ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings – Round 27 edition

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The league’s uneven scheduling means things are even tighter than they look (with several teams trailing in the standings, but extra games in hand.) So here is your weekly re-ordering of current quality following 27 rounds of league play:

19. D.C. United – They could not match New York even with Thierry Henry on the bench.

18. Toronto FC – Ryan Nelsen’s team had a goal disallowed late in a draw with New England as a phantom foul nullified a potential game-winner. That’s how it is this year for the Reds.

17. Chivas USA – Erick “El Cubo” Torres, with yet another two-goal performance has mercifully provided Chivas USA supporters something to smile about in 2013. And a 2-2 draw in Vancouver is not a bad result for the Goats.

16. Columbus – Five years of “success” that toggled between middling and non-existent for manager Robert Warzycha cost the Crew manager his job Monday.

15. Chicago Fire – When Mike Magee doesn’t score, the team struggles desperately to win – and he isn’t scoring much lately. Latest playoff-chase setback: Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home with Houston.

14. FC Dallas – Following an idle weekend a huge match is up this round as slumping Vancouver visits; if Dallas wants to see playoff soccer, winning in Texas against fellow playoff aspirants from the West is an absolute must.

13. San Jose Earthquakes – The Earthquakes ran up against a motivated Galaxy team at top gear and paid a dear price in a stinging 3-0 loss on the road.

12. New England Revolution – New England management and the league apparently blocked Stoke City’s effort to gain the services of  Juan Agudelo (pictured above) a few months early; truly, Jay Heaps and Co. need all the help they can get as they try desperately to fight their  way into the playoffs for the first time since 2009.

11. Houston Dynamo – The Dynamo hung around long enough in Chicago to grab a late equalizer and sneak out of Toyota Park with a valuable 1-1 draw. (Not just valuable for the point, but also for the two points that Chicago did not claim.)

(MORE: MLS Round 27 week in review)

10. Philadelphia Union – If the Union cannot get over the playoff hump this year, a hum-drum 6-3-5 home record will be the reason. While John Hackworth’s team can reliably grind out results on the road, too many draws in Chester are damaging the bottom line. Latest example, Saturday’s scoreless draw at PPL Park against Montreal.

9. Vancouver Whitecaps – Martin Rennie’s team needs to wake up – and in a hurry! The Whitecaps were 9-5-5 and purring along just six weeks ago. They are 1-4-2 since then and have tumbled all the way out of a playoff spot. The latest dropped points: a 2-2 draw Sunday at home against last-place Chivas USA.

8. New York Red Bulls – Do not say that manager Mike Petke lacks guts. Bench Thierry Henry? Who would do such a thing … especially a young manager in his first pro coaching assignment?  But it paid off all the way around in a 2-1 win over D.C. United.

7. Portland Timbers – What Caleb Porter said after a young version of his slightly injury-dented team fell hard at Real Salt Lake: “They punished us, and we weren’t good enough to win the game.” He said the early red card was a factor, but not the reason his team fell, 4-2. The Timbers are a meager 1-3-3 since mid-July.

6. Montreal Impact – Philadelphia worked hard to neutralize Marco Di Vaio and the Impact counter attack, so a scoreless draw at PPL Park was a worthy result for the Eastern Conference co-leaders. Justin Mapp had yet another nice match, especially in the first half. (Di Vaio continues to lead in the Golden Boot chase with 15 goals.)

5. Seattle Sounders – There is so much to talk about after Sigi Schmid’s team gutted out a 1-0 win in Columbus despite playing most of the match a man down. Clint Dempsey has yet to find the score sheet, and Eddie Johnson decided the time was right for a “Pay me!” celebration.

source:  4. Colorado Rapids – Oscar Pareja’s young team was going for 10 in a row without a loss but was undone by Kansas City’s pressure in a 2-1 loss in the heartland.

3. Sporting Kansas City – There hasn’t been much scoring around Sporting KC for a while, so Saturday’s 2-1 win over Colorado (on a late Graham Zusi (pictured at right) winner and a spectacular strike from Benny Feilhaber) brought much needed relieve around Sporting Park.

2. LA Galaxy – Landon Donovan crept to within two goals of the all-time league record in the Galaxy’s latest team-on-a-mission statement, a commanding 3-0 win over rival San Jose. Meanwhile, it is looking more and more like league the MVP honor will be Robbie Keane’s to lose.

1. Real Salt Lake – This team is scoring in bunches, having just recorded four in consecutive league matches for the first time in club history. (Having scored three in the match prior to that, no less.) Friday’s 4-2 win over Portland was dominant and stylish, with some wonderful movement and passing, so much orchestrated by that midfield of abundant balance and talent.

Surprises, disappointments halfway through Champions League group stage

AP Photo/Dave Thompson
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Clubs have met each of their group mates once, giving us an imperfect but workable sample size for the 2017-18 UEFA Champions League group stage.

