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After strong first legs, can MLS teams advance in Champions League?

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Two wins and a draw. Had you asked MLS fans before this week’s CONCACAF Champions League action, they’d probably be elated. Fans know how difficult it’s been to compete with Mexico’s best. Real Salt Lake’s run in the 2010-11 tournament still serves as MLS’s bright spot since the tournament’s rebrand.

For this week to serve as more than a moral victory, though, MLS’s three survivors need to get something out of Mexico. For Sporting Kansas City and LA Galaxy, both up 1-0 after their first legs with Cruz Azul and Tijuana (respectively), clean sheets will get them through. Having held their opponents without a crucial away goal, though, each can take a major step toward the final four if they score in Mexico. Whether it be a shut out or a score, both teams will need something next week.

San Jose’s road is more difficult, but thanks to Alan Gordon’s 95th minute “Gonnie-ism” in Santa Clara, Mark Watson’s team has a chance. The 1-1 result against visiting Toluca was a minor set back (giving the Diablos Rojos that potentially crucial away goal), but one score on the road would immediately shift the scales.

(CCL Results: San Jose 1-1 Toluca | Sporting KC 1-0 Cruz Azul | LA Galaxy 1-0 Tijuana)

Here’s where Major League Soccer’s trio stands after leg one, what we learned in the process, and heir chances to advance to the semifinals after next week’s second legs in Mexico.

Best chance: LA Galaxy (up 1-0; leg two at Tijuana on Tuesday)

Bruce Arena’s team used an early Samuel goal and second half heroics from Jaime Penedo to take a 1-0 lead at on Wednesday night. Though the Galaxy gave up significantly more chances than their opponents, last year’s acquisition of their Panamanian international paid off. Perhaps the Galaxy can’t depend on Penedo stealing results every night, but on Wednesday, it worked.

The good news for LA: They’ll likely play better on Tuesday. Hopefully, they won’t seem so work down in the second half. They also have the least travel, won’t be playing at altitude (unlike their MLS partners), and are arguably facing the worst team. Though Tijuana is talented, they’re not one of the top teams in Liga MX’s current tournament (eight out of 18).

One PST reader took exception to the description after last night’s action, but winning 1-0 at home truly is the equivalent of holding serve. Anything less, and you’d be giving something to your opponents. On Wednesday, LA merely did what they were supposed to do.

In that sense, we didn’t get a good idea whether LA or Tijuana is actually the better team. All we know is that LA’s result leaves them with the fewest obstacles for any MLS team on the path to the semifinals.

source: Getty ImagesGood shot: Sporting Kansas City (up 1-0; leg two at Cruz Azul on Wednesday)

The defending MLS champions gave the league’s strongest first leg performance, out-playing Cruz Azul in the first half while limiting the number of chances they gave up in the second. Had Mariano Pavone buried his second half opportunity, Sporting would be sitting in San Jose’s shoes, but thanks to the effort of a former Earthquake defender, Ike Opara, the Cruz Azul attacker couldn’t prevent his team from leaving Kansas with a loss.

Next Wednesday, however, Liga MX’s leaders will be back at Estadio Azul. They’ll be at altitude and playing at a venue where they haven’t lost since September. The last eight opponents to visit La Machina have been outscored 12-3, with Luis Fernando Tena’s team registering at least one goal in each game.

Sporting’s best chance to reach the semifinals would be a clean sheet, but Cruz Azul’s recent history says that’s unlikely. If, however, Sporting can snare a goal, they won’t need a win to move on. The results América (1-1), Toluca (1-1) and Santos Laguna (1-2) have put up during Cruz Azul’s eight-game unbeaten run would be enough to see Sporting into the final four.

Toughest road: San Jose Earthquakes (1-1; at Toluca on Wednesday)

No mystery here: The team with the fewest advantages on the scoreboard has the worst chance of moving on. This job isn’t difficult, folks. I just plug into the machine and let the obvious poor out.

There are other factors that make San Jose’s plight more difficult. They’ll be traveling the longest distance of MLS’s three quarterfinalists. They need to score twice to see the away goals rule work in their favor. They also may face a stronger Toluca side in leg two. Whereas José Cardozo left some of his best players out of his starting XI in Santa Clara, there’s no guarantee he’ll do the same in Mexico.

There is another, more basic reason why San Jose should be seen as a bigger underdog: They may not be as good as Sporting or LA. Between where the teams finished last season and the talent they’ll take into next week’s second legs, the Earthquakes aren’t quite on the same level as their MLS colleagues. Unfortunately, they’re facing a team that sits second in Mexico.

Let’s not get too pessimistic about this, though. What San Jose does well should come in particularly handing in the close games that are more likely to transpire in Champions League. If they can stay within one going into the match’s last stages — if they can take advantage of late defensive substitutes that lead to games being played in their opponent’s end — the Goonies may yet continue on their quest for Champions League gold.

Chelsea wins the League… of Hate; Bournemouth, Leicester not hated

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 27:  Diego Costa of Chelsea celebrates his team's second goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Southampton and Chelsea at St Mary's Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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A family of English newspapers conducted its annual survey of which teams are the most hated in the Premier League, and there’s a new champion.

Manchester United has dropped to second in the table to Chelsea in what the Manchester Evening News called the “League of Hate”.

[ MORE: Rooney’s England position not set ]

According to the MEN, 10,000 fans were quizzed on their love and hate:

A national survey asked fans of each top flight club which sides they hate, and which they love, and the west London club came out as the most disliked club overall.

United, who won the dubious accolade last year, have been revealed to be the next most reviled side.

