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)

source:

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)

Europa League roundup: Lyon tops Everton, Giroud guides Arsenal

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It was a wild and crazy Thursday full of UEFA Europa League action, and while one Premier League side lucked out, another continued its fall from grace.

Arsenal picked up a 1-0 win over Red Star Belgrade on the road after Olivier Giroud’s 85th-minute overhead kick give the Gunners three points and complete command of Group H.

[ MORE: Dusan Tadic tells his story of his move to Southampton ]

Meanwhile, Everton fell 2-1 to Lyon on the day, as the Toffees remain at the bottom of Group E with one point in three Europa League matches. Toffees defender Ashley Williams was very lucky not to earn himself a straight red card after a terrible challenge on Lyon keeper Anthony Lopes.

The challenge came four minutes prior to Williams netted the equalizer for Everton. However, Bertrand Traore scored the winner for Lyon with a quarter hour remaining in the match.

Elsewhere, Real Sociedad scored six goals en route to a comfortable win over Vardar, while AC Milan had to settle for a scoreless draw against AEK Athens.

Here are all of Thursday’s results from around the Europa League.

Astana 4-0 Maccabi Tel-Aviv
BATE 1-0 Cologne
Hapoel Beer Sheva 1-2 Steaua
Konyaspor 2-0 Red Bull Salzburg
Lugano 3-2 Viktoria
Marseille 2-1 Guimaraes
Nice 1-3 Lazio
Ostersunds FK 2-2 Athletic Bilbao
Red Star Belgrade 0-1 Arsenal
Vardar 0-6 Real Sociedad
Zenit 3-1 Rosenborg
Zorya 2-1 Hertha Berlin
Zulte-Waregem 1-1 Vitesse
AC Milan 0-0 AEK Athens
Atalanta 3-1 Apollon Limassol
Austria Vienna 1-3 Rijeka
Dynamo Kyiv 2-2 Young Boys
Everton 1-2 Lyon
Fastav Zlin 1-1 Copenhagen
SC Braga 0-2 Ludogorets
Sheriff 1-1 Lokomotiv Moscow
Skenderbeu 0-0 Partizan
TSG Hoffenheim 3-1 Istanbul Basaksehir
Villarreal 2-2 Slavia Prague

Video: Giroud gives Arsenal three points with superb overhead finish

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Red Star Belgrade posed a big test to Arsenal on Thursday, but it was Olivier Giroud that had the last laugh for the Gunners.

[ MORE: Atlanta’s Gressel is emerging as a legitimate MLS ROTY candidate ]

The Frenchman delivered in spectacular fashion five minutes from time when Giroud scored a makeshift-bicycle kick following Theo Walcott‘s headed pass inside the penalty area.

Arsenal went on to win the match, 1-0, and currently sits atop Group H in the UEFA Europa League on nine points through three matches.

Giroud, who went the full 90 minutes for the Gunners, has had a knack for scoring some fine goals in an Arsenal kit over the years. That includes last year’s tremendous scorpion-kick goal against Crystal Palace in Premier League play (watch below).

Premier League Preview: West Ham vs. Brighton

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  • Brighton has just one point away from home this season
  • Both clubs sit on eight points through eight matches
  • Hernandez, Caroll potentially out for Hammers
  • West Ham has won last three fixtures against Brighton

West Ham United will host Brighton & Hove Albion on Friday from the London Stadium (Watch live on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE AT 2:30 P.M. ET FRIDAY

 

Both the Hammers and the Seagulls sit on eight points through their opening eight Premier League matches, which puts each club just two points above the bottom three. West Ham enters the weekend unbeaten in its last two fixtures, including last week’s 1-1 draw at Burnley.

Slaven Bilic will have some difficult decisions to make for the match as he’ll be without Andy Carroll and Diafra Sakho, while Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez could potentially miss the clash as well with a hamstring issue.

The biggest challenge for newcomers Brighton thus far has been how the club has handled itself away from Amex Stadium. The team’s 0-0 draw against Watford is the only match in which the promoted side has picked up a point this season on the road.

What they’re saying

West Ham boss Bilic said in regards to better performances of late“We have improved results. We have players back from injury and the players who missed a big part of pre-season have their match-fitness. We improved and we are on the right path, so it’s much better.”

Brighton manager Hughton stressed the importance of gaining road results“It’s going to be about away form that’s going to be the most challenging. It’s a game away from home, in a big stadium, against a very talented team.”

Prediction

Brighton has had its fair share of struggles away from home, but West Ham is certainly at a disadvantage with some of its biggest names likely out for Friday’s encounter. The fact that they’re playing on a Friday allows less time for Bilic’s men to get healthy, so it’s easier to lean towards Brighton. They’ll get their first victory on the road this week. 2-1 Brighton.

