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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.

2-time defending champions Sevilla back in Europa League final behind Gameiro brace

SEVILLE, SPAIN - MAY 05:  Kevin Gameiro of Sevilla FC celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the UEFA Europa League Semi Final second leg match between Sevilla and Shakhtar Donetsk at Estadio Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan on May 05, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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Sevilla is getting pretty good at this European competition thing.

The two-time defending Europa League champions are back in the finals after topping Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk 3-1 in Seville thanks to a pair from Kevin Gameiro plus an insurance goal from Mariano.

With the aggregate even at 2-2 coming into the second leg, Gameiro got things started in the ninth minute all by himself when he pilfered the ball off Maksim Malyshev in the attacking half and stuck it home into the far post. Shakhtar hit back just before halftime when former Arsenal striker Eduardo finished off a wonderful through ball by Marlos that split the Sevilla defense, tying things at 1-1 and the aggregate at 3-3.

[ MORE: Liverpool into Europa League final after running Villarreal ragged ]

But with Shakhtar still trailing on away goals, Sevilla put things away straight after the break when Gameiro again proved vital. The 28-year-old Frenchman took a feed from Grzegorz Krychowiak and finished from a very tight angle. Mariano left no doubt when he struck a stunning curler that bent inside the left post and put Sevilla 3-1 up.

Sevilla has not failed in European play since they dropped out of the Europa League qualification round to Hannover 3-2 on aggregate in August 2011. They won the title in 2014 on penalties after drawing 0-0 with Benfica in Turin, and they took down Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk 3-2 in last year’s final from Warsaw.

Liverpool 3-0 Villarreal: Sturridge sends Liverpool to Europa League final

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Jurgen Klopp manager of Liverpool celebrates as Bruno of Villarreal scores an own goal for their first goal during the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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For Liverpool in Europe, there’s just no place like home.

Back to Anfield down 1-0 to Villarreal in the Europa League semifinals, they turned the matchup on its head with a 2-0 win that sent the Reds to the finals in Switzerland. It’s their fifth straight win at home in European play, and the club is undefeated at Anfield in Europe since October of 2014.

The hosts were on the front foot from wire to wire, and who else but Daniel Sturridge provided the winner, a 63rd minute strike on a wonderful link-up with Roberto Firmino. Adam Lallana put the game away with 10 minutes to go, sending the Reds through.

Both sides looked as if they came to play, but Liverpool appeared the most dangerous, and they were rewarded just seven minutes in. A cross from Nathaniel Clyne was tipped by Villareal goalkeeper Alphonse Arreola and fell straight to Roberto Firmino on the far side. He popped back across the face of goal, and while Sturridge inexplicably whiffed with his sliding chance from point-blank range, his effort put off defender Bruno just behind him, and the ball skipped in off the defender’s hip for an own-goal.

[ RELATED: Two-time defending champions Sevilla book spot in Europa League final ]

The visitors appeared rattled by the opening goal, and with Liverpool pressing they nearly doubled the lead five minutes later. The ball finally cleared by Villareal, a wonderful tackle by Dejan Lovren prevented a counter and sent it back at them. James Milner threaded Adam Lallana through past the back line, but the England international put his off-balance effort just wide of the far post.

[ MORE: Liverpool program features Hillsborough tribute ]

Things got chippy past the half-hour mark, with the atmosphere tense. Roberto Soldado went down dramatically after Clyne brushed the back of his head which earned Clyne a caution. Denis Suarez was also lucky to not earn himself a card as well for a few hard challenges.

Following the halftime break, Liverpool came back out on top, with James Milner getting a big chance five minutes in, only to have his shot blocked straight to Areola.

As the Reds continued to push forward, they went two up and into the ascendency in the two-legged tie. A cross by Lallana deflected up front to Firmino, and he expertly unlocked the Villarreal defense sending Sturridge through, and the frontman slotted it home.

It would get worse for Villarreal as Ruiz earned his second yellow with 19 minutes to go as he felled Lallana on the edge of the box, picking up his second yellow and earning an early exit. Liverpool would capitalize, with Firmino cutting back to Sturridge in the box. The striker put a weak effort on net, but it bobbled to Lallana who spun and poked home with the outside of his foot to go 3-0 up and secure the result. Jurgen Klopp brought on Joe Allen for the final 10 minutes, and the hosts locked things down.

The Reds will take on defending champions Sevilla in the Europa League final on May 18 after the Spanish club took down Ukranian giants Shakhtar Donetsk 5-3 on aggregate.

Success, then sustainability. How Leicester City can keep it rolling next season

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - MAY 03:  Leicester reacts to Leicester City's Premier League Title Success on May 03, 2016 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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It’s well known by now that Leicester City beat 5000-1 odds to win the Premier League. Now that they’ve crested the mountain, staying there is a whole new challenge, one that will present even greater odds.

When Blackburn won the Premier League in the 1994/95 season, they were unable to bottle that season’s success, finding themselves in a tailspin that saw their manager resign by October of 1996, and the club was relegated in spring of 1997. Just by that case study alone, it’s clear that for a small club that finds untold riches, the prospect of saving for the future is one that can easily escape among the chaos of success.

If winning the Premier League is climbing Mt. Everest, then maintaining that success is traveling to Mars.

That being said, Leicester could not have picked a better time to catch lightning in a bottle. With the influx of money at an all-time high, the player pool deeper than ever, and other English clubs in a state of transition, now is the time to pounce on the foundation they’ve built.

