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One theory for MLS failures in Champions League

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A few years ago I wrote critically and frequently about Major League Soccer’s chief flaw on the field. That is, the faulty element most guilty of holding back the league from achieving better quality between the white lines (i.e., MLS imperfection on the field, not in marketing matters).

It was simply that too many matches didn’t matter. When 80 percent or 60 percent of teams make the playoffs (MLS first decade or so), every single match simply was not important enough. That tolerance for imperfection infected everything, from daily practices to match-day management. Mistakes weren’t punished sufficiently, so the drive to improve individually and collectively suffered.

It’s gotten better, of course, but the math still works in opposition to genuine, night-in, night-out, down and dirty competitiveness. Simply put, each individual match does not drip with the weight of importance as it should.

Making the playoffs is still the brick and mortar of Major League Soccer from a competitive standpoint. And more than half the teams still qualify (10 of 19). So there is still not enough “gotta have it” for each contest.

The basic league structure is just too forgiving in terms of individual match importance; too many contests cannot be earnestly stamped “Code Red Critical!”

When MLS teams get themselves into Champions League seriousness, they aren’t quite equipped to deal tactically, emotionally or intelligently when it comes to one match (or a pair of them) that simply must be had.

We saw it twice last week, as Seattle couldn’t properly manage a home match against Santos Laguna. Left in a 1-0 hole, last night’s 1-1 draw in Mexico was insufficient.  Santos advances into the CONCACAF Champions League final; MLS misses another chance.

The LA Galaxy conceded two goals late against Monterrey, and the chances of something heroic tonight in Mexico do not look good. At all.

Quality depth in the rosters (better on the Mexican side) has a lot to say about this ongoing imbalance, as Mexican sides continue to dominate the regional tourney.

But the lenient playoff qualification standards still hinder MLS progress. We saw it last year as clubs that finished fourth and fifth in their conferences made the MLS Cup final. LA was about as bad it could be in March, April and May … and still won the championship.

When a smaller percentage still of Major League Soccer teams make the playoffs, every match will ring the bell of importance. Organizations and individuals will know that a match in April, May, June, etc. should carry all the serious weight of a stretch-run contest in September. Only then will the best practices of approaching a match and managing out matches become muscle memory for MLS players, coaches and clubs.

Until then, well, we’ll just have to enjoy a few more all-Liga MX CONCACAF Champions League finals.

Premier League Player Power Rankings – Week 14

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Here are the latest batch of Premier League Player Power Rankings, with Chelsea and Arsenal leading the way.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Antonio Conte‘s Blues have won eight on the spin and there’s no surprise that seven of their players feature in our top 20. There are also three players from Arsenal as the Gunners have now gone 13 games without a defeat in the PL.

Middlesbrough and Sunderland both have multiple players included which goes hand-in-hand with their recent good form, while Liverpool, West Brom, Bournemouth and Crystal Palace are also represented.

Remember: this is a list of the top 20 performing players over the past seven days in the Premier League.

Let us know in the comments section below if you agree with the selections of the top 20 players in the Premier League right now.


  1. Alexis Sanchez (Arsenal) – Up 1
  2. Diego Costa (Chelsea) – Down 1
  3. Mesut Ozil (Arsenal) – Up 16
  4. Harry Kane (Tottenham) – New entry
  5. Eden Hazard (Chelsea) — Up 6
  6. N’Golo Kante (Chelsea) – Up 1
  7. Christian Eriksen (Tottenham) – New entry
  8. Gaston Ramirez (Middlesbrough) – Up 5
  9. Victor Moses (Chelsea) – New entry
  10.  Thibaut Courtois (Chelsea) – New entry
  11. Jordan Pickford (Sunderland) – New entry
  12. Laurent Koscielny (Arsenal) – Down 2
  13. Matt Phillips (West Brom) – New entry
  14. Cesar Azpilicueta (Chelsea) – New entry
  15.  Jermain Defoe (Sunderland) – New entry
  16. Alvaro Negredo (Middlesbrough) – Down 7
  17. Divock Origi (Liverpool) – Even
  18. Christian Benteke (Crystal Palace) – New entry
  19. Gary Cahill (Chelsea) — Down 5
  20. Ryan Fraser (Bournemouth) – New entry

VIDEO: Leicester academy product scores stunner from halfway line

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 08:  Layton Ndukwu of Leicester City crosses the ball during the FA Youth Cup semi final, second leg match between Leicester City and Manchester City at The King Power Stadium on April 8, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)
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Take a bow, Layton Ndukwu.

