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MLS Week in Review: Round 34

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Who clinched … and who is now eliminated

As the weekend began, 13 teams were still in contention for 8 unclaimed playoff spots. Some were more “in contention” than others, so to speak. Still, that’s an impressive number, all things considered. But the picture looks much different this morning.

We know the five playoff teams from the West, even if it’s something less than official: Portland, Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles, Seattle and Colorado will take part in the post-season. San Jose maintains a mathematical chance but would have to score a ridiculous number of goals next week, and have help. That won’t happen.

In addition to New York and Kansas City, who have clinched, five teams now remain eligible for three remaining spots out of the East: Montreal, Chicago, New England, Houston and Philadelphia.

Columbus and Vancouver were the teams officially eliminated over the weekend, along with (unofficially) San Jose. Here’s how the standing look; pay attention to that telling red line, which indicates the teams now in playoff position:

source:

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Still much to play for

Even in the West, there’s still plenty to talk about with Round 35 coming up. Much of it is about teams seeking first, second or third. Remember, the fourth- and fifth-place finishers fact an extra playoff round, and one that puts them on the spot in terms of travel and packing matches into a small window going into the next round. That, and for some teams it’s also about …

Supporters Shield race

New York seized the inside track with a resounding (and somewhat shocking) 3-0 win over Houston. Sporting Kansas City and Portland remain within striking distance, but they both finish on the road. New York is the only club that controls its own Supporters Shield fate – and Mike Petke’s team has a winnable contest at home against just-hanging-on Chicago.

One MLS match is up Wednesday, then a full round of (nine) weekend matches will decide it all.

The quick goal – the quickest goal ever in MLS

When Deshorn Brown needed just 14 seconds after kickoff to score a few weeks ago, it was the second fastest goal in MLS history. Of course, Brown’s goal came at a loiterers pace compared to Tim Cahill’s doings. Cahill scored the fastest goal in MLS history, just seven seconds into New York’s 3-0 win at Houston.

Here’s his goal from BBVA Compass Stadium in South Texas on Sunday:

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Yes, Seattle is in the playoffs

There surely wasn’t any car honking in the streets, but Seattle did, in fact, qualify late Sunday night for the playoffs. It probably falls as cold comfort to Sounders fans, who have seen their team struggle so mightily over the last few weeks – and who cannot feel good about their team going into the post-season. (Although getting some players healthy will surely help.) Either way, it brings us to this …

The growing Dempsey debate

We might be talking even more about the Seattle Sounders unbelievable late-season collapse; Sigi Schmid’s struggling club is winless in six, having lost four in a row after yet another setback over the weekend, a 2-0 loss to Dallas. We would be, except that the growing Clint Dempsey discussion is a bit distracting. The count is now up to eight. As in, eight with no goals and no assists for the Sounders. It’s certainly not all the U.S. international’s fault. In fact, not much is his fault. The team looks simply awful. And, yes, expectations were unfairly exaggerated. But that’s what you get with transfer fees well into the millions, and with being the league’s highest paid man.

Two 20-goal scorers … and a great Golden Boot race

Marco Di Vaio and Mike Magee scored Saturday, both moving their goal total to 20 for the season, both still in contention for Golden Boot. And it’s fair to ask if a league MVP will go along with this year’s Golden Boot? It will certainly be an influence on voters.

Then again, Vancouver’s Camilo could still have something to say about it. He also scored on Saturday, although in a loss that saw his Whitecaps officially eliminated.

Best goal in Round 33

Considering not just the technical merit, but also that it was a game-winner for Colorado, Gabriel Torres’ wonderful left-footed strike against Vancouver checked a lot of boxes. It will go a long way toward getting his Rapids into the playoffs. And it put the Whitecaps out.

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Klopp hopes for speedy solution in club, fans’ ticket-price dispute

Liverpool's fans wave flags during the English League Cup semifinal second leg soccer match between Liverpool and Stoke City at Anfield stadium in Liverpool, England, Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Super)
AP Photo/Jon Super
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From his time at Borussia Dortmund, Jurgen Klopp is used to a much more positive, family-like, everyone-pulling-in-the-same-direction atmosphere at his club of employment, so the present goings-on at Liverpool understandably have the Reds’ first-year manager feeling more than a little uneasy.

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Saturday’s late 2-2 draw with Sunderland wasn’t the first time Liverpool fans have headed for the exit before the final whistle, leaving Klopp feeling all alone, but it was the first time the fans have departed from Anfield early in a pre-planned, organized manner (Klopp missed the game himself with appendicitis). The Anfield faithful didn’t walk out on 77 minutes due to their team’s poor performance — Liverpool were 2-0 ahead at the time — but in protest of steadily rising ticket prices, which were unveiled at $111 per game to sit in the 132-year-old stadium’s new main stand next season.

