Jay DeMerit

ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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19. D.C. United – A 2-2 draw at home against Los Angeles qualifies as a good result for Ben Olsen’s team this year. Chris Pontius scored his second goal of 2013.

18. Toronto FC – The Reds gave New York a real tussle before a late goal put the game out of reach at Red Bull Arena.

17. Columbus – Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro hooked up for a wonderful, late goal in a win at Montreal. There is still a mighty hill to climb, but three big points on the road (and what a really big upset, it was) means the team can keep dreaming about post-season soccer a while longer.

16. Chivas USA – Late-season scoring sensation Erick “Cubo” Torres had a penalty appeal denied in a 1-1 draw with Portland. If the Goats get that call (it was pretty iffy, truth be told), who knows where the result might have fallen?

15. Vancouver Whitecaps – Great to see Jay DeMerit (pictured) back on the field; MLS is a better place with more consummate professionals like him around. Unfortunately, his Whitecaps could do no better than a scoreless draw at San Jose and remain in seventh place, two spots out of the playoffs.

14. FC Dallas – But for some sloppy finishing, Schellas Hyndman’s team could have picked up three huge points on the road against Colorado. French midfielder Peter Luccin, injured in preseason, has been activated and could help add bounce to the team’s fading playoff aspirations.

13. Chicago Fire – A road draw at Toronto and a late win at home against New England keeps Chicago’s clock ticking in the playoff race. Mike Magee struck No. 16 for the year, but remains two goals behind Montreal’s Marco Di Vaio for league leadership.

12. New England Revolution – The Revs were hard done when a 50th minute goal from Saer Sene that was ruled offside. It would have given visiting New England a 3-1 lead over Chicago; instead, the home team came back to win over the Revolution, 3-2. Kelyn Rowe has seven goals and seven assists in an increasingly outstanding second professional season.

11. Philadelphia Union – John Hackworth’s team has forgotten how to score, now with just one goal in five games. They have fallen from second place a few weeks ago to sixth in the East, one spot out of the playoffs.

(MORE: MLS Round 29 week in review)

10. Houston Dynamo – After last week’s awful, three-goal loss at home, a 1-0 victory on the road (in a real grind of a game from both sides) was exactly what Dominic Kinnear’s team needed to jump start its playoff bid.

9. San Jose Earthquakes – The ‘Quakes took 22 shots against visiting Vancouver but did no better than a scoreless draw – one that seriously damages San Jose’s dimming playoff hopes. It was the first time San Jose has failed to win at home since May, although the team remains unbeaten at home in its last 14 contests.

8. Portland Timbers – What Timbers manager Caleb Porter told MLSSoccer.com after his team’s 1-1 draw at last place Chivas USA: “We didn’t show up with enough hunger, urgency, had a bit of casualness in our play with a few individuals, and that can’t happen.” They had better locate that lost urgency soon; they are only two points from dropping out of a playoff spot.

7. Montreal Impact – Giving up soft goals will be this team’s undoing in the playoffs if they can’t get the back line sorted out. Saturday’s loss at home to Columbus does serious damage to the teams hopes of finishing atop the East. Marco Di Vaio, now with 18 goals, retained his league leadership.

source:  6. New York Red Bulls – Fabian Espindola (pictured left) scored off the bench in a less-than-convincing win over Toronto. That’s a pretty handy card to play for manager Mike Petke going forward, especially as “Espy” just wasn’t working previously as a starter. Oh, and Thierry Henry’s “Waiting for the bus” celebration was pretty cool.

5. Colorado Rapids –  A big performance from recently signed Uruguayan midfielder Vicente Sanchez guided an important 2-1 Western Conference win over Dallas. Afterward, Sanchez had some nice words about hoping to bring a little joy to a region troubled by significant flooding.

4. LA Galaxy – The Galaxy gave up two bad goals to D.C. United in a 2-2 draw. A.J. DeLaGarza’s elbow injury may keep him out for a while, but Landon Donovan’s ankle injury does not appear serious. That’s good news as L.A. heads into a busy week, with Metapán up in midweek in CONCACAF Champions League play and league-leading Seattle inbound for the StubHub Center over the weekend.