Five groups have a side boasting a 3-0 record, while four clubs have yet to seize a single point.

[ CHAMPS LEAGUE: Tuesday | Weds. ]

Some of the strugglers, like 0-1-2 Maribor and 0-1-2 APOEL, are not surprises. And it’s no shock to see Manchester United at perfect 3-0 given its draw.

Others? Well, that’s not the case.

Status down 

While Manchester United is a perfect 3-0 in Group A, raise your hand if you figured Benfica would have just one goal and zero points through three matches. Benfica’s also played two of its three home ties, making the knockout rounds a dream.

Atletico Madrid has found the UEFA Champions League Final in two of the last four seasons, but finds itself with work to do moving forward. Atleti’s Wednesday draw at Qarabag leaves it three points behind Roma and five back of leaders Chelsea. Diego Simeone’s men still host Roma and Qarabag, so points are out there.

Serie A play has been gorgeous for Napoli, who has failed to bring that momentum to Group F. It’s worth noting that a missed penalty by red-hot Dries Mertens could’ve earned the Neapolitans a point at Man City on Tuesday, but as it stands Napoli is three points back of Shakhtar and could be six back before the Ukrainians visit on Nov. 21.

It turns out you can’t sell everyone and expect the youth to come through shining. Monaco is at the bottom of a very winnable group, having lost at home to Porto and Besiktas. Still just three points behind RB Leipzig, they’ll need to win at Monaco and/or Besiktas to have any hope of the knockout rounds.

Borussia Dortmund got a rough deal from officials when it visited Wembley Stadium, but losses to Spurs and Real Madrid can happen in a group stage. Tuesday’s draw at APOEL Nicosia, however, is close to a backbreaker.

(Photo by Tom Dulat/Getty Images).

Status up

Spurs draw at Real Madrid may have been aided by a huge performance from Hugo Lloris, but goalkeepers — as you know — are actual components of a team. This is in fact a group of death, but the North Londoners are holding a scythe. If Mauricio Pochettino can lead a home win over Real Madrid at a raucous Wembley on All Saints Day, well, look out!

Cenk Tosun has gone from sleepy transfer target to the tip of many gossipers’ tongues, as Besiktas is a perfect 3-0 including wins at Monaco and Porto. Anderson Talisca and… wait for it… Ryan Babel (!!) have also starred for the Turkish powers who will almost certainly see the knockout rounds.

[ MORE: JPW sits down with Ederson ]

Pep Guardiola‘s done this Champions League dance, you know, and Manchester City has weathered all storms. That includes conceded two penalties — one was saved by Ederson — as a down performance versus Napoli still ended with a home win. If City can win at the Stadio San Paolo on Nov. 1, Pep can sleepwalk into the final two matches (though that’s not his style).

Roma has a classy draw at Chelsea and has gathered five points including four away from home. Mimic that mark and i Lupi will be a challenge in the knockout rounds.

Neymar was best pals with Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez last season at Barcelona, but having a less-than-perfect relationship with Edinson Cavani hasn’t hurt a thing in Paris. Paris Saint-Germain is for real, scoring 12 times and yet to concede in wins over Bayern Munich, Celtic, and Anderlecht.

Grey area

Liverpool leads its group and advancing is really the only goal, but there’s something off-putting about the home draw against Sevilla. The 1-1 draw at Spartak Moscow looks better now that the Russians hammered Sevilla 5-1, but a return visit from Maribor next should help the Reds buttress their stock.

Be careful how finely you analyze a club as accomplished as two-time reigning champs Real Madrid, but Cristiano Ronaldo’s men don’t look so hot. Still well-positioned to move on, keep a close eye on how they look at Wembley in a few weeks.

Holding pattern

Chelsea‘s 3-3 draw versus Roma today was its first real stumble of the UCL, but there shouldn’t be too many alarm bells considering their injury problems and Roma’s desperation. Consider their status even, especially given their clever win at Atletico Madrid.

Jose Mourinho is doing a fine job with Manchester United, but it’s really hard to praise the club too much for doing what’s expected in a glorified Europa League group. Clearly Sir Alex Ferguson was involved in the icing some of the draw balls again…

UCL wrap: Barcelona, PSG roll; Dzeko scores stunner (video)

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There were a few more zeroes on the board in Wednesday’s UEFA Champions League action, but that doesn’t mean the day failed to entertain by any stretch of the imagination.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Chelsea and Roma staged a slugfest at Stamford Bridge, while PSG and Barcelona saw its stars shining, and Jose Mourinho orchestrated another away defensive masterclass for Manchester United.

Chelsea 3-3 RomaRECAP

There’s a lot to say about this one. Chelsea goes up 2-0 through solid goals from David Luiz and Eden Hazard, but finds itself down and needs another Hazard goal to rescue a point.

