ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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19. D.C. United – Ben Olsen rolled out the reservists and came up with the predictable result: a smash in the face at Toronto FC (a 4-1 loss). It’s all about Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final for a team that creeps ever closer to those historic, dubious distinctions.

18. Toronto FC – Sure, the teams playing in Toronto on Saturday both stink. But there sure were some nice goals in the Reds’ 4-1 win. The best was by Darel Russell; watch all the goals here.

17. Chivas USA – When typically trusty ‘keeper Dan Kennedy is making mistakes, as he did on 10-man San Jose’s late goal in a 1-0 loss late Sunday, you know things are going about as badly as they can for the Goats.

16. FC Dallas – Schellas Hyndman’s team faces very long odds of making the playoffs after a defensive fiasco, allowing four goals at home to Columbus in what will surely be the knockout blow around Toyota Stadium. Dallas has not won a playoff game since 2010 and probably will miss the post-season for a second consecutive season.

15. Chicago Fire – Mike Magee scored twice (and remains well in the chase for Golden Boot), but you have to wonder if the one Magee missed will seriously undermine the club’s playoff hopes? Magee’s second-half miss from the penalty spot hung heavy on a 2-2 draw at home with Montreal. The Fire desperately needed all three points in that one.

14. New England Revolution – A 1-1 draw at home with Houston was one of the real shape-shifters among the meaningful Round 31 results in the East. There was a bit of controversy on Houston’s second-half equalizer (should Houston have played the ball out?), but the Revs were also to blame, as the defense turned quite messy at the moment that mattered.

13. Vancouver Whitecaps – Any progress and momentum collected from last week’s big win at Montreal was squandered when Martin Rennie’s team could not score a goal at home against Real Salt Lake’s reservists. If the Whitecaps cannot win at least two of its last four (at very least!) there will be no playoff soccer in British Colombia.

12. Columbus – Federico Higuain and Dominic Oduro had a goal and assist each as the Crew, still against the odds, stayed alive in the playoff race with a brilliant 4-2 win at Dallas. Has interim manager Brian Bliss already done enough to make the full-time position his?

11. Philadelphia Union – The Union’s playoff chances on life support, Conor Casey scored a massive goal Friday at Kansas City, where the Union sneaked away with a 1-0 victory that was easily the upset of the MLS weekend.

(MORE: MLS Round 30 week in review)

10. Houston Dynamo – Will Bruin has found his form; his second-half equalizer had authority in a 1-1 draw at New England, a result that Houston can be happy about. The Dynamo schedule sets up well for the stretch.

9. Montreal Impact – Yes, Chicago has issues aplenty and probably will not make the 2013 playoffs, but Montreal’s 2-2 draw Saturday at Toyota Park represents progress over some poor results recently with Marco Schallibaum’s club. Marco Di Vaio (pictured above) nailed goal No. 19 for the season; he still leads the league.

8. San Jose Earthquakes – The ‘Quakes playoff hopes keep looking better and better. Mark Watson’s team isn’t there yet, but a 1-0 win over Chivas USA, on Chris Wondolowski’s late put-away Sunday in Southern California, have San Jose positioned sixth in the West, with a better chance of catching Colorado (or someone else) for the last spot than Vancouver or Dallas.

7. Colorado Rapids – The West’s final playoff spot is there for Oscar Pareja’s team to take, but there is plenty of work ahead in holding off San Jose. That playoff berth may well come down an Oct. 9 contest between the clubs at Buck Shaw Stadium in San Jose. (The Rapids remaining schedule is here.)

6. Sporting Kansas City – It’s hard to take Sporting Kansas City too seriously as an MLS Cup threat when they simply cannot be counted upon to get the job done at home. Friday’s 1-0 loss in the Midwest to Philadelphia makes Peter Vermes’ team 8-5-3 at Sporting Park this year. Five losses at home will probably be top (worst, that is) among playoff qualifiers.

5. Real Salt Lake – The season’s first big trophy, the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, is there for the taking against a D.C. United side that may be dangerous for one night, but is historically poor in the big picture. On the MLS side, manager Jason Kreis relied on his reservists, who did not let the manager down in a huge 1-0 win at Vancouver.

4. LA Galaxy – The Galaxy went all Mad Max on a late referee’s decision to nullify a goal by Robbie Keane. But it was 100 percent the right call, and the Galaxy has some work ahead to escape that fourth spot and the extra playoff round it requires. (Then again, they navigated that extra round last year en route to a second straight MLS Cup crown, so finishing fourth or fifth is hardly a fatal blow.)

3. Portland Timbers – Diego Valeri is getting so much of the “potential league MVP” chatter lately, but Will Johnson return to form – and more importantly, the emotional energy and veteran leadership he delivers – is simply irreplaceable as Caleb Porter’s team demonstrates more and more that it can faithfully grind out results down the stretch. Sunday’s 1-0 win over L.A. is the latest evidence.

