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.

Europa League qualifying roundup: West Ham falls in Slovenia

NYON, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 08:  The UEFA Europa League trophy is displayed during the 2014/15 UEFA Europa League Play-off round draw at the UEFA headquarters, The House of European Football on August 8, 2014 in Nyon, Switzerland.  (Photo by Harold Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In what is often described as more of a distraction than anything for English teams, the Europa League third qualification round is under way, and a Premier League club is in danger of crashing out of the competition prior to the group stage for the third straight season.

West Ham fell 2-1 at NK Domzale, the third-placed finishers in the Slovenian league last season. Mark Noble grabbed an 18th-minute penalty, the only takeaway from an otherwise depressing road result. On the other side, 24-year-old Matic Crnic scored twice to put Domzale through.

Last season, the Hammers also dropped out of the competition in the third qualification round, to Romanian club Astra Giurgiu, although they had wins in the first and second rounds after entering the competition via fair play. In addition, Southampton also crashed out of last year’s Europa League in the playoff round to Danish side FC Mitdjylland. Hull City dropped out of the tournament two seasons ago in the playoff round.

West Ham has the opportunity to turn things around at home in a week as they host Domzale at the Olympic Stadium on Thursday, August 4 in what will be West Ham’s first competitive in their new home.

Other notable scores from Europa League qualification include:

  • Lille 1-1 Gabala FC
  • Panathinaikos 1-0 AIK
  • Genk 1-0 Cork
  • Pandurii Targu Jiu 0-3 Maccabi Tel Aviv
  • Videoton 0-1 Midtjylland
  • Hertha BSC 1-0 Bronby
  • AZ Alkmaar 1-0 Giannina

Napoli chief calls Gonzalo Higuain a “traitor,” striker hits back

Argentinian striker Gonzalo Higuain shows the Juventus' jersey as he arrives in the team headquarters in Turin, Italy, Wednesday July 27, 2016. Italian champion Juventus said Tuesday it has signed  Higuain from Serie A rival Napoli for 90 million euros ($99 million). (Alessandro Di Marco/Ansa via Ap)
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Gonzalo Higuain’s summer move to Juventus has not come without bad blood.

When the 28-year-old striker moved from Naples to Turin thanks to Juventus activating his release clause, it left Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis with a sour taste in his mouth. “There are those who say that talk of betrayal is an exaggeration, but I think the opposite,” De Laurentiis told Corierre dello Sport. “Because, in this decision, there is the full sense of betrayal, which also includes ingratitude.”

“We never seriously thought he would leave. Nor that he would have erased in a flash the memories of his three years in Naples.”

That didn’t sit well with Higuain, who fired back that it was de Laurentiis who drove him out of his former club.

“It was my decision to leave, but it was [De Laurentiis] who pushed me into making it,” Higuain told the media at his Juventus unveiling. “I’d like to thank the fans and my teammates, but not De Laurentiis. I no longer had a relationship with him; I couldn’t stand another minute with him.”

Higuain was more celebratory about his time at Stadio San Paulo. “These have been three amazing years,” Higuain said, “and I can only say thanks for all the love I was given, but this was a decision I took for my own reasons. I can understand that they are angry with me and I’ve seen the insults, but it is something I had to do and I’m happy about it.”

Napoli visits Turin in Serie A play on October 30, while Juventus will not travel to Naples for the return fixture until early April of 2017.

Pep Guardiola says he benched Samir Nasri because he’s “a little bit overweight”

BEIJING, CHINA - JULY 24:  Samir Nasri of Manchester City attends the pre-game training ahead of the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Manchester United at Olympic Sports Center Stadium on July 24, 2016 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Samir Nasri‘s soccer career has taken a nosedive since his seven-goal, nine-assist season in 2012/13, both internationally and domestically.

The 29-year-old winger has retired from the French national team after to being frozen out by Didier Deschamps, and has seen a decline in playing time for Manchester City two seasons in a row. Now with a new manager and a fresh start at the Etihad, things aren’t exactly off with flying colors out of the gates.

Nasri hasn’t featured thus far in Manchester City’s preseason, and manager Pep Guardiola said it’s because of his fitness. “Samir arrived a little bit overweight,” Guardiola said following the team’s win over Borrusia Dortmund in International Champions Cup play from China. “He’s much better now, but still there is a little bit of weight. Last season he was injured and we want to avoid that.”

City took down Dortmund on penalties following a 1-1 draw. The squad fell 1-0 to Bayern Munich last week in the team’s first pre-season match. Nasri did not appear in either, and defender Gael Clichy – without naming names – said that Guardiola has forced those with fitness issues to train on their own.

“We have a few players who are not training with the team yet,” Clichy, a former teammate of Nasri’s at Arsenal, said on Wednesday. “If your weight is too high, you’re not training with the team. You have to know that if your weight is 60 kilos and you are on 70 kilos, then you cannot play football.”

Guardiola backed up his policy on Wednesday following Clichy’s comments. “The weight is so important. When you are not fit, danger is coming. You’re not fast enough or quick enough in the head. That’s why you need to be fit.”

Leicester City inks Ben Chilwell to new contract, warding off Liverpool interest

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Liverpool wanted to get younger at the back, but they’ll have to look elsewhere.

Despite reportedly heavy interest from Anfield, 19-year-old defender Ben Chilwell has signed a new five-year deal with Leicester City, tying him down through the summer of 2021.

The Leicester City defense desperately needs Chilwell’s youth as it ages yet another year following their run to the Premier League title. Robert Huth is 31 years old, Wes Morgan – also on a new deal this summer – is 32, and backup Marcin Wasilewski is 36. On the left edge, where Chilwell is most proficient, first-choice left-back Christian Fuchs is 30, while Jeffrey Schlupp provides the only other true bit of youth at 23. On the right, Danny Simpson is 29 and Richie De Laet is 27.

The youngster was reportedly a high-priority target for Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool, lodging a number of bids with the news that Brad Smith would move to Bournemouth. According to reports in England, the Reds made one last effort to bid for Chilwell prior to his extension, but it did not bear fruit.

“Ever since I arrived in Leicester, Ben has been a young player that has shown a lot of promise,” Leicester City manager Claudio Ranieri told the club’s official website. “He has all the attributes you would want in a defender and shows a lot of maturity for a player of just 19. He has come back for pre-season in very good condition and is already showing that he is ready to push for a place in the team.”

Chilwell, a Leicester City academy product, has yet to make a Premier League appearance, but has featured for the England youth teams at multiple levels.