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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)

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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)

Europa League roundup: Manchester United through, Southampton bounced

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton is chased by Shir Tzedek of Hapoel Be'er Sheva during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The Europa League group stage finished up Thursday and a pair of Premier League teams are through, along with other big-name clubs.

Manchester United secured its spot in the knockout stage by beating Ukranian side Zorya 2-0 on goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paul Pogba looked incisive as well, feeding Zlatan on the second goal. They finish second in Group A after Fenerbahce beat Feyenoord on a wonderful overhead kick from bike specialist Moussa Sow, giving the Turkish club the group’s top spot.

Southampton, however, suffered a double blow as they needed a win or a 0-0 draw against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, but were dumped from the competition with a wild 1-1 draw after Maor Bar Buzaglo scored with 11 minutes remaining to send the Israeli club through. In addition, the Saints may have lost striker Charlie Austin for some time after he went down with what looked to be a dislocated shoulder, as trainers appeared to pop it back in as Austin lay on the pitch, before he came off in clear pain.

Group B finished with a tight margin. Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia defeated bigger brothers Olympiacos 2-0 with one early and one late. That sent Apoel clean through at the top of the club, while the Greeks took second. Olympiacos finished level with Young Boys on eight points, but the Greek club went through thanks to a win and a draw against their Swiss groupmates.

Group C ended even tighter as St. Etienne completed a stunning comeback, down 2-0 in the first half on the road at Anderlecht before coming from behind to win 3-2 with all three goals coming in a 12-minute span in the second half. That gave the French side the group win with 12 points, while the Belgians came in second with 11. FC Mainz won 2-0 over Qabala but finished third with nine points.

AZ Alkmaar’s wire to wire 3-2 win over Group D winners Zenit St. Petersburg saw them advance despite Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory, while Celta Vigo overtook Standard Liege to move on through Group G thanks to a 2-0 win over Panathanaikos. The Spaniards came into the day tied with Standard Liege on points, and the three points saw them through, while the Belgians were bounced after managing just a draw against group leaders Ajax.

Group F is the only question mark, as Genk and Sassuolo were meant to play, but the match was postponed due to signifncant fog cutting sight to essentially nothing at Mapei Stadium in Italy. Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, sits atop the group, but a 1-1 draw Thursday with Rapid Wien means Genk is still able to take over the top spot from the Spaniards with a draw or win.

Red Bull Salzburg caught FC Krasnodar on points thanks to a win over group leaders Schalke plus a Krasnodar loss to Nice, but it wasn’t enough thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, so Schalke and Krasnodar move through in Group I.

Finally, Villarreal secured a place in the knockout stages thanks to a late 2-1 win over 10-man Steaua Bucharesti. Manu Trigueros scored the winner in the 88th minute, pushing them clean into second behind Turkish club Osmanlispor who won the group with a 2-0 win over FC Zurich thanks to two late goals.

SCORELINES

Zorya 0-2 Manchester United
Southampton 1-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Feyenoord 0-1 Fenerbahce
Astra Giurgiu 0-0 Roma
AZ Alkmaar 3-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Standard Liege 1-1 Ajax
Inter Milan 2-1 Sparta Prague
Red Bull Salzburg 2-0 Schalke
Villareal 2-1 Steaua Bucharesti
Qarabag 1-2 Fiorentina
Sporting Braga 2-4 Shakhtar Donetsk
Anderlecht 2-3 Saint Etienne
Mainz 2-0 Gabala
Panathinaikos 0-2 Celta Vigo
Viktoria Plzen 3-2 Austria Wien
Konyaspor 0-1 Gent
PAOK 2-0 Liberec
Apoel Nicosia 2-0 Olympiacos
Young Boys 3-0 Astana
Osmanlispor 2-0 FC Zurich
Nice 2-1 Krasnodar
Sassuolo vs. Genk (postponed until Friday)

The draw for the Round of 32 will take place on Monday, December 12th.

ROUND OF 32:

Group winners: Fenerbahce, Apoel Nicosia, St. Etienne, Zenit St. Petersburg, Roma, Athletic Bilbao, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke, Fiorentina, Sparta Prague, Osmanlispor.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Olympiacos, Anderlecht, Anderlecht, Astra Giurgiu, Celta Vigo, KAA Gent, Krasnodar, PAOK, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Villareal.

Dropping down from Champions League: Ludogorets, Besiktas, Borussia Monchengladbach, FC Rostov, Tottenham Hotspur, Legia Warsaw, FC Copenhagen, Lyon.

Report: Messi, Aguero 18 minutes from suffering Chapecoense fate

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: A detailed view of the Chapecoense badge during a minutes silence ahead of the EFL Cup quarter final match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on November 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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According to a report by Brazilian Folha de São Paulo, a flight bearing the Argentinian national team was dangerously close to crashing in the same manner that saw much of the Brazilian club team Chapecoense tragically perish just a week ago.

The report states that the national team, bearing Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and other star players on November 11th, was traveling on the exact same plane that crashed on November 28th, and was 18 minutes from running out of fuel before landing in Buenos Aires. The British Aerospace 146 aircraft has a maximum fuel capacity for a flight of four hours and 22 minutes, and the trip from Belo Horizonte to Buenos Aires took four hours and four minutes, according to the report, citing flight logs.

Information disemminating from the November 28th crash shows the aircraft did not reach its destination due to a loss of fuel.

