Hamdi Salihi;  Milos Kocic

The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings


New York takes a big tumble during an unfortunate time. Following 31 rounds, here are Nos. 1-10 in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS quality rearrangement.

(Nos. 11-19 are here)

10. Vancouver Whitecaps – We talk so much about Designated Players in MLS, and that’s fine. But the Ws and Ls usually come down to workadays either getting their jobs done or not. So last week it was Dane Richards and Camilo doing the bulk of damage in a result the Caps desperately needed, a 4-0 confidence builder over Chivas USA.

9. Houston Dynamo – Houston remains a team without a solid formational core, toggling back and forth between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2 and still missing more solid connections between the three lines. It bit the Orange over the weekend when they left two points on the table in a 1-1 draw with Montreal. At this point, Dominic Kinnear’s side is probably destined for the wildcard round, so the final two contests are about getting enough points so that Houston is hosting that extra match, not traveling for it. Brad Davis, out last week, should be fit enough to return for Houston’s last pair.

8. New York Red Bulls – The club is suddenly dealing with a lot. Last week’s organizational upheaval was poorly timed. The team lacked urgency (at a time when it is critical, with playoffs approaching) in a weekend loss at home to Chicago. And then this awful news about the murder of a coach in the club’s youth system landed a truly difficult blow.

7. D.C. United – Ben Olsen’s side has earned 13 of a possible 15 points since Dwayne De Rosario’s injury – and the success hasn’t just come at home. Seven (of a possible nine) of those points have come away from RFK. The latest was last week’s 1-0 win over Toronto, fortunate as it was; Hamdi Salihi (pictured) cleaned up a late bobble from TFC’s ‘keeper. The team put playoff tickets on sale yesterday.

6. Chicago Fire – Hard to makes heads or tails of last week’spolar opposite performances. Frank Klopas’ men needed a spanking after a sluggish display in the easier outing of the two, a 3-1 loss at home to Philadelphia. But going into Red Bull Arena and emerging with a professional, tactically solid 2-0 result keeps Chicago out of the far more dangerous 4th-5th zone for now.

(MORE: Sherjill MacDonald is ProSoccerTalk’s Player of the Week)

5. Real Salt Lake – Fabian Espindola has gone grande in form lately, and the men of Utah are benefitting. They were about to be run off the field Saturday in Los Angeles, but tweaked some things tactically, got a nice goal from Espindola and turned the night. As a result Jason Kreis’ team has more or less locked up one of the top three spots in the West – and avoiding that fourth spot is the goal at this point.

4. Angeles Galaxy – At some point this week, I will re-watch the first 20 minutes of L.A. match with Real Salt Lake. If there has been an MLS offense in more perfect synchronization this year, I haven’t seen it. The Galaxy’s off-the-ball movement was nothing short of dazzling. If they can find that (and for longer than 20-minute stretches), they’ll be unstoppable. Of course, that’s the trick, isn’t it?  Landon Donovan’s injury being less serious than expected is the best news anyone in Galaxy Valley will hear this week.

source: Getty Images

3. Seattle Sounders – Who wasn’t left agog over the teeming scene at CenturyLink on Sunday night? What the 66,000 in place Sunday night saw was a midfield at top rev, with Christian Tiffert, Brad Evans and Mauro Rosales giving the visitors, the rivals from Portland, little to grab onto. In fact, all five of Seattle’s primary attackers (including Eddie Johnson and Fredy Montero, pictured) were on top of things.

(MORE: Big night  in Seattle; a glimpse of MLS’ future?)

2. San Jose Earthquakes – Sure, Alan Gordon on the national team’s roster. Why not? Everything else is going so swimmingly around Buck Shaw Stadium, it pretty much figures. Chris Wondolowski creeps ever closer to a league scorer record; Saturday’s hat trick in a dominant 4-1 win at Colorado made the last two weeks even more interesting in the Wondo Watch. They have one hand and a couple of fingers on the Supporters Shield now.  And the Earthquakes have lost just once since mid-July and are unbeaten in their last seven.

1. Sporting Kansas City – The men of Livestrong are at 12 games and counting; they haven’t lost since July. Think about that for a second and just try not to be impressed. Conceding a goal late last weekend at Columbus may have been a slight wobble (a 1-1 draw) but nothing more than that. Chicago remains close enough to be a bother for the Eastern Conference crown, and a trip into New York (Oct. 20) will not be a jog through the park for SKC. Still, they finish at home against Philadelphia, so it’s all still in front of the Peter Vermes’ team.

