ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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Our weekly re-ordering of current quality following 34 rounds of league play. Remember, this is an index that combines where these teams are currently in form, along with considerations of the cumulative season results. (Thus, you might see a team like San Jose, which won’t make the playoffs, ahead of some clubs that probably will be a post-season participant.)

19. D.C. United – It comes to this: beat Houston at RFK Stadium this weekend or United will set a record for fewest wins in a season ever in Major League Soccer.

18. Chivas USA – The Goats can still say a little something about how the playoff race looks; another bad season for the StubHub Center’s second tenant finishes with a visit by Western Conference leading Portland.

17. Toronto FC – Ryan Nelsen’s team got a tough break in a penalty kick decision that was harsh at best, just plain wrong at worst. That was the decider in a 1-0 loss at Chicago.

16. FC Dallas – Good: Schellas Hyndman won his last home game, helping heap misery on the beleaguered Sounders in a 2-0 win in North Texas. Bad: two players nearly came to blows as they left the field at halftime.  Locker room accord? Not around there, apparently.

15. Columbus – The Crew hopes were realistically busted two weeks back, but a close loss at New England officially extinguished the hopes for post-season soccer. Does interim manager Brian Bliss stay around, or will the new ownership look for something more flashy?

14. Philadelphia Union – The Union’s ability to grind out results has not been as fierce over the season’s second half. Prime example: losing a lead at Montreal on Saturday, a result that kept John Hackworth’s team below the playoff red line.

13. Chicago Fire – Mike Magee’s 20th came from the penalty spot, but it was calmly converted by the league MVP candidate (pictured above) and put Chicago closer to the playoffs in a 1-0 win over Toronto FC. Chicago is in (playoff position) at the moment, but the footing is quite dodgy; they may need a result at New York to stay there.

12. Vancouver Whitecaps – Will manager Martin Rennie stay, or does he need to go? And will a season finale at home against the Colorado Rapids have anything to say about it? The Whitecaps, now eliminated, can finish with a winning record, at least. Rennie’s team is 12-12-9 going into the finale.

11. Montreal Impact – Marco Di Vaio’s 20th goal was the equalizer in a comeback win over Philadelphia. Marco Schallibaum’s club can probably sneak into the post-season with a draw Saturday at Canadian rival Toronto, but a win will definitely clinch a berth in the “second season.”

(MORE: MLS Round 34 week in review)

10. Seattle Sounders – The Sounders are in the playoffs, officially clinching late Sunday night. But the moment feels so small because Sigi Schmid and his Sounders backed in (qualifying because San Jose could manage just a draw in Los Angeles.) The Sounders are beat up and reeling, losers of four in a row and winless in six.

9. New England Revolution – Another week, another gutsy result keeps Jay Heaps’ team in the post-season hunt. And whatever we are all saying about 18-year-old Diego Fagundez, whose 12th goal was the huge game-winner Saturday over Columbus, it’s probably not enough.

8. Houston Dynamo – The Dynamo will probably need a victory at D.C. United, or Dominic Kinnear’s team will miss playoff soccer for just the second time in his eight years in Houston. Even a win will not guarantee a spot; Sunday’s 3-0 setback at home (where the Dynamo finished 9-4-4 at their previously impenetrable ground) was a huge blow.

7. San Jose Earthquakes – Alas for the Earthquakes, one of the best teams of MLS over the summer and early fall will not be in the playoffs. Sunday’s 0-0 draw in Los Angeles sealed the bummer deal. Left to sort out now is whether interim manager Mark Watson did enough to retain the position.

6. Colorado Rapids – When the Rapids beat Vancouver on Saturday night (eliminating the Whitecaps from post-season contention), they took a huge step toward securing a playoff spot. When San Jose could do no better than a draw late Sunday in Los Angeles, playoff soccer for the Rapids became a virtual certainty. Deshorn Brown scored again, continuing to solidify his Rookie of the Year case.

5. Real Salt Lake – Jason Kreis’ team has responded fairly admirably to that crushing U.S. Open Cup final loss in Utah. They followed a draw against Dallas (when playing most of the match with 10 men) with Saturday’s scoreless draw at Portland. Interestingly, Kyle Beckerman played along the right, rather than in his usual spot in the middle.

4. LA Galaxy – Bruce Arena had his best team available (at least for the start) of a big match against San Jose. Considering how badly the Earthquakes needed this one, and considering how good San Jose has been in gathering up points over the summer and fall, a 0-0 draw wasn’t bad for the Galaxy. L.A. will miss Juninho (suspended for yellow cards) in this week’s big regular season finales at Seattle, a match that could decide which of those teams finishes third and which finishes in the far less desireable fourth spot.

source: Getty Images3. Sporting Kansas City – Kansas City needs help for a Supporters Shield shot, but Peter Vermes’ team is in the second-best position, at least. If New York hiccups at home against Chicago – not impossible, considering the Fire will feel like post-season elimination is on the line – then SKC can grab the Week 35 Supporters Shield win. It won’t be easy for Vermes (pictured at left) and Co., however; Sporting is at Philadelphia, which will also be desperate for a result.

