Jose Goncalves 2

ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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19. D.C. United – The long, slow slog toward historic depths continues: a late Philly goal kept Ben Olsen’s team from winning its fourth this year. If the Black and Red cannot beat Kansas City in the Midwest or Houston at home, they’ll set some very black marks.

18. Chivas USA – The goal for Chivas over the final two matches should be to score a doggone goal. The Goats have just three in their last six matches and have not put two goals on the board in a game since Sept. 1.

17. Toronto FC – It’s all about playing spoiler in two contests against teams still scrapping for playoff spots: matches remain at Chicago (this week) and then at home against Montreal.

16. FC Dallas – Dallas led the league in points in early June; since then 2013 has been an absolute disaster. The team is 2-9-7 since then, collecting 13 of a possible 54 points, which is simply abysmal. The team became the fourth officially eliminated from playoff contention with a weekend loss at home to Chicago.

15. Columbus – Good results from other Eastern Conference mid-pack side means any last, lingering vestiges of playoff hope around Crew Stadium have fallen off into the nearby Olentangy River. Left to sort out now: is Brian Bliss the guy or (far more likely) will Crew management pick a higher profile candidate?

14. New England Revolution – What a huge, gutsy win for the Revs on Saturday in Montreal, where Jose Goncalves (pictured above) cleaned up a little mess along the Impact’s back line for the game-winner that keeps New England’s post-season dreams alive. The bummers were Saer Sene’s injury and Lee Nguyen’s impending suspension due to accumulation of cautions.

13. Montreal Impact – On the one hand, Montreal has three matches remaining, whereas 17 other clubs have just two. But how much faith can fans have that Marco Schallibaum’s club can exploit this advantage? His Impact is just 1-4-2 lately in MLS matches, having lost three in a row at home. That’s just not something a playoff team does. The Impact finishes at LA, at home against Philadelphia and then at Toronto.

12. Chicago Fire – Mike Magee had a goal and an assist, climbing back alongside Marco Di Vaio for league scoring leadership. (And possibly restoring some league MVP talk for Magee?) More importantly to the club, his contributions were huge in a 3-2 road win at Dallas that greatly boosts the Fire’s playoff chances.

11. Philadelphia Union – Jack is back! Kind of. Jack McInerney’s 90th minute equalizer at D.C. United earned a pretty useful point for the Union – one that might be needed to squeeze into the post-season.  It was certainly a big moment for the young striker, who had not scored since June 1.

(MORE: MLS Round 30 week in review)

10. Seattle Sounders – What happened? A three-game losing streak? Major changes around the starting lineup? The team’s best player – ironically, not one of its three high-salaried Designated Players – loses his cool and gets tossed from a huge match? Suddenly we’re all talking about Sigi Schmid’s job security again? The Sounders have enough talent to rally, but they are in a very bad way right now.

9. Vancouver Whitecaps – Young striker Kekuta Manneh recorded the league’s seventh hat trick of 2013 in a stunning 4-1 at Seattle. A signature win for Martin Rennie’s day in Vancouver? Probably – but it won’t matter unless the Whitecaps can come up with at least four points from its home-and-away series against Colorado. (More goofy MLS scheduling … who finishes the season with back-to-back matches against the same team.)

8. Houston Dynamo – History has taught us that games against Kansas City are a 1-0 result or a scoreless draw waiting to. We had another one last week at BBVA Compass Stadium (0-0) Keeping that third spot in the East is the goal; a home match against New York and an away contest at hapless D.C. United gives Houston a good chance.

7. Sporting Kansas City – Kansas City is into the playoffs for a third consecutive year, the second team (after New York) to officially clinch. They did so backing in, so to speak, clinching the spot when Philadelphia played to a tie at D.C. United. Oh, about last week’s 0-0 draw at Houston? Peter Vermes’ team took four of a possible six points out of BBVA Compass Stadium this year – and anybody with a brain would take that for their club.

6. Colorado Rapids – A loss at home last week to San Jose did significant damage to the Rapids’ playoff chances, but it’s not fatal. Pick up enough points in two matches against the Whitecaps (we referenced that goofy MLS scheduling before, you know) and Oscar Pareja’s young team will arrive into the post-season.

5. San Jose Earthquakes – The Earthquakes have been one of Major League Soccer’s best teams over the last six weeks. Since a loss to L.A. in late August, interim manager Mark Watson and his bunch from the Bay is 5-0-1 with just one goal allowed. One! That’s ridiculous, even if the team’s style remains a bit hard on the eyes. Matches remaining: at L.A. and home to Dallas.

4. Real Salt Lake – How big will this week’s match at Portland be? There is a reasonable chance that it will decide the Western Conference champion. Expect to hear a lot about this one, but for now we’ll leave you with this: RSL has been the West’s best and the second-best in MLS in picking up road points. Then again, Portland is a terrific 11-1-4 at home. What a match!

source:  3. LA Galaxy – Does it come down to Landon Donovan’s fragile ankle? If the league’s all-time leading scorer, who has returned early from national team duty, can play and be effective Wednesday at home against fading Montreal, they’ll probably win that one get into the post-season again. If not … it starts getting pretty dicey for the two-time defending champs.