MLS preview: MLS Cup places to be booked on Sunday

Darlington Nagbe, Portland Timbers FC
Leave a comment

The last team to overcome a two-goal deficit in the second leg of a two-leg MLS Cup Playoffs tie was the 2004 Kansas City Wizards. On Sunday, two conference finals favorites — higher seeds, at least — will take their shot at rewriting the above piece of history in their bids to qualify for MLS Cup 2015.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The New York Red Bulls and FC Dallas, each the top seed in their respective conference and one-two finishers, respectively, for the Supporters’ Shield, have 90 minutes to overcome two very difference two-goal deficits against the Portland Timbers and Columbus Crew SC.

Note: A player who accumulates his second yellow card (of the MLS Cup Playoffs) in the second leg of the Conference Championship series IS ELIGIBLE to play in MLS Cup, as playoff yellow card accumulation resets following the Conference Championships. (A red card, whether a straight red or two yellows, in the second leg still equals a suspension for MLS Cup.)

FC Dallas 1-3 Portland Timbers — 5 p.m. ET, ESPN

While history isn’t on the side of teams attempting to come back from two goals down in the second leg, FCD have one thing going for them: an away from the first leg — of course, they would have been better served to have not given away a third goal in the game’s dying minutes and headed home slight favorites with an away goal and a one-goal deficit. As things stand, though, 2-0 puts FCD through to MLS Cup — which they would host against Columbus Crew SC and play away to New York Red Bulls.

A big problem for FCD in the first leg was how much time Portland’s full backs, Alvas Powell and Jorge Villafana, spent overlapping into FCD’s defensive half. Because of this, FCD’s rabid wingers, most notably Fabian Castillo, were limited in their effect on the counter after being forced to drop so deep to defend. With Portland defending a two-goal lead on Sunday, look for Powell and Villafana to sit back quite a bit more, thus putting the keys to FCD’s season into the hands of Castillo and Mauro Diaz. The great thing about Diaz, if you’re an FCD supporter, is that he’s brilliant enough to singlehandedly pick teams apart whether they’re stretched all over the field or bunkered deep.

Regular season: POR 3-1 FCD (4/4); FCD 4-1 POR (7/25)
Injuries: FCD — OUT: Rolando Escobar (facial fracture) | POR — OUT: Ben Zemanski (knee)

New York Red Bulls 0-2 Columbus Crew SC — 7:30 p.m. ET, FS1

If FCD are standing on tenuous ground, the New York Red Bulls are running on quicksand. No away goal in the first leg, coupled with Kei Kamara‘s late goal to make it 2-0, means anything but a perfect performance on Sunday, and they’re out. 2-0 send the series to extra time, but here’s where it gets supremely tricky for the Red Bulls: a single Crew SC goal in the second leg means RBNY need four goals to advance. That would seem quite unlikely.

For the entirety of the 2015 season, RBNY’s greatest strength was their spine: Matt Miazga and Damien Perrinelle at center back, and Dax McCarty, Felipe Martins and Sacha Kljestan in midfield. In the first leg, the midfield trio had its worst game of the season — completely overwhelmed with pressure and unable to press high themselves — which put the center of defense — already down Perrinelle to a season-ending knee injury — under tons of pressure. From the moment Justin Meram hit the back of the net, eight seconds into the game, RBNY’s entire gameplan was out the window — they were forced to chase a goal they didn’t really want, and in turn gave up a second late on. They’ll need to start better in the second leg, set their high line of pressing much more quickly when turning the ball over, and attack the wings to limit the attacking impact of full backs Harrison Afful and Waylon Francis, who absolutely destroyed them in the first leg.

Regular season: CLB 1-2 RBNY (3/28); CLB 2-1 RBNY (7/4); RBNY 2-1 CLB (10/3)
Injuries: RBNY — OUT: Damien Perrinelle (knee), Chris Duval (broken leg) | CLB — OUT: Kristinn Steindorsson (knee)

Slaven Bilic wants West Ham to stop whining about missing Payet

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 24: Slaven Bilic manager of West Ham United looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between West Ham United and Chelsea at Boleyn Ground on October 24, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
Leave a comment

Sometimes nominating the signing of the season is difficult to do until we get a glimpse of a team without their new addition. We’re seeing that this year as West Ham, who were in fifth position before summer signing Dimitri Payet went down with an ankle injury that could see him out for three months.

Without Payet, they looked lost in a 4-1 defeat to Spurs at White Hart Lane, and the void left in midfield was all anyone could talk about.

Slaven Bilic hates that.

“Losing Payet is a blow but we have two options: one is continue to talk about it and the other is to get together and play better even without him,” Bilic said prior to Sunday’s home matchup with West Brom. “He’s a player who has made a huge impact. He’s a key player for us and is doing the things that every club needs.”

Before the Spurs match, Bilic was adamant that the team was losing its best player. Now, he’s of the opposite tone.

“In my team I have enough players who can make his absence to feel it less,” Bilic said. “We have enough quality to play without Dimitri. We were hugely disappointed and angry with the way we played [against Tottenham].”