2. Portland Timbers – A scoreless draw at home means it was “mission accomplished,” for Portland, even if it didn’t feel that way. That single, earned point kept Caleb Porter’s team in the driver’s seat. A win this week at last-place Chivas would give his Timbers a Western Conference title and the conference’s best shot of bringing MLS Cup 2013 to the Rose City.

1. New York Red Bulls – Compared to some other, former Supporters Shield chasers, New York is barreling into the playoffs on a serious upswing. With an impressive 3-0 win (impressive in the result, if not exactly in the method), New York seized the opportunity to grab Supporters Shield with final-day win in New Jersey over Chicago. A draw or even a loss could possibly be enough, but Mike Petke’s team will surely want to keep the momentum going.

Vidal rips Ronaldo ahead of Confederations Cup semifinal

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Chile hopes to make a statement on Wednesday when it faces EURO 2016 champions Portugal and Ballon d’Or champion Cristiano Ronaldo.

The 2015 and 2016 Copa America champions can lay claim to another inter-confederation title with two more wins in the 2017 Confederations Cup, beginning with the semifinal in Kazan.

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Chile finished behind Germany in Group B but didn’t lose a match and only allowed two goals. That’ll be tested by Portugal and its seven goals in three matches.

Two of those goals came from Ronaldo, but don’t tell that to Arturo Vidal. Chile’s hard-edged midfielder doesn’t like him much.

From Goal.com:

“Cristiano is a smart ass,” he told reporters. “For me he does not exist.

“I have already told my Bayern Munich team-mate Joshua Kimmich that we will meet again in the final.”

Germany will have to take care of Mexico to make that happen, though we have a feeling a certain smart ass will have a thing or two to say before it’s all said and done.

Vidal has spoken loudly of his desire to get Chilean teammate Alexis Sanchez, a former Barcelona man, at his club Bayern Munich. If Ronaldo is on the market, this isn’t a great recruiting tool. Ah, jokes.

Trio of Crew players in Ghana roster to face USMNT, Mexico

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Ghana’s team to face the United States men’s national team on Saturday in East Hartford will look somewhat familiar to fans of Major League Soccer.

Columbus Crew players Harrison Afful, Mohammed Abu and Jonathan Mensah join David Accam of the Chicago Fire, and Gershon Koffie of the New England Revolution on a unit with Kwadwo Poku of the NASL’s Kwadwo Poku.

John Boye, Asamoah Gyan, and Mensah are the only three players from the loss to the USMNT in the 2014 World Cup.

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Like the U.S., this is a less than full-strength squad. Missing are a number of Black Stars standouts, with Andre Ayew, Jordan Ayew, Afriyie Acquah, Daniel Amartey, Emmanuel Agyemang-Badu, Christian Atsu, Jeff Schlupp, and Baba Rahman not with the team.

Saturday’s match is the last USMNT outing before the Gold Cup begins on July 8 in Nashville against Panama.

Goalkeepers: Addo Joseph (Aduana Stars), Richard Ofori (Wa All Stars)

Defenders: Lumor Agbenyenu (Munich 1860), Harrison Afful (Columbus Crew),  Nicholas Opoku (Berekum Chelsea), Jerry Akaminko (Eskiserhispor),  John Boye (Sivasspor), Rashid Sumalia (Al Gharafa), Jonathan Mensah (Columbus Crew), Samuel Sarfo (Liberty)

Midfielders: Mohammed Abu (Columbus Crew, Isaac Sackey (Alanyaspor), Ofori Ebenezer (Stuttgart), Kwadwo Poku (FC Miami), Winful Kwaku Cobbinah (Hearts of Oak), Frank Acheampong (Anderlecht), Thomas Agyepong (NAC Breda), Gershon Koffie (New England Revolution)

Strikers: Asamoah Gyan (Al Alhi), Raphael Dwamena (FC Zurich), Majeed Abdul Waris (Lorient FC), David Accam (Chicago Fire)

Timo Werner abused in Germany but key to World Cup defense

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The abuse has followed Timo Werner for months, gathering pace as rapidly as the striker has amassed goals.

No German player was more prolific in the Bundesliga last season. No player was as ostracized.

But Werner is now a full-blown Germany international, scoring his first goals at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, and he could hold the key to the World Cup defense next year.

[ MORE: USMNT’s 23-man roster questions ]

That could require Germany supporters to forgive a player they jeered at during his first competitive game for Joachim Loew’s team earlier this month.

“Kobe Bryant has also been booed everywhere and he always been the best,” Werner reflected ahead of Germany’s Confederations Cup semifinal against Mexico on Thursday, seeing a kindred spirit in the basketball great. “I do not want to say that I am the best like him, but (the abuse) is a bit of an incentive.”

