PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 1

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Power Rankings have two problems: relevance, and transparency.

To the extent they can ever be relevant, Power Rankings lose their significance when they become nothing more than slight tweaks on the current standings. If a list tells you nothing more than the table and a form column, then we not just look at a table with a form column?

That’s where transparency comes in. Even if a ranking does look like the standings, it would be nice to know what the author’s trying to accomplish. Is the whole exercise nothing more than a reason to write two sentences about each team? Or is it to trying to convey something useful to the reader – information that might augment the league’s standings?

To be honest, it’s a product of what readers want. There’s a reason why almost every major site covering every major sport does Power Rankings. It doesn’t matter if it’s college football, where the sports’ actual standings is a power ranking. You’re still have sites give you their own views because that’s what people want. They want to you what you — person in the byline, entity on the masthead — want to contribute to the dialog.

We want to augment the basics. We want something that can complement the league’s standings to give you a more complete picture of where each team stands. Where the table tells you how a team’s performed in the past, we want these rankings to tell you how a team is likely to perform in the immediate future.

The test is this: If two teams played tomorrow, given their current injury concerns, form, and other considerations, who is likely to win on a neutral field? This list is designed to tell you who we feel is most likely to win that matchup. All things being equal, who is the best team going forward, based on what we know now?

So past results matter, but so does current form. Our goal is to take that information and evaluate how much each reflects a team’s ability to win tomorrow.

Will we always get it right? No. But hopefully, we’ll be consistent about what we’re trying to do.

Here’s our view of the league after Week One:

RANKING
Up/Down

1
Real Salt Lake: Last October, RSL went into Carson and lost 1-0 on its way to a second appearance in MLS Cup. On Saturday, it improved on that performance. Does that mean the team’s better on last year? Not necessarily, but it does mean RSL had the most impressive result of the season’s first round. (1-0-0)
source:  2
Sporting Kansas City: One week, on the road, resting players, against another highly ranked team, and it takes some 94th minute goalmouth chaos to sink you? Consider this me dropping Sporting one spot. I refuse to judge them too harshly. (0-1-0)
source:  3
Portland Timbers: The finishing was off, particularly Diego Valeri’s, but against a strong Union team, they still showed all the qualities that make them one of the Western Conference favorites. The underlying form, better than Saturday’s result, says the Timbers deserve a high spot. (0-0-1)
source:  4
Vancouver Whitecaps: The team’s 4-1 win over visiting New York sent a spectacular message to the rest of the league. That message: We have more firepower than any of you, and Carl Robinson might know how to use it. (1-0-0)

source:

5
LA Galaxy: An opening night loss is disappointing, but they generated a number of chances – chances a mortal goalkeeper’s less likely to stop. If RSL is really the league’s best team after week one, we can’t be too down on LA after playing them so close. (0-1-0)
source:  6
Seattle Sounders: Seattle’s only issue on Saturday was chance creation, something it still overcame in second half stoppage time. Given its opponents were a typically stingy Sporting KC, the lack of good chances was understandable. We’re still in “wait and see” mode on the offense, but the rest of the team looks solid, if not outright good. (1-0-0)
source:  7 Philadelphia Union: It’s about the solidity more than the result. If the Union would have gotten a lucky point in Portland on Saturday, they wouldn’t be ranked this high. But there was nothing lucky about it. Perhaps they’ll regress in the coming weeks, but after game one, the Union deserve this spot. (0-0-1)
source:  8
Houston Dynamo: This feels low for a team that posted the weekend’s most-lopsided result, but there was a momentum to Saturday’s game — one which was 3-0 Dynamo after 23 minutes — that limits how much we can learn from the result. What we know, though: Will Bruin has left 2013 behind him. (1-0-0)
source:  9 New York Red Bulls: Vancouver has the weirdest surface in the league, and New York only plays there once every two years. When they do, players like Thierry Henry and Jámison Olave don’t make the trip. Particularly considering two of the Whitecaps four goals game late, I’m not sure how much we learned about New York, other than Vancouver will always be a bad trip for this team. (0-1-0)
source:  10 Columbus Crew: The Crew places three players in our Team of the Week, so their performance made an impression. Before we start moving them too far up the rankings, however, we need to see them play against somebody other than D.C. United. Still, don’t let that diminish what was a very impressive opener. (1-0-0)
source:  11 Toronto FC: Did not play. (0-0-0)
source:  11 San Jose Earthquakes: Did not play. (0-0-0)

source:

