ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings (in two parts)

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(Nos. 1-10 are on deck …so check back)

19. Chivas USA – What, in the name of Gerd Muller, must Chivas USA do to please the soccer gods and find a doggone goal? Six matches in September brought a grand total of one. One! At this point, who knows what in the world will happen in the offseason with this little lost sheep of a soccer club.  

18. Toronto FC – Two of three matches remaining are against teams with playoff ambition (Columbus and D.C. United). And there’s a match against Canadian rival Montreal. So, there’s still a little something to play for around BMO – assuming spoiler rolls and rivalries are worth something to you. They certainly are to passionate manager Paul Mariner.

(MORE: Tough choices and important questions around TFC)

17. Colorado Rapids – Conor Casey had a nice match in holding up play and brining others into the game during a 1-1 draw at home against Los Angeles. So, that’s progress. But Casey needs to begin finishing. Because two goals in 18 matches is not what a starting center forward wants to hang his hat on.

16. Portland Timbers – The Timbers need to quickly shake the frustration of last week’s controversial draw with D.C. United. Yes, Mr. Paulson, it was a silly call. There’s one thing left for which to play in 2012, the cherished Cascadia Cup, and that bad boy is at stake this week in Seattle. What a chance for Portland, too; the Timbers can send 66,000-plus home in rave green disappointment by rising to the nationally televised moment Sunday.

(MORE: is disciplinary action in the works for owner Merritt Paulson?)

15. Philadelphia Union – Two critical calls appeared to have been blown (both affecting the playoff race). One of them had Philly on the bad side, as an offside decision that went uncalled provided Columbus the game-winning goal in a 3-2 result over the Union. Meanwhile, looks like center back Bakary Soumare is done for 2012.

14. New England Revolution – Jay Heaps’ men went to Houston and made things very difficult on the Dynamo, a playoff aspirant that was desperate for the home win. You could argue that New England even created the better chances, which isn’t bad considering top midfield creator Lee Nguyen is done for the year.

13. Montréal Impact – For anyone remaining out there who still believes Montreal can somehow defy gravity and make the playoffs (bless your optimistic soul), consider this: The Impact visit Houston this week toting that awful 2-12-1 road record. Meanwhile, the Dynamo has not lost this year at spanking new BBVA Compass Stadium. So …

12. Vancouver Whitecaps – Every time I see Vancouver, I want to see a little more offensive “want-to,” a little less sitting back and hoping for the best. They may yet sneak into the 2012 playoffs; the odds remain with them as pursuing Dallas simply dug down too deeply over the season’s first half. Still, winless in seven matches now following last week’s scoreless draw with Seattle? Not. Good. And now livewire striker Darren Mattocks (pictured above) is injured. Not. Good. At. All.

11. Columbus Crew – Jairo Arrieta hit a vital pair of goals before the break, and the Crew found wonderful fortune in a late strike that really wasn’t. Regardless, a 3-2 win over Philadelphia keeps hope alive in Ohio. Arrieta has a goal or an assist in four consecutive matches, reminding us all what a great summer signing he was – even if journos like me keep writing about Federico Higuain.

Championship Focus: Bluebirds flying, Villa second-last

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The wild 46-game slate that is the Football League Championship is already howling, with all 24 teams three matches deep into their campaigns toward Premier League promotion (or avoiding relegation to League One).

The three clubs relegated from the Premier League last season all sit within the Top 8 after three match days. Sunderland is unbeaten with a win and two draws, while Hull City is 1-1-1.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

Middlesbrough has two wins from three matches, three points behind three sides who’ve started a perfect 3-0.

Wolves and Ipswich Town are two of the three, and Cardiff City leads the way. Owner Vincent Tan has seen his club score six goals without conceding once in defeats of Burton Albion, Aston Villa, and Sheffield United.

Burton is 0-3, while Steve Bruce‘s Villa is just one point better and sits 23rd.

As for individual superlatives, Bristol City’s Bobby Reid has four goals to lead the league while familiar names Lewis Grabban (Sunderland) and Abel Hernandez (Hull City) are among a quartet of players to score thrice.

Meanwhile, PL transfer target Jota of Brentford continues to impress with three assists through three matches. Will he remain in the second tier by the close of the transfer window?

MLS Snapshot: Montreal Impact 3-0 Chicago Fire

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The game in 100 words (or less)Ignacio Piatti is very good at soccer, and Chicago backstop Matt Lampson is going to see him deep into his dreams. Piatti beat Lampson up close on a turnover and then, with Montreal ahead 2-0 off a PK, the Argentine curled a surprise shot from distance around the keeper. Game, set, match, and it wasn’t even halftime. The loss keeps Chicago from using its match-in-hand to catch second place New York City FC, while the three points move Montreal to within two points of the East’s final playoff position.

