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.

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.