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.

 

LIVE, UCL – Sevilla vs. Man United, Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma

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Jose Mourinho has created a splash this morning by benching Paul Pogba despite utilizing a 3-man central midfield formation as Manchester United heads to Spain to take on Sevilla in their Champions League Round of 16 first leg meeting.

Pogba was left out of Saturday’s win over Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup due to illness, but having made the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad, it seems his omission is instead due to tactical reasons. 21-year-old academy product Scott McTominay starts in Pogba’s place alongside Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera, with the Frenchman on the bench among the substitutes.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

The decision is surprising given Manchester United’s 16-point deficit in the Premier League table as they trail runaway favorites Manchester City, leaving the Champions League as the best competition remaining that the Red Devils have a shot to win.

Up front for Manchester United, Alexis Sanchez carries the creative load along with Juan Mata, with both supporting Romelu Lukaku at the striker position. Meanwhile, Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof continue to work as the central defensive partnership, while Antonio Valencia captains the side as full-back, mirrored by Ashley Young on the other edge.

In the other matchup, Roma heads to the Ukraine to take on Shakhtar Donetsk, who finished 2nd in Group F three points behind Manchester City. The Ukranian side has only just returned from its winter break, with just a single game played since December 10th.

Roma, meanwhile, has pulled itself out of a rut just in time for the return of Champions League play, with three straight Serie A wins coming on the heels of a five-match winless run. They have scored eight goals over those three wins, with a pair of road clean sheets among the group. 20-year-old Turkish winger Cengiz Under is on fire over the win streak, scoring four goals over that span.


Today’s UEFA Champions League Round of 16 schedule

Sevilla vs. Manchester United – 2:45 p.m. ET
Shakhtar Donetsk vs. Roma – 2:45 p.m. ET

Reports: Mourinho to leave Paul Pogba out of Champions League lineup

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According to multiple reports across England, including the BBC, Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho is ready to leave Paul Pogba out of his starting lineup for Wednesday’s Champions League match against Sevilla despite utilizing a 4-3-3 formation with three central midfielders.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ]

The reports state that Pogba will be left on the bench in favor of youngster Scott McTominay, who will start alongside Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic. Mourinho has spoken highly of McTominay recently, saying three days ago, “I think Scott deserves more than what he is getting.”

“Maybe it’s because he’s this kind of kid profile: a normal haircut, no tattoos, no big cars, no big watches, humble kid, arrive in the club when he was nine or 10,” Mourinho said in what many perceived to be a thinly veiled slap at Pogba.

Mourinho has held back from publicly criticizing his $125 million midfielder in the media, but his actions on the field suggest otherwise. The 24-year-old has failed to record 90 minutes in three straight Premier League matches, seeing his manager yank him before the full-time whistle in two and failing to make the starting lineup in the other, leaving many to speculate a rift between the two.

The decision is especially surprising given Juan Mata‘s comments earlier Wednesday that suggested Manchester United is prioritizing the Champions League, given their 16-point deficit to Manchester City in the Premier League table.

Pogba missed the 2-0 FA Cup win over Huddersfield on Saturday due to illness, but it’s hard to imagine that four days later that keeps the French superstar on the bench, especially given his ability to make the trip to Sevilla with the matchday squad.

Leicester City settles Financial Fair Play dispute with Football League

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Leicester City will owe the Football League a reduced fine after coming to an agreement with the English lower-league governing body over a dispute regarding the 2013/14 season.

The Foxes, who won the Championship that season and were promoted to the Premier League, were handed an official breach of Financial Fair Play rules after accruing a loss exceeding the allowed $11 million amount. However, Leicester City argued that the deficit was due to “allowable” amounts regarding promotion and academy costs.

After talks between the two parties, the EFL announced Leicester City will owe a reduced amount of $4.33 million. They could have owed up to $18 million, the differential between the allowed amount and their actual posted loss of $20.8 million.

In an official release, the EFL announced, “The EFL acknowledges that [Leicester City] did not make any deliberate attempt to infringe the Rules or to deceive and that the dispute arose out of genuine differences of interpretation of the Rules between the parties.”

After initially receiving word of the notice back in 2014, the Foxes had legally challenged the fine, but that had been put on hold after litigation began in 2015 between the EFL and Queens Park Rangers for a similar dispute. Bournemouth was also fined after incurring a significant loss in their 2014/15 promotion season. Teams that breach rules but are not promoted face transfer bans, such as Fulham, Bolton, and Nottingham Forest received through the 2014/15 season.

Who’s to blame? A closer look at Chelsea’s blunder late vs. Barcelona

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As our very own Joe Prince-Wright explained yesterday in the aftermath of Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Barcelona in the Champions League Round of 16, Antonio Conte could not have set his team up better for success at Stamford Bridge.

And yet, they walked away from the first leg with a disappointing result, one that could set up Barcelona with the advantage as they head to the Camp Nou in two weeks time.

So where did it all go wrong? That pass from Andreas Christensen, obviously – the one that gifted Lionel Messi a late goal. But is Christensen to blame? Or were there other culprits?

Clearly, the pass was ill-advised. Christensen sends the ball across his own box parallel to the goal mouth, which Andreas Iniesta easily pilfers and sends to Messi for his first goal against Chelsea. It was a pass they teach 7-year-olds not to make, one that even the youngest of dedicated soccer players knows to avoid.

Christensen makes an easy target, given that he is just 21 years old, has only just recently earned his way into the Blues starting lineup, and was the most obvious culprit having made the fateful pass.

However, upon closer inspection, it may not have even been meant to reach the far side of the field.

Christensen’s exasperated reaction suggests the pass was likely intended for Cesc Fabregas who sat at the top of the box under little pressure. Christensen was closed down on the far touchline with little room to operate, and his outlet to Fabregas in the middle of the field was a good option, even if the general idea of a pass in that direction is usually frowned upon. However, Christensen’s pass was just slightly behind Fabregas, and the Spaniard ultimately decided to let the ball go instead of chasing it down, leaving it for a less populated area of the field.

Unfortunately, with his back turned to the eventual destination of the pass, Fabregas was unaware that Iniesta had anticipated its flight path and was already making a run to steal the ball. When the veteran Barcelona midfielder reached the ball, he was challenged by a sliding Cesar Azpilicueta, who completely whiffed. While Christensen and Fabregas were culpable of putting the team in a dangerous situation, Azpilicueta’s tackle was an abomination. Azpilicueta actually reached the ball first, but inexplicably failed to make contact with the ball, allowing Iniesta to easily evade the slide and still take charge of the ball.

Andreas Christensen is the clear perpetrator, but Fabregas and Azpilicueta both contributed negatively to the situation, leaving Chelsea at a slight disadvantage heading into a hostile environment despite Antonio Conte’s best efforts. Sadly, Conte will be the one to shoulder the accountability at the end of the season if Chelsea goes out of the Champions League, even though he received top marks for the match, and his players let him down.