Colombus Crew v D.C. United

The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings


(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.

“Sorry to kill your stories”: Klopp not seeking new Liverpool GK

during the UEFA Europa League Group B match between Liverpool FC and FC Girondins de Bordeaux at Anfield on November 26, 2015 in Liverpool, United Kingdom.
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The topic of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet is a lightning rod for a certain subset of Liverpool fans, but you can count Jurgen Klopp in the group that likes him just fine, thank you.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

The 27-year-old Belgian has been the man between the sticks for Klopp since the manager took over at Anfield, and Klopp is already tiring of the rumors that he’s looking for better in the goalkeeping department.

From the BBC:

“I’m absolutely satisfied with our goalkeeper situation.

“I’m sorry to kill your stories about German goalkeepers and different goalkeepers from Stoke – we are not looking for another goalkeeper.”

Pretty clear cut there. Jack Butland would be nice and all, but Klopp’s fine with Mignolet and ex-Bolton man Adam Bogdan.

Do you think they need better?

Klinsmann backs Altidore ahead of busy 2016; USMNT star “back on board”

Jurgen Klinsmann, Jozy Altidore
AP Photo/Matt Dunham
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Jurgen Klinsmann thinks Jozy Altidore‘s tumultuous year ended on an upswing, and expects it to continued into an important 2016.

The Toronto FC hitman had plenty of ups and downs for club, and just as many for country. Whether injuries or form, Altidore wasn’t often the player USMNT fans remember from years past.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But the recently-turned 26-year-old scored six times in his last nine games with TFC to give him 13 on the season, and Klinsmann seems to think his big striker is out of the woods.

From US Soccer:

“Everybody saw that 2015 for Jozy Altidore has been very difficult, a tricky year, but it has become a year toward the end of it where it got stronger and stronger. He had some injury issues and some fitness issues in the beginning of the year. Obviously we had the episode in the Gold Cup where he was not in the shape he needed to be. In then towards July, August, September, he got more and more into the flow. He started to score goals for Toronto, and he got stronger and stronger for the national team as well. This is a very positive sign for us to have Jozy back on board, to plan with Jozy into a very busy 2016, obviously the biggest highlight is the Copa America in June.”

It’s great for the coach to have faith in the United States’ fourth all-time leading scorer, who should catch Eric Wynalda for third this season. Whether Klinsmann will be rewarded for his faith in the striker is another thing altogether, especially in that pivotal, U.S. hosted tournament this summer.

The tricky thing for Altidore, in the run up to the 2018 World Cup, will be for him to prove his merit if players like Bobby Wood, Aron Johannsson and Jordan Morris continue their rises as scoring options.

Manchester City defeat a “cruel” reminder for Hull City’s Bruce

BRISTOL, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Hull City Manager Steve Bruce during the Sky Bet Championship match between Bristol City and Hull City at Ashton Gate on November 21, 2015 in Bristol, England.  (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images
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For nearly 90 percent of Hull City’s League Cup quarterfinal against Manchester City, the Tigers hung tough.

A 1-0 deficit made dreams of an Etihad equalizer far from absurd, and Hull had to be thinking about the possibility of another extended Cup run after making it to the 2014 FA Cup Final.

[ MORE: League Cup roundup sees Man City, Stoke, Everton advance ]

Then, the 80th minute hit Hull. Seven minutes later, it was 4-0 Man City. Boom. It finished 4-1.

From the BBC:

“If we needed a reminder how cruel it was to play against the big boys, we just had one.

“After 80 minutes we just had our best spell of the match and after 87 minutes it was 4-0. It was never a 4-1.”

Hull is three points off the lead in the Championship after being relegated from the Premier League last season. Their only loss since Sept. 12 came Saturday against Derby County, so the gifts of Man City were likely a surprise.

With loads of genuine respect to Bruce and complete understanding of what he’s inferring, it did feel more like a 4-1 than the 1-0 his Tigers faced for 68 minutes after Wilfried Bony‘s 12th minute tally.

What would it mean for MLS if Portland wins it all on Sunday?

Fanendo Adi, Portland Timbers
AP Photo/The Oregonian, Randy Rasmussen
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It’s a tricky question, isn’t it? Would there be an underlying thread, a lesson, or a copycat inspiration inside of Portland scoring a minor upset of Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday?

Here are some thoughts on the storylines from a post-Timbers title.

1) Stick with the boss

Caleb Porter’s reputation is rather “hate or love”, and people (including this “perhaps still bitter from the Olympics” writer) were expecting his days to be numbered after a rough start to this season.

In his first year in PDX, Porter engineered a 20-point upgrade to the West’s No. 1 slot, but Year Two featured no playoffs and it looked headed that way for much of this year.

[ MORE: USMNT back Alvarado on Club America’s transfer list? ]

But after leaping into control of its playoff destiny with a game to play, Porter now has a Conference Final and an MLS Cup Final (at least) on his resume inside of three seasons.

Where other teams have gone through coaches like candy, Portland keeps going with Porter. Perhaps there’s a lesson there, as in 102 games he’s posted 41 wins and 36 draws to go with just 25 losses (and he was missing Will Johnson and Diego Valeri for the critical moments of his bum season).

2) Spend* at the back, and spread it out

Portland spent the league’s 10th highest total dollars on players when including Designated Players, but that total leaps to sixth if you discount the big money guys (Liam Ridgewell, Lucas Melano, Diego Valeri).

You have to get to 19th on the list of top MLS salaries to find Portland’s first entrant (Ridgewell), and you don’t hit another until No. 33 (Fanendo Adi).

[ MLS: Impact to sign 96-times capped Ivorian defender? ]

But Portland has six players in the Top 100, compared to Columbus’ four. High-end spenders NYC (five players), Toronto (four), and L.A. (four) all don’t hit that figure inside of the Top 100 (and to be specific, Portland does in 98).

They also rank ninth in spending on forwards, 14th on midfielders, and third in defenders. Of the 15 players making more than 100k in base salary, four are defenders and one is goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey.

All numbers come from Spotrac*

3) Get Darlington Nagbe

This will be harder to copycat, seeing as there’s only one Darlington Nagbe, but the Timbers’ midfielder is versatile and helps Porter challenge opposing coaches because of the unpredictable nature of how he can be deployed on the pitch.

In fact, when you run numbers on advanced statistics site Squawka, you’ll see something quite interesting. Among players who hit the pitch in at least 2/3 of their teams’ games this season, Nagbe is fourth in MLS in combined score. More intriguing? Besides Michael Bradley, he’s the most complete contributor (offense, defense, possession) of any top scorer.

[ MORE:  Who is the favorite for MLS Cup 2015? ]

Nagbe stats4) Parity continues to reign

For the same reason people barely celebrate the NHL’s Presidents Trophy, the MLS Supporters Shield is a bit of a fallback party for fan bases who fail to capitalize on a season’s worth of solid play.

In much of world soccer, the season-long title matter more than a tournament, but North America is about the playoffs. The fact of the matter is that only one team in MLS this season finished more than four wins out of a playoff spot (Chicago), and most teams that missed the playoffs by a bunch (New York City, Colorado, Real Salt Lake, Houston), earned their gaps off the playoff pace by losing a lot once they were officially eliminated.

Even Chicago, who was awful, had a shot at the playoffs when August ended, only to lose seven of eight to finish the season. MLS, for better or worse, literally is anyone’s ball game at nearly any time.