ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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Our weekly re-ordering of Major League Soccer teams, following 20 rounds of play:

19. D.C. United – What is in the water around Washington, D.C.? United is at 744 minutes and counting without an MLS goal in the run of play. But the women’s team there, the Washington Spirit, has gone even longer without such a goal. So for United, there is that, I suppose.

18. Toronto FC – One day Darren O’Dea is your captain and defensive leader. The next day he’s gone with very little notice but more than a few questions, sold to a club in the Ukraine. Yes, it frees up cap space, but it’s fair to ask about the plan around BMO Field. Specifically, is there one?

17. Chivas USA – After three games on the road, the Goats are finally back at home. In fact, this is one that a recently re-organized side, now showing a little more structure and soon to benefit from Carlos Bocanegra’s leadership could certainly win. Toronto FC is the opposition.

16. Columbus – New England travels to Colorado for a Wednesday match and then finds itself in Ohio for a contest three nights later. That is what you call a “prime opportunity,” and any team with real playoff ambitions must be able to take advantage.

15. San Jose Earthquakes – As inconsistent as the Earthquakes have been, with as many things as have gone wrong around little Buck Shaw Stadium this year, the side is just six points out of a playoff spot. The ‘Quakes have played at least one more match than most clubs, but there are some thin rays of hope.

14. Chicago Fire – Mike Magee has gone so far towards solving the Fire’s attacking issues – but Frank Klopas’ team isn’t going anywhere until the defense gets better. Latest evidence: Sunday’s 3-1 loss at Vancouver.

13. New England Revolution – Monday’s terrific news, that Kevin Alston has rejoined the team and is traveling for a mid-week match at Colorado, helped wash away the bad taste of a home loss to Houston.

12. Colorado Rapids – Anyone else get the feeling the Rapids’ season could go either way? They could climb steadily into a playoff spot or they could tumble down to the wrong side of Seattle and San Jose. If a climb is in the cards, they have to win the home games against mid-level teams, and a match like that is up Wednesday as New England visits.

11. Houston Dynamo – It took a holding midfielder to score two goals – OK, he was only officially credited with one, but he was directly responsible for one recorded as an own goal – to get the Dynamo a huge road win. Still, no Dynamo forward has scored since early May. Yikes!

10. FC Dallas – The team has tumbled from first to fourth lately in the Western Conference standings, unable to score and not nearly as secure in the back. (And that is unlikely to change until center back George John gets healthy enough to join the starting lineup again.)

9. Seattle Sounders – Osvaldo Alonso was back in the starting lineup last week, but the Sounders still fell, this time at Buck Shaw Stadium to San Jose. Now, they’ll be without Alonso again following his late, weekend ejection.

8. LA Galaxy – The Galaxy has allowed eight goals in stoppage time and 15 after the 75th minute. You read it here: there will be no three-peat if center backs Omar Gonzalez and A.J. DeLaGarza and goalkeeper Carlo Cudicini cannot sort out things back there.

7. New York Red Bulls – The weekend’s 4-0 win over Montreal was one of the best yet under young manager Mike Petke. For those wondering whether Thierry Henry could still manage the job (and the significant weight of expectation) at age 35, he leads the team in goals (7) and assists (4).

6. Philadelphia Union – Even Union fans seemed to feel a little badly about the way their team won over Chivas USA. But by season’s end that will be just another three points in the standings, and the Union is looking pretty good for a playoff spot.

5. Montreal Impact – The team is headed the wrong way, now having conceded 12 goals in the last three matches. The latest loss, 4-0 at New York, was a defensive fiasco.

4. Vancouver Whitecaps – No doubt about it now: Brazilian attacker Camilo (pictured above) has displaced Chicago’s Mike Magee as Major League Soccer’s hottest player. With two more strikes Sunday, he has 10 goals in the team’s last nine matches and a league-leading 12 strikes overall.

