What a Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup championship would mean to Real Salt Lake, D.C. United

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You don’t need the big soccer brain to understand why Tuesday’s U.S. Open Cup final would mean the sun, the moon and the stars for D.C. United. This is it for the Black and Red, the one and only chance to salvage some joy from a season of woe like perhaps none other around RFK Stadium.

From Real Salt Lake’s standpoint, the dimensions of the reward are not quite as clear, although surely there. It takes just a little more digging to find them.

Back to D.C. United for a moment before we get deploy the shovels regarding RSL.

It’s difficult to convey in just a couple of sentences the death spiral that 2013 has been for once-proud D.C. United, the league’s original trophy hog. Yes, other clubs have endured miserable seasons. But not only is the ongoing campaign around RFK Stadium crawling toward the “historically poor,” when weighed against the backdrop of expectations this is probably the ugliest fall from grace yet seen in MLS. Remember, this team was so close to an MLS Cup appearance a year ago; hopes were sky high in 2013.

(MORE: United moves closer to statistical, dubious distinctions in MLS)

The Washington Post’s Steven Goff covered things from D.C. United’s end pretty well here. The gist is the enormous, unlikely opportunity that fate (and some savvy tournament play) has provided: to actually lay hands on an important trophy despite this dreadful campaign.

People love the thought of making American soccer in the foreign image, and this is part and parcel: teams can sometimes put a bright blue ribbon around an otherwise black campaign through tournament play. Just a few months ago, Wigan Athletic claimed one of the global game’s most storied trophies, the FA Cup, in the same beleaguered season in which it was relegated into England’s second tier.

As Goff says, soccer “worldwide offers second chances. While the league mission remains paramount, cup competition is often salvation for clubs on the skids.”

While it’s clearly about redemption and not much else for Ben Olsen’s team, there are multiple motivation moving pieces for Real Salt Lake. The chances of a Supporters Shield, and MLS Cup and (of course) the Open Cup in the same season may remain relatively remote, but Real Salt Lake is the one and only club with such a chance for 2013.

(MORE: Domestic treble is unlikely, but still worth discussing)

But “something special” for 2013 around Rio Tinto doesn’t begin and end with some unlikely “treble.”  General manager Garth Lagerwey and coach Jason Kreis (pictured) jettisoned three well-regarded but high-salaried men at the end of 2012, Will Johnson, Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola. That’s the reality of life in MLS, especially at a smaller market club.

They expected the exciting young likes of Luis Gil, Carlos Salcedo, Sebastian Velasquez, Yordany Alvarez and (U.S. Open Cup specialist) Devon Sandoval to make the team competitive this year. But getting to cup finals? Kreis told me about two weeks ago that this much success, this soon, has surprised even him.

Beyond that, Kreis is such a competitive person, all about soccer and all about the team. He was like this as a player, too – and he always had just a little chip on his shoulder. It’s what drove Kreis as a player (a smaller player, but the first Major League Soccer scorer to reach the 100-goal milepost). It’s what drives him as a coach today –and what may drive him to accept the head coaching post at New York City FC, which we’ve written about previously.

Here’s what Kreis said (during my Soccer Today interview with him linked above) about a chance to win the title as a manager – the title that he won as a player with the Dallas Burn back in 1997. He references the 2009 MLS Cup championship; for all of RSL’s success, there’s been a lot of “getting close,” but just one major title.

It’s a chance to win a trophy, and it’s been a long time. I think everybody knows we’ve been a pretty successful franchise. We have shown that we can be consistent. We’ve shown that we be toward the top of the table every year. We have shown that we can get 15 wins and 50 points the last three years, and most likely we will do it for a fourth year in a row. So we’ve done a lot of good things, but we haven’t won a lot of trophies. … I look at this as a huge opportunity for us to put another win one in our pocket and to say that we’re not just about consistency and playing well, but we’re also about winning things.”

(MORE: Game preview, D.C. United vs. Real Salt Lake)

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Five Thirty Eight unveils Top 426 soccer clubs in the world

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Perspective achieved?

Advanced statistical site Five Thirty Eight has put together a weekly ranking of the top and bottom club teams in the world, and its algorithm gives us a theoretical answer into where Major League Soccer fits into the club soccer landscape.

[ MORE: Julian Green back on transfer market ]

At its very base level, the rankings will give reason to check back all season. Can Manchester United break into the Top Three? Will an MLS side leap into the Top 100? Can the worst American club avoid the bottom slot?

Here’s the list of clubs, and Five Thirty Eight has also gone through the trouble of giving its statistical analysis of who’s best set-up to win leagues and even games.

A note on the methodology:

We’re using recent matches played between teams from different leagues, supplemented with league market values (from Transfermarkt), to assign a strength rating to every league that we’re forecasting. Our new league ratings also give us the ability to a calculate a global Soccer Power Index (SPI) rating for each team — a number from 0 to 100 that represents the overall strength of each team.

The Premier League and La Liga combine for six of the Top Ten teams in the world, with Real Madrid No. 1 and Man City, Manchester United, and Chelsea running Nos. 7, 8, and 9.

Brighton and Hove Albion is the lowest ranked Premier League club, 188th in the world. The only PL sides outside the Top 125 are the three promoted clubs. Swansea is 113th, the lowest (or highest) ranked PL side aside from the new promotions.

Brighton is 17 spots below MLS’ top representative: Toronto FC. The same web site ranked MLS as the 28th best league in the world earlier this month, between Denmark and Croatia.

