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.

Barcelona tops Levante, ties club record with 28 unbeaten

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Jordi Alba of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his teammate Andres Iniesta during the La Liga match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on February 07, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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Sir Alex Ferguson described the 2010/11 Barcelona team as the best team he ever faced.

This year’s Barcelona side has matched them.

With a 2-0 victory over La Liga basement-dwellers Levante on an own-goal forced by Jordi Alba plus a late score from Luis Suarez, Barcelona has gone 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, without a loss since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on October 28.

Manager Luis Enrique, though, is unmoved. “What matters to me are the team’s objectives,” said Enrique after the win. “These are nice numbers, if they help us win titles at the end of the season, fantastic. We are in good position, but there is still a lot left.”

The Levante victory marked Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge of Barcelona.

That 2010/11 season, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona came a Copa del Rey finals loss to Real Madrid from a quadruple, winning the league, Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. This time around, they’ve already secured the Supercopa, sit atop the league table by three points over Atletico Madrid and seven above Real Madrid, have yet to lose a game in the Champions League, and the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Valencia is a complete formality. What’s more, the numbers from this streak are eerily similar to that wildly successful squad five years ago.

That campaign, Lionel Messi scored 31 league goals and 53 overall. An injury sapped him of time in this go around, but Suarez and Neymar have picked up the slack. There has been just one league game in which all three of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez has been held scoreless this season, and to find it you have to travel all the way back to the second game of the year, a 1-0 win over Malaga that saw Thomas Vermaelen score the winner. Those three have combined for 48 league goals this year, more than every team in the Spanish top flight save Real Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain has a similar streak going at the moment, currently unbeaten in league play throughout the entire season, but their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League on November 3 means their streak across all competitions sits at 19 games.

Watch Live: Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal and Adam Smith of Bournemouth compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is hoping to break its four-game winless streak as it travels to Vitality Stadium to take on Bournemouth, live on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

The Gunners have drawn three and lost one over its last four matches, leaving them unable to keep pace with Leicester City at the top of the table. With Leicester again winning this week and a matchup with the Foxes looming next time out for Arsenal, this match seems a must-win for Arsene Wenger and company if they wish to remain serious title contenders.

[ WATCH LIVE: Bournemouth vs Arsenal live online at NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Wenger has chosen to leave veteran defender Per Mertesacker on the bench in favor of Gabriel. Francis Coquelin also remains among the substitutes for the second straight match, meaning either Wenger prefers Mathieu Flamini in midfield, or Coquelin remains unfit for a full 90 minutes. Tomas Rosicky was injured last weekend and will be out up to three months, which could end his season.

Eddie Howe has named an unchanged starting lineup from their 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace last week. Winger Junior Stanislas is back on the bench after missing last week. In contrast to Arsenal, the Cherries are unbeaten in four and have won four of their last six, a stretch which has propelled them five points off the relegation zone and the same distance away from the top half of the table.

[ MORE: Premier League Sunday Preview ]

There are no new injury concerns for either side. Both have long-term absentees who are on the mend but still not close to a return. Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla are all out for the Gunners, while Bournemouth duo Max Gradel and Callum Wilson are also sidelined for a while but could return before the end of the season.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Boruc; Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels; Surman, Gosling; Ritchie, Arter, Pugh; Afobe.
Subs: Federici, Distin, Stanislas, O’Kane, Iturbe, King, Grabban.

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sánchez, Özil; Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Walcott, Campbell, Coquelin, Iwobi.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
AP Photo/Raad Adayleh
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.