3. Sporting Kansas City – Looking for a swell game to watch this weekend? Sporting KC’s visit to Utah to meet Real Salt Lake looks like a real crackerjack. RSL is unbeaten in 11 matches across all competitions, while SKC is unbeaten in five MLS matches, now scoring with a forceful regularity.

2. Real Salt Lake – They got a bit fortunate early as FC Dallas misfired in Texas, but Javier Morales’ wonderful goal helped turn the night. A team missing four important leaders won for the first time in Texas, 3-0, at FC Dallas Stadium.

1. Portland Timbers – What a night at typically rocking Jeld-Wen Field, a stoppage time win over the two-time defending champion Galaxy that was easily the top match of Round 20 in Major League Soccer.

Barkley ineligible to make Chelsea debut in FA Cup replay

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Ross Barkley was expected — and himself expected — to make his Chelsea debut on Wednesday, when the Blues host Championship side Norwich City in a third-round FA Cup replay at Stamford Bridge.

Alas, the 24-year-old English midfielder has been ruled ineligible due to a lesser-known and -applied rules surrounding transfers and player registration.

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup | Wednesday preview ]

Barkley completed his move from Everton to Chelsea, for $20 million, on Jan. 5, the day before Chelsea and Norwich drew 0-0 at Carrow Road. In order to be eligible for Wednesday’s replay, Barkley is required to have completed his transfer prior to the noon cut-off the day prior to the original tie. While the time of official approval is unknown, Barkley’s move wasn’t announced by the club until after 5 p.m. in the UK.

As such, Chelsea will attempt to set up a behind-closed-doors friendly this week, in order to provide Barkley a bit of game action as he builds fitness and sharpness ahead of a potential debut against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com). Barkley hasn’t seen a single minute of first-team action this season after suffering a serious hamstring injury in the summer.

FA Cup preview: Three more PL sides face 3rd-round replays

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Three more Premier League sides, including a top-four fighter, attempt to join a dozen of their top-flight contemporaries in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Wednesday…

[ MORE: Tuesday’s 3rd-round replay roundup ]

Chelsea and Swansea City host Championship opposition in the form of Norwich City and Wolverhampton Wanderers, respectively, while Bournemouth will make the 500-mile roundtrip to take on League One side Wigan Athletic.

The Blues, who now sit fourth in the PL after their disappointing 0-0 draw with Leicester City, could manage only a scoreless draw with the Canaries at Carrow Road earlier this month. They are winless in their last four games across all competitions — all draws — including their League Cup semifinal first-leg draw with Arsenal last week; the last three of those all finished without a single goal scored. Chelsea, who are tied with Liverpool with the fourth-most FA Cups in their history (7), lost out to Arsenal in last season’s final at Wembley Stadium.

Swansea are undoubtedly the side on highest Cupset alert, as Wolves are the runaway leaders and champions-elect in the Championship (10 points clear after 27 of 46 rounds played), thus able to devote more attention to the FA Cup than the typical second-division side. With the two sides separated by just a single place in the English footballing pyramid (Swansea, 20th in the PL; Wolves, 1st in the Championship), they appear destined to swap places by the end of May.

Meanwhile, Bournemouth’s punishment for conceding a pair of early goals to a side currently 32 places below them in the pyramid, is the long, midweek trip from the south coast to the DW Stadium in the northwest of England. It was the Premier Leaguers who needed a two second-half goals, including Steve Cook‘s 90th-minute equalizer, to draw level at home in the first meeting.

Tuesday’s FA Cup replay actionFULL ROUNDUP

Leicester City 2-0 Fleetwood Town
West Ham United 1-0 (AET) Shrewsbury Town
Mansfield Town 1-4 Cardiff City
Sheffield Wednesday 2-0 Carlisle United
Reading 3-0 Stevenage

Agent: 37-year-old Ronaldinho has retired

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SAO PAULO (AP) The brother and agent of 2005 Ballon d’Or winner Ronaldinho announced Tuesday that the former Brazil and Barcelona playmaker has retired from football.

