny. The two closest pursuers, D.C United and Montreal, can no longer say the same.

(MORE: Higuain is ProSoccerTalk’s Player of the Week)

5. Angeles Galaxy – Scribble this down in your little MLS notebook: much of the Galaxy’s summer rise has been without one of the DP dandies, either Robbie Keane, David Beckham or Landon Donovan. So, the side may not have yet seen its tip-top best just yet. Last weekend’s 2-0 win over Vancouver was the Galaxy’s seventh shutout in 15 games. Bruce Arena’s boys are 10-3-2 in that time, and 12-3-2 in all competitions.

4. Seattle Sounders – I know the box score doesn’t reflect it, but Fredy Montero was an absolute beast in a tough, 1-1 draw down in Dallas. He kept two center backs occupied all by his lonesome. And Montero’s rise lately seems even more critical given the murky circumstances of Eddie Johnson’s curious period of “rest.” The former U.S. international striker was “rested” for last week’s Champions League game and then again for Sunday’s match in Dallas. Man, that sure is an awful lot of rest. Hmmm.

3. New York Red Bulls – It seems that Hans Backe creeps ever closer to the first-choice lineup, which now apparently includes Wilman Conde at left back. (Did you see his game-winner in last week’s 2-2 tie at D.C. United? Heavens!)  Most interesting, of course, is that DP Rafa Marquez doesn’t seem to be anywhere near this first-choice starting arrangement. That’s OK … he’s got some kind of injury. Again. But not the same one. Apparently. Or, who knows? (Seriously, guys … most of us figure you’re just making things up at this point. Just say he’s not playing and be done with it.) A nice, long break ends with a Sept. 15 contest against hot, hot, hot Columbus.

source: Getty Images

2. Sporting Kansas City – A 2-1 win at home over bottom-rung Toronto FC was closer than it seems. Graham Zusi (right) needs to rediscover his playmaking shoes for this team to perform at top rev. (Of course, it would help if Zusi was back regularly into his playmaking spot in midfield rather out wide. But details, details, I suppose.) Jacob Peterson has returned to training, so that might move things along nicely.

1. San Jose Earthquakes – When Ramiro Corrales scores twice (Good on ya, man!) you know things are going just peachy. The Earthquakes set a club record for goals scored in a season, now at 56. (And still seven matches to go!) Meanwhile, that gap between the high-performance, turbo-charged leader and the smaller-engine chase cars just keeps growing. Mathematically, a couple of teams may stay in the Western Conference race for another two or three matches. But realistically the ‘Quakes are about six points, give or take, away from cinching off this puppy.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?