Hamdi Salihi;  Milos Kocic

The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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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.

Premier League Preview: Stoke City vs. Manchester United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 02:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United (L) shoots while Erik Pieters of Stoke City (R) attempts to block the shot during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Stoke City at Old Trafford on October 2, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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  • Man Utd leads all-time 43W-34D-28L
  • Clubs even in last six (2-2-2)
  • Red Devils unbeaten in 16
  • Stoke winners of two-straight

After wins over Sunderland and Watford, Stoke City gets a higher class of opponent on Saturday at the Britannia Stadium (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Fortunately for Stoke, it’s had some success against Manchester United in recent years.

Stoke and United drew 1-1 at Old Trafford on Oct. 2, though Jose Mourinho’s Red Devils are flying now. United is hard to break down, and arguably deserved better than the 1-1 draw it earned versus Liverpool last weekend.

Stoke is now 11 points clear of the drop zone, and a win could raise its status to closer to the Top Five than Bottom Three. United, meanwhile, wants three points that would move it to precipice of the Top Four.

 

What they’re saying

Stoke City’s Glenn Whelan on facing United“There has been a wind of change there and the supporters seem a lot happier now and you get the sense that they are together as a group now. You only have to look at the players within the squad, and even the ones who are leaving, to see how much strength in depth they have there.”

Jose Mourinho praises newly-extended Antonio Valencia“I don’t think it is a reward, I don’t see it in this perspective. I just think he is the best right-back you can have. There is no better right-back in football. It is just for us to keep the best. I don’t think it is a reward. It is a privilege for us to have such a good player and such a good man.”

Prediction

United gets it done, only barely. Stoke will put up a brave battle for boss Mark Hughes, but there are too many weapons to suppress. United, 1-0.

AFCON wrap: Results keep Group C undecided

Ivory Coast's Wilfried Bony controls the ball on his head during their training session at the Stade Akoakam, Oyem, Gabon, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, ahead of their African Cup of Nations Group C soccer match against Congo. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)
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Like Group A, Group C in the Africa Cup of Nations has very little decided ahead of the final group stage match.

[ MORE: Guardiola “said goodbye to title” ]

Ivory Coast 2-2 DR Congo

A thrilling first half had DR Congo leading 1-0 and 2-1, with only Wilfried Bony netting for the Ivory Coast. Les Elephants grabbed a draw through Serey Die’s 67th minute goal.

DR Congo now leads the group and is primed to advance with a result against Togo or a Morocco loss or draw against Ivory Coast.

Morocco 3-1 Togo

Mathieu Dossevi gave Togo a surprise fifth minute lead lead, but Aziz Bouhaddouz kickstarted the Moroccan attack to plug the victors into Group C’s second spot ahead of a Jan. 24 showdown with Ivory Coast.

Saturday’s matches

Ghana vs. Mali — 11 a.m. ET
Egypt vs. Uganda — 2 p.m. ET

Premier League Preview: Liverpool vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - MAY 01:  Jefferson Montero of Swansea City is challenged by Nathaniel Clyne of Liverpool during the Barclays Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at The Liberty Stadium on May 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images)
Photo by Steve Bardens/Getty Images
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  • Liverpool leads all-time 22W-8D-10L
  • Swans lost five-straight at Anfield
  • Reds unbeaten in 7 PL matches

One of the Premier League’s top attacks hosts the division’s leakiest defense, as Liverpool may be licking its chops ahead of a visit from struggling Swansea City on Saturday (Watch live at 7:30 a.m. EDT on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Liverpool has drawn at Sunderland and Manchester United in its last two Premier League outings, and sits seven points back of leaders Chelsea.

Swansea City has allowed multiple goals in five of six PL matches since beating Sunderland 3-0 on Dec. 10. It’s no surprise that they’ve lost those five (the sixth being a 2-1 win at struggling Crystal Palace).

What they’re saying

Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp on the match“We’re really looking forward to this game. I don’t know when it happened but in England every game now is like a final. Swansea are trying to survive. I don’t know when the title run-in will start, maybe now and we’re in the race. I hope for a special atmosphere tomorrow.”

Swansea City back Federico Fernandez on Liverpool“They are a team that is very strong going forward and that is shown by the number of goals they have scored. If you lose a little bit of focus against these teams then they have the players that will punish you every time. But it’s not only defending strongly when they are attacking, it is also how we keep hold of the ball and how we use it when in possession.”

Prediction

Swansea boss Paul Clement has his hands full, and is grabbing reinforcements in the transfer window (Luciano Narsingh, Martin Olsson, Tom Carroll). That won’t be enough to handle what Liverpool will dish out Saturday, as the Reds break free with a 3-0 win.

Saints’ Fonte moves to West Ham for $10 million

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West Ham has been linked with big name strikers since the summer, but the Irons’ big January transfer to date is a center back.

EURO champion and Southampton mainstay Jose Fonte is moving to London.

[ MORE: West Brom finally sells Berahino ]

Fonte, 33, makes an approximately $10 million move from the South Coast, where the Portuguese back will better Slaven Bilic‘s back line while forcing Southampton to find an answer alongside Virgil Van Dijk.

It’s been a strange trip to London for Fonte and Southampton, detailed by our own Joe Prince-Wright here. Fonte joined Saints during the 2009-10 season, and became a cult hero at St. Mary’s in helping the club move from League One to the Europa League in just over a half-decade.

Something won’t feel right about seeing Fonte in claret and blue, and Saints host West Ham on Feb. 4. Should be quite interesting.