The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(Nos. 11-19 in the rankings countdown are here)

10. D.C. United – It took some heroic goalkeeping from Bill Hamid in the end, but United withstood its first test after Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending knee injury. Rising American star Chris Pontius did his part in the 2-1 win over New England. The schedule breakdown is tricky from here: On one hand three of the next four are on the road; on the other hand, none of the visits are to clubs that will make the playoffs.

(MORE: Bill Hamid, PST’s Player of the Week)

9. Columbus Crew – Team officials say Federico Higuain will play in the Crew’s midweek meeting in Ohio with Chivas USA. He had better; it’s really now or never. If Robert Warzycha’s men cannot pull all three points in a home match against the league’s worst team, then they probably do not deserve to be a playoff side. Andy Gruenebaum’s chances of playing looking promising, which would improve the Crew’s chances of success.

8. Real Salt Lake – Tough call for coach Jason Kreis, whether to add emphasis in personnel decisions to positioning in the MLS playoff race, or whether to put more eggs into the CONCACAF Champions League basket? We’ll know a little more tonight as RSL meets Panama’s Tauro in regional tournament play. Kreis’ team then hosts Portland four nights later.

7. Houston Dynamo – Perhaps a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City helped stanch the downward flow, as Houston has slipped all the way to fourth in the East. Dominic Kinnear’s team surely wants to make up the gap on New York or Chicago, hoping to avoid that fourth-vs.-fifth playoff white knuckler. But this is where the timing CONCACAF Champions League action does a disservice to the teams involved. Because Houston (like others in MLS) has to pay attention to those matches, as well.

6. Chicago Fire – Chris Rolfe (pictured above) for MLS Newcomer of the Year? (Or perhaps Comeback Player of the Year?) I know Victor Bernardez and Federico Higuain and some others will make a big claim for Newcomer, but the Fire’s do-all attacker is having a fantastic season since recovering from spring injury. And the Fire? They haven’t done much … except rise from rather anonymous status in 2012 to Eastern Conference challenger, suddenly pushing Sporting Kansas City for top spot.

5. New York Red Bulls – “Dear Rafa Marquez: If you keep playing as sharply you did in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Columbus, pinging those balls into Thierry Henry and effectively linking the play through midfield, even making a couple of big runs forward, we will consider taking back every derogatory thing we ever said about you. No promises! But it does begin with continued performance on both ends of the field. Best.”

4. Angeles Galaxy – How about that Marcelo Sarvas! European veteran Christian Wilhelmsson made his debut, and Landon Donovan got back on the field – and what was everyone buzzing on about? About Sarvas and the impact he had on a 2-0 win over Colorado. The Galaxy travels into Puerto Rico this week for a match with the Islanders and a chance to more or less cinch off Champions League group stage matters.

(MORE: Sarvas makes ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week)

3. Seattle Sounders – Fredy Montero has 12 goals and 6 assists. And his goals always seem to have that certain panache.  (Did you see that out-of-nowhere shot and goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Portland?) If the feisty Colombian attacker can boost that assist rate just a tad and add, say, two or three more goals over the Sounders’ final six matches, can’t we make a compelling argument for league MVP?

source: Getty Images

2. Sporting Kansas City – Peter Vermes’ team did enough to own the night against Houston, but the inability to generate maximize points in more of these matches at home must be concerning. (Not to mention the concern over not being able to get over on Houston at home; Friday’s 1-1 draw makes SKC winless in its last three against Houston at Livestrong Sporting Park.) C.J. Sapong (right) may be coming on, which would provide a huge boost.

1. San Jose Earthquakes – A little PK controversy shouldn’t subtract from another businesslike win for the league’s top team. Western Conference clubs may not publicly acknowledge it, but it’s time to start jostling for second place, third place, etc. – because they aren’t going to reel in San Jose. Another win or two (a golden opportunity is up Wednesday as Portland comes to town, surely vulnerable after such an emotional afternoon against Seattle) and San Jose will be out of reach for New York, Chicago and Sporting Kansas City, the only Eastern Conference clubs that can realistically chase down San Jose for Supporters Shield spoils.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)

Watford signs Will Hughes from Derby County

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Watford has completed the capture of 22-year-old central midfielder Will Hughes, a fantastic transfer for one of England’s younger talents.

Hughes, despite his young age, racked up 189 appearances for Derby County (despite missing significant time in 2015 for an ACL tear) and now gets his first shot at the Premier League, and with it potentially a chance to push his way into the England fold. Hughes has been a staple for the England youth system, making 22 appearances for the country’s U-21 side but is yet to feature for the senior team.

The fee for the transfer was undisclosed but reports have tabbed the amount at around $10 million.

Hughes came close to making the Premier League with Derby County on multiple occasions, reaching the Championship playoffs in both 2014 and 2016. Now, he’ll battle the likes of Valon Behrami, Tom Cleverley, Etienne Capoue, Abdoulaye Doucoure for a spot in Watford’s midfield.

The club release confirmed that Hughes has not yet completed his medical, and will do so when he returns to the U.K. from competing in the U-21 European Championships in Poland.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.