The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

9 Comments

(Nos. 11-19 are here)

10. Vancouver Whitecaps – Congratulations to the Whitecaps, the first Canadian side to make an MLS playoff appearance, never mind Toronto’s five-year head start. Your reward: a trip to Los Angeles in a one-game elimination contest. Unless Martin Rennie’s men find a lot of offense over the next week or so, the club’s season will be extended by about four days.

(MORE: Hard to like Vancouver’s playoff chances)

9. Houston Dynamo – Houston finished its home season unbeaten and clinched a playoff spot, but there’s still a lot of play for. Three points from a Round 34 trip into Colorado could be the difference between playing at home (We mentioned they are unbeaten there, right?) or playing on the road in the 4th-vs.-5th elimination match. It might even mean avoiding that opening-round match altogether. All of that tells us manager Dominic Kinnear is even more likely to use a team of reservists in tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League contest.

8. New York Red Bulls – Difficult to say how RBNY fans should feel about last week’s scoreless draw at home. I mean, “scoreless draw at home” is never a good place to start a conversation about a talented team with playoff ambition. On the other hand, New York took it to the Eastern Conference champs. Sporting Kansas City needed a herculean effort from goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to preserve the shutout. Teemu Tainio had one of his best outings in months; they need more of that, and less of his diminished 2012 form.

7. Chicago Fire – Going into the playoffs on up-and-down roller coaster form reduces the post-season to a toss-up. The “good” Fire apparently remained home in Chicago  last weekend, while the “bad” Fire went limp in a 1-0 loss at New England. In further bad news, the Fire (don’t forget, we were talking about Frank Klopas’ men challenging for East’s top spot just a couple of weeks ago) could tumble all way to fifth if they aren’t careful; they finish at home against D.C. United this week.

6. D.C. United – Man, throw in a little SexyBack and Timbaland and it’s 2006 all over again! The RFK Stadium stands were full (“down-sized” full, anyway) and the team secured a playoff spot, its first since 2007. Ben Olsen’s team secured post-season passage in a thriller, a 3-2 win over Columbus secured on a late goal by reservist Lewis Neal (pictured above along with Olsen). Oh, and if you haven’t seen it, check out Branko Boskovic’s clever, no-look pass to arrange Neal’s goal; it’s sure worth a look.

5. Real Salt Lake – What RSL general manager Garth Lagerwey says about tonight’s CONCACAF Champions League match, where the Utah side requires a win over Costa Rica’s CS Herediano to move into next year’s elimination stage: “It is a massive game. Pretending it’s not won’t make it go away. And I think everybody understands that — from the players in the locker room to the fans. They know what it’s all about.”  Meanwhile, they still hope to finish with flourish in league matters; a contest at home against Vancouver could vault RSL past Seattle, a better place to be in case teams ahead of them stumble en route to MLS Cup 2012.

4. Los Angeles Galaxy – All the extracurriculars took center stage after Sunday’s 2-2 draw in San Jose, a match that was either rough and tumble and full of hard-nosed stuff … or the very embodiment of why MLS needs to tamp down reckless and overly aggressive play. It all depends on your viewpoint. Meanwhile, Landon Donovan and David Beckham are back at practice for the club, which is locked into fourth place. They’ll host Vancouver on Oct. 31 in an MLS playoff elimination match.

(MORE: Omar Gonzalez calls San Jose’s MO “embarrassing”)

3. Seattle Sounders – Smart, opportunistic soccer, not to mention some strong finishing, carried a 3-1 win over FC Dallas and helped secure the Sounders’ playoff positioning. This week’s trip into Los Angeles looks tricky. Does coach Sigi Schmid risk a confidence beat-down and slippage in positioning for MLS Cup hosts right by deploying reservists? On the other hand, doing so could mean some beneficial rest for the coming post-season charge.

source: Getty Images

2. San Jose Earthquakes – C’mon, Wondo … just one more goal! (Or maybe two more, so you aren’t sharing the record.) Chris Wondolowski (pictured right) has one more contest to match Roy Lassiter’s 17-year-old MLS mark for goals scored in a season. With a match in Portland set for Round 34, the Earthquakes’ striker sits on 26 goals. He’s lobbying Frank Yallop for as much playing time as possible, and the team is committed in its efforts to help “Wonder Wondo” achieve the record. Who says the Supporters Shield winners don’t have anything to play for on the final weekend?