2. Portland Timbers – Goals-by-committee (four Timbers have either 8 or 9 hits this year) keeps working for Caleb Porter’s team. Sunday’s scoring hero was Kalif Alhassan (pictured left), whose third strike of 2013 was the valuable game-winner in a deliciously tight 1-0 result late Sunday over Seattle. Goalkeeper Donovan Ricketts was big once again.

1. New York Red Bulls – A playoff berth in pocket, the goal now for first-year pro head coach Mike Petke and his bunch is a Supporters Shield. Portland, Real Salt Lake and Kansas City are the biggest threats, but this week’s test at Houston is the real obstacle. The Red Bulls were off for Week 33, like a bunch of teams, so Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and the others should be well-rested.

Jose Mourinho wants Diego Costa to process game situations “faster”

during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Chelsea at Britannia Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.
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Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho isn’t worried about Diego Costa‘s lack of goals this season, but he does know the problem.

Costa scored the winner against Norwich last time out, but has just three goals on the year and has looked frustrated often in recent matches. And the boss believes there’s still work to be done with Costa, particularly off the ball.

“Everything is OK, no problem, no problem,” Mourinho said in his pre-match press conference before Chelsea visits Spurs on Sunday. “But he’s not reading the game properly in these actions. That was my opinion. As a striker he must read. You have to play not only when you have the ball but when others have the ball. You have to anticipate things and read the game faster. Everything is an accumulation [of confidence]. You’re not on fire again just because you’ve scored a winning goal against Norwich. It’s all a process.”

Mourinho exploded at Costa in the waning moments of Chelsea’s 4-0 win over Maccabi Tel Aviv, with the manager focused on improving the Spaniard’s effort level.

“In the game I told him, from a distance, that I was not happy with the movement he did,” Mourinho said. “He told me a few nice words from where he was. And nothing happened.”

Despite the manager’s frustrations, Costa could be the only option on Sunday. Radamel Falcao is injured and Loic Remy’s wife is scheduled to give birth soon, leaving Chelsea’s main man as maybe the only man.

The match against Spurs is a huge one for the Blues. Chelsea seems to have recovered slightly from its early-season tumble down the table, but their only two wins since the 2-0 victory over Arsenal in mid-September have been against Aston Villa and Norwich, and a marquee win would see them firmly announce an intention to return to last season’s form. The competition will be stiff, as Spurs’ high press could frustrate Costa, potentially sending him into another mood. But it could also give him opportunities should the hosts slip on Sunday.

Premier League preview: Manchester City vs. Southampton

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 21: Manuel Pellegrini, manager of Manchester City looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Liverpool at Etihad Stadium on November 21, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
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  • Manchester City has lost both its home matches against top-10 sides this season
  • Southampton is six matches away unbeaten – club record is seven
  • Southampton has lost five straight at the Etihad across all competitions

Depending on results, Manchester City could be on top of the league come the end of the weekend if they can pick up three points when they welcome Southampton to the Etihad on Saturday (Watch live, 10:00 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

Unfortunately, they’ll face the Saints very banged up, something which has caused the home side plenty of issues recently. Goalkeeper Joe Hart suffered a hamstring injury midweek and will miss out, as will defenders Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Eliaquim Mangala.

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

Manuel Pellegrini‘s squad struggled mightily at times without Sergio Aguero up front during his four-match injury absence. Aguero is back and scored last week in the 4-1 loss to Liverpool, but now the back line is giving the Chilean boss headaches. They broke again midweek, a 1-0 loss to Juventus in Champions League play leaving City fans scratching their heads.

Southampton saw its six-match unbeaten run come to a surprising end against Stoke City last weekend, and that puts them in an awkward spot, stuck in a clogged portion of the Premier League table where the gap between sixth and 11th is just two points. With a difficult London list of Spurs, Arsenal, and West Ham on the docket surrounding the December holidays, stolen points here at the Etihad would go a long way later on.

The Saints are also shorthanded, with Graziano Pelle suspended for yellow card accumulation after picking up his fifth of the season against Stoke. With Jay Rodriguez still sidelined, that leaves Shane Long to lead the Southampton attack.

What they’re saying

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini on injury problems: “All the clubs have the same problems here in England and in other European leagues, because the players have to play so many games in the year and they have to go to their national squads with long flights.”

Southampton midfielder Steven Davis on Manchester City: “The demand from their fans is to win every game and they’re coming off the back of a couple of bad results. They will be looking to put it right. It should be an entertaining game but we’ll need to be at our best to get something. I’m confident we can go there and do that.”


Because of Manchester City’s defensive issues, summer signing Nicolas Otamendi will be forced back into the starting lineup after finding himself on the bench for the Liverpool loss. Since Otamendi looked off the pace in his first two Premier League matches (both of which City lost), he has acclimated quite well – the club has conceded just three goals in the Argentinian’s five matches following those two defeats.

