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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)

source:

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)

Blatter says he will accept verdict as CAS appeal begins

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA - JULY 25:  FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter speaks during the Preliminary Draw of the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia at The Konstantin Palace on July 25, 2015 in Saint Petersburg, Russia.  (Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images)
Photo by Dennis Grombkowski/Getty Images
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter arrived for his appeal hearing against a six-year ban from football on Thursday, pledging to accept the verdict of the Court of Arbitration for Sport

“I do hope it will be positive for me,” Blatter, sporting a light gray beard, told reporters at around 8 a.m. (0600 GMT) ahead of a hearing expected to last several hours.

The court’s verdict is expected within several weeks, and could be challenged in a further appeal to Switzerland’s supreme court.

The 80-year-old Blatter denies wrongdoing in authorizing a $2 million payment to former FIFA vice president Michel Platini in 2011. They claimed it was for backdated and uncontracted salary for work Platini did in advising Blatter from 1999 to 2002.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The so-called “disloyal payment” led Blatter to be put under investigation for criminal mismanagement by Swiss federal prosecutors last September. That investigation is ongoing.

FIFA’s ethics committee judged the $2 million deal was a conflict of interest and initially banned Blatter and Platini for eight years last December. FIFA’s appeal committee cut both bans to six years.

Platini’s appeal to CAS was already judged in May, when Blatter appeared in person as a witness. Platini promised a further appeal to the Swiss Federal Tribunal after his ban was only cut from six to four years.

Platini arrived at the hearing around midday local time to be a witness. Both men have denied any wrongdoing.

Blatter’s comments Thursday suggest he would not pursue a federal case. Federal judges can intervene only if legal process is abused.

“We are football players, we learned to win but also we learned to lose and it will not be the end of the world,” Blatter said outside CAS.

The three-member panel for Blatter’s case is expected to respect the verdict of a separate panel which judged Platini.

A failure to overturn the ban for Blatter would likely end his hope to one day be named FIFA honorary president by its 211 member federations.

[ MORE: Ranking Champions League groups ]

The case already ended Platini’s chance to replace Blatter as FIFA president, and also forced him out of European governing body UEFA.

On Sept. 14, UEFA members will elect a successor to replace Platini who had a mandate through March 2019. By imposing a four-year ban, the CAS panel ensured UEFA had to replace Platini, rather than wait for him to return.

The “disloyal payment” emerged last year when Platini was strongly favored to win the election to replace Blatter, who had announced his departure plans after 17 years as president amid pressure from American and Swiss federal investigations of corruption implicating senior FIFA officials.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Both men were questioned at FIFA headquarters last September by Swiss investigators who were waiting for them outside an executive committee meeting.

During the turmoil in world football, Platini’s right-hand man at UEFA, Gianni Infantino, submitted an election candidacy on the entry deadline day and won the vote in February.

Arriving at the hearing with his Zurich-based lawyer Lorenz Erni, Blatter said he hoped the CAS panel “will understand that the payment made to Platini was really a debt that we had against him.”

“This is a principle, if you have debts you pay them,” Blatter said.

NASL weekend preview: Miami, Minnesota meet playoff fortunes head on

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There are still two full months of soccer to go in the NASL’s Fall Season, but this weekend could be a major day for the title fortunes of one squad in particular.

Miami FC and Minnesota United are level on points with 15 heading into Saturday’s match at FIU Stadium.

[ MORE: MLS Weekend Preview ]

If you’re unfamiliar, the NASL Playoffs involve four teams: the Spring champion (Indy Eleven), the Fall champion, and two other teams with the best combined record between seasons.

Miami’s played one fewer game, and both it and Minnesota — fresh off the news it’s headed to MLS in 2017 — are seven points shy of first-place FC Edmonton.

But Minnesota is on pace to make the playoffs through combined schedule, while Miami had a poor first half and would be better served to win the Fall Season if it wants a shot at the NASL Soccer Bowl Trophy.