If playing for the ascendant but deeply unpopular Leipzig wasn’t bad enough, a dive in December by Werner provided a focal point for the animosity – jealousy, perhaps – toward the Red Bull-funded team.

The insults have even been hurled far from Germany, far from soccer stadiums. The dive won a penalty against Schalke, and provided Werner with one of the 21 goals that helped to propel Leipzig into second place and a Champions League debut next season.

“There was a dive, he made a mistake and he admitted it,” Loew said, “but he is very, very young player.”

And a potentially very important one for Loew at the World Cup in Russia next year. Germany’s striking options are being assessed at the eight-team Confederations Cup as Loew still seeks a long-term successor to Miroslav Klose as target man for the world champions.

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Werner opened his account for Germany on his fourth appearance, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory over Cameroon on Sunday in Sochi.

“Werner put in a lot of legwork,” Loew said. “He showed how dangerous he is and that he’s got a great nose for goal. Both of his efforts were very well taken.”

Werner’s rivals for a place in the squad next year include fellow squad newcomers Lars Stindl and Sandro Wagner. They are both close to 30, while the 21-year-old Werner has youth, strength and speed on his side. Even Wagner said he has “never seen such a good striker at that age.”

That’s a result of Werner fusing his pace with intelligence on the ball, mastering dribbling at high speed first with Stuttgart and then at Leipzig.

“There’s no recipe for it,” Werner said. “The quickest players just know how to do it automatically. I like to knock the ball three or four meters ahead of me when I’m on the counter or have space in front of me, that way I can increase the distance between a defender and myself.”

Such proficiency should help Werner win over fans beyond Leipzig. Time, he hopes, will heal the fractures, and there’s certainly support from his new international teammates.

“I wish him well because of the issues he has had to endure,” captain Julian Draxler told Germany’s ARD television.

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

USMNT Gold Cup 23-man roster leaves some questions

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We have Bruce Arena’s 23-man United States men’s national roster for the Gold Cup, and there are more than a few surprises left out of the bunch.

Often a chance to experiment, those who thought this year’s Gold Cup roster would be one aimed at reclaiming glory with authority may be surprised to see the status quo.

Jurgen Klinsmann brought most of his big guns to the 2015 party — which didn’t go well for Brad Guzan and Co. — but Arena will roll into this summer’s tournament without most of his big names. There’s no Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Michael Bradley, Christian Pulisic, Clint Dempsey, nor Jozy Altidore.

Those aren’t huge surprises, though who Arena neglected from his original 40-man short list is a bit of a shock to the system (Players can be called into the mix after the group stage, which is a fairly simple affair for the USMNT to navigate versus Panama, Martinique, and Nicagarua).

Arena is going with Brad Guzan, Sean Johnson, and Bill Hamid in a trio that fails to impress. Hamid does have a big crowd of fans who’d like to see him get a chance to assert himself as the future, and hopefully either Johnson or Hamid finds time between the sticks against a serious opponent like Panama. No surprise that Tim Howard and Joe Bendik didn’t leap into the trio (EDIT: This post initially questioned the omission of Jesse Gonzalez, but his one-time switch from Mexico to the USMNT has yet to go through).

We’ll ignore the omission of Danny Williams for the most part considering he was absent from the 40-man list, but he must have said something seriously awful to Arena or someone at U.S. soccer.

The group of forwards leaves little to complain about, as Juan Agudelo and Dom Dwyer very much deserve their chances to compete for playing time with Sounders star Jordan Morris, but the midfield provides some head-scratching. Gyasi Zardes may be a longtime Arena favorite, but the Galaxy man has been ice cold in MLS. The 25-year-old has a single assist in almost 1000 minutes of play this season, and that came back on April 8. Tommy McNamara has not lighting the league on fire and Chris Pontius and his six assists are 30 years old, so much of the grief should be directed at the 40-man again, but Zardes has to embrace this opportunity. And maybe it’s a way to help the Galaxy and Zardes get a little mojo.

As an aside, Wil Trapp is among leaders in several MLS passing stats, which leads me to believe Arena is going to play Dax McCarty and Kellyn Acosta a ton and doesn’t see much of a need for Trapp in this tournament, not ever.

Defenders Steve Birnbaum and Jonathan Spector were not rewarded with looks, though Graham Zusi was included in what must be an arm reaching out for USMNT experience. Birnbaum is leading MLS in aerials won per game and Spector is by far Orlando’s top rated player since returning from England. Yes, Spector is 31 but this is about still qualifying for next summer’s World Cup, not the 2022 cycle. Spare a thought for Matt Polster, who has been decent since returning from a knee strain. This is nothing against Zusi, a consummate professional who won’t kill the team by any means and will be an tremendous asset in leadership.

What about you? Any other gripes? Or do you love the bunch?