ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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Ten rounds remain, and the races for playoff spots are deliciously tight; our weekly re-ordering of Major League Soccer teams, following 24 rounds of play:

19. D.C. United – The average of Ben Olsen’s starters in a loss at Philadelphia was just more than 22 years old. On the other hand, the Black and Red did advance into the U.S. Open Cup final with a mid-week win at Chicago.

18. Toronto FC – Ryan Nelsen’s men were huffing and puffing and ready to blow the Seattle Sounders recently fortified house in during the last 45 minutes Saturday in Ontario. But some abysmal defending in the first 45 had left too large a deficit, and the Reds fell at home yet again.

17. Chivas USA – Still not much offense being generated in Goats Valley, but a 1-1 draw with Colorado at the StubHub Center can be considered a little bit of a “win” for the wayward club in 2013 – especially considering Chivas USA finished with nine men on the field. These needless ejections are killing the club.

16. FC Dallas – Blaz Perez scored twice as FC Dallas kept its fading playoff hopes alive in a 3-3 draw with the Galaxy. Set piece strikes are this club’s saving grace. Giving up three goals at home, however, is not a recipe for success. Overall, the club has allowed 11 goals in its last 5 league matches.

15. Columbus – Federico Higuain’s sumptuous chip was the icing on a desperately needed win, a 2-0 result over New York that keeps Columbus, now under new ownership, just close enough to remain a player in the post-season pursuit.

14. New England Revolution – Charlie Davies’ arrival into Gillette Stadium may not help – but it surely cannot hurt, either. The Revs were just blanked for the second consecutive match, falling at Sporting KC, 3-0. Kevin Alston returned to the starting lineup, a nice story on an otherwise forgettable evening.

13. San Jose Earthquakes – It was a bummer of a week for the ‘Quakes, but two matches in two Canadian cities just three nights apart was a tough task. San Jose fell to Montreal in a Champions League contest and then fell to Vancouver on Saturday in MLS action.

12. Houston Dynamo – The slow summer days are over for Dominic Kinnear’s men. Starting with Saturday’s big match in Houston against Clint Dempsey and Seattle, the Orange has a stretch of 7 matches in 23 days (including MLS matches and CONCACAF Champions League contests.)

11. Chicago Fire – A slightly injured Mike Magee did not dress for Saturday’s match in Bridgeview against Montreal – so the 2-1 win without a leading league MVP candidate is a terrific result for Frank Klopas’ team.

(MORE: MLS Round 24 week in review)

10. LA Galaxy – Bruce Arena was hopping mad about some of the Dallas goals in a 3-3 draw – and he was right. Then again, he’s also correct about his team’s need to defend better, especially on set pieces. All three FCD goals came off a corner kick or a free kick.

9. Montreal Impact – The Impact has just one win in its last eight games and has fallen from first to fourth over the last four weeks.

8. Philadelphia Union – Two months ago, it was unthinkable that anyone other than early season scoring sensation Jack McInerney would lead the team in scoring. And yet, today, Conor Casey’s nine goals is just one behind “Jack Mac’s” team-leading 10. Sebastien Le Toux leads MLS with 12 assists.

7. New York Red Bulls – No Tim Cahill and no Thierry Henry meant no offense in the 2-0 loss at Columbus. The club was also missing midfielder Loyd Sam and coach Mike Petke, who served a one-game suspension for previous sideline shenanigans.

6. Seattle Sounders – As we told you late Saturday night, the Sounders just went from too many star strikers to not enough of them. Eddie Johnson will be out for this week’s match in Houston, and possibly Obafemi Martins, too. A win on the road boosted the Sounders into second place in the standings (if you go by points per game).

5. Colorado Rapids – Martín Rivero’s wonderful header was the late equalizer against nine-man Chivas USA, the late, late capper Sunday night to MLS Round 24. Oscar Pareja’s team is unbeaten in its last eight.

4. Portland Timbers – It just has to be a better week in Portland Timbers Valley, doesn’t it? Smack in middle of having to listen to all this Dempsey Delirium, all that attention devoted to Clint Dempsey’s arrival in rival Seattle, the Timbers fell in a U.S. Open Cup semifinal, dropping an opportunity to host the 100-year-old tournament’s championship.

3. Vancouver Whitecaps – The Whitecaps are 8-3-3 since early May, one of the league’s more consistent sides. And in the MLS Weekly Review, we ask the question: are we giving enough credit to one Nigel Reo-Coker? He had two assists in the weekend win over San Jose.

2. Sporting Kansas City – DP striker Claudio Bieler has been a fine addition, but it is Kei Kamara who is driving the summer scoring around Sporting Park. Bieler has 9 goals in 24 matches, but Kamara has 7 in 14 matches since returning in the spring from England. He had two goals in Saturday’s commanding 3-0 win over New England.

1. Real Salt Lake – Two close wins made for a benchmark week around Rio Tinto. Jason Kreis’ useful blend of young and old contributed to a U.S. Open Cup semifinal win over Portland, and then again over the weekend to a 1-0 victory over Houston in league play. Alvaro Saborio (pictured above) has six goals in four games since returning from Costa Rican international duty.

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.