Dusan Tadic: From Serbia to Southampton, this is my story

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(Dusan Tadic talking to Joe Prince-Wright)

When I was growing up as a kid in Serbia, I had always dreamed of this moment. Last week we did it. We qualified for the World Cup. When you play for your country, everyone remembers you if you play in a World Cup. It is that simple.

I remember the 1998 World Cup when we were Yugoslavia, I had the sticker albums of all the players and I still remember that squad and who was playing.

It is very nice to be there, at the World Cup, and we need to try and go step by step and see how far we can get. A lot of people are saying we can provide some surprises and not much is expected of us, but we don’t see it like that.

With Serbia, there will always be pressure.

We are the kind of players and people who do not know how to live without pressure. Even if we play against Brazil or some of the other bigger countries, we think we are better than them. That is the way we are. People expect us to beat the big teams and we have plenty of pressure from within.

It has always been that way, lots of pressure, but at the start it was all much simpler…


HOW IT ALL BEGAN

There were a lot of kids, everywhere, and we were always playing outside in the streets.

I think this is the best way to learn football, to play with your friends, street football, looking back, those are wonderful memories and I look back on that time in my life fondly.

My hometown, Backa Topola, was in the north of the country near the Hungarian border. It is a nice part of Serbia and I am very happy I grew up there.

Growing up, one of my best memories is getting my first pair of boots. There were Adidas and one of my fathers friends gave them to me. They were a special present and I wore them all the time. When it came to my first shirt, well, this was a little interesting. My father likes Partizan Belgrade and my uncle, well, he likes Red Star Belgrade. They are huge rivals and they would always get me a shirt from each club. Ah man, that was rough.

The shirt I held closest to my heart is one I had when I was 13. It was the shirt from the 1998 World Cup that Yugoslavia wore and had Predrag Mijatovic’s name on the back. You remember that shirt, the one with the big collar?  We did really well in that tournament and I wore that shirt everywhere. I still have it somewhere at home.

Our country has gone through a lot of tough times, especially when I was growing up, but I think playing football gave myself and other kids at the time an escape from everything else that was going on. Those were tough times.

When it is like this, it is important that kids play football or another sport because you are in nicer situations and have positive vibes around you. Because if you don’t play sport at times like that, I don’t know what you would do.

I am very happy I grew up in Serbia. You can have tough times, good times, but you learn a lot. I am incredibly proud of where I am from.

My father, that’s where my love for the game comes from. He watched every single game I played in growing up. He still does now. All of my family and friends, they would come to watch me and their support was incredible.

Every coach I’ve had, even if something was wrong, you still learn something from every single one of them.

My idol growing up was Zinedine Zidane. I tried to learn from him. He did everything to perfection. Everything was easy for him. I loved watching him. He was a genius.

Not just the way he played but I also like his personality, the calmness he has off the pitch and the way he carries himself. After I watched him on TV I would go straight out into the street in Serbia to try and play like him.

I was lucky that I moved to a team like Vojvodina at the age of 14. They are known to have the best academy in Serbia, so there are many similarities to how things are here at Southampton with an emphasis on bringing through young talent.

Vojvodina always gave young players a chance and by the time I was 16 I was in the first team and then we went to the Europa League and it was a great time for me with wonderful coaches who pushed me to my maximum. I’m pleased that the pressure was so high when I started off there. That made me into the player I am today and helped me want to succeed and get better.

When I then moved to Holland, at the beginning I was looking around like “why is everyone so relaxed?” I was confused. After you lost a game, everyone was laughing and everything. If you did that in Serbia, that would be a big problem.

It took me time to adapt to the less intense atmosphere in Holland but I played with and against some great players who ended up with me here at Southampton. Graziano Pelle and Jordy Clasie from Feyenoord and then a young Virgil Van Dijk was just coming into the first team in my second year at Groningen.

When I played in the Netherlands, the league was very strong but a lot of players have left the Eredivisie and they are struggling a little with a lot of young players coming through.

But when I look back at my time in Holland with Groningen and FC Twente, this was the most important period of my life. I was at that stage when I had to grow as a player and a person. I am happy I was there. Holland has a philosophy of football which links up with how I like to play.

I learned a lot and it prepared me well for the challenge at Southampton.


SETTING RECORDS IN SUNNY SOUTHAMPTON

It wasn’t always my aim to come to England but everyone thinks about the Premier League because it is one of the strongest leagues in the world.

You want to show yourself in the strongest league and this was the right moment.

