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.

 

West Bromwich rejects latest bid from Man City for Evans

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Manchester City’s latest transfer target is a Premier League veteran, but he’s not going without a fight.

West Bromwich Albion manager Tony Pulis confirmed that the club had rejected a transfer bid for former Manchester United centerback Jonny Evans from Manchester City. It’s reported that the transfer bid was worth $23.2 million and that Man City are willing to up it to around $28.3 million, though Pulis isn’t budging.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

“We have turned down an offer for Jonny,” Pulis said. “We do not want to sell Jonny and we do not need to sell him. It would have to be a very, very good offer.

“Jonny understands the situation and where everything is. Jonny is happy here and wants to get on with his football. He is one of our best players. We all understand where we are.”

Evans has made 61 starts over the past two seasons for West Bromwich but it’s a question as to whether he’d be first choice at Manchester City, with Vincent Kompany, John Stones and even Nicolas Otamendi ahead of Evans in the pecking order.

Meanwhile, it doesn’t make sense for West Bromwich to sign one of its top players at this point in the transfer window, with less than a month to find a replacement in both the dressing room and on the field.

For all the talk about needing to improve defensively over the offseason, Man City manager Pep Guardiola has so far only been able to bring in new fullbacks, but perhaps his 3-5-2 formation displayed in the opening match of the season can provide more defensive stability for the team, even if Kompany misses extensive time with injury like in the past.

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.