3. Real Salt Lake – RSL just didn’t match Seattle’s intensity as the team from Utah lost 2-0 before more than 55,000. If not for Nick Rimando, coming back off national team duty to have a big match, the score could have been worse.

2. Seattle Sounders – The Sounders had been ticking off the points lately, although not in the most impressive, dominating ways. Well, that changed with a commanding 2-0 win Friday over visiting Real Salt Lake. With it, Seattle now looks like the Supporters Shield favorites. Obafemi Martins (one goal, one assist Friday) reminded everyone that Eddie Johnson and Clint Dempsey aren’t the only scorers worth watching around CenturyLink.

1. Sporting Kansas City – The club should be well rested after a weekend off and can take a big step toward CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals with a win Tuesday over Real Esteli. After that comes a trip into Toronto.

AT THE HALF: Man City 1-2 Monaco; Atleti lead in UCL round of 16

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 21:  Radamel Falcao Garcia of AS Monaco celebrates as he scores their first and equalising goal during the UEFA Champions League Round of 16 first leg match between Manchester City FC and AS Monaco at Etihad Stadium on February 21, 2017 in Manchester, United Kingdom.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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We’re only halfway through the first leg of Manchester City versus Monaco, and Bayer Leverkusen versus Atletico Madrid, in the UEFA Champions League round of 16, but the goals are coming fast and furious from England to Germany.

[ MORE: Rooney left out of Man United’s Europa League squad (again) ]

Man City found themselves 1-0 up at the Etihad Stadium, when Leroy Sane turned on video-game mode to set up Raheem Sterling for the opening goal in the 28th minute. But, as City have so typically done in the Champions League, they began self-destructing four minutes later. Radamel Falcao‘s diving header brought Monaco level in the 32nd minute, and Kylian Mbappe’s finish over the head of Willy Caballero put the visitors 2-1 up eight minutes later.

[ MORE: FA Cup QF draw — Chelsea vs. Man United; Arsenal vs. Lincoln City ]

As for Tuesday’s other round-of-16 tie, Saul Niguez simultaneously opened the scoring and snatched the soul of every Bayer defender who dared to contest him. Antoine Griezmann added a second for Atleti, who hold their 2-0 lead at halftime, seven minutes later.

LIVE: UCL last 16 – Man City v Monaco; Bayer v Atletico Madrid

LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 06:  Sergio Aguero of Manchester City celebrates after scoring his sides fourth goal during The Emirates FA Cup Third Round match between West Ham United and Manchester City at London Stadium on January 6, 2017 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Two more UEFA Champions League Round of 16 clashes get underway on Tuesday.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

Manchester City host AS Monaco at the Etihad Stadium with Pep Guardiola knowing his shaky defense must stay strong against the leading scorers in France’s top-flight. Monaco have already come to England and beaten Tottenham Hotspur in the UCL group stage and under talented manager Leanardo Jardim the likes of Radamel Falcao looks fired up and ready to go.

That said, City have been much better in recent weeks and have shown their best form this season in the UCL. Remember, Pep has never failed to reach the semifinals of this competition as a manager. Quite the record.

Elsewhere Bayer Leverkusen welcome Atletico Madrid to the BayArena with Mexico’s Javier Hernandez back among the goals and aiming to give the Bundesliga outfit a lead to take with them to Madrid.

The runners up late season, Atleti are currently fourth in La Liga but Diego Simeone’s side have looked stellar in Europe this season once again as they finished above Bayern Munich to win their group. Expect a tense, tough game in Germany.

Click on the link above to follow live commentary on both games, while we will have reaction and analysis on all of the UCL knockout games here at Pro Soccer Talk.


Tuesday’s UCL Round of 16, first legs

Manchester City vs. AS Monaco – 2:45 p.m. ET
Bayer Leverkusen vs. Atletico Madrid – 2:45 p.m. ET

Bayern defends Ancelotti for middle-finger gesture to fans

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich has defended coach Carlo Ancelotti for raising his middle finger to Hertha Berlin fans after supposedly being spit at following a dramatic 1-1 draw in the Bundesliga.

