Kelyn Rowe

ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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There were big wins (so, obviously, also big losses as well) to examine during a busy stretch of MSL contests. Here is the weekly re-ordering following 26 rounds of league play:

19. D.C. United – There was a 40-minute, closed-door, post-game air-the-grievances thing after the latest disappointing result, a 1-1 draw with Toronto. But aren’t we way, way past that stuff around RFK? The team is poor. Period. All the clear-the-air meetings in the world won’t change that.

18. Toronto FC – Ryan Nelsen said his team deserved a win after a 1-1 tie at his old stomping ground, RFK Stadium. Not true. No one ever “deserves” anything; you just win, lose or draw.

17. Chivas USA – Jose Luis Real’s team took three of a possible six points at home in Round 26, a loss vs. Dallas and a big win over New York on Sunday. Apparently, when you lose to Chivas USA these days, you need to apologize to everyone. Ooof.

16. Columbus – Federico Higuain lost his mind and must now sit two matches. It happened at the end of an awful night, a 4-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, one that makes the Crew’s uphill slog toward the playoffs look that much more difficult.

15. FC Dallas – Dallas in the spring looked like a title contender. Dallas in early- to mid-summer looked like anything but a playoff team. With a win at Chivas and a draw at home with San Jose in Week 26, perhaps the club has settled into “average,” which was probably right all along.

14. Houston Dynamo – The worse loss of Dominic Kinnear’s time in charge of Houston (5-0 in Montreal) dimmed a week that began with a useful CONCACAF Champions League result.

13. Chicago Fire – The team helped tamp down the brush fires from last week’s PR kerfuffle with a big 1-0 win over Sporting Kansas City. Mike Magee’s scoring has spigot, once flowing so fluidly, has been shut off lately.

12. New England Revolution – Kelyn Rowe’s sophomore season has been a bit quiet at times, but the man sure rose up with a fury, striking twice from long range in the Revs’ 5-1 dash-away from Philadelphia on Sunday. Rowe (pictured above) now has five goals and six assists in 2013.

11. San Jose Earthquakes – The Earthquakes’ saw a 2-0 lead on the road erased, but were definitely on the wrong end of a bad PK decision in Dallas. The match ended in a 2-2 draw.

(MORE: MLS Round 26 week in review)

10. Philadelphia Union – Conor Casey’s goal put his team up, 2-1, early in the second half. Wait! What? … A bad decision from the man in the middle turned this one, but blame the Union for failing to cope with the disappointment and collapsing in an eventual 5-1 loss.

9. New York Red Bulls – Manage Mike Petke after a loss to last-place Chivas USA: “I apologize for that loss. We lost to one of the worst teams in the league. We had many chances, we didn’t capitalize on them, made some mistakes and had no creativity in the second half.  We looked like we were confused out there.”

8. Montreal Impact – Justin Mapp, Felipe Martins and Marco Di Vaio more or less had their way with the Houston Dynamo defense in a 5-0 statement at Stade Saputo.

source:  7. Vancouver Whitecaps – Martin Rennie’s team desperately missed injured attacker Camilo in the 1-0 loss to Los Angeles. That’s two shutouts (and losses) in a row; Chivas USA coming to town this weekend is a “gotta have” three points.

6. Seattle Sounders – Sigi Schmid’s second half adjustments were critical, as the Timbers had more or less ruled the first 45. Eddie Johnson’s huge goal (pictured right) was the difference in Sunday night’s massive Cascadia win.

5. Sporting Kansas City – No time to feel badly about Friday’s 1-0 loss to Chicago; Sporting Kansas City has a chance to take a big step toward 2013-14 CONCACAF Champions League elimination stage when it faces CD Olimpa of Honduras on Tuesday night.

4. Colorado Rapids – Oscar Pareja’s young team had a week off to steel itself for upcoming road tests at Sporting Kansas City and Los Angeles. We’ll know a lot more in two weeks about upside where the Rapids’ young lineup is concerned.

3. Portland Timbers – The mark of a complete coach is how he handles the bad times. Well, since a high-profile stoppage time win over L.A. back in mid-July, the Timbers are a humble 1-2-3 (a win, two losses and three draws). It’s time for Caleb Porter to get hold of this thing, because it’s going the wrong direction. Will Johnson’s healthy return will help a bunch.

