PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 2

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This is where Power Rankings can be helpful. Through two weeks, Houston is Major League Soccer’s only team on six points, but it’s almost impossible to make the case that it’s the best team in the league. Where we’re trying to judge which team is MLS’s best right now, it was difficult to look at Saturday’s performance at BBVA Compass and say “this is the league’s best team, right now.”

Montréal was just as good as them all night. This is the same Impact team that lost at Dallas in week one; the same Impact team that wasn’t able to get home between games. Just like last year, when the Impact started the season in Cascadia, Montréal spent this year’s first two games away from Quebec. But whereas last season they took six points out of the Pacific Northwest, the team left Texas with only one.

They probably deserved a second in Houston. Though I wrote positively of Houston’s control on Saturday night, a second viewing of the game showed how wrong I was. Particularly in the first half, Montréal looked the better side, its attack taking advantage of the lack of speed between David Horst and Jermaine Taylor. A massive deflection allowed Will Bruin to put Houston in front, giving them a lead they preserved through the final whistle. It was a well-earned victory, but it also wasn’t a performance that was much better than its opponents.

The same could be said for Real Salt Lake, who were drawn in San Jose. But last year’s Western Conference champions were on the road. They were playing superior opposition (at least, superior to Montréal). They ended up with a result  a number of teams are not going to be able to take out of Buck Shaw. RSL’s draw was more impressive than Houston’s win. You don’t drop them just because their record is no longer as good.

Remember: The goal here is is augment, not emulate, the standings. If somebody looks at the league standings and sees the Dynamo two points ahead of the pack, hopefully they’ll see this list and know Houston played both of their games at home, against teams they should beat, and didn’t look like the league’s best its most recent performance.

Here’s the rest of ranking, after Week Two:

RANKING
Up/Down

1
Real Salt Lake: San Jose is unbeaten in 20 at home. Leaving Santa Clara with one point is nothing to worry about. RSL will be upset that they gave up two goals late, but they’re hardly the first team to succumb to the Earthquakes. San Jose deserves credit. We can spare Jeff Cassar’s team any blame. (1-0-1)
source:  2 UP 6
Houston Dynamo: This ranking leaves my brow slightly furrowed because Houston wasn’t particularly good on Saturday. A fluke goal is all that separated it from Montréal. At home. Their larger body of work, however, has them perfect through two rounds with a big 0 in the goals allowed column. We just need to see what they do away from home, and against better competition. (2-0-0)
source:  3 UP 4 Philadelphia Union: Two straight strong performances, and if it wasn’t for Houston’s week one result against New England, Philadelphia would be higher. It’s difficult to justify putting the Union above the Dynamo when Dom Kinnear’s team was three goals better against New England. But number three? I’m not sure many Union fans will complain about that. (1-0-1)
source:  4 UP 7 Toronto FC: Seattle make it easy for them in the first half at CenturyLink. If it wasn’t for that, the Reds would be higher. After their 2-1 win in Seattle, it will be nice to see Jermain Defoe and Michael Bradley go up against a team that isn’t going to donate to two early goals. (1-0-0)
source:  5 DOWN 3
Sporting Kansas City: The only thing keeping them this high is their need to balance Champions League against league. In MLS, they’ve yet to score from open play and allowed themselves to be drawn at home by Dallas. But if our mandate is to tell you who’s likely to be better next week, the past only means so much. At least, it only means so much when we’re talking about Sporting. (0-1-1)
source:  6 DOWN 3
Portland Timbers: Two weeks, two draws, and enough time to ask some legitimate questions. When will Norberto Paparatto stop making mistakes? And when will the team start finishing their chances? That they’re generating a series of good ones keeps the Timbers this high, but if they continue to struggle finishing them, Portland will continue to fall. (0-0-2)
source:  7 UP 4 San Jose Earthquakes: San Jose just drew the best team in the league, bringing back memories of 2012 while doing so. Considering Real Salt Lake was coming off a 1-0 win in Los Angeles, the result looks like a great one for the Earthquakes. Of course, you want to open with a win at home, but RSL is a very good team. San Jose may have been poor in the first half, but in the second, it made up for it. (0-0-1)