I knew back in 2014 that Ronald Koeman really wanted me. Southampton are a nice club with great supporters and I came here with a lot of new players in that summer of 2014 and some people expected a lot from me, but that didn’t bother me because as a player you have to trust in your qualities and show yourself and help your club.

After 2014 we had the two most successful years in Southampton’s history. Everyone was proud of that and I was pleased to be a part of it.

I have so many great memories here at Southampton. I’m in my fourth season and I have a strong connection with the fans who sing my song and support me no matter what.

From the first moment they accepted me very well. I try my best to entertain and make them happy and to give them joy. A lot of people come to watch and support you as a player so you need to try to give them enjoyment.

I live in a marina called Ocean Village in Southampton and it doesn’t feel like you’re in England. When you say to people “oh, I live in England” everyone is like “it is rainy and cold there, why are you doing that?”

But Southampton is not like that. It is not like the rest of England. Here the weather is very good (at least compared to the rest of England!) and every day I am happy for that. Trust me.

So far we’ve had a lot of success but when I sit back and think about all of the good times we’ve had since I arrived, my winning goal at Old Trafford against Manchester United back in 2015 is the best.

We hadn’t beaten United away from home for 28 years and it was my first time playing at Old Trafford. I will never forget that moment. Ever.

Our aim here at Southampton, and my aim, is to get us back to Europe.

It is very important for us. Just as important is another good run in the cup, just like when we went to Wembley last season and lost to Manchester United. I don’t have any regrets about the League Cup final. None of us do. We did our best and I think we should have beat Manchester United. Anybody watching would have said that. We were unlucky. Sometimes, that’s football.

Someone told me earlier that a year ago today we were getting ready to play against Inter Milan in the Europa League at the San Siro. Wow. Time flies. We have to get back to playing in big games like that.

It will be hard to keep improving every year because there are so many quality teams in the Premier League but that is my main focus.

Well, that and my two kids. People say it a lot, but being a father has changed me as a person and I live a different kind of life. I am very happy with my life and my two children. I enjoy every moment with them.

I know on the pitch I can seem a little on edge. I’m a fierce competitor. Off the pitch I am easy going and I relax more. A lot more. Honest.

On the pitch I’m sharp and I show my emotions a lot more. I’ve always been like that, wearing my heart on my sleeve. On the pitch I want to win. We all do. We give everything for our team. We are all winners and we want to win every single game.

Every training session. Every game. Even when I play cards… I have to win. It is interesting that only this makes me happy. If you want to learn one thing about me from reading this, it is that I do not like to lose. Nobody likes to lose but especially me. It is difficult to accept.

When we play table tennis or basketball, I have to be the best. I can’t stand losing. I’ll throw things and get upset because I just want to win. It’s simple.

My teammates know that and some of the players I’m closest with, like Cedric Soares, will tell you that.

Sometimes Cedric and I go up to London on our days off and hang out and have dinner but with two young kids, I spend a lot of time with my family. I’m just looking forward to meeting Cedric in the World Cup if Serbia play Portugal. We owe him one. Portugal beat us in the qualifying for the European Championships. I want revenge and on the pitch I’d be in his ear all of the time. I wouldn’t stop.

I’d enjoy that…


WORLD CUP DREAM COMES TRUE

After reaching the World Cup last week, our first time as a nation since 2010, Serbia is fresh in my mind.

Perhaps the thing I’m most proud of in my career is to be the reigning player of the year in Serbia.

When I look at some of the past winners, Nemanja Matic, Branislav Ivanovic, Nemanja Vidic, Dejan Stankovic and guys like Mijatovic, it makes me very happy to be in that kind of company. It proved to me how much respect people in Serbia had for me after goals and assists for the national team and also what I’ve achieved here at Southampton.

This award motivates me to get better and better.

And the fact that I will hopefully be heading to the 2018 World Cup with Serbia, the first major tournament of my career, it is an incredible feeling. Even now when I look back at photos from the night we sealed qualification in Belgrade against Georgia, it makes me emotional.

When I look at the photo below, I get emotional. I was just so happy. Even though I’m crying.

Going into that final game of qualifying, as a team we were under the biggest amount of pressure I’ve ever felt with the national team.

If we didn’t win that game against Georgia and qualify for the World Cup, I think they would have taken our passports away and told us we could not come back any more! It was like that, seriously.

Those games like that, where it is so incredibly important, we are not a country that goes to every tournament, so it was a huge success for all of us.

I’m already 28, so for my national team career this is massive because playing at a World Cup is something everyone remembers. To seal the qualification in Belgrade, in front of our own fans, it is something I will always remember. The celebrations that night were quite special…

It is something I will never forget but hopefully there are many memorable moments to come both with Serbia and Southampton.