So how should the Foxes ensure the club returns to glory? Here are a few general rules for Claudio Ranieri and the rest of the Leicester City management to follow.

Forget about winning the title again

Having beat the odds, shocked the world, and captured the crown, everyone from the players to the staff will be hungry for more. It’s human nature. The key is to fight that. For the club to be successful, they cannot go into next season with a goal of winning the Premier League. There’s nowhere to go but down.

[ RELATED: Will Leicester City keep their stars? ]

The key is to keep expectations in check. There will be many more distractions, many more theaters of war to battle, and many more fronts to cover. Should the team specifically gun for another title run, it may hinder the long-term goals. The saying goes “shoot for the moon; if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t apply here. Could it happen again? Who’s to say no after this year’s magical run? But that wasn’t their goal this season, and they’ll need to resist the lust for blood in the upcoming campaign.

Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has plenty of work in front of him this summer. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Leicester City chairman Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha has plenty of work in front of him this summer. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Don’t overspend

Money will be flying every which way this offseason. With every Premier League club earning a massive cut of the new television deals, there are sure to be much-inflated prices for lots of players. A sports marketing and data firm estimates this title run could be worth a massive $220 million to the club. Leicester’s own players will surely be tempted by heavy contracts and monstrous transfer deals.

What the club must avoid is overspending on one or two players. The staff must evaluate every player they scout, place a value on their head, and stick to that evaluation. Queens Park Rangers learned the hard way how overspending for players they wanted, and it cost them dearly when they could not stay in the Premier League. It’s hard to resist the temptation to plunk down big bucks for a flashy name, but it will only turn out poorly.

Build depth and anticipate injuries

The Foxes enjoyed untold luck this season on the injury front. None of their core group of players were injured for any significant length of time, and the club used the fewest players of any Premier League team this campaign. That is an anomaly. Next year, the club will need to significantly improve its depth, especially with Champions League play added to the Premier League, FA Cup, and League Cup competitions. European play has doomed many other smaller clubs looking to bigger pastures, so this is a must.

[ MORE: Claudio Ranieri’s best quotes and moments of the season ]

Unfortunately, depth is one of the most difficult things to achieve in sports. Players naturally want to play, and therefore luring talented players to sit on the bench and be an insurance policy is nearly impossible. This will be a puzzle that Ranieri must solve if Leicester is to navigate four separate competitions next season.

Crucial players such as Wes Morgan, Robert Huth, Riyad Mahrez, and others all maintained a pristine bill of health throughout the season (Photo: Getty Images)
Crucial players such as Wes Morgan, Christian Fuchs, Riyad Mahrez, and others all maintained a pristine bill of health throughout the season (Photo: Getty Images)

Develop a transfer plan

A number of Leicester players saw their value skyrocket this season. The likes of N'Golo Kante, Riyad Mahrez, Jamie Vardy, and Danny Drinkwater will be highly coveted players in the transfer window. In addition, there will be plenty of high-profile players on other teams who will be available and could be lured by money and Champions League play.

[ MORE: Game-by-game look at Leicester City’s magical season ]

It’s easy for fans and media to aimlessly shout “hold onto your players!” but we aren’t the ones with $30 million waved in our faces. It’s just as easy for those same sheeple to toss transfer targets out ad nauseam – hunker down, because it’s happening. The key for Leicester management will be to meet, develop a transfer plan, and stick to it. Some players may go, their price too valuable to turn down. Others will join, as the decision-makers determine what they need and where to fill those needs. Should they blindly follow the mad shoutings of the silly season, things will go downhill quickly.

Maintain their identity

Above all, the club must not lose focus on what makes it Leicester City. This is a vague and difficult notion to conceive, but nonetheless an absolutely vital one. The quickest way for a club – successful or not – to lose its supporter base is to deviate from what makes those supporters love the club. It’s hard to say exactly what that is, and only Leicester City supporters can truly identify what magnetizes them to the badge. It is management’s job to identify what makes the Foxes the Foxes, and do everything in its power not to stray from that feeling.

This is an important concept for every club from the first tier to the seventh, but it’s worth pointing out in this case particularly because newfound success can intoxicate those in power, leaving them vulnerable to violating this code. It is of the utmost importance that Leicester City stays grounded, and keeps true to who they really are as a club.

Liverpool game program for Europa League match features Hillsborough tribute

LIVERPOOL, UNITED KINGDOM - MAY 05:  Programmes for sale prior to the UEFA Europa League semi final second leg match between Liverpool and Villarreal CF at Anfield on May 5, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
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Ahead of today’s game against Villarreal in the Europa League semifinals, the Reds have paid a wonderful tribute to the 96 who passed away in the Hillsborough tragedy.

On the heels of last Tuesday’s verdict that cleared the crowd of any wrongdoing in the disaster, the game program for Thursday’s match featured the Anfield crowd visible through a giant “96” on the front. On the back, a list of the 96 who lost their lives stands alone, along with the ages of the fans when on that day, with a “96” flanked by the torches from the Liverpool crest.

The jury’s verdict found in a 7-2 majority that the 96 who died in the crush were “unlawfully killed” due to “gross negligence” on the part of David Duckenfield and the rest of his security staff. It also stated that “fan behavior did not contribute to the tragedy.”

Jurgen Klopp was also featured in the program, urging his team and the fans on with the quote, “Tonight we are at our home, we are back at Anfield. this is our place and it is a place where special moments happen.”