With the striker issues for Southampton, City will use the return of David Silva to run Southampton down. Silva is known for playing his part in early goals, and the first 15 minutes will be key in this match. Manchester City will get one early, and they will return to their winning ways on a 2-0 victory.

Words fly as Mathieu Valbuena opens up about blackmail scandal

LISBON, PORTUGAL - SEPTEMBER 04: France's midfielder Matthieu Valbuena celebrating France goal during the Friendly match between Portugal and France on September 04, 2015 in Lisbon, Portugal.  (Photo by Carlos Rodrigues/Getty Images)
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Lyon midfielder Mathieu Valbuena has spoken out for the first time about the sex tape scandal that has rocked the French national team.

If what he says proves to be true, Karim Benzema could be in a whole heap of trouble.

Valbuena told his story to French newspaper Le Monde, where he explained how things began in May of 2015 with a phone call from Djibril Cisse that suggested someone had a tape of the 31-year-old Valbuena. A few days later a blocked number called Valbuena asking to meet in Dubai about the video. The Frenchman got the police involved, and then Benzema approached him during national team training.

“He [Benzema] spoke to me about a video. Immediately, I thought back to what the police chief had told me on Sunday [that someone would approach him about the video].  Then he asked me to meet a friend that he presented to be very reliable, very serious, someone that he had complete confidence in, to arrange all of that. So, anyway, I am not an idiot!

I was sceptical to say the least. Even if, it was true, at the start I said to him: “Thank you for warning me”, I was doubtful that if he wants me to meet someone, it is not for nothing. The way in which he conveyed things, it was certainly to provoke me to see someone, indirectly, it means to pay this person to destroy the video.”

Valbuena said Benzema never actually asked him to pay for the video to be destroyed, but that it was heavily implied. “I played his game, I told him, me I would like very much to pay for my freedom, but we all know that if you pay, it is endless, there will always be copies etc. He told me: ‘Don’t worry, I have total confidence in my friend, there will be no more duplicates, they will be destroyed.’ He insisted a lot for me to meet his friend.”

The Frenchman later would implicate Samir Nasri as someone who, according to Valbuena, had offered to approach him instead of Benzema. “[Nasri] is someone who is no longer part of the French national team. My relationship has always been difficult with Nasri. Now, nothing surprises me.”

Both have responded. Benzema’s lawyer gave an interview to French radio station RMC saying that there was contact between the two about the tape, but that the conversation saw Benzema encourage Valbuena not to pay for anything. Nasri also spoke to RMC, completely denying any involvement in the case by saying, “It is not my problem, not my situation.”

Benzema has been charged with conspiracy to blackmail for his role as an intermediary, but the investigation is still in the preliminary stages.

Premier League preview: Leicester City vs. Manchester United

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 07:  Jamie Vardy of Leicester City celebrates scoring his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Leicester City and Watford at The King Power Stadium on November 7, 2015 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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  • Leicester sits atop the Premier League table with 28 points
  •  Manchester United has conceded just once in their last 7 league games
  • Leicester’s Premier League games have produced 48 goals, the most in the league

Yes, this is #1 vs #2. No, your eyes are not deceiving you.

And yet somehow, that magnificent lede has been buried thanks to one Jamie Vardy.

The 28-year-old can break Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s Premier League record of 10 straight games with a goal as Leicester City hosts Van Nistelrooy’s former team Manchester United at King Power Stadium (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra).

[ WATCH LIVE: Stream every PL game via Live Extra ]

The Foxes are firmly atop the Premier League table, but many question whether they can hang onto that, and even others remain skeptical whether they can truly challenge for a top four spot this season. Saturday’s game will be a true test of their ability to remain in the hunt for the long haul, as the Red Devils are just a point off the top and, while it hasn’t been pretty at times this year, van Gaal’s men have done enough to pick up results in key situations.

On the other end, Manchester United has conceded just one goal in its last five league matches, and has not allowed a goal from open play since the Arsenal drubbing in early October. Can Vardy find space in the tight Red Devils’ back line?

Both teams are relatively healthy coming into this matchup. Leicester is only missing long-term absentee Matty Jones, while Manchester United is a little more banged up with Ander Herrera, Phil Jones, and Michael Carrick likely out alongside Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia.

What they’re saying

Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal on Leicester City’s chances at title“Normally these kind of clubs can compete for long time, then at the end it becomes more difficult. But in England because of the quality of the teams, because every team has the money to buy players – and they have bought players – the difference in the Premier League between the clubs is not so high.”

Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri on the Foxes’ aim“The league is very strange and open but our goal is 40 points. Our goal at the moment is this but let me see the next two months and then maybe I change the goal. Like everybody else I am also curious in these days to watch my team, and to see how we respond in these big matches.”


Manchester United’s results have been there, and they’ve created a ton of chances. On the flip side, Leicester’s improved defensive organization is solid enough to hold off the Red Devils. This one ends 1-1, and there is no change at the top. Vardy gets the Foxes’ goal, because who doesn’t like fun things?