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PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 6

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Before getting to our ranking — one where only six teams move more than one spot — this seems like a good time to offer a reminder of what we’re trying to do, because at this point, this Power Ranking might look a lot different than others. But there’s a reason for that. There’s an underlying goal, one that tries to go beyond merely tweaking the standings or using new results to justify movement to last week’s list.

Last week’s list? The standings? They’re irrelevant. We never look at them coming up with Tuesday’s list. All we do is go through each team and ask: Based on what we’ve seen, which one is better?

From our first ranking of the year:

The test is this: If two teams played tomorrow, given their current injury concerns, form, and other considerations, who is likely to win on a neutral field? … All things being equal, who is the best team going forward, based on what we know now?

Toronto’s loss to Colorado? It told us something about the Rapids, but given who Ryan Nelsen chose (or, was able to choose) on Saturday, we didn’t learn much about the Reds. Why toss them down the rankings when we don’t honestly believe TFC’s any worse than it was on Friday? Even after Saturday’s 1-0 loss, Toronto remains third on our list.

The teams that did make major moves? We got information that challenged last week’s assumptions. After its 2-0 loss in New England, we now know the depths Houston’s capable of reaching. We also know the Revolution’s win in San Jose was no fluke. After Erick Torres’s late goal in Portland, we know you don’t need Seattle’s arsenal to fight back against the Timbers. And after Saturday’s game at RFK, we also know how far New York has fallen.

With that in mind, here’s our look at Major League Soccer after Week 6’s results:

(MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Week 5 Power Rankings)

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Sporting Kansas City: Real Salt Lake could have taken this spot with a dominant performance in Philadelphia, but with last year’s Western Conference champions held to a draw at PPL Park, the MLS Cup holders retain their grip on our top spot. (2-1-2)

2
Real Salt Lake: For the second time this season, RSL gave up a late lead on the road, but given the quality of the team’s competition, the result was still a good one. A tough opening schedule eases up slightly this weekend when the struggling Timbers visit Rio Tinto Stadium, giving Jeff Cassar’s team a good chance to jump back into the win column. (2-0-4)
source:  3 Toronto FC: When Sporting Kansas City started the season with lineups hampered by injuries and the need to rest players, we gave them a pass on some uncharacteristic results. Given Toronto was missing five starters on Saturday, we extend the same courtesy to the Reds. Despite Saturday’s 1-0 loss, we don’t suddenly think they’re worse than the Crew, who Toronto beat the 11 days ago. (3-2-0)
source:  4 Columbus Crew: Rebounding from its first loss of the season, Columbus got a point from one of the most difficult venues in the league, with Federico Higuaín’s fourth goal of the season vaulting the team first in the Eastern Conference. If any team but Toronto was above them, we’d probably move to Crew up, but given what we saw two weeks ago in Columbus, it’s hard to say Gregg Berhalter’s team is more likely to win a neutral site meeting tomorrow. (3-1-1)
source:  5 UP 2 Seattle Sounders: Saturday’s comeback win feels like it deserves more than a two-spot jump, but Sigi Schmid’s team is getting into some rarified air, here – a place where two teams that have bear Seattle (at CenturyLink) sits directly above it on the list. Still, the Sounders pass the Galaxy after a weekend when Bruce Arena’s team won. That speaks to how highly we think of Seattle’s performance. (3-2-1)

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6 DOWN 1 LA Galaxy: This drop is less about the Galaxy; more about the Sounders. Though the team is still waiting for Landon Donovan to get on the scoresheet, the performances of Stefan Ishizaki, Baggio Husidic, and Dan Gargan have allowed Arena to address his team’s early problems. If the four-time champions can extend their winning streak to three this weekend in Vancouver, it will be difficult to keep them out of the top five. (2-1-1)
source:  7 DOWN 1 FC Dallas: Throughout Saturday’s first half, Dallas looked set to disprove all of my doubts. Then the teams switched sides, Dallas had to play into the win, and the team lost its first game of the season. Along the way, however, they gave one of the most talented teams in the league all it could handle. If it wasn’t for Seattle being so impressive, Dallas wouldn’t have fallen at all.  (4-1-1)

