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:
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
LA Galaxy: Did not play. Just got passed in the rankings by a few impressive teams. (0-1-0)
Columbus Crew: Did not play. (1-0-0)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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Below is the feature article on Pato from Chelsea’s magazine.
The chances are you will have known Pato’s name long before he signed for the Blues. After all, he was a teenage sensation for club and country, impressing in Serie A with
AC Milan and joining the long line of thrilling forwards to have graced the Brazilian national team.
There is also a chance that, until his arrival here, you hadn’t heard his name too much lately. That’s because Pato has been back in his homeland, playing for Corinthians and Sao Paulo, before making his return to Europe with a loan deal at Stamford Bridge until the end of this season.
Still only 26, he is visibly excited about the move and the prospect of playing Premier League football, and as we sit down to talk to him during his first week at Chelsea, his famous boyish grin is pretty much a permanent fixture.
“I am very eager to play,” he says enthusiastically. “I am eager to train with my team-mates and to incorporate myself into the group here. I know it’s a fight against time because there is not so long until the end of the season, but I am very keen to get started.
“The first few days have been very important. To be back in Europe again at a big club like Chelsea is a dream come true. I’m very happy to be here because I have worked very hard for the last three years in Brazil.”
He arrives with the team looking to push itself back to the more familiar upper echelons of the league table and with crunch FA Cup and Champions League fixtures against top opposition fast approaching. In short, it’s an exciting period and Pato knows he will have to hit the ground running.
“The season is not over,” he states. “There is a lot to play for and a lot of things Chelsea can achieve. This sequence of better results we are having now is just the beginning of something the team can continue to build on. Since I arrived I have been made to feel very welcome, not just by the Brazilian players but everyone. The coach met me here at Cobham and introduced me to all the staff from all the different departments. He has given me the support to have a great rest of the season at Chelsea.”
Pato is a versatile and mobile player. He is always on the lookout for gaps to exploit, holes in the defence or a swift change of direction which might open up the pitch. A great many of his goals involve a sudden burst from deep, his acceleration taking him away from defenders.
Then there is the footwork in tight spaces, the body swerves and the tricks that allow him to slalom in and out of players. The Brazilian domestic season finished in early December but Pato has been keeping himself fit in preparation for a possible move during the January transfer window, and believes he just needs to get himself up to speed.
“I feel very good physically,” he tells us. “Obviously as a player you need game-time to be at your best but I feel prepared, I have been training well, and hopefully with games and time I can adapt.
“I know I only have a few months until the end of the season but what I can promise is that I am prepared to play to the best of my ability to help during the few months left of the campaign.”
He adds that, after injuries hampered his last two seasons with Milan, he has changed a few thingscand learned “what to do before training, during training, after training, even after the match.
“I learned a lot about myself and how to look after myself, and now Chelsea have opened the doors to me for this opportunity I am very happy to be back in Europe.”
As for English football, Patois well aware of the different challenges the Premier League is likely to present to him, but more than anything he is excited to test himself here. He has experience of
playing English clubs in European competition and pre-season friendly tournaments, and in the dressing room here he has plenty of friends who have been filling him in on the intricacies.
“I already knew Willian, Oscar, Kenedy and Diego Costa,” he says. “There are some players I know from friendship and others I have once played against. It’s a big thing that they can help me settle down at Chelsea. They will help me express myself with freedom and to be incorporated into the team. The players all helped me to settle in my first few days.
“I know how hard the Premier League is. Diego, Willian and the boys have been telling me that it is very hard here, but I feel I have to improvise so I can find the space on the pitch, get my timing right and get myself into spaces. I have heard a lot about the Premier League and I also had the chance to play against English opposition when I was at AC Milan. For example, I played against Chelsea in a friendly match in the USA. It’s a different league – very hard, very physical, with a lot of contact, and hopefully with my pace and ability I will be able to help the team. I’m hoping to contribute a lot and have a great time here.”
Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain hit goals just 88 seconds apart, enough to knock Bournemouth off its feat and give Arsenal a 2-0 win at Vitality Stadium.
The Cherries seemed up to the task, challenging Arsenal in every facet of the game except finishing, where the Gunners proved far superior.
The first big moment of the game came in the middle of the pitch eight minutes in. Mathieu Flamini slid through the feet of Dan Gosling on a challenge just into the Arsenal defensive half, a foul which referee Kevin Friend deemed fit for a yellow card, although it certainly looked dangerous enough for worse.
As the two battled ferociously back and forth, there were thumping challenges that kept the quality of the game down early. It wouldn’t stay that way for long. On 23 minutes, Aaron Ramsey floated a pinpoint ball to the back post. It met the head of Olivier Grioud who sent it back in front of net where Ozil roofed it on the volley, breaking a streak of 328 minutes without a league goal for Arsenal.
The Gunners continue to charge forward, and they bagged another just a minute later. Ramsey again outside the top of the box found Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain streaking down the right, and the England international beat Charlie Daniels at full speed, firing low to the far post where it struck the woodwork and pinged in for a 2-0 lead. The goal is Oxlade-Chamberlain’s first ever league goal away from home, ending a streak of 37 Premier League games for the 22-year-old without scoring.
22 – Arsenal have lost none of their last 22 league games against newly promoted teams (W18 D4). Superiority.
Bournemouth wouldn’t capitulate immediately. Harry Arter struck a powerful left-footed shot from the left corner of the penalty area on 27 minutes, but Petr Cech matched it by acrobatically tipping the weaving shot over the bar.
That was all the major action for the first half, but the second half started with a flurry of moments around each goal. Ozil sent in a cross for Ramsey just three minutes after the break that sailed just over the Welshman’s head, and down the other end Matt Richie skied one just over the Gunners’ goal.
Bournemouth brought on Junior Stanislas and Josh King, and they maintained an attacking intent throughout much of the second half, but it wasn’t enough to break down the Gunners defense that was comfortable absorbing pressure as the game went on. Every time the hosts moved into a dangerous position, the ball would end up miles over the bar.
The Cherries had one last opportunity to get on the board early in added time as a brilliant chance fell to Steve Cook right on the penalty spot but Petr Cech made an outstanding save down to his left before also keeping out the rebound.
Arsenal’s win moves the Gunners into third position, even with Tottenham on 28 points, which puts them five back of the leaders Leicester City. Bournemouth remains six points above the relegation zone, and also sit that distance off the top half of the table.
With a 2-0 victory over La Liga basement-dwellers Levante on an own-goal forced by Jordi Alba plus a late score from Luis Suarez, Barcelona has gone 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, without a loss since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on October 28.
Manager Luis Enrique, though, is unmoved. “What matters to me are the team’s objectives,” said Enrique after the win. “These are nice numbers, if they help us win titles at the end of the season, fantastic. We are in good position, but there is still a lot left.”
The Levante victory marked Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge of Barcelona.
That 2010/11 season, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona came a Copa del Rey finals loss to Real Madrid from a quadruple, winning the league, Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. This time around, they’ve already secured the Supercopa, sit atop the league table by three points over Atletico Madrid and seven above Real Madrid, have yet to lose a game in the Champions League, and the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Valencia is a complete formality. What’s more, the numbers from this streak are eerily similar to that wildly successful squad five years ago.
That campaign, Lionel Messi scored 31 league goals and 53 overall. An injury sapped him of time in this go around, but Suarez and Neymar have picked up the slack. There has been just one league game in which all three of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez has been held scoreless this season, and to find it you have to travel all the way back to the second game of the year, a 1-0 win over Malaga that saw Thomas Vermaelen score the winner. Those three have combined for 48 league goals this year, more than every team in the Spanish top flight save Real Madrid.
Paris Saint-Germain has a similar streak going at the moment, currently unbeaten in league play throughout the entire season, but their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League on November 3 means their streak across all competitions sits at 19 games.