PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 4

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One month into the season, we’re finally starting to see some stability in the Power Rankings. Of the teams that occupied last week’s top 10 spots, six return to the identical slots this week. Only one team moves into that group, while only two teams make more than a three-spot move in either direction.

Perhaps that’s bias coming through, but in theory, that’s how these rankings should work. Colorado loses late to a much higher-ranking Sporting? That’s no reason to move them down. And Chicago getting a result against No. 19-ranked D.C. United? That’s also consistent with where the teams were on last week’s list. The Fire have moved down this week, but it’s only because other teams have passed it.

There were also the aberrations – the games that tell us little about how the teams will perform going forward. Should we give Columbus credit for getting the benefit of a Djimi Traoré red card? Perhaps if they prove particularly adept at drawing those fouls. For now, however, the win in Seattle doesn’t tell us anything we didn’t already know about the Crew. Same for Dallas’s 10-on-10 win over Portland.

Then there are the cases where we’ve obviously wrong. Toronto was overrated at No. 1. After losing in Salt Lake, they take one of the week’s biggest falls. Likewise, San Jose’s winless start gets a whole new context after losing to New England. Likewise, it looks like the Revolution’s improvement from its opening night 4-0 loss at Houston is starting to take hold.

Here are the rest of the rankings after Week 4 of the Major League Soccer season:

(MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Last week’s Power Rankings)

RANKING
Up/Down

1 UP 1
Real Salt Lake: After exposing Toronto FC this weekend, RSL reclaims the top spot, even if their record has two blemishes. But remember our underlying mission: neutral field, game tomorrow, who do we see as more likely to win? After seeing RSL on Saturday, it’s not very close. (2-0-2)
source:  2 UP 2 Sporting Kansas City: The only worry all season has been chance creation. On Saturday, that wasn’t a problem. Sal Zizzo has fit so perfectly on the right, C.J. Sapong may be out of a starting job. Though Kansas City allowed two goals in Colorado, both came on penalty kicks. Benny Feilhaber’s not going to take somebody down in the box every week. (2-1-1)
source:  3 Columbus Crew: Major League Soccer’s only perfect team, but Columbus is one that had the benefit of Djimi Traoré’s red card. While they still looked good in the 60 minutes before Federico Higuaín’s conversion, they also looked more vulnerable than at any point this season. Columbus still needs to improve to be considered at the same level as last year’s MLS Cup finalists.  (3-0-0)
source:  4 DOWN 3 Toronto FC: Saturday snowballed on them. Their lack of maturity showed in how they resorted to physicality in the face of adversity, but they were also played at the best team in the league. Let’s give Ryan Nelsen’s side time to grow without being too hard on it. (2-1-0)
source:  5 Philadelphia Union: Drawing the Impact at home was certainly a slip, but Montréal was perhaps a little underrated after its Marco Di Vaio-less start. That the Impact were able to come back with 10 men makes it difficult to justify this spot, but the teams below Philadelphia didn’t do enough to earn the bump. The core of this Union team is the same one we saw at Portland, at home against New England, and at Columbus. Its inability to grab that crucial second goal (which it’s yet to do all season) is why it’s ranked five, not three.  (1-1-2)
source:  6 Houston Dynamo: We’ve harped on the difficulties Eastern Conference teams have when going to Vancouver, which is why we’re not dropping the Dynamo. With only one goal separating them from the Whitecaps, there isn’t enough credit or blame to go around. We decided to give Carl Robinson’s team credit and spare Houston the blame. (2-1-0)
source:  7 Seattle Sounders: If Djimi Traoré continues to give up penalties or earn game-changing red cards (and Sigi Schmid doesn’t bench him), we’ll drop Seattle. Until then, Saturday’s game looks like an aberration, one which doesn’t inform us about their ability to win this weekend in Portland. (2-2-0)
source:  8 FC Dallas: Eleven-on-11, there was nothing that separated Dallas from Portland. If anything, the Timbers looked a little better. Ten-on-10, however, FC Dallas won, 2-1. The result’s enough to influence the standings, but we’re keeping them steady in the Power Rankings. Winning at home against a struggling Portland doesn’t tell us much, particularly when both teams saw an early red card. (3-0-1)

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9 LA Galaxy: Off this week. Still have yet to face a non-RSL team this season. (0-1-1)
source:  10 UP 2 Vancouver Whitecaps: At home, Vancouver is 2-0-0 with a +4 goal difference. On the road, the Whitecaps at 0-0-2, failing to score in New England after being held to a draw by 10-man Chivas USA. I have no idea how good this team is, mostly because it appears to be such a different team at home. Hopefully time will sort that out. (2-0-2)