(MORE: a huge week around the San Jose Earthquakes organization)

1. Sporting Kansas City – It took big stuff from goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen to keep New York out of goal in Saturday’s 0-0 draw at Red Bull Arena. The team definitely misses Roger Espinoza, who needs to heal up quickly for the men of Livestrong to have the best chance in playoff encounters ahead. Meanwhile, SKC loyalists have themselves an interesting debate going: Lawrence Olum or Aurelien Collin as Matt Besler’s center back partner? It’s most been Olum lately, although Collin got the call in last week’s shutout against New York.

Bobby Wood looks forward to working with Arena, praises Klinsmann

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

A back injury kept Bobby Wood from United States men’s national team camp, but the Hamburg striker has been feeling good about the side’s World Cup fortunes since before the big win over Honduras.

Speaking with Hamburg’s team magazine, Wood gave a sprawling interview on his career and time with the national team. Wood praised Arena for scouting in Germany, saying the USMNT boss is a quiet coach who has his own style of playing, one that will prod the Yanks into the World Cup.

[ MORE: Complete USMNT-Panama preview ]

But the 24-year-old Hawaii-born striker saved his fondest words for ex-coach Jurgen Klinsmann, essentially calling him a career-saver. From HSV live (translated from German):

He’s very important to me. I believe if Jürgen had not been U.S. coach, then I might have stopped playing football or would have played somewhere in the fourth league.

That is why I am very, very grateful to him. At that time I was in a deep hole – it was real heavy. … He has believed in my quality. We are still in contact, he texts me.

Wood was a part-time player for 1860 Munich when Klinsmann first called him up to the national team side, and now he’s a Bundesliga striker who will be in demand if the club is relegated. Wood has also been mentioned as a target for Premier League clubs.

That’s a pretty good career jump. Klinsmann may have failed to deliver much of what he promised to the national team, but talent mining was done quite well.

USMNT-Panama preview: World Cup calm at stake

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Still wounded from the first two matches of the Hex but buoyed by its demolition of Honduras, the United States men’s national team faces an inspired Panama on Tuesday night in Panama City.

The Yanks arose from the ashes of losses to Mexico and Costa Rica to bury Honduras 6-0 Friday behind a Clint Dempsey hat trick and a goal and two assists from Christian Pulisic.

A win on Tuesday in Panama gives the U.S. something that can only soothe the nerves ahead of two summer qualifiers and the Gold Cup: Top Three status in the Hex (as is always expected).

Now the resurgent Americans face a Panama side which sits above them on the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying table, having narrowed the gap on a Los Canaleros side who itself has narrowed its sights on a USMNT which burned them nearly four years ago.

[ USMNT-HONDURAS: Player ratings | Three things ]

Panama looked set to earn an interconfederation playoff berth with a 2-1 lead over the already-advanced U.S. when Graham “San” Zusi and Aron Johannsson led a shocking comeback at the Estadio Rommel Fernández to give Mexico the Hex’s fourth-place.

Los Canaleros shot out of the Hex gates with a win at Honduras and a 0-0 draw at home against Mexico, but fell 1-0 at Trinidad and Tobago on Friday thanks to Minnesota United star Kevin Molino.

Now licking its wounds while eyeing revenge, Panama will hope its pair of draws with the U.S. at the 2015 Gold Cup are the start they need to pick up a first home World Cup qualifying win over the States. Panama won the third-place match over the USMNT via shootout at the that tournament.

Boss Hernán Darío Gómez is no stranger to international battles having led Ecuador, Colombia, and Guatemala. He deployed a 4-5-1 against T&T, and could opt for that again but has usually used either a 4-1-4-1 or 4-4-2 with two holding mids against deeper sides than the Soca Warriors.

The former has worked better, and the personnel sometimes serves as a surprise. Last time out, in a 0-0 draw against Mexico, Gomez kept Anibal Godoy and Luis Tejada on the bench in what looks like a 4-2-2-2 at times.

[ MORE: Making sense out of the 6-0 win ]

Bruce Arena faces his own issues. In addition to the absences of Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson, the USMNT lost Sebastian Lletget and John Brooks in the win over Honduras.