Three moments that mattered

6′ — Piatti starts the party — Gifted a chance with the keeper by a sloppy missed clearing attempt, the Argentine deftly pops the ball over Fire keeper Matt Lampson.

36′ — Lampson hurts his cause — Chicago’s backstop wasn’t at fault on the opening goal, but he was for the second. After chopping down Matteo Mancosu in the box, Lampson guessed wrong on the striker’s penalty kick and the Fire went down 2-0.

38′ — It’s not your night, Lamps — Pretty sure you can anyone named Lampson, Lamps. Anyway, this time it was one of MLS’ top newcomers who set up Piatti for a goal. “Nacho” has his 12th of the season thanks to Blerim Dzemaili, and my goodness did Piatti do well here.

Man of the Match: Piatti.

Forbes ranks the top supporters in Major League Soccer

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Forbes claims the shared honor will give two Cascadia Cup rivals one less thing to argue about, but we completely disagree.

The celebrated magazine says their metrics show the Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders tied for the honor of who has the best fans in Major League Soccer.

The post says the determination was made through four factors: attendance, local TV ratings, merchandise sales, and social media followers on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Attendance was weighted heaviest, which certainly gives Atlanta United hope to go charging up the rankings in the future. For now, the “Five Stripes” are not included in the list.

The Galaxy finish third in the rankings, while the sixth-place New York Red Bulls edge New York City FC by one spot.

For the report and full explanation, head here.

Europa League preview: Everton, Milan, Marseille take next steps

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The UEFA Europa League playoff round takes full flight Thursday, a day after Utrecht struck a blow for the Eredivisie with a 1-0 win over Zenit Saint-Petersburg in a Wednesday first leg.

Premier League participants Everton will be seeking a result at home against Hajduk Split, the third-place team from Croatia’s top flight.

Gylfi Sigurdsson passed his medical at Goodison Park but will not be available for Everton on Thursday.

[ MORE: Barcelona falls to Real… again ]

As for the match, manager Ronald Koeman knows the Thursday matchdays for the UEL will try his club’s endurance and depth. From EvertonFC.com:

“We know English teams have some problems. I think it is more mental than physical because if you play in the Champions League – so Wednesday and Saturday – you have the same amount of days to recover. I try to put out the strongest team to start the game. That will take into account the tactical aspects of each game. That will mean different players start and different options in terms of substitutions.”

Captained by Zoran Nizic and managed by Joan Carrillo, Hajduk has a young star in the making in the form of 19-year-old attacking midfielder Nikola Vlasic, but Everton is heavily favored at home with Hajduk given 12:1 odds by bookmakers.

[ MORE: Barca GM says Coutinho, Dembele “close” ]

Those numbers are a relative sure thing compared to AC Milan’s visitors. Macedonia club Shkendija are a 33:1 underdog for its trip to Italy.

Elsewhere, Slovenian side Domzale is a longshot at home to visiting Marseille.

Speaking of bookmakers, Arsenal won’t enter the competition until the group stage but is considered the favorite to win the UEL by a hair over Milan. Everton, Villarreal, and Athletic Bilbao are level with third-best odds.

UEFA Europa League playoff first legs
Utrecht 1-0 Zenit — Weds.
BATE Borisov vs. Oleksandriya — 1 p.m. ET Thursday
Apollon Limassol vs. Midtjylland — 1 p.m.
Krasnodar vs. Red Star Belgrade — 1 p.m.
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Skenderbeu — 1 p.m.
FH vs. Braga — 1:45 p.m. ET Thursday
PAOK vs. Ostersund — 2 p.m. ET Thursday
Vardar vs. Fenerbahce — 2 p.m.
Plzen vs. AEK Lamaca — 2:15 p.m. ET Thursday
Altach vs. Maccabi Tel-Aviv — 2:30 p.m. ET Thursday
Ludogorets Razgrad vs. Suduva — 2:30 p.m.
Panathinaikos vs. Athletic Bilbao — 2:30 p.m.
Domzale vs. Marseille — 2:45 p.m. ET Thursday
Osijek vs. Austria Wien — 2:45 p.m.
Viitorul vs. Red Bull Salzburg — 2:45 p.m.
Ajax vs. Rosenborg — 2:45 p.m.
Legia Warsaw vs. Sheriff — 2:45 p.m.
AC Milan vs. Shkendija — 2:45 p.m.
Club Brugge vs. AEK — 2:45 p.m.
Partizan vs. Videoton — 3 p.m. ET Thursday
Everton vs. Hajduk Split — 3:05 p.m. ET Thursday
Maritimo vs. Dynamo Kyiv — 3:30 p.m. ET Thursday