Leicester City’s U23 side played Liverpool over the past weekend and video has emerged showing the English teenager scoring a sensational goal.

[ MORE: Klopp takes Liverpool on vacay ]

Ndukwu, 18, picked the ball up in his own half after latching onto a loose ball, took one touch and then sent a shot from well over half-field which caught the Liverpool goalkeeper out and went into the net.

Since David Beckham’s halfway line special back in the day, there is nothing quite like seeing a goal from that far out.

Drink it in below, while remember the name: Layton Ndukwu

David Villa wins 2016 Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors

CARSON, CA - AUGUST 23:  David Villa #7 of New York City FC scores on a penalty kick against Los Angeles Galaxy during the second half at StubHub Center August 23, 2015, in Carson, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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The league has spoken…

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After a second consecutive season of brilliance in the Big Apple, New York City FC striker David Villa has been named the 2016 Landon Donovan MLS MVP.

This season, Villa notched an impressive 23 goals and four assists for NYCFC and helped the club advance to the postseason for the first time in the team’s brief history.

Since joining MLS ahead of NYCFC’s inaugural season in 2015, the Spaniard has notched 41 goals in 65 matches, including the playoffs.

Villa beat out New York Red Bulls duo Bradley Wright-Phillips and Sacha Kljestan for this season’s honors.

Paul Pogba urged to cut out the showboating at Man United

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 24:  Paul Pogba of Manchester United shows his appreciation for the fans after the final whistleduring the Premier League match between Manchester United and Leicester City at Old Trafford on September 24, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)
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Paul Pogba‘s opening few months at Manchester United have not gone as expected.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Pogba, 23, became the most expensive player in history when he joined the Red Devils from Juventus for $113 million this summer but so far he has failed to show his best for and his United side is languishing 13 points off Premier League leaders Chelsea.

That has led to the manager of the French national team, Didier Deschamps, to offer Pogba a very public piece of advice. In a nutshell: stop showing off.

Speaking to French station RMC, Deschamps urged his midfielder for France to forget about trying to impress on a personal note and simply put the team first.

“Even when he does things well it’s not good enough,” Deschamps said. “So we can understand that it may encourage him to do things that are out of the ordinary but not necessarily helpful. He can do things that others do not, but it must also be the reality of what is good for the team. We’re talking about a young player. He is at a club where he is also used in different positions.”

Talking about different positions, Deschamps used Pogba in a much deeper role during France’s run to the EURO 2016 final in the summer and many believe his influence on games was impacted. Nevertheless, Pogba stuck to his task and dug in for France.

With United struggling and pressure already starting to pile not only on his shoulders but those of his fellow star players and manager Jose Mourinho, Pogba must sacrifice his individual flair for the team. Simply put, he must do whatever is needed to get the Red Devils back to grinding wins and challenging for a top four finish.

That all starts this Sunday as they host Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford (Watch live, 9:15 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) looking to close the gap on another top four rival.

Pogba has been used in a central attacking midfield role in recent weeks and has looked a lot better than when he played in a deeper role. However, the balance between himself and other midfielders at United just isn’t quite right and that needs to change if Mourinho’s side will be successful this season. He has looked most comfortable with Ander Herrera alongside him in midfield and his link up play with Zlatan Ibrahimovic has been a rare bright spot in yet another poor season, so far, for United.

He’s not the type of player who will scored 15-20 goals from midfield (he only has two thus far in the 2016-17 PL campaign) but he can be so instrumental in dictating the tempo of the game. That’s what United need him to do. Right now.