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.

La Liga: Real Madrid win wild one, now just 17 points behind Barca

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ MORE: Barcelona ties club-record 31-game unbeaten run ]

Real Betis 3-5 Real Madrid

So long as they manage to hold off Sevilla for fourth place (Champions League qualification), Real Madrid will quickly move on from their disastrous 2017-18 season, spend a half-billion dollars in the summer and pretend like the 12 preceding months never even happened.

For a brief period on Saturday — nearly 30 minutes including the halftime intermission — that plan appeared fatally flawed and at risk. After going 1-0 up away to Real Betis courtesy of Marco Asensio’s 11th-minute opener, Los Blancos found themselves in big trouble after Aissa Mandi leveled things up in the 33rd minute, followed by a Nacho own goal four minutes later.

Five minutes into the second half, Sergio Ramos drew the visitors level, followed by another from Asensio in the 59th minute. Cristiano Ronaldo made it 4-2 six minutes later, at which point Madrid appeared home free.

Sergio Leon pulled Betis to within one in the 85th minute, but Karim Benzema restored the two-goal lead in the 91st, less than two minutes after replacing Ronaldo.

Atletico Madrid 2-0 Athletic Bilbao

With Barcelona still unbeaten on the La Liga season, the title is all but decided with more than three months still to play. That hasn’t stopped Atleti, though, as Diego Simeone’s side, which has lost just once in the league, continues to pursue Lionel Messi and Co. Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Athletic Bilbao moved Los Rojiblancos back to within seven points of Barca with a dozen games, and one head-to-head matchup, still to play.

Kevin Gameiro scored what turned out to be the winner in the 67th minute, followed not long after by Diego Costa‘s second league goal of the season (fourth in all competitions) to make it 2-0.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Real Sociedad 3-0 Levante
Espanyol 1-1 Villarreal

VAR provider apologizes for wrong image of offside Man Utd goal

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Whether or not you’re in favor of the use of video-assistant refereeing the world over — and, more specifically, English soccer — one thing on which we can all agree has become abundantly clear: VAR’s maiden voyage has been a chaotic, poorly conducted mess.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho demands VAR calls be “perfect” ]

Any change to the game’s century-old rules and practices — especially of VAR’s monumental proportions — must be implemented and executed without a hitch. Any issues that had arisen prior to this weekend were minor in significance and import, but that all changed on Saturday, when Manchester United’s Juan Mata had a goal wiped away by VAR (WATCH HERE).

Mata appeared to have timed his run perfectly and been onside before slotting home to put Man United 2-0 ahead of Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup fifth round. After consulting the off-site video assistant, the goal was taken off the board. While the slightest bit of Mata’s knee appeared to have been in an offside position, the issue lies in the fact that the images provided to television broadcasters, by VAR provider Hawkeye, displayed a clearly crooked line of demarcation.

[ MORE: Man Utd draw Brighton in FA Cup QF; Chelsea get Leicester ]

Hawkeye issued a statement on Sunday, acknowledging and apologizing for the faulty image provided to broadcasters, but insisted that a correct version of the image was seen by the refereed:

“A technical error led to an incorrect graphic being provided by Hawkeye to BT Sport on Saturday. To confirm, the VAR saw the correct image with the correct lines to make the decision. This was a case of the wrong image being provided to the broadcaster and we apologize.”

In the end, by the most stringent interpretation of the law, VAR got the call correct. But that won’t matter one iota in the court of public opinion, as one mistake as simple as a crooked line gives the impression that the entire operation is haphazard and not fit for practice.

Juventus suffers blow with apparent Higuain injury

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The back-and-forth battle at the top of Serie A continued on Sunday as Juventus topped Torino at the Stadio Olimpico Grande Torino, however, the visitors suffered a big injury scare in the process.

[ MORE: Man United draws Brighton, Chelsea gets Leicester in FA Cup ]

Alex Sandro‘s winner came in the 33rd minute, but the focus of the match will leave all eyes on Gonzalo Higuain — who exited after just a quarter of an hour.

The Argentine international was looking to latch onto a through ball from Miralem Pjanic in the fifth minute, before jumping over an oncoming Salvatore Sirigu — goalkeeper for Torino.

Higuain appeared to land awkwardly on his ankle, though, and while he attempted to continue on in the match he was substituted off for Federico Bernardeschi 10 minutes later.

The extent of Higuain’s injury is unknown to this point, however, it comes at a very bad time for Juventus.

The Italian giants are heavily involved in the Serie A title race, holding a two-point lead over Napoli at the top of the table.

Additionally, Juve has important fixtures coming up in both the Coppa Italia and Champions League against Atalanta and Tottenham, respectively. Higuain and Co. are level at 2-2 with Spurs heading into their UCL second leg in early March, and Juve will surely need the striker’s presence to have a shot at advancing to the quarterfinals.

Rochdale 2-2 Tottenham: Davies stuns Spurs late

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A valiant effort from a League One side has rewarded the minnows with a replay set to be played at Wembley Stadium.

Tottenham Hotspur looked on its way towards the FA Cup sixth round on Sunday, but a late finish by Steven Davies gave Rochdale a 2-2 draw with the Premier League club at the Spotland Stadium.

[ MORE: Willian stars as Chelsea routs Hull in FA Cup ]

Harry Kane — who scored his 34th goal on the season in all competitions — converted from the penalty spot in the 88th minute, however, Davies had the final say deep into stoppage time to send the two sides towards a replay.

Ian Henderson’s finish in the 45th minute gave Rochdale a gift at the conclusion of the first stanza, after the hosts capitalized on a Spurs giveaway near midfield.

Meanwhile, Tottenham managed to level the match at 1-1 on the hour mark when Lucas Moura calmly slotted his close-range shot past goalkeeper Josh Lillis after a timely through ball from Moussa Sissoko picked out the former PSG man.

The visitors began pressing on in the second half, with Mauricio Pochettino‘s side having trailed at the halftime break.

The two sides will now meet on either Feb. 27 or 28 in the reverse fixture to decide which team advances. The winner will either meet Sheffield Wednesday or Swansea City in the quarterfinals.