But this goal, one of two from Edin Dzeko, is why we watch this wonderful sport. Aleksandar Kolarov also scored and had an assist as ex-Man City men came to play at Stamford Bridge.

Benfica 0-1 Manchester UnitedRECAP

The perfect road match, more or less, though United scored its lone goal thanks to goalkeeper error. Marcus Rashford took the free kick that was carried across the goal line, and United completed more than 500 passes to double Benfica’s output at the Estadio da Luz.

Barcelona 3-1 Olympiacos

It’s not much of a surprise to see Barca triumph at home over Greek opposition. An own goal joined Lucas Digne and this historic Lionel Messi marker to build a 3-0 lead at the Camp Nou.

Anderlecht 0-4 Paris Saint-Germain

In case you think PSG cannot make a run this year, consider its list of goal scorers on Wednesday: Kylian Mbappe, Angel Di Maria, Neymar, and Edinson Cavani.

Elsewhere
Qarabag 0-0 Atletico Madrid
Juventus 2-1 Sporting Lisbon
CSKA Moscow 0-2 Basel
Bayern Munich 3-0 Celtic

Mourinho: Tactics involved targeting young Benfica backstop

AP Photo/Armando Franca
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Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho knew that promising Benfica backstop Mile Svilar would be facing some big nerves.

The 18-year-old was making his UEFA Champions League debut, and Mourinho instructed his Red Devils to challenge the backstop at every turn.

[ RECAP: Benfica 0-1 Man Utd ]

That paid off when Svilar carried Marcus Rashford‘s free kick into the goal, the lone marker of a 1-0 loss that keeps United atop Group A and Benfica three points behind second- and third place.

“I knew how good the goalkeeper was, I told the players that. We had a little bit of a strategy, especially on set-pieces to make him uncomfortable. We put men around him on corners so he cannot come out. He risks a lot, but only top keepers do that. He was unlucky for the goal,” Mourinho said.

Svilar looked dejected after the game, apologizing to fans at the Estadio da Luz and getting consolation from a fellow Belgian in Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.

Nemanja Matic laid out United’s strategy a bit more, from the BBC:

“The manager said to us to try and shoot and get some crosses towards their goalkeeper because he is young and playing in his first game. This is football and I know he is a great goalkeeper and I wish him well for the future.

“We had control, some difficulties in the first 30 minuets but then we controlled the pitch. We used our experience. We could not find the second goal but did not make any mistakes at the back.”

Rashford limped out of the game, and Mourinho says he initially thought it was cramps. Instead, it’s a problem with his left knee. Simon Peach of the Press Association quotes Mourinho as hoping the injury is not bad.

United completed more than 500 passes, doubling Benfica’s production. Some have been critical of Mourinho’s penchant to play it safe, and he winked at them after the match in calling his tactics “a crime.”

“We were in control, David De Gea did not have one save to make. I never felt we could concede a goal and were solid defensively. Sometime I feel being good defensively is a crime, but that is a way of getting results.”

Chelsea 3-3 Roma – Thrills at the Bridge

AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth
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  • Luiz, Hazard put Chelsea up 2-0
  • Kolarov, Dzeko brace flip lead
  • Hazard nabs equalizer
  • U.S. U-20 mid Scott on bench for Chelsea

Eden Hazard scored twice as Chelsea overcame the sacrifice of a 2-0 lead and the Blues drew AS Roma 3-3 at Stamford Bridge in UEFA Champions League action on Wednesday.

David Luiz also scored for Chelsea. Ex-Man City men Edin Dzeko and Aleksandar Kolarov starred for Roma, with Dzeko scoring twice and Kolarov adding a goal and an assist.

Chelsea has seven points to lead Group C, two more than Roma and five ahead of third-placed Atletico Madrid. The sides will meet again in Rome on Halloween.

[ MORE: Landon Donovan, USSF prez? ]

Luiz started the scoring with a delightful strike. Call it a second bite at the proverbial apple if you must, but then admit he sunk his teeth into it.

Eden Hazard made a darting run to double Chelsea’s lead, but Kolarov pulled Roma within one with a deflected strike past Thibaut Courtois.

Diego Perotti curled a shot that hardly troubled Courtois in the 63rd minute, the Chelsea keeper just leaving his feet collect it.

Dzeko and Chelsea’s Andreas Christensen (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth)

Then the former Man City striker struck again, seeing a long diagonal ball over his shoulder and whizzing a perfect left-footed volley through the flailing arms of Courtois.

Dzeko then made a late move before a Kolarov free kick to lose his mark and nod home a go-ahead goal.

It wasn’t over, as Hazard found his way to space and a cross from Pedro.

The Belgian headed his chance beyond a diving Alisson, and it was 3-3 with 15 minutes to play.

American-English midfielder Kyle Scott did not make his Chelsea bow. The 19-year-old has represented England at the U-16 level and the U.S. at the U-18 and U-20 levels.