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.

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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