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?

Off to slow start, Morris, Seattle know “things can change quickly”

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Both Jordan Morris and the Seattle Sounders are off to a rough start in defense of their MLS Cup title last Fall, and the USMNT’s star striker admits to recalling last season’s wild turnaround as an inspiration.

“After the game last week we mentioned that we have a lot of the nucleus from last year and we all know that things can change quickly,” Morris said to ProSoccerTalk this week.

Seattle won just seven games before Matchday 22 last season, rebounding with a burst after coach Sigi Schmid was replaced by assistant Brian Schmetzer. The Sounders went 8-2-2 down the stretch en route to an MLS Cup win over Toronto FC.

While he hasn’t scored in five matches and only has two markers in 12 games, he feels success is coming for the 3W-5L-4T Sounders. Morris said the club knows the results aren’t there, but also that they are producing chances.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

“It’s been okay,” Morris said. “Definitely not the start I would’ve wanted. It’s not an excuse but we’ve hit a lot of posts and had other near misses.”

Seattle has a huge opportunity to flip the script on its season when Cascadia Cup rivals Portland visit on Saturday. The free-scoring Timbers are dangerous in attack, but have been opened up 20 times this season. Only two teams have conceded more goals than Portland (which has played the most matches in the league, it must be said).

And it may or may not surprise fans that Morris’ focus has been one of his strengths: the final product.

“I’m working on the final third, whether it’s shooting or finding the open guy,” Morris said. “It’s a big deal for us to finish our chances. Scoring or the final pass in that final third.”

Despite his relatively cold start, it would be surprising if Bruce Arena didn’t tab Morris in his crop for next month’s World Cup qualifiers. The 22-year-old also seems relatively certain to be a part of the Gold Cup plans.

“I’m excited and hopefully I get called up,” he said. “These World Cup qualifiers are obviously a very big deal and Bruce has done a really good job of getting us on the same page.”

Morris is also participating in a unique promotional activity with Delta Air Lines for Sounders fans, as he and Cristian Roldan are among Seattle teams picking fans for “positions” in a Fan XI. Once assembled, they’ll travel to L.A. for a Sounders road match and even sign one-day contracts. Morris was happy to get on board with it.

“It’s for our fans, who are amazing,” he said. “Delta’s idea to make a Fan XI gives the fansa chance to have the behind the scenes experience of being part of a team put together by having different skills. We love rewarding our fans.”

Day Seven: All the action from the U20 World Cup (video)

Kim In-chul/Yonhap via AP
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Mexico has automatically qualified for the knockout rounds of the U-20 World Cup despite falling to Venezuela.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

Germany dropped below Mexico in goal differential after allowing a 3-0 lead to sink to one, though El Tri still likely would’ve advanced to the next phase despite Germany’s result.

Mexico 0-1 Venezuela

Caracas 19-year-old striker Sergio Cordova scored for the third-straight match in what is sure to make him a hot summer commodity as Venezuela clinched Group B with a perfect 3-0 record.

Germany 3-2 Vanuatu

Vanuatu’s potential name of the tournament Bong Kalo scored twice in the second half to sink Germany below Mexico on goal difference.

Guinea 0-5 Argentina

A brace from Lautaro Martínez gives Argentina hope of the knockout rounds with a third-place finish.

England 1-0 South Korea

Everton’s Kieran Dowell scored the lone goal of the match to give England the Group A crown.

Zabaleta staying in Premier League with West Ham move

@WHUFC
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A week after bidding Manchester City an emotional goodbye, Pablo Zabaleta has announced he’ll be staying in England.

The 32-year-old right back is moving to London, where he’ll join West Ham United on a two-year deal beginning July 1.

[ MORE: Three key battles in FA Cup Final ]

The San Lorenzo youth product went to Espanyol in 2005 to begin his European adventure, joining Man City in 2008. He won two PL titles, two League Cups, and an FA Cup, and was named the club’s player of the season in 2012-13.

From WHUFC.com:

“Manchester City gave me the opportunity to come to this wonderful league, the Premier League, something I’ve been enjoying a lot as a player and of course for me it was probably the right time to move on.

“Also, as a player, I thought I wanted to keep playing in the Premier League. For me, after being in this country for so long, this is a new challenge for me in the Premier League and I’m ready for it and looking forward to it.”

Maybe he just wanted 3G.

Young Sam Byram can learn plenty from Zabaleta, and the signing means that star right-sided man Michail Antonio likely won’t have to be wasted at right back in emergency situations. Good risk by the Hammers.

Valencia extends Man Utd deal to great Mourinho praise

Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images
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Jose Mourinho has made no secret of his Antonio Valencia appreciation, and the Manchester United manager has rewarded his fullback with a new deal.

Valencia is nine appearances away from 300 in a Manchester United kit, with 22 goals and 61 assists as a Red Devil.

[ MORE: Monaco star’s Man City medical ]

Valencia said United has “been my life” since arriving from Wigan Athletic in 2009, while Mourinho heaped praise on the Ecuadorian captain’s character with glowing praise.

“It is no secret that I had been an admirer of Antonio’s long before I joined the club. I knew what a fantastic player he was and he has not disappointed me on that front. However, what I could never have imagined was what a great person he is. I know I have said this before but I truly believe it is a real privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man. I am delighted he has extended his contract.”

Only Ander Herrera and Eric Bailly recorded better tackle rates at Old Trafford last season, and Valencia was credited with a team-best 1.5 crosses per game.