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.

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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