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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)

San Jose Earthquakes release Clarence Goodson, eight others

San Jose Earthquakes forward Quincy Amarikwa (25) is mobbed by teammates after scoring against the Portland Timbers during the first half of an MLS soccer match Sunday, March 13, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
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While the battle for MLS Cup 2016 has been dwindled down to two sides, the rest of the league continues to make roster transactions in preparation for next season.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

The San Jose Earthquakes announced on Friday that the club has exercised options on six players, including goalkeeper David Bingham, Fatai Alashe, Kip Colvey and Victor Bernardez.

Additionally, the Earthquakes have released nine players, including U.S. Men’s National Team defender Clarence Goodson, Marc Pelosi and Tommy Thompson, however, the latter two are reportedly in talks to return to the club in 2017.

Napoli beats Inter 3-0 in Serie A after lightning start

NAPLES, ITALY - DECEMBER 02:  Players of Napoli celebrate the opening goal during the Serie A match between SSC Napoli and FC Internazionale at Stadio San Paolo on December 2, 2016 in Naples, Italy.  (Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images)
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NAPLES, Italy (AP) Napoli eased to a 3-0 win over Inter Milan in Serie A on Friday, with two goals in the opening five minutes.

[ MORE: Top 5 PL storylines heading into weekend ]

The home side got off to a lightning start as, following a wonderful team move, Jose Callejon headed back Marek Hamsik’s chipped pass for Piotr Zielinski to volley into the bottom left corner.

[ MORE: Ronaldo, Mourinho involved in massive tax evasion system ]

Zielinski turned provider moments later as Hamsik beat the offside trap to run onto his pass and fire into the bottom right corner.

It was Hamsik’s 104th goal for Napoli, moving him level with Edinson Cavani in third in the clubs’ goalscoring charts. The Slovakia forward needs 11 more to equal Diego Maradona’s record.

Inter started the second half aggressively but hopes of getting back into the match were scuppered six minutes after the restart when Lorenzo Insigne netted his fourth goal in three league matches after visiting goalkeeper Samir Handanovic only flapped at a corner.

Napoli moved level on points with Atalanta, which visits league leader Juventus on Saturday, and fourth-placed Lazio, which hosts Roma in the capital derby on Sunday.

Inter, which beat Fiorentina 4-2 on Monday for its first win under coach Stefano Pioli, remained eighth ahead of the rest of the weekend’s fixtures.

Report: Paraguayan midfielder Almiron to join Atlanta United for $13 million

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JUNE 11:  Miguel Almiron #17 of Paraguay tries to keep the ball as John Brooks #6 of United States slides in the first half during the Copa America Centenario Group C match at Lincoln Financial Field on June 11, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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On a day where Atlanta United added another young talent, the 2017 MLS expansion side could be preparing to make a major splash for a South American playmaker.

According to numerous Argentine media outlets, Atlanta is closing in on signing Paraguay international Miguel Almiron for an MLS-record fee of $13 million from Lanus at the end of 2016.

Almiron, 22, has scored three goals in 34 appearances for Lanus since joining the Argentine club in 2015. The young winger began his professional career back in 2013 with Cerro Porteno, where Almiron also played for the club’s youth academy.

On the international stage, Almiron has already earned seven caps for Paraguay after previously representing the nation’s Under-17 and U-20 national teams.

El Clasico Preview: Barcelona looks to break Real Madrid’s hold on La Liga

BARCELONA, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Casemiro of Real Madrid CF battles for the ball with Neymar of FC Barcelona during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on April 2, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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It could very well be the greatest rivalry in all of sports, and Saturday will see another installment of El Clasico in Spain’s top flight.

[ MORE: Messi looking to end El Clasico scoring drought ]

Barcelona will host Real Madrid on Saturday at the Camp Nou (10 a.m. ET on beIN Sport) as the Blaugrana look to hand the Madridistas their first loss of the La Liga season.

[ MORE: Griezmann joins Ronaldo, Messi for FIFA’s Best Player award ]

Through 13 rounds of play, Real remains the only unbeaten side in La Liga, sitting on 33 points atop the first division. Barca finds itself six points back, however, a victory would go a long way in cutting down Real’s advantage.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s 10 goals in league play thus far has paced Real to its hot start, which includes a 20-match unbeaten streak in all competitions dating back to the start of the La Liga calendar.

The Portuguese attacker will need to continue his brilliance this weekend, though, as Real is forced to cope without Welsh star Gareth Bale. The winger is expected to miss four months after undergoing an ankle operation recently.

Meanwhile, Barcelona enters the Clasico in less-than-ideal form for a club with massive expectations. Luis Enrique’s side has gone unbeaten in its last five matches across all competitions, but the Blaugrana have looked less than convincing in that span.

“It’s a special game and we want to make the team and fans happy. I expect 100,000 people cheering us on,” said Enrique. “The game tomorrow is a chance to beat Real Madrid and to get closer to the top of the table, nothing more.

“Controlling your emotions is basic. In a game like this one, what happens on the field has little to do with the league table.”

Temperament will surely be key for both sides in the contentious matchup, particularly with the meeting being historically one of great physicality. Red cards have been shown in the last two meetings, with Real players both being the recipients of the ejections (Sergio Ramos & Isco).

Lionel Messi and his 21 previous Clasico goals will prove to be crucial for Barcelona as they look to put the first blemish on Real’s record in 2016. The Argentine has 19 goals in all tournaments, making his presence an absolute must if Barca is to snatch a victory.

Real earned a victory in their most recent encounter with Barca, a 2-1 result in April 2016, where Ronaldo netted the game-winner inside the final five minutes of play.