11 Colorado Rapids: Did not play. (0-0-0)
source:  14
Chivas USA: The addition of Mauro Rosales paid immediate dividends, with the former Seattle Sounder producing the league’s only two-assist night. This team is going to be better than most people thought. (1-0-0)
source:  15
FC Dallas: Three points on opening night provided a great start to the Óscar Pareja era, but the absence of Marco Di Vaio, a questionable penalty, and the overall quality of their opponent leaves questions unanswered. (1-0-0)
source:  16
New England Revolution: An embarrassing performance at BBVA Compass Stadium carried an element of the aberrational. Jay Heaps better hope Jose Goncalves isn’t this bad every week; else, it’s back to 2012 with the Revolution. (0-1-0)
source:  17 Chicago Fire: Chivas USA is going to be better than last year, but despite the close score, Chicago were clearly second best to last year’s Western Conference cellar dwellers. Frank Yallop’s revamped defense gave up three goals. (0-1-0)
source:  18
Montréal Impact: In our alternative season preview we alluded to nobody knowing how good this team’s supposed to be. Week 1 didn’t provide any answers. They were without their only goal scorer yet still put up two. Against a Dallas team that’s going to need time under Pareja, however, they were down two by the 47th minute. (0-1-0)
source:  19
DC United: A 3-0 loss at home to a team that didn’t make last year’s playoffs, one that held a two-goal lead for most of Saturday’s match? For one week the nightmare that was 2013 back, with Ben Olsen’s team delivering an unexpected disappointment in game one. (0-1-0)

Barcelona cruise past Sevilla, lift historic 4th straight Copa del Rey

AP Photo/Francisco Seco
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MADRID (AP) Barcelona became the first team in 85 years to win four straight Copa del Rey titles after blowing away Sevilla 5-0 in the final on Saturday.

Luis Suarez scored twice, and Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, and Philippe Coutinho also made the scoresheet for Barcelona’s record-extending 30th Copa triumph, and sixth in the last decade.

Sevilla was trying to win a sixth Copa and save a season which will end without any trophies and maybe not even a place in the Europa League next season.

The final took place at Atletico Madrid’s Wanda Metropolitano Stadium in the capital amid the ongoing political turmoil involving Catalonia’s bid for independence.

There were jeers by part of the Barcelona crowd when the national anthem was played, but the boos were largely subdued by the reaction of the numerous Sevilla fans in the crowd. Spain’s King Felipe VI smiled and saluted the fans after the anthem.

No other team had won four Copa titles in a row since Athletic Bilbao from 1930-33. The only other team to do it was Real Madrid from 1905-08.

Barcelona lost a chance to win the treble when it was eliminated by Roma in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, but it is three points away from winning the Spanish league.

PL Sunday preview: Man City’s title trot; Wenger’s farewell tour

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Manchester City will play as the confirmed champions of the Premier League, though they won’t celebrate as such for a couple more weeks, on Sunday. Meanwhile, the only manager Arsenal have known for more than two decades begins saying goodbye

[ MORE: Man United come back to beat Spurs, reach FA Cup final ]

Arsenal vs. West Ham United — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

So begins the Arsene Wenger farewell tour, and with a London derby at that. Wenger announced on Friday that he’ll leave Arsenal at the end of the current season, which has little to no chance of seeing the Gunners finish in the PL’s top-five, let alone the top-four. Sunday’s clash with West Ham will be the first of Wenger’s three remaining games at the Emirates Stadium, including the Europa League semifinal against Atletico Madrid on Thursday. Unfortunately for Wenger, three of his final five PL games (four of seven in all competitions) will be played away from home, where his side has lost five straight in league play.