2. Seattle Sounders – The Sounders remain well positioned for Supporters Shield, which also means the inside track to MLS Cup host rights. But if the chemistry cannot improve between the Sounders attackers (pretty shabby in Sunday’s 1-1 draw with New York) it won’t matter. The Sounders could not score in the run of play Sunday against a team missing its top defender; that’s surely concerning.

1. New York Red Bulls – Getting a result on the road without Thierry Henry and (probably more importantly) Jamison Olave qualifies as genuine achievement for Mike Petke’s team, which keeps finding ways to scoop up the points. No, the Red Bulls don’t look pretty right now doing it, but at this time of year that is clearly unimportant.

 

James stars for Bayern Munich in Bundesliga win at Schalke (video)

AP Photo/Martin Meissner
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BERLIN (AP) James Rodriguez starred on his first Bundesliga start for Bayern Munich, scoring one goal and playing a role in the others for a 3-0 win at Schalke on Tuesday.’

James, who switched from Real Madrid in the offseason, earned a penalty and then scored in the first half, before brilliantly setting up Arturo Vidal to wrap up the win in the second.

[ WATCH: Alex Morgan smashes USWNT goal ]

While the Colombian midfielder made his first league start for Bayern, American teenager Weston McKennie did likewise for the home team. Despite the efforts of the 19-year-old Texan midfielder – who covered more ground than any other player in the first half – Schalke had no answer to James’ individual brilliance.

“We created the goals very well, so we deserved to win,” said Bayern’s reserve goalkeeper Sven Ulreich, playing in place of Germany No. 1 Manuel Neuer. Neuer has been ruled out until January with another hairline fracture of the metatarsal in his left foot.

The home side was first to have the ball in the net, but Amine Harit’s goal was ruled out as Bastian Oczipka was offside. Ulreich had done well with two saves beforehand.

Bayern got the penalty after referee Marco Fritz consulted his video assistant to see if Naldo had handled the ball when James cut it back. The Brazilian defender was going to ground but had his arms raised when the ball struck.

Protests by Schalke players had no effect and Robert Lewandowski duly converted from the spot.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

It got worse for the home side four minutes later, when Bayern scored after a Schalke throw-in. Thomas Mueller, Lewandowski and Corentin Tolisso worked the ball to the unmarked James, who wrong-footed Ralf Faehrmann to score his first Bundesliga goal.

Mueller hit the post with a header from a cross by James after the break, before substitute Yevhen Konoplyanka went close at the other end.

Schalke coach Domenico Tedesco brought on Swiss forward Breel Embolo for McKennie with just over half an hour remaining.

Any hopes of an equalizer ended when James eluded two defenders and delivered a perfect ball for Vidal to strike with a volley to the top corner.

“Altogether there’s no denying that Bayern had a very good day. Then it’s hard for any team,” Schalke general manager Christian Heidel said.

WOLFSBURG FRUSTRATION, AUGSBURG ELATION

Fin Bartels’ second-half header earned Werder Bremen a 1-1 draw at Wolfsburg and denied Martin Schmidt a winning start as coach. Schmidt was appointed Monday when Wolfsburg fired Andries Jonker after the team had claimed just four points in its opening four games.

Michael Gregoritsch’s fourth-minute strike was enough for Augsburg to beat visiting Leipzig 1-0 for its third win from five games.

Two goals from Brazilian midfielder Raffael gave Borussia Moenchengladbach a 2-0 win at home over promoted Stuttgart.

USWNT rides brace from super sub Morgan to big win (video)

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey
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Alex Morgan scored two goals, the second with gusto, as the United States women’s national team hammered New Zealand 5-0 at Nippert Stadium in a Tuesday night friendly.

After Cincinnati native Rose Lavelle made a 30-minute cameo in her return from injury, the USWNT poured forth with goals.

[ MORE: NASL suing U.S. Soccer ]

Coming off the bench, Morgan scored within a minute of her second half introduction.

And then, after an electric dribble from Mallory Pugh, Morgan rang an aesthetically-pleasing rocket off the proverbial woodwork to make it 5-0.

Klopp’s reliance on top CB pair nothing new, but a problem

Mike Egerton/PA via AP
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When Jurgen Klopp was hired at Borussia Dortmund in 2008, he did something right away that would set the stage for BVB’s run back into Bundesliga power.

Klopp brought defender Neven Subotic with him from Mainz, and took Mats Hummels on loan from Bayern Munich.

The 19-year-old Subotic played 38 times for BVB that season, and Hummels played well on way to a permanent transfer.