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11 Colorado Rapids: The Rapids have still yet to score from open play this season, with all five of their goals coming from the penalty spot. Losing at home, you’d expect them to drop in the Rankings, but with no teams below them stepping up, Colorado’s left to tread water in the middle. (1-1-1)
source:  12 UP 5 New England Revolution: The week’s biggest mover gave a telling performance in Santa Clara, not only using Lee Nguyen’s late goal to end San Jose’s 21-game home unbeaten run but also outplaying the Earthquakes in the first half. Teal Bunbury looked better up top, while Jose Gonçalves is close to his Defender of the Year self. Needing a Víctor Hernández own goal to go in front, scoring remains a question, but Jay Heaps’ team is starting to put its slow start behind it. (1-2-1)
source:  13 Portland Timbers: The last two results have been freaky, with Portland earning a red card in each, but converting chances continues to be a major concern. Ryan Johnson, bemoaned for his inability to convert last season, has been surprisingly missed, with Will Johnson looking like a shell of his 2013 self. Thankfully for Caleb Porter, Diego Valeri had his best game of the season, a sign things may be improving. (0-2-2)
source:  14 DOWN 4 San Jose Earthquakes: For weeks I’ve harped on the difficulty of San Jose’s schedule, with the team opening the season with Real Salt Lake, Sporting Kansas City, and two CONCACAF Champions League dates against Toluca. But all of that context gets blown up when you not only lose at home to New England but, for noticeable swathes of Saturday’s match, let the Revs have the better of play. Sam Cronin and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi remain redundant in midfield. (0-2-1)
source:  15 DOWN 1 Chivas USA: Wilmer Cabrera’s team looked the same as they have throughout the month, but with New England’s improvement, Chivas USA still drops one spot. Between Erick Torres and Mauro Rosales, the Goats have a way to steal games, with a defense built around Dan Kennedy, Carlos Bocanegra, Bobby Burling (when healthy) and Agustín Pelletieri giving them a way to keep from being overrun. (1-1-2)
source:  16 UP 2 Montréal Impact: This rise is as much about Marco Di Vaio stealing a point from Philadelphia as it is the teams below the Impact. The returning striker showed Montréal will be more dangerous in weeks to come, giving them a weapon that could have turned games in Dallas and Houston. Below this mark, some teams have better records, but those results don’t speak to this slightly improved Montréal. (0-3-1)
source:  17 DOWN 2 Chicago Fire: The Fire has three straight draws, but look at the opposition. Portland, New York, and D.C. United have combined for zero wins this season, the same number Chicago will take into this weekend’s game with Philadelphia. (0-1-3)
source:  18 DOWN 2 New York Red Bulls: It’s early, but this team looks a year older, not a year better. Being draw at home by Chivas USA wouldn’t be such a bit deal if the result didn’t fit perfectly into a larger, slightly worrisome picture. Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill have combined for one goal and no assists. (0-1-3)
source:  19 D.C. United: The team continues to make progress after its disastrous opening day, but a draw at home against the No. 17 team on this list isn’t enough to climb out of the cellar. With players like Eddie Johnson, Fabian Espindola, and Perry Kitchen giving their best performances of the season, there’s reason to think United’s improvement can continue this weekend against the Revolution. (0-2-1)

MLS Snapshot: Sounders cruise, 3-0, as Galaxy struggles continue

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
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The game in 100 words (or less): The LA Galaxy’s midfield remains… nonexistent, to put it very nicely. It was a problem in 2015; it was a major problem in 2016; and it remains a problem early in 2017. On Sunday, Curt Onalfo’s side (as a quick aside, no, his seat isn’t yet getting hot) sat by and watched — almost literally — as the Seattle Sounders found the back of the net three times in the first half at StubHub Center.

Clint Dempsey and Jordan Morris scored the goals for Seattle, to go with an own goal from Ashley Cole. It’s LA’s fifth loss in seven games, while Seattle have their second win of the season and put to bed a three-game winless skid.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS roundup — FCD win battle of unbeatens ]

Three moments that mattered

29′ — Dempsey heads into an open net for 1-0 — Nicolas Lodeiro floated the cross toward the back post, and Dempsey made extremely easy work of it with Brian Rowe scrambling through no man’s land.

35′ — Cole applies the finish into his own net — If it happened at the other end of the field, we’d have said it was a cool, calm, composed finish. Alas…

44′ — Morris fires past Rowe for 3-0 — The counter-attack was quick, what with no one stepping to the ball as Seattle covered two-thirds of the field. The finish wasn’t so simple for Morris.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Clint Dempsey

Goalscorers: Dempsey (29′), Cole (OG – 35′), Morris (44′)

Chelsea’s Kante claims PFA Player of the Year award

Photo credit: PFA / Twitter: @PFA
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Chelsea midfielder N'Golo Kante, who many felt was hard done by in not winning the award during Leicester City’s miraculous title-winning season of 2015-16, was named the 2016-17 PFA Player of the Year on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

With Chelsea six games from claiming this season’s Premier League title (they currently possess a four-point advantage on Tottenham Hotspur), it’s impossible to ignore Kante’s presence and impact on each of the last two (presumed) title-winning sides.