Speaking of lost and wayward seasons, 14th-place West Ham are almost mathematically clear of relegation (there’s currently three places and six points between themselves and 18th-place Southampton). It’s hardly the future they imagined upon moving to the London Stadium at the start of last season. Andy Carroll scored the late equalizer in the Hammers’ 1-1 draw with Stoke City on Monday, which rescued perhaps a perfectly timed point with all five remaining games to be played against sides currently in the top-nine (Arsenal, Man City, Leicester, Man United and Everton).

INJURIES: Arsenal — OUT: Henrikh Mkhitaryan (knee), Santi Cazorla (achilles); QUESTIONABLE: Jack Wilshere (ankle) | West Ham — OUT: James Collins (hamstring), Sam Byram (ankle), Winston Reid (knee), Michail Antonio (hamstring), Pedro Obiang (knee)


Stoke City vs. Burnley — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBC Sports Gold

Here’s what’s at stake at the bet365 Stadium on Sunday:

Stoke sit two places and five points adrift of safety from relegation, with four games left to play (17th-place Swansea City have a game in hand, to boot). After 10 seasons in the PL, it’s looking more and more likely that Paul Lambert (with a tip of the cap to Mark Hughes earlier in the season) will take the Potters back to the Championship for the first time since they won promotion in 2008.

Burnley trail Arsenal by just two points (though the Clarets have played one more game than the Gunners) in the race for sixth place. A sixth-place finish would be the club’s highest top-flight finish since 1966 (3rd).

INJURIES: Stoke — QUESTIONABLE: Eric-Maxim Choupo-Moting (groin) | Burnley — OUT: Steven Defour (knee), Scott Arfield (calf), Robbie Brady (knee), Jonathan Walters (fitness); QUESTIONABLE: Ben Mee (knock), Georges-Kevin Nkoudou (hamstring)


Manchester City vs. Swansea City — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

While Man City won’t lift the PL trophy until their May 6 clash with Huddersfield Town, Sunday’s visit from Swansea will be Pep Guardiola‘s side’s first outing since clinching the title courtesy of Man United’s defeat to West Bromwich Albion last weekend. Guardiola’s focus has turned to breaking the all-time PL points record (95 — they currently have 87 with five games still to play).

“In the past, I won the league at Bayern and at Barca with five, six or seven games (left) but the next games were not good,” he said this week. “We have to think about how many points we can get, it can be a good argument. What we need to do is already done, the points record is not the most important thing, but maybe it can help us to be focused. It would be uncomfortable to finish in a bad way, there always has to be a target and maybe scoring the most goals and winning the most points will be a good focus.”

INJURIES: Man City — OUT: Sergio Aguero (knee), Benjamin Mendy (knee); QUESTIONABLE: John Stones (thigh) | Swansea — OUT: Wilfried Bony (knee), Leroy Fer (achilles), Renato Sanches (hamstring)

LAFC erase 2-goal deficits to beat Montreal in 8-goal thriller

Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press via AP
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The game in 100 words (or less): LAFC are, by definition, an expansion team; they are, to the eye, also very much an expansion team, in that they experience drastic mood swings from one game to the next and, on a number of occasions already this season, from one half to the next — or, as evidenced in Saturday’s 5-3 win over Montreal Impact, one 15-minute period to the next. 2-0 down after 16 minutes, Larent Ciman wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole as his return to Montreal wasn’t going so swimmingly. The Belgian proceeded to score a stunning free kick eight minutes later. Montreal went down to 10 men and Evan Bush saved a penalty in the 33rd minute. Ignacio Piatti completed his hat trick on 43 minutes to restore the two-goal lead. LAFC score four second-half goals to run away with all three points, racking up 26 shots (18 of which were on target) in the process. Through two games this weekend, MLS has seen 14 goals scored.