[ MORE: Klopp left fuming at defending ]

Largely, Klopp seemed to “set it and forget it” with his center backs from that point forward: No big summer buys, and neither Subotic nor Hummels was headed anywhere.

That didn’t change until 2013-14, when Klopp bought Sokratis Papastathopoulos from Werder Bremen, adding Matthias Ginter the next season.

Klopp left BVB after a disappointing 2014-15, taking the job at Liverpool in October 2015.

He didn’t do much in January, but agreed to terms with Schalke center back Joel Matip in February and landed Ragnar Klavan from Augsburg in the summer. The Reds already had bought Dejan Lovren from Southampton in the Summer of 2014, and Klopp seemed set.

[ MORE: League Cup Weds. wrap ]

Lovren improved a lot with Matip next to him, and Klavan made just 15 appearances for the Reds last season. The Reds went hard at Southampton’s Virgil Van Dijk, but failed to get him for any number of reasons. Still, Klopp figured his quartet, including young Joe Gomez in a pinch, would be just fine this season.

And maybe they will be, but there are daunting signs for the Reds in the first couple months of the season. Klopp has used Matip in eight matches, tied for the most on the team with Mohamed Salah and Roberto Firmino. He’s used Lovren six times, and Klavan four.

Liverpool’s record by CB pair (admittedly a tiny sample size):

Matip-Lovren: 3W-2D
Matip-Klavan: 1W-1D-1L
Gomez-Klavan: 1L (today)

The center backs, sans Matip and Lovren, especially hurt the Reds in the 2-0 loss to Leicester on Tuesday. All three moments of Leicester threat in this highlight package find either Klavan or Gomez cooked or out-of-place.

Look, a lot of teams are going to be hurt when using their second-choice CB pair, and many won’t be bothered by Liverpool’s exit from the League Cup. Furthermore, it’s not like anyone has been mistaking Lovren and Matip for Puyol and Pique.

But look at every English team in Europe, including the ones with far fewer defensive frailties heading into this summer than Liverpool.

Chelsea bought Antonio Rudiger.

Everton added Michael Keane.

Manchester United bought Victor Lindelof.

Spurs bought Davinson Sánchez and Juan Foyth.

Arsenal didn’t buy anyone besides Alexandre Lacazette, while Man City bought full backs and has received plenty of criticism for failing to add to its center back corps of Vincent Kompany, John Stones, and Eliaquim Mangala.

Liverpool? They sold Mamadou Sakho.

It’s problematic, yes, and it can’t be fixed until January. The question is whether Klopp sees a need to spend in the winter window. As illustrated above, he loves to ride his horses, even if Lovren and Matip aren’t quite Hummels and Subotic.

Think of what’s ailed Liverpool in recent seasons: Are some of those flops against lesser Premier League teams changed with more rest for their top pair or a better option for the mix?

League Cup Weds. preview: Top teams mind the underdogs

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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The giant killers aim their arrows at Premier League foes on Wednesday in the final five matches of the League Cup’s third round.

[ MORE: League Cup Tues. wrap ]


Arsenal vs. Doncaster Rovers

March 29, 1902 — Doncaster beat Arsenal 1-0. In the century-plus since, Arsenal has won five and drawn once with Doncaster.

Pretty safe to say the in-form Gunners’ and their back-ups will run through the Rovers, though as the old cliche goes, “That’s why they play the games.”

Chelsea vs. Nottingham Forest

For a long time, this was a Premier League fixture each season. Now Chelsea welcomes the Championship’s Forest for the third time since 1999.

Everton vs. Sunderland

The Toffees could badly use a nice win after its Europa League beatdown in Italy and a series of tough results against Premier League giants.

Enter Bryan Oviedo, Darron Gibson, Aiden McGeady, Jack Rodwell, and James Vaughn in a Sunderland squad with plenty of experience playing at Goodison Park (The Black Cats have two further players, Tyias Browning and Brendan Galloway, on loan from Everton). USMNT youngster Lynden Gooch could get a starting run versus PL opposition.

Manchester United vs. Burton Albion

The visitors surprised United by forcing an FA Cup replay in 2006, and the Red Devils repaid them with a 5-0 lashing. Burton was in the Conference then, and have risen dramatically in the last few seasons and surprised by surviving a Championship campaign in 2016-17. This one won’t be close, but it’ll be better than 5-0 for Nigel Clough’s Brewers.

West Bromwich Albion vs. Manchester City

Tony Pulis has been able to stymy a lot of teams, but Man City isn’t one of them. West Brom boasts 11-straight wins over the Baggies, the last of which have been by multiple goals. West Brom’s last draw vs. City was Boxing Day 2011. Its last win? Sept. 22, 2010 in the League Cup. Can the Hawthorns be the venue for a surprise?