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8 UP 2 Colorado Rapids: Toronto was missing half its starters, but Colorado still applied a formula that could work going forward. The team’s not taking a lot of chances in attack, with the team’s new midfield diamond providing a solidity will keep it in games. With players like Dillon Powers, Deshorn Brown, Vicente Sánchez, and Gabi Torres in the squad, Pablo Mastroeni has a number of talents who can turn games. On Saturday, it was Dillon Serna, Powers, and Edson Buddle combining for the game’s only goal. (3-1-1)
source:  9 Philadelphia Union: The Union proved its disappointing performance in Chicago was a fluke, going toe-to-toe with Real Salt Lake in Saturday’s 2-2 draw. With Sheanon Williams healthy and Andrew Wenger providing a forward that will do more than lurk for 70 minutes, the Union may be patching some holes. The next big item on the list: Stop the mistakes at the back. (1-1-4)
source:  10 UP 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: Despite two losses in a row, Vancouver moves up, having given LA a good game in Carson, Calif. Though it was strange to see such a talented group of attackers sit back and try to play on the counter, the plan nearly worked. By taking the transition game way from the Galaxy, Carl Robinson nearly got a point at StubHub. (2-2-2)
source:  11 UP 5 New England Revolution: I clearly have no idea what to do with the Revs, with the last three weeks seeing them jump at last four spots, one way or the other. This rise, however, is about more than holding Houston without a shot on target. It’s also about validating what New England showed three weeks ago in San Jose. It also doesn’t hurt that D.C. won again this week, providing a new context to the loss at RFK. (2-3-1)
source:  12 DOWN 4 Houston Dynamo: Sunday’s terrible performance in New England gives Houston the week’s biggest drop, but in the context of the team’s entire 2014 season, the result looks aberrational. Though Houston lost 4-1 the week before, three of those goals came playing with 10 men. Saturday was by far the team’s worst performance, one that should prove out-of-character as the season goes on. (2-3-0)
source:  13 San Jose Earthquakes: Another decent performance without a win, though given the quality of Sunday’s opposition, the draw was understandable. After New England played so well against Houston on Saturday, the Earthquakes’ only loss of the season doesn’t look so disastrous anymore, either. Unfortunately for Mark Watson’s team, they’ll be in Colorado this weekend, opening up the possibility the Earthquakes could give another decent performance and still leave winless. This team is better than its record. (0-3-1)
source:  14 Chicago Fire: After five straight draws, it’s tempting to ask what else the team should do, but there’s no mystery here. As is the case with Philadelphia and Portland, the central defense just needs to stop making mistakes. There’s no need for a major overhaul, right now. (0-1-5)
source:  15 Chivas USA: Wilmer Cabrera called Saturday’s performance his team’s best of the season. After the Goats out-possessed the ball-hogging Timbers, he may be right. But given how poorly the Timbers’ defense has played this season, the result isn’t a big shock. If you have a player like Erick Torres, you have a chance against Portland. (1-2-3)
source:  16 DOWN 4 Portland Timbers: At some point, the defense will come together, and Portland will surge back up this chart. But if the Timbers had to win a neutral field game tomorrow, they’d be in trouble against most of the league. Portland needs to prove they can play 90 minutes without a defensive breakdown before we reconsider its chances against the league’s better clubs. (0-2-4)
source:  17 UP 2 D.C. United: For the first time this season, a “19” doesn’t precede D.C.’s entry on this list, and while neither win has been particularly convincing, the results have been informative. Even if Ben Olsen’s team doesn’t seem much better than last year’s, 2013 is going to be very difficult to duplicate, especially with teams like New York willing to come down to the bottom of the table. (2-2-1)
source:  18 DOWN 1 Montréal Impact: There are points you look at Montréal and see the potential for a respectable team, but until those moments become more frequent, the Impact aren’t going to make a dent in their depressing start. The team has drawn all three games since Marco Di Vaio’s return, a stretch that includes positive results against Philadelphia and Chicago. The switch to a 4-4-2 formation this weekend, however, could prove a step backwards if Jack McInerney can’t recapture his early 2013 form. (0-3-3)
source:  19 DOWN 1 New York Red Bulls: The nightmare scenario skeptics envisioned before the start of the season is playing out. The team looks older, slower, less resourceful – like a team that played over its head for 34 games last season. Six games isn’t enough to write anybody off, but New York has gone from Supporters’ Shield winners to the worst team in Major League Soccer. The return of Tim Cahill might turn everything around, but it’s time to start considering backup plans at Red Bull Arena. (0-2-4)

Zidane’s Madrid on cusp of setting new unbeaten record

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03: Zinedine Zidane, Manager of Real Madrid looks on during the La Liga  match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Zinedine Zidane is one match away from coaching Real Madrid to a new unbeaten record.

When Zidane replaced Rafa Benitez midway through last season, the inexperienced former midfield standout got off to an auspicious start with a 5-0 victory over Deportivo La Coruna.