2. LA Galaxy – Landon Donovan has always had a good left foot to go with an outstanding right. But who knew he had this in his “standing leg?” Donovan’s peach of a goal was the difference in a 1-0 win at Vancouver. And it moved the man closer to a huge achievement.

1. Real Salt Lake – Manager Jason Kreis called his team’s 4-0 win over Columbus the team’s most complete match this year. Meanwhile, anyone else think Kyle Beckerman, a defensive midfielder who scored two goals Saturday, deserves some mention, at least, in ongoing MVP conversations?

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

FA Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.

The leading names to take over for Claudio Ranieri

MILAN, ITALY - MAY 07:  FC Internazionale Milano head coach Roberto Mancini looks on during the Serie A match between FC Internazionale Milano and Empoli FC  at Stadio Giuseppe Meazza on May 7, 2016 in Milan, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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The wounds of Claudio Ranieri‘s firing are still healing, but it’s now up to Leicester City to move on without him. Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell will take over on an interim basis, but they need a permanent replacement.

So who are the early frontrunners?

The early favorite is former Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini. The Italian won the league in 2011/12 with City, but was harshly sacked the following season with the club in second place in the Premier League and reaching the FA Cup final. He since has been in charge of Turkish side Galatasaray and also returned to Internazionale where he managed before moving to England. The 50-year-old has been out of a job since departing Inter in August.

After Mancini, the names start to seriously thin out. Alan Pardew is the second-favorite, having been fired in late December with Crystal Palace in a freefall. Frank de Boer is also high on the list, with the Dutchman finding himself on the unemployment list after just 85 days at Inter, sacked after a run of four defeats in five. Former Birmingham City manager Gary Rowett is also mentioned, after he was unexpectedly let go in December with the club 7th in the Championship table.

Even further down the list is Avram Grant, an Israeli who last spent three years in charge of the Ghanan national team and has prior Premier League experience during short stints with Chelsea and West Ham. Mark Warburton has been mentioned, without a job since his hotly contested departure from Rangers earlier this calendar year, with the club saying he resigned after falling well behind Celtic in the title race, but Warburton claiming that was not the case.

While the names mentioned aren’t exactly inspired given Leicester City’s recent history at the top of the Premier League table, the immediate goal is to avoid relegation. Whoever comes in will have the difficult job of following in Ranieri’s footsteps, given his aptitude for charisma and appreciation by fans and the media. If they can do the job, however, they’ll not only write their own names into the Leicester City history books, but also validate the decision by ownership to part ways with the beloved Italian who brought them a title. The board has to get this one right.

17-year-old Donnarumma in contract dispute at AC Milan

ROME, ITALY - FEBRUARY 13:  AC Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma gestures during the Serie A match between SS Lazio and AC Milan at Stadio Olimpico on February 13, 2017 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Paolo Bruno/Getty Images)
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AC Milan has developed a teenage sensation, but they might not be able to keep him.

Young goalkeeping sensation Gianluigi Donnarumma could find himself on the open market this summer after reports that his agent Mino Raiola has balked at AC Milan’s contract offer.

Donnarumma is just 17 years old and has been hailed as the successor to Gianluigi Buffon’s goalkeeping throne, earning the first-place job at one of Europe’s biggest clubs this season. However, according to Italian publication Calcio Mercato, Milan offered Donnarumma just $2.6 million a year, while Raiola is reportedly seeking twice that.

Milan’s caution is understandable given Donnarumma’s extreme youth at a position that usually sees players rise and fall at a later age, but the teenager has already become a sensation in Italy, and Raiola is looking to capitalize on his popularity.

However, it’s not just sensationalism that Raiola is hoping to pounce on. According to Squawka Statistics’ Performance Index, Donnarumma has performed as the second-best goalkeeper in Serie A this season behind Wojciech Szczesny. If AC Milan doesn’t wish to pay its young star, it’s likely that someone out there will – rather handsomely.

Premier League money could be enticing for both the player and his agent who has already made a fortune negotiating big-money deals for the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Mario Balotelli, and plenty others. Manchester City could be after a young goalkeeper to challenge the struggling Claudio Bravo, while the Manchester United sticks could be left vacant if David De Gea ever makes his way to Spain as is annually rumored.

Either way, Donnarumma deserves to be paid, based both on his fantastic performances this season at the San Siro and the subsequent popularity he has gained as the successor to one of the games great goalkeepers.