Klopp, coming from the Bundesliga, where a season ticket at clubs the size of Bayern Munich and Dortmund doesn’t cost much more than a single-game ticket at many Premier League grounds, understands the fans’ frustration. At the end of the day, though, he works for the club, which is why he just wants the whole thing settled quickly, for the sake of his squad — quotes from the BBC:

“It’s not what we want. What I know is everyone in the club has a big interest in finding a solution for this. We don’t want people to leave the stadium before the game is finished.”

An LFC TV appearance by Liverpool chief executive Ian Ayre, in which he was expected to answer fan-submitted questions, was consequently canceled on Monday due to the ongoing dispute.

West Ham want Payet to sign new contract for fear of losing him this summer

Dimitri Payet, West Ham United FC (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
AP Photo/Frank Augstein
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Dimitri Payet is going to be a red-hot commodity during this summer’s transfer window, there’s no doubt about it.

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Given he’s currently contracted to one of the Premier League’s “smaller” clubs — in comparison to some of the giants which are bound to be interested — West Ham United, there’s a decent-to-good chance he could be wearing a different club’s shirt come August. Especially if the 28-year-old attacker shows up and shows out at this summer’s European Championship in his native France.

If I can foresee the interest in Payet, then so too can the executives at West Ham, which is why manager Slaven Bilic took to the press on Monday to convey his desire for Payet to consider signing a new, increased contract at his earliest convenience — quotes from the Guardian:

“We are moving, the club is moving, with the new stadium, with the revenue and everything. We have to move and the most important move is to keep your best players and to add some new players who are needed and Dimitri Payet is our best player — I have no problem whatsoever to say that. Of course, I would love to have him happy, long term, at the club.”

Of course West Ham want Payet to sign a new deal immediately — doing so would accomplish two things in the club’s eyes: 1) increase the likelihood he remains at the club next season, or 2) insure the club receives a higher transfer fee for the player if he leaves in the summer anyway. The more total money remaining on his West Ham contract, the more they can demand of a prospective buyer.

[ MORE: Ronaldo commits himself to Real Madrid through 2018 ]

From Payet’s side — unless he has absolutely zero desire to move to a club like Liverpool, Chelsea or Manchester United, where he’d likely be paid close to $200,000 per week — he’d be crazy to sign a new contract at this point. Not only would it make a move this summer more difficult, but a strong showing at EURO 2016 could be worth another $15,000 or $20,000 per week on a new contract with West Ham (his current contract is rumored to be close to $100,000 per week).

With as many as five seasons still remaining on his current contract (a one-year club option can be exercised at any point), and his stock perhaps at an all-time high, the next six months could hold Payet’s last chance to get really, really paid before he hits the downside of his career.

USWNT players’ union responds in USSF lawsuit

FILE - In this Sunday, July 5, 2015 file photo, the United States Women's National Team celebrates with the trophy after they beat Japan 5-2 in the FIFA Women's World Cup soccer championship in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The U.S. Soccer Federation’s original lawsuit against the union for its champion women’s national team has been sealed after the governing body realized it had disclosed the home addresses and email accounts of many players, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2016.(AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
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(AP) — The union that represents the Women’s World Cup-winning American national team opposed an expedited schedule in the lawsuit filed against it by the U.S. Soccer Federation last week, insisting no collective bargaining agreement exists.

The federation sued in an attempt to establish it has a contract with the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Players Association that runs through this year’s Olympics until Dec. 31. The union maintains the memorandum of understanding agreed to in March 2013 can be terminated at any time.

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The USSF filed a motion Friday in U.S. District Court in Chicago asking for an expedited schedule, and the submitted opposition papers Monday that claim “facts asserted in the motion are nowhere near accurate and are hotly disputed.”

The union also maintains the USSF knew about the disagreement since July but did nothing about it.

An initial status conference is set for April 4.

Lionel Messi to undergo tests for lingering kidney problems

FC Barcelona's Lionel Messi holds the ball during a quarterfinal, second leg, Copa del Rey soccer match against Athletic Bilbao at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona, Spain, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Manu Fernandez)
AP Photo/Manu Fernandez
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Barcelona says Lionel Messi is to undergo medical tests to assess a recurrence of kidney problems.

[ MORE: Saturday’s La Liga roundup | Barca win on Sunday

Messi missed the Club World Cup semifinal in December due to a renal colic, an abdominal ailment often related to the presence of kidney stones within renal ducts.

Barcelona says in a statement Monday that the tests to be conducted by Tuesday at the latest, are “to assess the evolution of the kidney problem he suffered last December.”

[ MORE: Champions League returns next week — KO round matchups ]

The statement says Messi will resume training with the squad on Wednesday, when Barcelona travels to Valencia for the return leg of the Copa del Rey semifinals in which it carries a 7-0 lead.