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Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 7

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Two telling results at the top of the Eastern Conference shook up our Power Rankings, providing new context for early season results that, until this week, held huge sway in our evaluations. Yet after Toronto’s performance in Dallas and Columbus’s draw against D.C. United, it was easy to move beyond those teams’ early, impressive performances. Particularly with Seattle, a team both TFC and the Crew have beaten, having improved so much since those early trips to CenturyLink Field, the east’s two contenders took a fall, with a trio of Western Conference contenders sliding up the charts.

It’s a natural correction, one that illustrates the connections between all the results that go into this type of countdown. Toronto looks bad on the road at Dallas? That not only tells us something about Seattle, who beat Dallas the week before, but it also tells us Toronto’s win six weeks ago at Seattle may now be outdated. D.C. United almost gets a result out of Columbus? That tells us something about the Crew and also TFC’s win in Columbus. Suffice to say, it wasn’t a great weekend rankings-wise for Toronto or the Crew.

Those connections also hint at a problem Power Rankings have brought upon themselves. The process, already a curious one, is typically defined as moving teams up or down from the previous ranking (or, just the standings). Team wins? Move it up a little. Win big? Move it up a lot. These Power Rankings really aren’t that hard, ya’ know.

But a team’s spot in the league’s pecking order is about more than how it performed last weekend; more than whatever biases the author carried into the previous ranking. It’s about what the latest results tell us about our previous assumptions. It’s about context. It’s about continuously learning and letting that education come across in the order.

Power Rankings don’t need to be about anything, but if you’re going to do them, let them be about all the data points that inform a team’s current quality. They should be about what this week’s games tell the author about the whole picture, if they can be about anything at all.

But this isn’t another Power Rankings manifesto, though it does seem to devolving into that every week. This is about our thoughts on the league after seven weeks. Here’s who we see as Major League Soccer’s strongest , right now:

(MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Week 6 Power Rankings)

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Sporting Kansas City: Montréal is bad, but when you remember how the Impact performed in places like Dallas and Philadelphia, you get a greater appreciation for Sporting’s 4-0 win. Yes, you expect the league’s best team to clean against on the league’s worst. That Sporting did only confirms the fact that they deserve this list’s top spot. (3-1-2)

2
Real Salt Lake: RSL was the target of a frustrated, focused Portland team, yet they still managed to get full points. Thanks to Ned Grabavoy’s late winner, Real Salt Lake got back into the in column, maintaining the league’s only unbeaten record in the process.  (3-0-4)
source:  3 UP 2 Seattle Sounders: Seattle’s three-game road swing ends with seven points and the Clint Dempsey-Obafemi Martins partnership looking unstoppable. This clearly isn’t the same team that lost last month to Toronto and Columbus. The Sounders have “gelled.” They’ve improved. They’ve passed the teams that handed them their early losses. (4-2-1)

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4 UP 2 LA Galaxy: A come-from-ahead draw on the road isn’t something that usually results in a two-spot climb (especially at this place on the chart), but the Galaxy were the better team on Saturday. In light of the Eastern Conference correction and what we know from LA’s two meetings with RSL, this seems right. Though they’ll need Landon Donovan to get going to be firing on all cylinders, the Galaxy are getting close.  (2-1-2)
source:  5 UP 2 FC Dallas: Coming off their loss to Seattle, Saturday’s was a welcome rebound, particularly considering the quality of their opposition. Though Toronto’s conservative approach played into the result, it’s not difficult to imagine other teams being forced to settle for a draw. Thanks to Dallas’s continued set piece mastery, Óscar Pareja’s team stayed at the top of the Western Conference. (5-1-1)
source:  6 DOWN 3 Toronto FC: A one-goal loss at Dallas would normally be forgiven, but it’s become pretty obvious Toronto has a serious flaw – one that severely hurts the team by our ‘one game, neutral site’ standard. Ryan Nelsen is far too conservative, an approach that too often leaves his team within one goal of dropping points. Toronto has to at least try to win these games. Come the last 20 minutes, they’re just holding out, something that’s produced a the team’s first losing streak of the season. (3-3-0)
source:  7 DOWN 3 Columbus Crew: In weeks’ past, we’ve talked about apportioning blame and credit: decide what led to the result; hand out blame proportionately; don’t just blindly hurt one side and promote another. In Saturday’s 1-1 in Columbus, D.C. offered the same, limited, opportunistic approach we saw against New England and New York. The surprise was Columbus’s inability to overcome it.  (3-1-2)