Jamie Vardy setting up academy to help discover non-league talent

during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Leicester City at St Mary's Stadium on October 17, 2015 in Southampton, England.
Getty Images
Leave a comment

In 2012, Jamie Vardy was playing non-league football for Fleetwood Town.

Today, he is the top scorer in the Premier League with Leicester City, and is currently on a record run of scoring in ten straight matches.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines ]

Vardy’s meteoric rise is the stuff of fairytales, and now he is giving back to those who are trying to break through as he did a few years ago.

The 28-year-old striker has set up the V9 Academy, a program aimed at finding non-league talent and helping the players develop into “the next Jamie Vardy.”

I know there are players out there in a similar position to where I was that just need an opportunity,

More and more players are dropping out of the system early. For me, it was at Sheffield Wednesday when I was 16 because they thought I was too small. I remember how that felt and it’s difficult to come back from or even think about the professional game.

I’ve thought for some time that something could be done about it and after several conversations with my agent and my fiancee, Becky, we decided to set up V9 to unearth talent and give those players a shot – hopefully at earning professional contracts but also to learn what it takes to be a professional at the highest level.

In just his second season in the Premier League, Vardy has become one of the most prolific strikers in Europe, earning him Player of the Month honors for October as well as a call-up to the England national team.

Premier League Black Friday bargains: Players that might be up for sale

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 25:  Charlie Austin of QPR reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Queens Park Rangers and West Ham United at Loftus Road on April 25, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Paul Gilham/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

While most people are out looking for good deals on televisions and electronics on Black Friday, ProSoccerTalk is eyeing bargains on midfielders and strikers.

[ MORE: Transfer Rumor roundup ]

With the transfer window just over a month away, we’re taking a look at a few players that could be up for sale come January 1.

Charlie Austin (Queens Park Rangers)

One of the biggest surprises of the summer transfer window was that Charlie Austin stayed at QPR and didn’t move to a Premier League club. The English striker scored 18 goals in the PL last season, and a move away from Loftus Road seemed like a guarantee when QPR was relegated. However, Austin stayed loyal to the club and said he wanted to help them earn promotion back into the top flight.

Things aren’t going as planned though, as QPR sit 15th in the Championship and sacked manager Chris Ramsey earlier this month. Despite the club’s struggles, Austin has scored seven goals in 12 games, showing he is still a top talent. QPR turned down some offers for Austin before the season, but with his contract expiring in June, they may be willing to sell their striker for a discounted price, or risk him leaving on a free transfer in the summer.

Dwight Gayle (Crystal Palace)

Dwight Gayle has fallen out of favor at Palace, as the striker has been limited to mostly a bench role under Alan Pardew. That may work out well for some suitors, as his lack of playing time could bring down his market value a bit. He was close making a move away from Selhurst Park this summer, and it doesn’t look like he’s in line for a new deal. Gayle seems to have lost his way a bit, but is the type of player that would have a chip on his shoulder and be eager to prove he has what it takes to be a starting striker in the Premier League.

[ MORE: Top storylines to look out for in Week 14 of the Premier League ]

Jermain Defoe (Sunderland)

The 33-year-old Sunderland striker can still score goals, seen when he bagged the game-winner for the Black Cats against Crystal Palace last week. While Sunderland supporters would like to keep Defoe to help the club survive relegation, it has been reported the striker and manager Sam Allardyce don’t exactly see eye-to-eye. When asked about a possible January sale of Defoe, Big Sam didn’t help the situation by answering “Whatever happens, happens.” While he may have lost a bit of pace, Defoe is still the 11th-highest goalscorer in Premier League history, and seems to always be good for a goal in crunch-time.

Ravel Morrison (Lazio)

The 22-year-old has reportedly left his Italian club Lazio for “personal reasons” just months after joining the side in July. Morrison is one of those “What could have been?” stories, as he came up through the Manchester United academy pegged to be a star, only to have off-the-field issues put a damper in his career. He has previously played in the Premier League with West Ham, and played first-team football with Birmingham City and QPR in the Championship. With Morrison expected to return to England, a team could take a flyer on the mercurial talent and see if it pays off.

[ RELATED: Will Mourinho-Costa feud lead to transfer activity for Chelsea? ]

Emmanuel Adebayor (Unattached)

After being told he was not in Mauricio Pochettino‘s plans at Tottenham, Adebayor was happy to sit out and collect a paycheck, a pretty big paycheck that was reported to be upwards of $100,000 per week. He was eventually released from his contract in September, and many suspected the 31-year-old’s career was over. However, his name has begun to pop up in some transfer rumors for a possible return. The main question has to do with his attitude, and if he really wants to play anymore. If Adebayor were to return to the PL, he would get far less than his wages at Spurs, and could be a low-risk, high-reward option.