Eleven months and one Champions League title later, Madrid faces Deportivo again at home on Saturday with the chance of surpassing its longest unbeaten run since the club was founded in 1902.

On Wednesday, Madrid equaled a club record of 34 games without a loss set in 1989 under coach Leo Beenhakker when it drew 2-2 with Borussia Dortmund.

“It’s important to continue to make history and continue our good run,” Zidane said after the match. “I don’t think it’s very important for me to leave my mark. What interests me the most is to continue with this great run that we’re on.”

Last season, when Real Madrid president Florentino Perez tapped Zidane to take over a struggling team, the decision smelled of desperation.

A fan favorite from his playing days as part of Madrid’s “galaticos” bunch, Zidane was promoted from coaching the reserve team to take over a side that was lurching from one embarrassing episode to the next.

Madrid’s 2015-16 campaign had started with Perez flubbing his play to sign away Manchester United goalie David De Gea. The team was then disqualified from the Copa de Rey for fielding an illegible player, and it endured a 4-0 defeat from Barcelona at home as it failed to click with Benitez.

Perez needed to make an impact move. But instead of searching for a veteran manager, he charged the unproven Zidane with turning around Madrid’s group of talented underachievers.

At first, the team remained erratic, and even looked set to bow out of the Champions League after a shocking 2-0 loss at German side Wolfsburg.

But that defeat on April 6 proved to be a catalyst. The team hasn’t lost since, recovering to claim its 11th European Cup and almost nip Barcelona for the Spanish league crown, before roaring out to lead la Liga this season.

Zidane, whose top-tier coaching experience had been limited to his stint as an assistant under Carlo Ancelotti, has now reached the half-century mark as head manager. During that 50-match period, he has overseen 37 wins, 11 draws and only two losses. That other loss came at Atletico Madrid in February.

“The players have to be congratulated. They’re the ones out on the pitch, it’s them who run, fight and dig in,” Zidane said. “We also have to thank the fans, who always get behind the team and support us. They’ve got to take some credit for what the team is achieving”.

Gifted with world-class stars like Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Luka Modric, Zidane focused on getting more from Madrid’s supporting cast. He put a new emphasis on defense in his midfield by favoring Mateo Kovacic and Casemiro over flashier playmakers James Rodriguez and Francisco “Isco” Alarcon, and he has helped the little-known Lucas Vazquez blossom into an important piece of its attack.

“(Zidane) has gotten us to work hard and for things to go well for us, and that is paying off with this run of 34 unbeaten games,” defender Dani Carvajal said. “Everyone on the team has words of praise for him.”

Whereas the draw with Dortmund was disappointing because it cost Madrid a first-place finish in its Champions League group, its 1-1 stalemate earned last weekend at Barcelona tasted of victory. The “clasico” draw kept Madrid six points clear of Barcelona at the top of the Spanish table.

After it plays Deportivo, Madrid heads to Japan for the Club World Cup.

If Zidane sets the new club mark, his next goal would be the milestone held by Barcelona under counterpart Luis Enrique, whose 39-game unbeaten run was ended by Madrid last April.

Top 5 Premier League storylines for Week 15: Chelsea top, Leicester tested

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alexis Sanchez of Arsenal celebrates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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This weekend is absolutely critical for the Premier League. Last time out, the top of the table kept pace and little changed. This time around, there is danger lurking for much of the top. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Spurs all have difficult tests, but can Tony Pulis be the one to pin Chelsea back?

Spurs and Manchester United 9:15 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com) meet with both teams clawing for scraps from those above them. These two teams very well could be battling it out for a final Champions League place at the end of the season, meaning this matchup could go a long way in building a true gap in the table.

[ MORE: Jose Mourinho failing to adapt at Manchester United ]

The bottom of the table is fascinating as well. Bob Bradley has his biggest chance yet to pull the Swans off the bottom against Sunderland amid the noise, while Hull City and Crystal Palace have a key meeting.

1. Moving day for Chelsea

Chelsea vs. West Brom — 7:00 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

Chelsea is in the best form of any Premier League team in years. Their clean sheet streak predictably ended two games ago, but it hasn’t stopped the Blues’ fine run. They’ve won eight in a row and look impossible to stop. Can Pulis-ball keep the Blues at bay? They’re three points on top of the table, and another win would likely give them even more space considering tough matches for the other top teams.

2. Any magic left in the tank for Leicester City?

Leicester City vs. Manchester City — 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

The Foxes topped their Champions League group, but things continue to look more and more bleak in league play. Claudio Raneiri admitted they’re in a relegation battle with the Foxes just two points above the drop. But we’ve learned not to count this team out already, and a win against Pep Guardiola‘s stumbling team could be more than just three points.