Lletget’s absence is quickly remedied by either Alejandro Bedoya or, more likely, Jermaine Jones, but Brooks is a bigger problem. The Hertha Berlin man cleaned up several messes made by Omar Gonzalez, the ex-LA Galaxy man who — for better or worse — may not have shaken Arena’s confidence thanks to their long relationship.

(Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Geoff Cameron is his best option at CB, and could serve a similar purpose to Brooks. Still, he’s not 100 percent.

Gonzalez and Matt Besler worked well together a long time ago, but Tim Ream was Arena’s first choice when Brooks hit the turf with dehydration on Friday. There’s also wild card Walker Zimmerman, who would be taking the field in his highest-profile match yet.

Arena will want to take the match to Panama, even on the road. How will it look in front of Tim Howard? This is an option for Arena, though not one we expect:

Howard

Zusi — Cameron — Ream — Villafana

Jones — Bradley — Nagbe

Pulisic

Dempsey — Altidore

Instead, Arena will probably roll the bones with Gonzalez again, and keep things close to the Honduras win. It would be silly to break up the Villafana-Nagbe partnership on the left, and the top three isn’t changing one bit.

The question is whether Arena ruffles Jones, who is both combustible and not part of the long-term future. But Jones, like all of us, would’ve seen 6-0. So, probably, this:

Howard

Cameron — Gonzalez — Ream — Villafana

Bradley

Bedoya — Nagbe

Pulisic

Dempsey — Altidore

If Bradley provides the same picture-perfect cover for the back four and Pulisic continues to hum off the veteran big bodies of Dempsey and Altidore, the latter of which who is due a goal or two, the Yanks win. At worst, they’re beaten for pace by Alberto Quintero and stymied by Jaime Penedo. But the former can be covered by an in-form Howard, and the latter can only hold out for so long.

A draw puts the U.S. behind Panama, Costa Rica, and Mexico ahead of two months off and the knowledge that both Mexico and Costa Rica are home for both June qualifiers.

Schweinsteiger waiting on visa, training in Mallorca

instagram.com/bastianschweinsteiger
Leave a comment

Bastian Schweinsteiger is waiting on a visa to make his trip to Chicago official.

It’s a formality, albeit a bit trickier now given the political climate in the United States. The former Manchester United midfielder is training at Real Mallorca ahead of the move.

The transfer was announced one week ago, and Schweinsteiger is anxious to get back on the pitch. Set for a 1-year, $4.5 million deal, the midfielder has not missed any Chicago matches yet.

[ MORE: Under-the-radar Premier League XI ]

The Fire is 1-1-1 to start the new season under Veljko Paunovic, and has three home matches next: Montreal (Saturday), Columbus (Apr. 8), and New England (Apr. 15)

Report: Arsenal interested in Leicester keeper Kasper Schmeichel

Getty Images
Leave a comment

According to a report by The Sun, Arsenal is monitoring the progress of Leicester City goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel.

The rumor does make sense. With Petr Cech at 34 years old and having a poor season in front of net and backup David Ospina failing to challenge him for the starting job, the Gunners are looking elsewhere to bring in a potential future starter.

Schmeichel has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premier League the past two seasons. Last season he led the Foxes to the Premier League title, organizing a stunningly good defensive line of patchwork players. This season, the defense has largely regressed and let Schmeichel down, but he has still performed well and has the metrics to remain one of the league’s top shot-stoppers.

The Danish keeper is 30 years old himself, but that puts him in his prime for a goalkeeper. He has been with Leicester City since 2011, and he will tick 250 appearances for the club with his next match. Schmeichel was rumored to be a member of the secret player delegation that worked hard to see Claudio Ranieri pushed out of the club, a sentiment which he and the other players have strongly denied.

Still, with an improbable Premier League title in hand and an appearance in the Champions League quarterfinals now on the cards, there probably isn’t much else for him at Leicester City. It’s possible Schmeichel could look to bank on his past performances and secure a move to a bigger club this summer.

Should Arsene Wenger stay with Arsenal past this season, a possibility that looks more and more likely, he could look to move on from Cech despite signing the former Chelsea goalkeeper just two summers ago.