[ MORE: Shaw in betting investigation ]

Bayern says “basically we find the human reaction of Carlo Ancelotti with the gesture to be emotionally understandable after the nasty spitting attack.”

Robert Lewandowski’s injury-time equalizer for Bayern on Saturday prompted altercations between Bayern and Hertha players in a heated atmosphere at the Olympic Stadium.

[ LIVE: Stream every PL game live

The German soccer federation ended its investigation into the matter after Ancelotti agreed to pay 5,000 euros ($5,300) to its foundation for social work.

In 2014, Norbert Duewel, then-coach of second-division club Union Berlin, was fined 3,500 euros for raising his middle finger in a 4-1 loss at home against 1860 Munich.

Sacha Kljestan ready to take reigns as Red Bulls captain

HARRISON, NJ - MARCH 6:  Sacha Kljestan #16 of New York Red Bulls dribbles past Steven Beitashour #33 of Toronto FC  during their match at Red Bull Arena on March 6, 2016 in Harrison, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
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When news began to spread of a trade regarding one of Major League Soccer’s most recognizable faces, Sacha Kljestan was with his New York Red Bulls teammate at the U.S. Men’s National Team’s January camp.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The clarity over Dax McCarty’s move to Eastern Conference foe Chicago Fire is very much uncertain — even a month after the fact — but the veteran midfielder’s absence left an opening for the Red Bulls captaincy.

[ MORE: PST talks with Atlanta president Darren Eales ahead of 2017 ]

And that was an opportunity that Kljestan was honored to be named.

“I was just proud. My first feeling was that I’m thankful for Jesse [Marsch] having that trust in me and my teammates having that trust in me as well, which is very important,” Kljestan said. “But I just feel very proud to represent Jesse and the coaching staff and represent every member of the club that works with the New York Red Bulls. Most importantly I want to represent the fans in a way that they are proud of.”

Fortunately for the Red Bulls, what they have had over the past two seasons in Kljestan is a player that not only provides flash and brilliance on the pitch but also stability off the field and in the locker room.

Since making his return to MLS in 2015, Kljestan has notched an astounding 34 assists — the most of any player during that span — to go along with his 14 goals.

Red Bulls manager Jesse Marsch has been impressed with Kljestan’s work ethic since bringing in the Designated Player, and he says little thought needed to be put into naming the U.S. international his squad’s next captain.

“It almost wasn’t even a choice at all,” Marsch said in regards to naming Kljestan his primary captain. “He had served as basically a vice-captain for two years and it was an natural fit. There were discussions with the staff but I think it was pretty clear that this is a guy that is a top leader. That being said, we’ve said all along that the captain isn’t a one man job.

“It’s about a community of people and certainly the two guys that will support Sacha the most will be Luis [Robles] and Brad [Wright-Phillips]. I think the three of them will take on big leadership roles and there’s room for young guys to blossom into bigger leadership positions as well.”

The Red Bulls have undoubtedly proven their success in the regular season since rebranding to the aforementioned name in 2006 when the Global giant, Red Bull, acquired the franchise.

The last 11 seasons have provided the club with plenty to cheer about, including two Supporters’ Shield crowns and only missing out on the postseason once, but the Red Bulls have struggled to get past one major hurdle.

Winning an MLS Cup is challenging.

It’s only something that 11 teams have accomplished in the league’s history. Of those 11 teams, only five of them have won two or more titles since MLS’ inception in 1996.

Marsch’s approach since day one has been very clear to both his team and the opponents that the Red Bulls face. The goal has been to play an attacking-minded press, similar to that of Barcelona in the club’s hay day.

While that pressing style likely won’t change, the team is prepared to add another dimension to its attack by switching to a two-forward setup starting in 2017.

“With our little tweak in formation that we’re doing now, we’re trying to be less susceptible to opening ourselves up and creating too much space between our lines,” Kljestan said. “We’re working on ways now to become more connected and become harder to break down and really make teams earn their chances against us. We might go through some growing pains with the formation but I think it’ll make us stronger in the long run.”

The Red Bulls begin their 2017 journey on Wednesday when they face the Vancouver Whitecaps in the first leg of the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals. The two sides will meet a second time on March 2 in Vancouver.