Speaking of Manchester City, Pep was pipped by fellow first-time Premier League manager Antonio Conte last weekend, and then held to a 1-1 draw with Celtic in midweek Champions League action. However, City has taken care of business so far this season against weaker opponents, and the Foxes certainly seem to be just that at this point.

Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
Claudio Ranieri admitted Leicester City is in a relegation battle (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

3. Will Arsenal stumble against Stoke?

Arsenal vs. Stoke City — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

For all the heat the Gunners have (unfairly?) taken this season, Alexis Sanchez has them just three points off the top. For Arsenal to still be one game off Chelsea despite the Blues’ fabulous run is somewhat remarkable, and for them to have thus far weathered the storm, it would be truly something to see them capitalize on a slip-up from Conte.

[ MORE: Sanchez among Premier League’s best 5 players ]

However, Stoke has been here before. The Potters have conceded just three goals in their last seven matches, including a pair with clean sheets; if anyone can stop Sanchez’s amazing form, it’s the Mark Hughes and the defensively stout Potters. A win for Stoke could potentially see them jump as high as sixth, could they go on the road and halt the Gunners? It’s possible, but a 315-minute shutout streak vs. Stoke for Arsenal puts things squarely in Arsene Wenger‘s favor before kickoff.

4. Bob Bradley’s golden opportunity

Swansea City vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. ET Saturday, NBCSports.com

Bob Bradley has taken plenty of flak at Swansea City, and rightly so. Since his anointment as the first American manager in England’s top flight, the Swans have picked up just five points and still sit bottom of the table, two points back of anyone else. But to be fair, the competition has been tough. The four losses since his appointment have come against Arsenal, Stoke City, Manchester United, and Tottenham, and he picked up a pair of points against 8th placed Everton and 11th placed Watford. Now is his chance to pick the Swans off the bottom with a win against those directly above him.

[ RELATED: Swansea issues vote of confidence for Bob Bradley ]

Sunderland visits Wales sitting in 18th, and should Swansea win, they would jump above the Black Cats. The task is no given, however, with Sunderland owning three wins in its last four, meaning they’ve picked up nine of their 11 total points in the last month. Bradley fended off much criticism the past week, and if he’s going to silence those calls for his job after just two months, this is a must-win.

5. West Ham finishes gauntlet stretch

Liverpool vs. West Ham United — 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, NBCSports.com

The Hammers are in the midst of a brutal run of matches where they have just two points, putting them a single point above the relegation zone. The teams they’ve played? Everton, Stoke City, Spurs, Manchester United, Arsenal. Yikes. And yet, if West Ham aspire to the heights they reached last season, Slaven Bilic will expect better. Can the Hammers get a result against the high-flying Reds? Liverpool sits four points off the top, but goalkeeper Loris Karius was exposed last week in the stunning Bournemouth comeback, and it’s possible that disappointment leaves a lasting impact. Who will prevail?

FA bans Leeds owner Massimo Cellino 18 months

LEEDS, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 13:  Massimo Cellino President and Director of Leeds United during the Sky Bet Championship match between Leeds United and Fulham at Elland Road on December 13, 2014 in Leeds, England. (Photo by Clint Hughes/Getty Images)
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Leeds United may be making a push to return to the Premier League, but they’ll have to do so without their owner.

Massimo Cellino, who took over Leeds in February of 2014, has been banned for 18 months by the English FA for his involvement in the sale of Ross McCormack to Fulham later that summer. He was also fined $315,000 and required to complete a course outlining the duties and restrictions for owners in the English league.

During McCormack’s sale, a significant payment was apparently paid to unlicensed agent Barry Hughes, facilitated by McCormack’s official licensed agent Derek Day, who was also banned for 18 months, although 11 of those are suspended, leaving him sidelined for seven months should no other infractions arise.

This likely will only serve to accelerate the current potential sale of Leeds to Andrea Radrizzani, with both sides having publicly acknowledged discussions are ongoing.

Leeds is currently in fourth in the Championship table, having won five of their last six matches. McCormack, meanwhile, scoring a whopping 42 goals in 100 appearances over two years before making a big-money move to Aston Villa this past summer, where he has slumped at Villa Park, owning just two goals over 13 Championship appearances this season and losing his place in the team. To be fair, he struggled in his early days at Fulham as well, scoring just twice in his first 15 matches before exploding in his second season at Craven Cottage with 21 league goals.