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8 DOWN 3
LA Galaxy: Did not play. Just got passed in the rankings by a few impressive teams. (0-1-0)
source:  9 UP 1 Columbus Crew: Did not play. (1-0-0)
source:  10 DOWN 4
Seattle Sounders: The problems creating chances they had against Sporting went away in the second half against Toronto. Too bad they were chasing two goals, a game state that allowed Ryan Nelsen’s conservative tactics to work in Seattle’s favor. Defensive errors in the first half give Sigi Schmid something else to worry about. Surprise, surprise: The team that made a ton of offseason changes is a work in progress. (1-1-0)
source:  11 UP 3
Chivas USA: The Goats have given two strong performances with none of their players performing significantly beyond expectations (with the possible exception of Thomas McNamara). Some will see 11 as too high, but they’re judging the reputation; not the performance. Chivas USA has been good, and while we can expect some regression, it’s unclear when that will come. (1-0-1)
source:  12 DOWN 8
Vancouver Whitecaps: Their performance in Carson lent credence to the notion the Whitecaps caught New York at the right time (and, in the right place). That array of attacking talent that stunned the Supporters’ Shield winners in British Columbia was nowhere to be found against Chivas. With an extra man, they should have taken full points. For much of the game, they looked aimless. (1-0-1)
source:  13 UP 2
FC Dallas: Sporting Kansas City dominated play, but FC Dallas only conceded from a late corner. Play that match again (or, play it with Graham Zusi), and Dallas isn’t going to be so fortunate, but we did learn something about Óscar Pareja’s team in the process. Even without George John, the capable of staying organized in their defensive third, even if they had trouble doing so at times against Montréal. (1-0-1)

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14 DOWN 3 Colorado Rapids: They needed a late, unfair whistle against Jámison Olave to salvage a result at Red Bull Arena, but the Rapids’ performance around that moment was decent. Granted, Colorado looked nowhere near as cohesive or threatening as the team that made last year’s playoffs, but they were also on the road against last year’s Supporters’ Shield winners. Overall, it was a good point, even if the performance leaves us with questions as to whether they can recapture 2013’s magic. (0-0-1)
source:  15 UP 1
Montréal Impact: I originally had Impact two spots lower, but after writing up New York and Chicago’s descriptions and remembering how well Frank Klopas’s team played at Houston, I had to move them up. Montréal may have had a bad opener at Dallas, but they were Houston’s equal on Saturday. And Houston’s number two on this list. (0-2-0)
source:  16 DOWN 7 New York Red Bulls: Mike Petke’s team looked much better in week two; then again, it would have been almost impossible not to. Shaking up his midfield, Petke got a result, but home against Colorado, he should have expected full points. It’s not even clear his team was the better side (or would be, if they played the game again). A seven spot drop is drastic, but Saturday provided new perspective on the performance in Vancouver. New York doesn’t look good. (0-1-1)
source:  17 Chicago Fire: A great result in Portland, but one that requires some context. Norberto Paparatto gave them their first half lead, after which the Fire only generated a few chances toward Portland’s goal. The Timbers created a number of chances that would have equalized before Gastón Fernández came through. Against a team with better finishers, the Fire would have been in trouble. (0-1-1)
source:  18 DOWN 2 New England Revolution: Possibly the most disappointing team in the league through two rounds. Not only have they lost, they haven’t been particularly close to getting a point. Granted, Diego Fagundez almost oet the Revolution on the board Saturday, but the way Philadelphia played, New England seemed destined to lose that game. The Jose Goncalves situation has unsettled the defense, which Jay Heaps needs to perform at last year’s levels to replicate those results. (0-2-0)
source:  19
DC United: Did not play. (0-1-0)

At 0-2, Americans understand stakes in World Cup qualifying

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SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) – Michael Bradley sees no reason to keep harping on that 4-0 loss at Costa Rica four months ago.

Yes, it’s still fresh in the Americans’ minds, a night every mistake snowballed into another.

