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

ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

Leave a comment

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 – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

Leave a comment

With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”

Man United’s Europa League clash in doubt over frozen pitch

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
Getty Images
1 Comment

Manchester United and Jose Mourinho may not play their UEFA Europa League game against Zorya Luhansk on Thursday.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez leaving Arsenal? ]

Amid freezing conditions in the Ukrainian city of Odessa (Zorya cannot play their games at home due to the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine) the pitch underwent an inspection on Thursday and with covers and heaters on the playing surface overnight, there is hope the game should go ahead.

However, Jose Mourinho has already talked about the state of the pitch as not being ideal, while the likes of Daley Blind and Paul Pogba looked far from impressed when they went out for a training session on Wednesday in freezing conditions.

Remember, United only needs a point from the game against Zorya to qualify for the Europa League Round of 32 and Mourinho has selected a strong 19-man squad for the trip. 

A statement from Zorya said the following on Thursday morning, as they remain hopeful of the game going ahead.

“Everything depends on the weather. The pitch is not brilliant at the moment. We are expecting temperatures of two or three degrees and everything should be okay.”

Below was the scene in Odessa yesterday for United’s training session, via Simon Peach of the Press Association.


Yep, the pitch doesn’t look great.

Barcelona invites Chapecoense to play friendly

CHAPECO, BRAZIL - OCTOBER 22: Supporters of Chapecoense cheer their team during the match between Chapecoense and Sao Paulo for the Brazilian Series A 2014 at Arena Conda on October 22, 2014 in Chapeco, Brazil. (Photo by Alan Pedro/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says it has extended an invitation to host a friendly match against the Brazilian soccer club involved in last week’s plane crash.

Chapecoense was on its way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most prestigious club tournaments, when its flight went down in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 players, officials and journalists on board.

The match would be played in August. The friendly, called the Joan Gamper trophy, is used as Barcelona’s traditional curtain raiser for the new season.

Barcelona says it sent a formal invitation to Chapecoense on Thursday.

Barcelona says it wants to “pay homage to the 71 people who died in the accident as well as their families.”