Europa League roundup: Manchester United through, Southampton bounced

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton is chased by Shir Tzedek of Hapoel Be'er Sheva during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The Europa League group stage finished up Thursday and a pair of Premier League teams are through, along with other big-name clubs.

Manchester United secured its spot in the knockout stage by beating Ukranian side Zorya 2-0 on goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paul Pogba looked incisive as well, feeding Zlatan on the second goal. They finish second in Group A after Fenerbahce beat Feyenoord on a wonderful overhead kick from bike specialist Moussa Sow, giving the Turkish club the group’s top spot.

Southampton, however, suffered a double blow as they needed a win or a 0-0 draw against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, but were dumped from the competition with a wild 1-1 draw after Maor Bar Buzaglo scored with 11 minutes remaining to send the Israeli club through. In addition, the Saints may have lost striker Charlie Austin for some time after he went down with what looked to be a dislocated shoulder, as trainers appeared to pop it back in as Austin lay on the pitch, before he came off in clear pain.

[ RECAP: Southampton dumped out of Europa League with draw ]

Group B finished with a tight margin. Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia defeated bigger brothers Olympiacos 2-0 with one early and one late. That sent Apoel clean through at the top of the club, while the Greeks took second. Olympiacos finished level with Young Boys on eight points, but the Greek club went through thanks to a win and a draw against their Swiss groupmates.

Group C ended even tighter as St. Etienne completed a stunning comeback, down 2-0 in the first half on the road at Anderlecht before coming from behind to win 3-2 with all three goals coming in a 12-minute span in the second half. That gave the French side the group win with 12 points, while the Belgians came in second with 11. FC Mainz won 2-0 over Qabala but finished third with nine points.

AZ Alkmaar’s wire to wire 3-2 win over Group D winners Zenit St. Petersburg saw them advance despite Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory, while Celta Vigo overtook Standard Liege to move on through Group G thanks to a 2-0 win over Panathanaikos. The Spaniards came into the day tied with Standard Liege on points, and the three points saw them through, while the Belgians were bounced after managing just a draw against group leaders Ajax.

Group F is the only question mark, as Genk and Sassuolo were meant to play, but the match was postponed due to signifncant fog cutting sight to essentially nothing at Mapei Stadium in Italy. Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, sits atop the group, but a 1-1 draw Thursday with Rapid Wien means Genk is still able to take over the top spot from the Spaniards with a draw or win.

Red Bull Salzburg caught FC Krasnodar on points thanks to a win over group leaders Schalke plus a Krasnodar loss to Nice, but it wasn’t enough thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, so Schalke and Krasnodar move through in Group I.

Finally, Villarreal secured a place in the knockout stages thanks to a late 2-1 win over 10-man Steaua Bucharesti. Manu Trigueros scored the winner in the 88th minute, pushing them clean into second behind Turkish club Osmanlispor who won the group with a 2-0 win over FC Zurich thanks to two late goals.

SCORELINES

Zorya 0-2 Manchester United
Southampton 1-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Feyenoord 0-1 Fenerbahce
Astra Giurgiu 0-0 Roma
AZ Alkmaar 3-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Standard Liege 1-1 Ajax
Inter Milan 2-1 Sparta Prague
Red Bull Salzburg 2-0 Schalke
Villareal 2-1 Steaua Bucharesti
Qarabag 1-2 Fiorentina
Sporting Braga 2-4 Shakhtar Donetsk
Anderlecht 2-3 Saint Etienne
Mainz 2-0 Gabala
Panathinaikos 0-2 Celta Vigo
Viktoria Plzen 3-2 Austria Wien
Konyaspor 0-1 Gent
PAOK 2-0 Liberec
Apoel Nicosia 2-0 Olympiacos
Young Boys 3-0 Astana
Osmanlispor 2-0 FC Zurich
Nice 2-1 Krasnodar
Sassuolo vs. Genk (postponed until Friday)

The draw for the Round of 32 will take place on Monday, December 12th.

ROUND OF 32:

Group winners: Fenerbahce, Apoel Nicosia, St. Etienne, Zenit St. Petersburg, Roma, Athletic Bilbao/Genk, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke, Fiorentina, Sparta Prague, Osmanlispor.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Olympiacos, Anderlecht, Anderlecht, Astra Giurgiu, Athletic Bilbao/Genk, Celta Vigo, KAA Gent, Krasnodar, PAOK, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Villareal.

Dropping down from Champions League: Ludogorets, Besiktas, Borussia Monchengladbach, FC Rostov, Tottenham Hotspur, Legia Warsaw, FC Copenhagen, Lyon.