While his goal and assist numbers (1 and 1 this season) don’t come anywhere close to those of past winners (Riyad Mahrez tallied 17 and 11 en route to last season’s award), Kante’s industry, energy and rugged, ball-winning ways have integrated so seamlessly into Antonio Conte‘s debut Chelsea side.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

The Blues splashed the cash — $40 million was the fee — to sign Kante last summer, and they’ve reaped unbelievable, immediate return on investment from the 26-year-old.

Spurs’ Alli wins PFA Young Player award for 2nd straight season

Photo credit: Tottenham Hotspur / Twitter: @SpursOfficial
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Dele Alli joined Wayne Rooney (2004-05 and 2005-06) on Sunday as the only repeat or back-to-back winners of the PFA Young Player of the Year award winners since the turn of the century.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Alli showed in 2016-17 — much like his Tottenham Hotspur teammate and 2014-15 Young Player of the year winner Harry Kane — that he’s much more than a one-season wonder, improving upon 2015-16’s goal and assist numbers (10 and 9) with a 16-goal, 5-assist season this time around.

Alli was signed by Tottenham (out of League One and relative obscurity) for a fee just north of $6 million in 2015. Recent rumors have linked the 21-year-old with a move to join the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid, for a transfer fee well over 10 times what Spurs paid to MK Dons.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

Between Alli and Kane, Spurs players have won the last three Young Player of the Year awards, and five of the last six (Gareth Bale in 2012-13; Kyle Walker in 2011-12). Only Eden Harzard could break up Spurs’ stranglehold on the award, in 2013-14.

Ryan Giggs (1991-92 and 1992-93) and Robbie Fowler (1994-95 and 1995-96) are the only other players to win the award in back-to-back seasons.

El Clasico: Messi scores 499, 500; Barca, Madrid level on points

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After 31 (and 32, respectively) games played, three points were all that separated Real Madrid and Barcelona at the top of the table in La Liga.

[ MORE: Chelsea advance to FA Cup final | They’ll face Arsenal ]

After another 90 scintillating, pulsating, thrilling, plot-twisting minutes of El Clasico on Sunday, there’s not a single thing to separate the two sides (other than Barca’s current tiebreaker on head-to-head meetings, and Madrid’s game in hand). This time, it was Lionel Messi who outshone Cristiano Ronaldo in the meeting of the world’s brightest stars, the former scoring twice and reaching the 500-goal mark in his Barcelona career (all competitions).

Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS
 Barcelona 33 23 6 4 94 32 62 12-3-1 11-3-3 75
 Real Madrid 32 23 6 3 84 36 48 12-4-1 11-2-2 75
 Atlético Madrid 33 20 8 5 60 24 36 12-2-2 8-6-3 68

Casemiro opened the scoring with a tap-in into an empty net in the 28th minute. Marcelo floated a ball to the back post, where Sergio Ramos made clean contact but came up with nothing but hit nothing but woodwork. Fortunately for Los Blancos, the ball ricocheted off the post, bounced across the face of goal and found the Brazilian midfielder all by his lonesome.

The lead was short-lived, though, as a bloodied Messi scored yet another of his patented Messi goals just five minutes later. With two touches atop Madrid’s penalty area, he slalomed past and beat three defenders before applying the cool finish past Keylor Navas with that magical left foot of his.

Following the halftime break, the balance of play tipped in Barca’s favor. Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez went oh so close to putting the visitors ahead either side of the hour mark, but Navas produced a pair of stunning saves that’ll (perhaps) go a long way toward silencing his increasingly vocal critics.

[ MORE: Griezmann scores no. 25 as Atleti win to hold onto 3rd ]

There was absolutely nothing the Costa Rican no. 1 could do about Rakitic’s 73rd-minute strike, though. Cutting inside onto his left foot, the Croatian caressed and curled the ball toward the far post, where it made a hard right turn at the last possible second and nestled itself into the

Already up a goal, the game appeared to swing totally in Barca’s favor just four minutes later. Sergio Ramos, the most Sergio Ramos player to ever Sergio Ramos, went lunging in, with two sets of studs exposed, on Messi. He was rightly shown a straight red card.

Another pair of plot twists were still to come, though, as James Rodriguez got on the end of Marcelo’s cross and slammed the first-time finish past Marc Andre ter Stegen with four minutes of regular time remaining.

Then, with all of 13 seconds remaining in stoppage time, that man — the undisputed best player in the world and the greatest of all time — broke Madridista hearts once again. Sergi Roberto started the sequence all the way back in midfield, and Jordi Alba supplied the cross to the top of the box, and Messi drove that same left foot through the ball to beat Navas for the last-kick winner. The shirt-off-held-aloft celebration was simply salt in the wound.