“There is zero point in continuing to look back on that at the moment,” Bradley said. “We are where we are. Now it’s about on Friday night beginning this process of moving ourselves back up the table and stepping on the field from the first minute and playing a really aggressive way that ultimately leaves no doubt as to who’s stepping off the field, win or lose.”

Bruce Arena’s U.S. squad gets a fresh start in World Cup qualifying Friday against Honduras, and the pressure is on following the home country’s first 0-2 start in the North and Central American and Caribbean region’s final round.

“We understand the position we’re in,” Bradley said. “There’s no need for anybody on the outside to put any more pressure on us than we’ve already put on ourselves, because we didn’t start the hex in the right way. We put ourselves behind the eight ball. We’re honest and real enough with ourselves to understand that. Friday night is the beginning of our chance to put things right and get ourselves back in a good position. … We need guys to step on the field and understand the moment, not be fazed by it, go for it in a fearless way and have a big group of guys play really well.”

Forward Jordan Morris’ status for Friday appears in question after he missed a third straight day of practice Wednesday because of an ankle injury sustained Sunday with the Seattle Sounders. Morris rehabbed in the gym, the U.S. Soccer Federation said.

“Have you followed our team at all the last month? You think that’s going to be something that’s going to bother me?” Arena said at the start of the week when asked about health concerns. “We’re fine. We’re going to have 11 good players on the field on Friday.”

For those who do play, Bradley said it is paramount everybody brings his best game. Same goes for the Americans’ next match in Panama on Tuesday.

While the man in charge has changed – Arena replaced the fired Jurgen Klinsmann in November for a second stint as U.S. coach – and more Major League Soccer players were called upon this time than in November, Bradley insists the approach remains simple: Find a way to win.

“We stepped on the field in Costa Rica wanting to win. That desire to win is obviously still there, so in terms of the basic idea of stepping on the field and trying to play well and go for it in the right way and come away with a positive result, that part’s still the same obviously,” the longtime captain said. “There’s no two ways about it, we let ourselves down in Costa Rica. We didn’t play well enough. Mistakes turned into bigger mistakes, which turned into bigger mistakes, and so it all comes together in a way that you can lose a game in a bad way.”

And, there are many faces who have been on the big stage – Bradley, included.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard started the past two World Cups. Howard, four-time World Cup participant defender DaMarcus Beasley and Clint Dempsey played for Arena leading into the coach’s last World Cup qualifying, in 2005. Jozy Altidore brings experience up front.

“It’s a huge game for us,” Howard said. “It’s helpful that we have guys who have been through the hex before, who understand what that takes and the pressures that are on us. Yeah, it’s a big game.”

Bradley isn’t getting fancy when it comes to what the U.S. group must do.

“Winning. Three points,” Bradley said. “That’s it.”

“For us the reality is simple: We let ourselves down in the first two games,” he said. “It means that our margin for error is very, very small, but nothing’s changed in that we still feel good about the team that we have, the group that we are. I think that Bruce has come in and done an excellent job in terms of re-establishing certain things, getting at a few things. The mentality, the spirit in training and around the group both in January and now this week has been excellent, so we’re getting a little excited about the chance to step on the field in a big-time qualifier.”

Galaxy’s Cole admits he enjoys Arsenal struggles

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LA Galaxy left back Ashley Cole left Arsenal for Chelsea more than a decade ago, but that hasn’t erased the bitter memories of the departure from his boyhood club.

Cole was famously involved in a “tapping up” meeting with Chelsea without Arsenal’s permission in 2005, but signed a contract extension with the Gunners. Still, he was gone a year later in messy circumstances.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

As the most capped fullback in England’s history who boasts both Premier League and Champions League titles with Chelsea, Cole easily could rest on his own laurels and move on from the divorce.

But when asked whether he’s enjoying Arsenal’s current struggles, Cole couldn’t help himself.

“If I’m honest, yeah, I still think to this day. I laugh to myself. I had a lot of history there and I think the way I left was maybe a bit dodgy but the lack of respect they showed me as well.”