New York City FC shows up next, at 259, then rivals New York Red Bulls at 267. The bulk of MLS clubs fit between 320 and 422, where Minnesota United brings up the rear. The study ranks 426 teams, with three Scottish clubs running 424-426.

[ MORE: Man City 1-1 Everton | 3 things ]

As for some other odds, Five Thirty Eight gives Manchester United the best odds to win the league at 31 percent, with Man City, Chelsea, and Spurs joining them with the best odds to place in the Top Four.

The average simulated season has United besting rivals City by two points, with 80. Tottenham (72) tops Arsenal (68) for fourth by four points, while No. 6 Liverpool finishes 10 points clear of Merseyside rivals Everton (57 points).

It’s no surprise that the three promoted clubs — Huddersfield Town, Newcastle, and Brighton — are the top bets to be relegated, with Bournemouth, Crystal Palace, and Swansea City the next best bets to find life in the Championship.

Other notes:

— Manchester United is the fourth-best defensive team in the Premier League, behind only Atletico Madrid, Bayern Munich, and Juventus.

— Spurs are also in the Top Ten amongst defensive teams, a 8.

— Man City is the best offensive team in the PL, seventh in the world.

— Watford is this week’s highest PL riser, up 22 spots.

— MLS side Chicago Fire suffered the fourth biggest drop in the world this week (40 spots).

Five Thirty Eight is one of the best predictive web sites in the world, and one of the only ones who gave more than an outside shot (though still ranking it a long shot) of the 2016 United States presidential election turning out for the winner of the electoral college. So this is certainly food for thought.

Former Dinamo Zagreb boss injured after shooting

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SARAJEVO, Bosnia-Herzegovina (AP) Controversial former Dinamo Zagreb director Zdravko Mamic was shot and injured in Bosnia on Monday, police and media reported.

Croatia’s state TV said Mamic was shot in his leg and taken to a local hospital on Monday. It said the injury was not life-threatening.

Police were searching for two possible assailants.

[ MORE: Five PL new boys to watch ]

Bosnian media said Mamic was attending a memorial for his father at a graveyard near the town of Tomislavgrad when two people fired at him from a nearby forest. Another report said it was a drive-by shooting.

Croatia’s TV said Mamic voluntarily left the hospital in Bosnia after doctors managed to stop the bleeding, and he went to the Croatian capital, Zagreb.

Bosnian police declined to confirm the identity of the victim by name, but said a man with the initials ZM and born in 1959 in the Croatian city of Bjelovar, just like Mamic, was shot and injured.

Mamic, known for his fiery temper, has been on a high-profile embezzlement and tax fraud trial in Croatia.

Prosecutors accuse Mamic, his brother, and two others of embezzling 15 million euros of the club’s money since 2008 and not paying 1.6 million euros in taxes.

Mamic, who remains Dinamo’s adviser, is still considered the most powerful man in Croatian football despite the charges.

Dinamo issued a statement, calling the attack a “murder attempt.”

It said the attempted “liquidation” of Mamic was not a surprise amid a “lynching campaign” against him by the Croatian media.

He was recently knocked off his yacht into the sea by an attacker believed to be a fan of rival Hajduk Split.

AP Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.

LIVE – Champions League playoff: Nice-Napoli headlines action

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With Celtic (just about) booking their spot in the UEFA Champions League group stage on Tuesday, four more teams will join them.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Napoli, Olympiacos, Sevilla and Hapoel Be’er Sheva all have narrow leads heading into the second legs which sets things up rather nicely. Olympiacos and Be’er Sheva will be feeling particularly nervous after conceding at home in the first leg.

On Wednesday five more ties takes place across Europe with Liverpool looking to book their spot in the UCL group stage against Hoffenheim.

Below is the full schedule for Tuesday’s games, which kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET, while you can click on the link above to follow live commentary on all four matches.


Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League playoff second legs

Nice vs. Napoli (Napoli lead 2-0 on aggregate)
Astana 4-3 Celtic (Celtic advance 8-4 on aggregate)
Rijeka vs. Olympiacos (Olympiacos leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Sevilla vs. Istanbul Basaksehir (Sevilla leads 2-1 on aggregate)
Maribor vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva (Hapoel Be’er Sheva lead 2-1 on aggregate)

LIVE – Premier League clubs enter League Cup

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Seven Premier League teams enter the League Cup second round on Tuesday with plenty of potential upsets lined up.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

All 13 PL clubs (six more are in action on Wednesday) face teams from the lower leagues with the likes of Crystal Palace, Leicester City, Bournemouth and Swansea City all on upset alert.

U.S. national team players to watch out for include Lynden Gooch who starts for Sunderland and Emerson Hyndman who is on the bench for Bournemouth.

Below is the schedule for the League Cup games on Tuesday with all games to kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET unless otherwise stated.


Tuesday
Crystal Palace vs. Ipswich Town – 2:30pm
Aston Villa vs. Wigan Athletic
Leeds United vs. Newport County
Middlesbrough vs. Scunthorpe United
Norwich City vs. Charlton Athletic
QPR vs. Brentford
Fulham vs. Bristol Rovers
Cardiff City vs. Burton Albion
Carlisle United vs. Sunderland
Doncaster vs. Hull City
Brighton vs. Barnet
Accrington Stanley vs. West Brom
Sheffield United vs. Leicester City
Birmingham City vs. Bournemouth
Watford vs. Bristol City
MK Dons vs. Swansea City
Reading vs. Millwall – 3pm
Bolton vs. Sheffield Wednesday – 3pm