Saturday
Carolina Railhawks at New York Cosmos
Rayo OKC at Tampa Bay Rowdies
Minnesota United at Miami FC

Sunday
Indy Eleven at Ottawa Fury
Puerto Rico at FC Edmonton

Arsenal reportedly set for $69 million double Friday buy

MADRID, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 14:  Lucas Perez of RC Deportivo la Coruna reacts during the La Liga match between Rayo Vallecano and RC Deportivo La Coruna at Estadio Teresa Rivero on September 14, 2015 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Denis Doyle/Getty Images)
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Arsene Wenger‘s much-maligned transfer business is about to take the “much” off the verb.

Lucas Perez of Deportiva de la Coruna is reportedly going to be joining Arsenal on Friday, and the Gunners are also close to finally landing Valencia center back Shkodran Mustafi.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

Perez, 27, broke out for a career-best 17 goals last season, and scored on debut last weekend. He’s set to cost $22.5 million, while Mustafi makes up the other $46.5 million.

The 12-times capped German center back stands 6-foot, and would bring stability to a Gunners unit which has (again) been beset by injuries.

From the BBC:

Spaniard Lucas, 27, scored 17 goals in 37 games last season and Arsenal will meet a 20m euro (£17.1m) buyout clause.

Germany international Mustafi, 24, is set to join for a fee in excess of £35m.

Is this, coupled with the Granit Xhaka buy, enough to help Wenger right the ship? Mustafi, especially, would be a key piece. Perez is a bit of a lesser-known quality.

MLS Weekend Preview: Desperation mounts as rivals meet in Oregon

Portland Timbers defender Vytas Andriuskevicius, second from right, trips up Seattle Sounders midfielder Cristian Roldan, right, in the second half of a MLS soccer match, Sunday, Aug. 21, 2016, in Seattle. Andriuskevicius was called for a foul on the play, and the Sounders' Clint Dempsey scored a goal on the resulting penalty kick. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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Desperation is up-and-down the schedule this weekend in Major League Soccer, as the playoff race really heats up.

The calendar turns to September next week, and teams will end this weekend with a clear view of their runs into the season’s final Sunday: Oct. 23.

[ MORE: Bundesliga season primer ]

The tumult that is an MLS season means only one team is more than two wins out of a playoff spot right now, and that’s Houston (7 points back of Western No. 6 Portland).

Here’s who is feeling the heat of their matches this weekend:

Portland and Seattle: The Cascadia Cup rivals tangle Sunday in Oregon, with the Timbers holding a one-point edge on the Sounders for the West’s final playoff spot. Seattle has played one fewer games than Portland, and a win on Sunday would be a double-whammy for PDX; The Timbers would be level on points with Seattle and Vancouver in the Cascadia Cup standings with just one match to go (compared to their opponents’ two).

Vancouver: The ‘Caps don’t have a Cup game this weekend, but will face an L.A. team which hasn’t lost at home. Vancouver is in real danger of moving more than one win behind in the fight for a playoff spot. If they lose to L.A. and both San Jose and Portland win, the Whitecaps will be five points back of a playoff spot. Of course, this being MLS, a win and help could see Vancouver in sixth when the smoke clears.

Columbus and New England: No one likes to comment on job status, but Revs’ boss Jay Heaps and his Columbus counterpart (Gregg Berhalter) have to be a bit concerned at this point. New England is a total mess, opening up a goalkeeping controversy, and is pinning its hopes on some Open Cup final karma. The Crew was supposed to contend for a title after last year’s final run, but is currently in the East’s cellar with just three home wins from 13 matches.

Schedule

Friday
Colorado at Real Salt Lake — 8 p.m. EDT

Saturday
Chicago at DC United — 7 p.m. EDT
Sporting KC at Philadelphia — 7 p.m. EDT
San Jose at Columbus — 7:30 p.m. EDT
Montreal at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. EDT
FC Dallas at Houston — 9 p.m. EDT
Vancouver at LA Galaxy — 10:30 p.m. EDT

Sunday
New England at New York Red Bulls — 2:30 p.m. EDT
Seattle at Portland — 5 p.m. EDT
New York City at Orlando City — 7 p.m. EDT