[ MORE: Sporting KC increase West lead with 6-0 win over Vancouver ]

Three Four moments that mattered

24′ — Ciman’s free kick just about bursts through the back of the net — If not for the net, this ball continues to slowly rise until it cross the U.S.-Canada border and begins to orbit the planet in outer space.

43′ — Piatti smashes past Miller for 3-1 — Piatti takes his hat trick with aplomb, letting the ball bounce across his body before pulling it back across the face of goal and just inside the far post.

52′ — Feilhaber picks out the top corner for 3-2 — The comeback is on… again.

83′ — Vela bags the winner from the spot — Bush denied Marco Ureña from the spot in the first half, and so nearly did it again in the 83rd, but Carlos Vela’s effort crept over the line to make it 4-3.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage | MLS Three Things ]

Man of the match: Ignacio Piatti

Goalscorers: Piatti (9′, 16′, 43′), Ciman (24′), Feilhaber (52′), Raitala (57′ – OG), Vela (83′ – PK), Blessing (89′)

Mourinho’s message to Man United’s much-maligned stars

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LONDON — All week the talk was about Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez not being good enough for Manchester United and that they may be left out of the starting lineup for the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley.

On Saturday at Wembley they dragged their team back into the contest and past Tottenham Hotspur to reach the FA Cup final.

[ MORE: 3 things we learned ]

After a shaky start, Pogba’s powerful tackle on Mousa Dembele was followed up by a perfect cross to Sanchez who expertly headed home in, using every last muscle in his neck, to make it 1-1 in the 24th minute. United never looked back.

Pogba and Sanchez grew stronger as the game wore on and the latter bullied Kieran Trippier for United’s winner as the tireless Chilean speedster ran down a lost cause and helped set up Ander Herrera to score the winner.

The duo have been heavily criticized since the turn of the year with Pogba hauled out of the team by Mourinho, then having to deal with issues such as rumors about his United future following Pep Guardiola‘s claim that Man City were offered the Frenchman in January. While Sanchez has scored just twice in the Premier League since his January move from Arsenal which made him the best paid player in the Premier League and was left out of United’s lineup for the win at Bournemouth on Wednesday.

Mourinho had a message for his much-maligned stars after they stole the show at Wembley: he wants consistency.

“I told Alexis the same thing I told Paul a few weeks ago, I cannot expect my players to be Man of the Match every match. I cannot expect them to score goals every match. I cannot expect them to be perfect every match,” Mourinho said. “What I expect is a certain level that you don’t go below that. That level is the level of the basic things in the game. If you do the basic things of the game and then in some matches your talent appears and you makes the difference. That is fine. I am not waiting for Alexis the next match to score again and to be the Man of the Match. I just want him to be stable and I think  in Alexis’ case next season gives him much better conditions to be a top player for us.”

Despite their gutsy and pivotal displays, both Pogba and Sanchez (the Man of the Match) still showed glimpses of their poor form with wasteful passes from Sanchez and slack defensive play, early on, from Pogba. Their confidence still remains brittle but at least they showed their talent when it mattered most.

But the main thing is that they dug deep to grind out the win and keep United’s hopes of a piece of silverware this season alive. That is what top players do and both delivered, even if Pogba’s United future remains uncertain beyond this season. This was a game where the duo showed Mourinho they could be trusted to dig deep and after they combined for United’s equalizer they grew in confidence and, most importantly, did the dirty work to help United reach the final.

Pogba and Sanchez aside, Mourinho was keen to ask why United have so many critics, even though they are on course to finish second in the Premier League this season and the fact that he has reached his third major final out of six tries since he arrived at the club in the summer of 2016.

“This season is successful if we finish second. If we do a better Premier League than Spurs, Liverpool Chelsea and Arsenal, if we do that I think it is successful,” Mourinho said. “To break the 80-point target to finish second against an untouchable winner is good. To make a lot more points than last season to win more matches, to score more goals, to concede less goals, to have much better results against the top teams I think is a successful teams.”