It’s no surprise that the league’s more successful sides sit atop the table while newer PL clubs like Bournemouth and Burnley are not reviled. That said, Leicester’s dream story has them 19th. How much more success do they need to have before shooting up the hate table?

Here’s the Top Five, and all results:

1) Chelsea
2) Manchester United
3) Liverpool
4) Manchester City
5) Arsenal

Allardyce will use Rooney where he’s playing for Manchester United

BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - JULY 25:  Newly appointed England manager Sam Allardyce poses after a press conference at St. George's Park on July 25, 2016 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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England manager Sam Allardyce is going to choose the best players going, and play them where they’re playing for their club.

Joe Prince-Wright has a full write-up on Allardyce’s unveiling here, as the English boss says Wayne Rooney will play for his country in the same spot as his club.

[ MORE: Cresswell out four months ]

So it seems Jose Mourinho’s preference at Manchester United will help dictate where England’s leading scorer will line up.

From the BBC:

“I still think Wayne Rooney has a massive place to play in the England side,” said the 61-year-old.

“If Jose says he is not going to play him in centre midfield and he is playing up front and scoring goals for Manchester United then it would be pointless me bringing him into England and playing him in centre midfield.”

Those comments will have anti-Jurgen Klinsmann folks nodding their heads in approval. That said, Allardyce isn’t exactly going out on a limb, as Rooney is widely expected to play deeper for United with strikers like Anthony Martial, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marcus Rashford also around.

FIFA bans council member Niersbach in World Cup bids probe

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - FEBRUARY 26:  FIFA Executive Committee member Wolfgang Niersbach looks on during the Extraordinary FIFA Congress at Hallenstadion on February 26, 2016 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
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FIFA council member Wolfgang Niersbach, a member of FIFA’s ruling council, was banned from soccer for one year on Monday in the first sanction from the investigation into Germany’s 2006 World Cup bid.

FIFA’s ethics committee found Niersbach guilty of failing to report findings about possible unethical conduct and conflicts of interest during the bidding process.

Niersbach, who was a vice president of the 2006 World Cup organizing committee in charge of media and marketing, described the punishment as “inappropriate and excessive.”

[ MORE: Cresswell out four months ]

Last year, Niersbach had been considered a possible successor to UEFA President Michel Platini before resigning as president of the German soccer federation when allegations against the bid first surfaced.

Niersbach retained his elected positions on the top decision-making bodies at both FIFA and UEFA. He is the first member of the rebranded FIFA Council, which replaced the discredited executive committee in May, to be sanctioned by the ethics division.

“This decision hits me hard,” Niersbach said. “I was confident after last Thursday’s hearing in Zurich that the ethics commission would not impose a ban, but that it would follow my argument that I am only to blame for a belated report on the critical payments between the 2006 World Cup organizing committee and FIFA in 2005, of which I gradually became aware in the summer of 2015, and that it would set a different punishment.

“I acknowledged my mistake and regretted it again.”

Niersbach is consulting his lawyers about whether to appeal against his ban.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Swiss federal prosecutors, and German criminal and tax investigators, also have wider ongoing criminal cases into the 2006 World Cup – a hugely successful tournament at the time which the host nation called its “Summer Fairytale.”

The probe involves irregular seven-figure payments and contracts during the bidding process and organization of the World Cup implicating senior officials.

The main FIFA ethics case focuses on former Germany great Franz Beckenbauer, who headed the World Cup organizing team and joined the FIFA executive committee in 2007; Theo Zwanziger, who replaced Beckenbauer at FIFA in 2011; Horst Schmidt, vice president of the World Cup organizing panel; and Stefan Hans, chief financial officer for the organizers.

In February, an inquiry report commissioned by the federation tried to explain a complex trail of payments of 6.7 million euros ($7 million) and 10 million Swiss francs ($10 million) that linked Beckenbauer, then-FIFA president Sepp Blatter, FIFA powerbroker Mohamed bin Hammam of Qatar and Robert Louis-Dreyfus, the late former Adidas executive and part owner of Swiss marketing agency Infront.

The report, by law firm Freshfields, did not rule out, but could not prove, that votes were bought when Germany beat a Nelson Mandela-supported South Africa bid in a 12-11 vote of FIFA executive committee members in 2000.

West Ham loses ex-Hammer of the Year Cresswell for four months

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Aaron Cresswell was one of the stalwarts of the last two Premier League campaigns, a good crosser capable of lung-busting runs and the occasional brilliant shot.

So it’s a significant blow for West Ham United to be without him for the next four months.

[ MORE: Does Pogba match his fee? ]

Cresswell has played in 75 of the Hammers’ 76 PL matches since arriving from Ipswich Town in 2014, and was injured in a 50/50 play against Karlsruher SC this weekend.

He may not need surgery to repair the knee ligaments, but is out nonetheless.

From WHUFC.com:

Head of Medical and Sports Science Stijn Vandenbroucke explained that Cresswell had undergone a scan and will consult a specialist in central London early next week. The medical team will then take a decision whether or not the defender requires surgery.

“Whatever course of action we decide to take, Aaron faces a period of rest, followed by treatment and rehabilitation and he will be out for a period of between three and four months,” said Vandenbroucke.

Left back isn’t a position of strength for most teams, and West Ham doesn’t look to be an exception.

Vandenbroucke also issued an update on Manuel Lanzini, saying the club won’t know his status until the attacker returns from Argentina duty. Lanzini was injured with Argentina’s Olympic team while preparing for the Games in Rio.