Cole accepts a share of the blame for his time ended at Arsenal, but says he doesn’t regret it. Still, his response is not a picture of class.

Next time, just laugh and say, “Next question,” Ashley.

“I’m not a bad guy” – Convicted murderer, new club defend signing

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A week ago, we brought you the story of goalkeeper Bruno Fernandes finding a new club despite a conviction for ordering the torture and murder of his mistress, whose body was then fed to dogs. The two were having a disagreement on child support.

Fernandes, 32, was set free from jail on a technicality and has since been signed by Boa Esporte in Brazil. He said he couldn’t “throw in the towel” on his career because he believed in himself.

Fans were outraged with the team, major sponsors pulled their funding, and an activist group even hacked Boa Esporte’s web page.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

And the club is digging in its heels.

Boa Esporte’s president, Rone Moraes da Costa, reacted to protests by saying he’d rather move the team than not give Fernandes a chance to resurrect his career.

As for Fernandes, he clearly is having trouble explaining why he’s getting another chance. From The Guardian:

“What happened, happened. I made a mistake, a serious one, but mistakes happens in life – I’m not a bad guy. People tried to bury my dream because of one mistake, but I asked God for forgiveness, so I’m carrying on with my career, dude. I’m starting over.”

One mistake. Wow. There are few clubs in the world which fit the bill of being the majority of fans’ least favorite team, but Boa Esporte could get there. Surely there must be more to the story?

Nothing new about the challenges facing USMNT

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This next week may define a generation of USMNT players, but only if it goes poorly.

That may sound overly dramatic, but it isn’t. The United States started 0-2 in the final round of World Cup qualifying, earned its coach a firing, and now stares down its status in the confederation.

Honduras is coming on Friday, far from a pushover. Then it’s off to Panama for another tricky tie. In a vacuum, coming up short in one of the two isn’t the end of the world, but the Yanks will be expected to take a minimum four points. Even that would be a disappointment to many.

[ MORE: Guardiola close to adding $43m GK? ]

The crutches are gone, aside from any being used by injured players back in Germany (Bobby Wood and Fabian Johnson chief amongst them). Fifteen of Honduras’ players play domestically, and Panama isn’t much better in overall quality.

Frankly, and it’s been written before, the United States should outclass both of these foes. If Bruce Arena’s bunch doesn’t, well, it spells woe for the country’s soccer development as a whole.

For now, supporters and players have been able to cling to the thought that Jurgen Klinsmann was responsible for the Yanks’ struggles. In some ways, he most certainly was to blame for setbacks like the CONCACAF Cup loss to Mexico and the pathetic performance against Costa Rica that earned him a firing.

Several of the United States’ current elder statesmen have built legacies that can survive big hits. Tim Howard and Clint Dempsey may go down in history as the two biggest stars in program history (There will be an argument for both as No. 1 along with Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna). DaMarcus Beasley is an all-timer, too.

Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron, and Jozy Altidore are on track for that, too, and there’s an argument to be made the trio is already there, especially for Cameron, who’s a mainstay in the Premier League. Each has found success in Europe after getting their starts in Major League Soccer, and have etched their names into the national record books.

There’s still very little reason to believe the USMNT will miss the 2018 World Cup even with the 0-2 start. The class is just too much to consider the Yanks will finish below Panama, Honduras, and Trinidad and Tobago over the course of 10 matches (The fourth place side gets a shot at an Asian side like Saudi Arabia, UAE, or Uzbekistan in a two-legged affair).

But turning it around has to start now. The Yanks have to handle their business in these qualifiers, and make at least the Gold Cup final to build momentum toward Russia. Anything short of that is abject failure.

Again, this absolutely should happen, starting Friday. Even given the poor start, losses or even a pair of draws this week would be legitimately shocking, and set the program back ages. Howard set it up well Tuesday when he pointed out that the U.S. has gotten to points like this before, and they always belly up to the bar and outlast all comers.

A lot of fans have this nagging voice in their heads, asking nefariously, “What if they don’t?”