The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(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.

Mexico captain Guardado suffers hamstring injury

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With the World Cup still half a year away, there’s plenty of time to heal from injuries and get the body right after tweaking things during the club season.

And yet, there will still be some concern among Mexico fans.

Team captain Andres Guardado suffered a hamstring tear, his club Real Betis confirmed on Monday, and is expected to miss 3-4 weeks. That’s nothing to write home about when it comes to preparing for the big tournament, but with Guardado 31 years old and struggling with injuries in recent years, Mexico fans will be keenly aware that hamstring injuries can return with a vengeance if not given the right time to heal.

Guardado has shown his age in recent times, not necessarily with his play on the field, which has been critical to his country, but with his fitness. Guardado has just four full 90 minute performances for Mexico dating back to October of 2016, missing time with ankle, leg, and now hamstring injuries in that span.

The 31-year-old has had a fine season so far for Real Betis, scoring one goal and assisting six while appearing in all 15 La Liga matches for the club thus far. The club sits 12th in the La Liga table with 18 points.

Guardado will be fine with plenty of time to spare, but if not fully healed properly, there’s always the risk that muscle injuries can flare back up, and Mexico fans will hope that their captain’s club gives him plenty of rest to recover.

Mark Hughes wants Stoke City to “suck it up”

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Mark Hughes is under fire at Stoke City with the Potters firmly entrenched in the relegation battle, and with that he’s charging his players, staff, and himself to gut the rest of the season out.

With Stoke heading to Turf Moor to take on Burnley, they sit just three points above the drop. The players were faced with jeers from angry fans at the train station following this past weekend’s 5-1 disaster against Tottenham. The fiery Hughes is hoping to use this jarring moment to jolt his squad.

[ PREVIEW: Tuesday’s Premier League action ]

“That is still resonating. It’s good we have a game because it is still fresh in their ears probably, and they can use it as a motivating factor,” said Hughes during his pre-match press conference.

“You either suck it up and do ­something about it or you go under, and we can’t accept players like that. I don’t feel we have players like that.”

With managers nowadays often reaching into the excuses barrel as they hope to save their own skins, Hughes refuses to do just that, instead placing the decision firmly on the players shoulders, telling them they are the only ones who can save the club.

“Maybe some hadn’t ­confronted that before – but sometimes you need a reality check, and understand how our results and ­performances affect people,” Hughes said. “When people criticize you, you have to grow a thick skin in this industry. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong place.”

Louis van Gaal calls Mourinho’s United “far more boring”

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Louis Van Gaal has picked just the right time to pipe up.

The former Manchester United manager, who took flak while in charge for his side being hideous to watch, has now taken shots of his own at his successor Jose Mourinho, kicking Manchester United while they’re down after a 2-1 derby defeat at home.

The Dutchman told Fox Sports Netherlands, “If you ask me how did I do at United, I will say it was my best year ever, given the circumstances I was working under. We played football that was quite alright. But it’s not football that is appreciated in England. And yet, right now, looking at United, I have to conclude Mourinho is not being criticized while it’s far more boring football.”

[ PREVIEW: Premier League Tuesday matches, including Chelsea vs. Huddersfield ]

Van Gaal was blasted consistently for playing a boring style, especially in front of the home crowd, and now Mourinho is being criticized for the same concept. Mourinho was denounced for similar reasons while in charge of Chelsea, but with the club winning multiple titles under his leadership, the noise was always less while the team was winning. With Manchester United still unable to crack the top 4, Mourinho is feeling the heat.

“What United produce now is defensive football,” van Gaal said. “I always played attacking football. The proof is that the opposition were always parking the bus. They don’t do that now because Jose Mourinho plays so defensive.”

To van Gaal’s point, Manchester United is seventh in the Premier League in possession, holding 51% possession this season. They were out-possessed by Manchester City 65-35 at Old Trafford over the weekend. Meanwhile, van Gaal’s last full season with Manchester United, the 2015/16 season, saw the Red Devils hold 54%, which ranked third in the Premier League, just a percentage point behind leaders Arsenal. However, van Gaal’s United ranked 15th in the Premier League in total shots, while Mourinho’s United this season ranks sixth at this point.

Van Gaal made sure to point out he prefers their cross-town rivals.

“I would rather watch City play than United. You need quality in a squad and it’s clear City have a better squad.”

Conte blames fatigue for dip in Chelsea form

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Antonio Conte has figured out what is plaguing his Chelsea side as they sit 14 points back of Premier League leaders Manchester City.

“I think when you play every three days, it is impossible to have a training session and to work on the physical aspects,” Conte said in his pre-match press conference as the Blues get set to play Huddersfield Town on Tuesday. “It’s impossible. It’s impossible because you have to prepare with the players for a game every three days.”

Chelsea has yet to find itself eliminated from a single competition, drawn against Barcelona in the Champions League while navigating fixtures across all four competitions.

And yet, this is nothing new for Conte. The Blues boss is more than familiar with fixture congestion, having taken charge of Juventus and regularly competing at a high level on multiple fronts. In 2012/13, he won the Serie A title, won the Supercoppa Italia, and reached the quarterfinals of the Champions League.

However, this is new for Conte at Chelsea. Last season, the Blues did not take part in a European competition thanks to their disastrous season the previous year. While they reached the FA Cup final, they were knocked out of the EFL Cup in the 4th round.

“We have to try to do our best,” Conte said. “For sure, some players can be tired, that’s normal because some players are playing from this summer and our tours in China and Singapore. It’s normal. But I repeat we have to find the best solution. We have to find more rotations. I’m doing this, we will try and do our best with hunger and desire. We will fight.”

As an example, Conte said Alvaro Morata will miss the match on Tuesday against Huddersfield Town due to fatigue, with the Spaniard battling a slight back injury. “Morata is out. He is a bit tired and he has a problem in his back.