According to an editorial written by Airways Magazine editor in chief Enrique Perrella following the Chapecoense crash, it is a common occurrence in South America for pilots to routinely stretch the maximum flight distances for aircrafts, and to take fuel amounts dangerously close to actual flight time without much pushback. Many flight governing bodies around the world state minimum fuel requirements to be enough fuel for flight time plus distance to an alternate landing location plus an extra 45 minutes.

The Perrella editorial states, citing the flight plan for the November 28th crash, that the pilot for the plane carrying Chapeocense was also the owner of the airline, causing a conflict of interest. In the interest of saving fuel costs, he apparently registered enough fuel on his flight plan for the exact amount of flight time from Santa Cruz to Medellin – four hours and 22 minutes. When the plane was asked to sit in a holding pattern to allow another flight with mechanical problems to land, they ran out of fuel and crashed just a few miles from the destination.

Should all this information prove accurate, the not only was the accident clearly preventable, but it could have happened more than once, and clearly a change in culture is needed.

Southampton’s Charlie Austin suffers horror shoulder injury

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton stands over injured team mates Charlie Austin during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Charlie Austin could be out for some time.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]

In the first half of Southampton’s UEFA Europa League group decider against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Thursday — the Premier League side need a win or a 0-0 draw to the make the knockout stages — Saints’ top scorer Austin fell awkwardly when sending a header wide at the back post and landed on his shoulder.

What ensued was ugly to watch.

The Englishman was screaming in agony on the floor and it looked like he had dislocated his shoulder with Saints’ physios running on to treat him.

Austin, 27, is Saints’ top scorer this season with nine goals in all competitions and if he is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines, that’s a big problem for Saints.

The former QPR and Burnley forward has dislocated his shoulder on multiple ocassions before and had an operation on his right shoulder in 2014 when at QPR.

To succeed at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho must adapt again

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United looks on fromthe bench prior to the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United is not in the crisis everyone says they are.

No, they are not the ones in a crisis. Their manager, however, is a different story.

Throughout his career, Jose Mourinho has been quite adaptable. Through his wildly successful journey across four different European top flights, he’s been able to wire himself differently to fit each different league, and it’s worked. It hasn’t always made a lot of friends at each stop, but it’s worked – at least for a time, before burning to the ground. What Mourinho has not been able to do on a regular basis, however, is admit that he’s wrong.

Therein lies the identity crisis Jose Mourinho currently faces. He’s got it blatantly wrong at United, and to fix things in the short-term, he must admit his mistake, not publicly, but by making a critical change.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger discuesses Sanches, Ozil futures ]

Through two stints at Chelsea, the 55-year-old has found a formula that works in the Premier League: find a deadly striker, grab a goal or two, and sit on it. And it’s worked. Didier Drogba and Diego Costa got him the goals, while John Terry, Gary Cahill, Petr Cech, Michael Essien, and John Obi Mikel held those leads. In their title year of 2004/05, 17 of Chelsea’s 29 wins came while scoring two goals or less. The next year, they won the league again with 19 of 29 wins coming with two goals or less. In their last title season of 2014/15, 16 of Chelsea’s 26 wins came while scoring two goals or less. It was a seemingly simple formula, and with the right players he executed it to deadly perfection.

That, unfortunately, is what Manchester United doesn’t currently have, and it has Mourinho baffled. The right players.

You can see why Zlatan Ibrahimovic was attractive to Mourinho’s tactics. He is meant to be United’s Drogba. He is their Costa. And it’s working, to the tune of eight goals so far. What United doesn’t have is the lockdown defense Mourinho relies on, yet he continues to try and rely on it.

[ MORE: Swansea chairman backs Bob Bradley ]

In the nine matches Manchester United has dropped points in, they conceded first inside the opening 35 minutes four times (twice in the opening two minutes), and in three they’ve conceded in the final five minutes. The other two were 0-0 draws.

Mourinho has consistently blamed circumstance for United’s poor start. He’s partly right; United has been on the wrong side of crucial refereeing decisions, bad bounces, and a host of games where shot after shot after shot refuses to find the back of the net. Unfortunately, this is glossing over the real reason Mourinho’s bunch has failed to put up results indicative of their performances.

Manchester United’s defense just won’t cut it. Chris Smalling has served the club valiantly since coming over from Fulham at a young age, but at 27 years old he has failed to improve for a number of seasons, and will not find himself among any awards lists in the near future. Marcos Rojo has a horrific disciplinary record and can’t get out of his own way. Eric Bailly has looked a solid piece but has been injured, only just returning. Daley Blind is a versatile piece but still has not found his best position, and thus has found the bench instead. Phil Jones, still just 24, can’t be trusted. Luke Shaw can’t stay on the field. Matteo Darmian has been pressed into action and has yet to prove his worth.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 players in the Premier League ]

That’s not a bad defensive unit, but it’s certainly not a title-winning one. It’s a whole lotta “meh.”

Mourinho’s insistance on leaving Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a microcosm of the larger issue. Only just starting the $45 million signing for the first time in league play last time out, Mourinho has preferred the more possessive Jesse Lingard, despite Mkhitaryan’s ruthless attacking presence he proved last year with Borussia Dortmund, creating 82 chances in Bundesliga play, more than twice anyone else on the squad (hey look! he scored in the Europa League today because he’s actually getting time!).

[ VIDEO: Mkhitaryan scores in Europa League play ]

This team needs to attack, and they need to do it soon. If United can prove more ruthless at the front end, this team can pick up steam at a rapid pace. But for that to happen, Mourinho needs to adapt from his old ways and instead play to the squad he has. United can up the defensive unit in January and even next summer, but until that happens, this club will continue to suffer with the status quo.