Roberto Assis made the announcement to Brazilian media on behalf of the 37-year-old midfielder, who played his last professional match in 2015 for Brazil’s Fluminense.

“Ronnie’s professional career is over. He wants to be a football ambassador, do charity, and work with his friends in music from now on,” Assis told The Associated Press.

Assis hopes to schedule some farewell matches for Ronaldinho after the World Cup in Russia, which ends July 15. The initial plan is to play games in Brazil, Europe and Asia and to also get Brazil’s national team involved, Assis said.

Last July, Ronaldinho said on the sidelines of a friendly in Chechnya that was he was “too old” to return to action.

The Brazilian’s decorated career also includes one World Cup title (2002), one Champions League victory (2006) and two Spanish league titles with Barcelona, and two FIFA world player of the year awards (2004 and 2005).

Ronaldinho started his professional career at Gremio in southern Brazil in 1998. He left for Paris Saint-Germain in 2001 and was signed by Barcelona two seasons later.

At the Camp Nou, he was the engine of a team that took Barca back to the limelight. However, after a series of club trophies, Ronaldinho’s career took a downturn. He was often accused by Brazilian and Spanish media of lacking professionalism, despite his mentoring of a then youthful Lionel Messi.

In 2008, with Messi then leading Barcelona, Ronaldinho left for AC Milan. Despite being part of a team that won Serie A in 2011, he failed to reach his previous heights as a player.

When returning home became a real option, Ronaldinho frustrated Gremio’s efforts to re-sign him and joined Flamengo instead.

Disappointing performances in Rio de Janeiro took him to Atletico Mineiro, a club that then was more often fighting against relegation than for titles.

Yet a more mature Ronaldinho took Atletico to a different level.

In his last great run, Ronaldinho carried Atletico with his superb passes and dazzling dribbles to second place in the 2012 Brazilian Championship.

A year later, he was the key to his club lifting its first Copa Libertadores, South America’s most prestigious club trophy, but his hopes of playing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were dashed.

Ronaldinho left to play for Mexico’s Queretaro in 2014-15, but was mostly on the bench.

He played his last seven matches as a professional for Fluminense, though his performances were a far cry from his best days in Spain.

Now living in Rio, he has appeared in advertisements all over the world since leaving Fluminense.

USL granted 2018 2nd-division sanctioning by U.S. Soccer

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U.S. Soccer has officially granted the United Soccer League second-division sanctioning, behind first-division Major League Soccer, for the upcoming 2018 season, as well as first-division status for the National Women’s Soccer League.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan unveiled by Liga MX side Club Leon ]

USL, which will feature 33 teams in 2018, had been granted temporary second-division sanctioning, alongside the North American Soccer League, in 2017. As NASL’s demise continued and accelerated — the league will not begin play this spring, opting instead for a late-summer kickoff, after a number of its teams either folded or jumped ship to USL — USL, with the help of MLS, quickly pounced to capitalize — from U.S. Soccer’s statement:

Sanctioning allows NWSL and USL to operate a Division I and II league, respectively, during the 2018 season and includes a two-year pathway to full compliance with the Professional League Standards. USL has demonstrated substantial progress toward reaching full compliance since being granted provisional Division II sanctioning in 2017.

Conspiracy theorist’s take: USL supplanted NASL as the U.S.’s second-most viable professional men’s league — and more importantly, being granted official second-division status — paves the way for MLS to, at some point well down the line — say, 2030 or so — implement its own multi-tiered system of promotion and relegation, featuring anywhere between 60 and 80 teams, while still remaining a single-entity structure closed to the lower reaches of the sport in America, as the lines separating MLS and USL have only become more and more blurred in recent years.

[ MORE: Donovan ready to “win championships” after ending retirement ]

MLS realizes that public demand for promotion and relegation in the U.S. has grown significantly louder in recent years — particularly given the climate of the sport after the men’s national team failed to qualify for the World Cup, and subsequent ongoing presidential-election campaign — thus an open-but-not-really-open system which satisfies neither side will eventually be the end result.