Seattle Sounders v Los Angeles Galaxy

ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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Our weekly re-ordering of Major League Soccer teams, following 19 rounds of play:

19. D.C. United – Ben Olsen’s team was dominated in Colorado, but coming away with a 0-0 draw, especially without some important starters, was surely a moral victory for United.

18. Toronto FC – Diego Forlan is coming! … Oh, wait … No, he isn’t.  Either way, goal scoring wasn’t the issue in last week’s 3-3 draw with Montreal at BMO Field.

17. Chivas USA – Two draws on the road (at FC Dallas and Montreal, both among their conference’s leaders) made for a highly respectable week around Goat Valley.

16. San Jose Earthquakes – A win over Colorado in Mark Watson’s first match as interim head coach provided some hope – but they’ve lost three of four since. With three straight matches at home, we’ll know by early August whether this club has gone from Supporters Shield winner to non-playoff team, because they’ll need at least six points from this set to even think about post-season chances.

15. Columbus – Playing at home, with a lead, a man up for almost 80 minutes, the Crew still made fairly hard work of a 1-0 win over Portland. Federico Higuain did not help by missing his second penalty kick this year.

14. Chicago Fire – “Magic Mike” is up to 11 goals (tied for league lead) with another strike Sunday at Toyota Park. If the Fire climbs into the playoffs, is Magee the league’s MVP?

13. Houston Dynamo – Things are a little better around BBVA thanks to a 1-0 win over Philadelphia, but Dominic Kinnear’s team knows he cannot count on Ricardo Clark to score the goals going forward. The strikers and outside attackers simply must start producing.

12. Colorado Rapids – Any other team have two legitimate Rookie of the Year candidates? The Rapids do in Dillon Powers and Deshorn Brown, who had a goal in a 2-0 win over New York.  (They followed up three nights later with a 0-0 draw at home against D.C. United, a bit of a bummer.)

11. New York Red Bulls – Mike Petke’s team is a relatively modest 8-7-4. They play two of the next three at home in Harrison, with the one road trip into bottom-of-conference Toronto. That sounds like “Time to make a move” to us.

10. New England Revolution – The team just keeps improving, slowly but surely. The weekend’s fairly comfortable 2-0 win over San Jose makes Jay Heaps’ team 5-1-2 since mid-May. A spot in the playoffs is a within reach. Oh, and  Saer Sene sure nailed a beauty of a goal, didn’t he?

9. Philadelphia Union – A tough week on the road finishes with a draw at Real Salt Lake and a close (1-0) loss at Houston. It gets a little easier now, with Chivas USA and Portland en route to PPL Park over the next two weeks.

8. FC Dallas – Why is the team winless in six matches in all competitions now, after looking so powerful through March, April and May? It’s mostly about depth … and a serious lack of it in certain places.

7. Seattle Sounders – Weirdest stat about the Sounders: they have played just five matches since May. All the better, thought, given Osvaldo Alonso’s injury, and how diminished the team looks without him.

6. LA Galaxy – Robbie Rogers (pictured above, on the right) had his best outing yet in a Galaxy shirt, helping guide a good performance in a 2-0 win – And a controversy-free win at that! – over FC Dallas. FYI, goal scorer Robbie Keane now leads the league with eight assists.

5. Vancouver Whitecaps – So now we know: the Whitecaps can beat Seattle after all. Only took 13 tries! Martin Rennie’s team is 5-1-1 lately as Kenny Miller and Camilo are producing goals consistently.

4. Sporting Kansas City – A win at Chicago was huge for Peter Vermes’ team, which marched into Toyota Park over the weekend with just single win in league play since mid-May.

3. Montreal Impact – Marco Schallibaum’s team is winless in three matches, including two at home. And the Impact needed a late penalty kick Sunday just to split the points with Chivas USA. Time to wake up, Les Bleus.

2. Real Salt Lake – First run-out without all those important pieces? Meh. A 2-2 draw (against Philadelphia) without the likes of Nick Rimando, Kyle Beckerman and others is holding serve, at least.

1. Portland Timbers – The Timbers’ 15-game unbeaten streak, which was approaching league records, is over after a 1-0 loss at Columbus. Considering that Caleb Porter’s team was a man down for almost 80 minutes on the road, there was still enough to feel good about. They are, however, going to miss their captain.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

Chilwell
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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.