The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(Nos. 11-19 are here …)

10. FC Dallas – Talk about hanging on in the playoff race by your chinny-chin-chin. That’s FC Dallas, which got out-muscled in the end of that crazy 3-3 weekend draw with San Jose. Brave and worthy as it was, a result against the league’s best won’t mean a thing of David Ferreira and Co. cannot take all three points this week at the league’s worst, Chivas USA. Rookie center back Matt Hedges (pictured) rose to the challenge in George John’s absence last week.

9. Houston Dynamo – Dominic Kinnear’s crew had three matches at home down the stretch and desperately needed to maximize points against three teams already out of it for 2012. So, one down and two to go. But it wasn’t as smooth as all that, as the goals came late and even later in a 2-0 win over New England. There’s still something not quite right about Houston at the moment.

8. D.C. United – This site points out that United needs four points from its next two matches reach the playoffs (for the first time since 2007). Can they get there? Things look good, as the loss of talisman Dwayne De Rosario has hardly proved to be the crusher it could have been. Ben Olsen’s club posted close wins over New England, Philadelphia and Chivas USA lately and a managed a 1-1 draw on the road at Portland, which is playing better lately. A betting man might reckon that Columbus, not D.C. United, will be the odd man out of this playoff debate.

7. Real Salt Lake – Is Real Salt Lake rising at just the right time? Fabian Espindola was a creative monster in a showy 4-0 win over Chivas USA. Alvaro Saborio did his share of damage with a hat trick. On the one hand, it was Chivas USA, easily the league’s worst side at the moment. On the other, RSL is 5-1-1 across two competitions lately, and that’s not bad. Nat Borchers is not getting a lot of mentions in 2012, but the veteran center back is still performing at a high level.

6. Chicago Fire – How big does that game in hand look in the MLS Eastern Conference standings? It certainly helps take some of the bitter sting from last weeks’ 2-0 loss to conference-leading Kansas City. Beyond the standings and playoffs and such, the organization celebrates its 15th anniversary Wednesday. What better way to celebrate than with a win over Philadelphia that scoots the boys from Bridgeview right back up the backside of first-place KC?

5. New York Red Bulls – I got some heck for referring to Thierry Henry as “King Henry” after last week’s commanding performance, with a goal and three assists in the 4-1 result over beleaguered Toronto FC. But you know what? Who cares. A man delivering such a commanding performance as that one deserves a royal moniker. Goalkeeper Luis Robles looked sharp in his MLS debut.

(MORE: Looking at the Red Bulls best midfield combo)

4. Seattle Sounders – Like Chicago, Seattle has a game in hand that looks enormous in the three-team jostle. At stake is second and third place, which is highly preferable to finishing fourth or fifth and playing one extra post-season contest (and a perilous one). For this week’s Cascadia Cup clash against rival Portland, club officials have opened up all 66,000-plus seats – and you can bet your lucky green scarf they’ll all be full. That means Sunday’s nationally televised match will set a club record, and will likely be the second largest MLS crowd in 17 years that’s not a part of a doubleheader.

source: Getty Images

3. Angeles Galaxy – “Paging Tommy Meyer – you are on the spot, son.” Meyer appears to be the man tapped for replacement duty following A.J. DeLaGarza’s injury. Otherwise, things look sunny in So Cal, with David Beckham (pictured right) back on the field for Sunday’s 1-1 draw outside Denver. Becks was far from his best, and he said as much, but there’s a month to go before the playoffs, so just getting back into the lineup was the important mile marker here.

(MORE: DeLaGarza apparently done for the regular season)

2. San Jose Earthquakes – A 3-3 draw at home with FC Dallas exposed the best and the worst in Frank Yallop’s men of high drama. They keep falling behind. But they absolutely, positively never believe they won’t make up the deficit. Stephen Lenhart was the late hero this time. One point will seal the deal in the West, but the Earthquakes clearly have something more grand in mind: the Supporters Shield.

1. Sporting Kansas City – Did Sporting KC show a little vulnerability late in last week’s sizeable clash with second-place Chicago, dropping a notch over the last 30 minutes as the visitors, overrun early, worked steadily into the game? Or was it down to spot-on tactics, with high-pressure providing the early goal, followed by a wise dropping-off later? Either way, well done, ye men of SKC. This late-season change in defense – volatile All-Star center back Aurelien Collin out, Lawrence Olum in – is interesting, isn’t it?

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

[ MORE: Full FIFA-Qatar report leaked? ]

Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

[ MORE: Chelsea sells Traore ]

Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?