Marco Di Vaio (on the right) just completed a rather rare 20-goal season in MLS.

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.

 

Premier League Preview: Crystal Palace vs. Middlesbrough

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 10: Scott Dan (L3) of Crystal Palace in action during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough FC and Crystal Palace FC at Riverside Stadium on September 10, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images) *** Local Caption **** Scott Dan
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  • Palace leads all-time 18W-12D-17L
  • Palace won 2-1 on Sept. 16
  • Second PL meeting since 2005

Two relegation-battling sides just three points apart meet Saturday at Selhurst Park when Middlesbrough visits Crystal Palace (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com).

Wins have been hard to come by for both sides, and Boro enters the day in 16th place with 22 points. That’s three ahead of the 19th place Eagles.

Palace boss Sam Allardyce made more waves this week when he ripped into his players for not following his directions. The Eagles have a single PL win since a 3-0 home win over Southampton on Dec. 3.

Middlesbrough hasn’t won a Premier League match since Dec. 17, its only 2017 victories coming in three FA Cup wins. Still, Boro has proven stingy in engineering four draws. Aitor Karanka‘s side just needs more goals.

What they’re saying

Boro’s Karanka on not overdramatizing the match: “I can’t forget how well the team is doing so far, and we need to keep going in the same way. It is the biggest game because it is the next game. It is against a direct opponent but we will not be taking this game as a final. We can take heart from our previous games and performances. With our consistency and intensity we always have a chance.”

Palace boss Sam Allardyce rips his players“My experience and my qualifications are far greater than theirs. They can talk about tactics and systems, that’s fine, but they’re players are they’re paid to play. I’m the manager, and the system and tactics are my expertise, not theirs.”

Prediction

Boro’s defense has been strong, and Palace’s strength comes from its attack. We bet Alvaro Negredo will find his way to the score sheet, but that the Eagles find a way through as well. 1-1.

EFL Cup Final preview: Saints aim to deny Manchester United, Mourinho

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 28:  Vincent Kompany of Manchester City and team mate Pablo Zabaleta celebrate victory with the trophy after the Capital One Cup Final match between Liverpool and Manchester City at Wembley Stadium on February 28, 2016 in London, England. Manchester City win 3-1 on penalties.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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With the Community Shield in tow, Jose Mourinho aims for his first full tournament trophy as Manchester United boss when his Red Devils meet Southampton at 11:30 a.m. EDT Sunday.

Wembley Stadium is the venue for the EFL Cup Final, a trophy United has claimed four times. The last one came in 2010, as the Red Devils clinched their third League Cup in five seasons.

[ JPW: Southampton comes full circle ]

Sunday marks Southampton’s first final since 1979, when Saints fell 3-2 to Nottingham Forest.

Saints continue to make due without Virgil Van Dijk and Charlie Austin, but newcomers Manolo Gabbiadini, Sofiane Boufal, and Martin Caceres could all feature on Friday.

Gabbiadini almost certainly will, and he’s been a difference maker for Saints since arriving from Napoli. The 25-year-old has three goals in two Premier League matches.

[ MORE: Projected lineups for EFL Cup final ] 

United will not have Henrikh Mkhitaryan back after the Armenian midfielder limped off the pitch midweek, but fellow walking wounded star Michael Carrick will be back for the Red Devils. Wayne Rooney, Ander Herrera, and Eric Bailly will be available.

The Red Devils won the FA Cup last season and the league in 2012-13. Mourinho has three League Cups from his time at Chelsea.

But Antonio Valencia says that United has to act like this is a chance for a new era. From ManUtd.com:

“We have to forget about the fact that we might have won there three, four or five times,” he added. “We have to put that to one side. This is another final, and a totally different story. We cannot afford to make one single mistake, this is a final and we cannot lose our concentration for even one minute.”

Saints will be underdogs for this one, but this trophy isn’t alien to avoiding the hands of the big boys as we’ve seen with Birmingham City, Middlesbrough, and Swansea City since the turn of the century.

Claudio Ranieri issues classy goodbye to Leicester City

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Claudio Ranieri has issued a statement on his somewhat surprising firing from Leicester City, less than 10 months after winning the Premier League title.

[ MORE: Chelsea-Swans preview ]

The Italian manager with a knack of word play pulls on the heart-strings in discussing his exit from Leicester, a club he did not plan to leave any time soon.

From the Leicester Mercury:

Yesterday my dream died.

After the euphoria of last season and being crowned Premier League champions all I dreamed of was staying with Leicester city, the club I love, for always.

Sadly, this was not to be.

He went on to thank his family, Leicester City, saving the kindest words for the Foxes’ supporters.

No one can ever take away what we together have achieved, and I hope you think about it and smile every day the way I always will.

It has been a pleasure and an honour to be a champion with all of you.

No surprise to read class from Claudio. Read the full statement here.

Premier League Preview: Chelsea vs. Swansea City

SWANSEA, WALES - SEPTEMBER 11:  Chelsea manager Antonio Conte battles to get the ball back with Cesar Apilicueta (r) from Swansea forward Modou Barrow during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Chelsea at Liberty Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Swansea, Wales.  (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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  • Chelsea leads all-time 14W-11D-7L
  • Sides drew 2-2 in September
  • Swans unbeaten vs Blues since Jan ’15

Premier League leaders Chelsea face a resurgent Swansea City side which has given it fits (Watch live at 10 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Blues have dropped points in two of their last three Premier League matches, and also have two draws and a loss to Swans in the past three match-ups.

Swansea has won three of four in Premier League play, the lone setback a 2-1 loss to Manchester City. New manager Paul Clement has led Swans from deep in the relegation zone to four points clear of the drop zone.

To succeed, Swans will have to avoid conceding often and early. According to Chelsea’s club statistician:

Conte’s players have scored the opening goal more times than any other Premier League team this season (19) and have yet to lose (16 wins, three draws).

What they’re saying

Antonio Conte on former Chelsea assistant Clement“He has had a great impact on the team. Also, with the transfer window, they reinforced the team, and we must pay great attention. If you watch their games against Liverpool, against Man City, you understand the difficulty of the game. I am sure my players understand this. They have worked very well to face them in the right way.”

Clement on staring down Chelsea“I have said to the players that yes we have put ourselves in a good position, but how hard are we willing to work to make sure we continue to improve? How much do we want to avoid suffering at the end of the season? Because unless we keep winning games and progressing up the table, we are going to find ourselves in a position where we need, say, four points from the last two games of the season.”

Prediction

Stamford Bridge will be the difference here, as Chelsea keeps it tight against Swans. 2-0.