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8 Colorado Rapids: The game was boring, Colorado should have expected more, but there also wasn’t any reason to think our impression of the Rapids needs to chance. San Jose is a better team than people are giving them credit for, and while Pablo Mastroeni should have still found a way to get full points at home, the inability to do so is less reason for concern than a slight down day.(3-1-2)
source:  9 UP 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: The Whitecaps weren’t great on Saturday, arguably performing worse than they did in their previous week’s trip to Carson, Calif., yet Carl Robinson’s team still found a way to take a point. That, however, isn’t the reason why they’ve climbed this week. This ranking is more a result of Philadelphia’s fall than Vancouver improving.  (2-2-3)
source:  10 UP 1 New England Revolution: The Revolution failed to inspire at Chicago and shouldn’t have had their chance to steal it late. But that’s the current state of the Fire, and with Chris Tierney’s late chance from close range, the Revolution nearly got three points in Bridgeview. That they didn’t means Saturday’s game felt like a bad performance, but compared to the résumés of the teams below them, the Revolution deserve this spot.  (2-3-2)
source:  11 UP 1 Houston Dynamo: The Dynamo had a strong first half on Saturday, one that lends credence to the idea their New England performance was a fluke. In the second half, however, Houston gave up two good chances that should have cost them the game. They move up, but only because the Union fall. (2-3-1)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Philadelphia Union: The Union have the pieces to reclaim a  higher spot on this list, but until those pieces start performing like they did in the season’s first few weeks, Philly’s place is in the bottom half of this list. John Hackworth’s team was completely outplayed last Wednesday by New York – one of the league’s worst teams over the first month-and-a-half. (1-1-5)
source:  13 San Jose Earthquakes: People are starting to take shots at San Jose, but those shots ignore a difficult opening schedule. This team is hard to watch and seems to have inspired some resentment from the rest of the league’s fans, but they’re not that bad, in a competitive sense. They’ve drawn three teams above them on this list. (0-2-3)
source:  14 Chicago Fire: Same as last week: played better than their opponents; found a way to draw; just need to stop making defensive mistakes. This week, it was Patrick Nyarko taking down Kevin Alston in the box. Converting late penalties would help, too, but until Chicago actually starts playing bad (which, it’s not dong now), there’s no reason for alarm. (0-1-6)
source:  15 UP 1 Portland Timbers: Remember the standard here: Who wins a neutral site game tomorrow. After watching the Timbers at Rio Tinto on Saturday, can you honestly say they wouldn’t beat the teams below them on this list? They’d probably beat some of the teams above them, too, but given their inability to break into the win column, we’ll stay conservative. Portland is improving, though. (0-3-4)
source:  16 UP 1 D.C. United: Unbeaten in four, D.C. United have proven more dangerous (or, less self-destructive) than last year. Still, the team’s progress has been as much about opponents’ struggles as their own successes. The actual games show a team that’s still very limited and likely enjoying an uncharacteristic string of results. Now it’s up to Ben Olsen to turn this run into something sustainable. (2-2-2)
source:  17 UP 2 New York Red Bulls: It would have been nice for Philadelphia to come back strong on Saturday and show New York’s first win of the season wasn’t just them taking advantage of struggling team traveling (albeit at a short distance) on a quick turnaround. Regardless, the Red Bulls are still in the win column, quickly rebuking the notion they are “the worst team in Major League Soccer” (as we called them last week). (1-2-4)
source:  18 DOWN 3 Chivas USA: Chivas doesn’t seem this bad, but as teams like New York and D.C. make progress, the Goats are finding ways to lose at home. There’s a pretty big gap between them and 19th place Montréal, but Wilmer Cabrera’s team needs to recapture some of its early-season confidence if it’s to climb back up this chart. (1-3-3)
source:  19 DOWN 1 Montréal Impact: Not only is this team really bad, but they have no fight. The expressions, body language, results during that last 20 minutes in Kansas City gave the impression this is more than a slow start. The Impact have no identity, no direction, and seem without potential solutions. Maybe, having hit rock bottom, there’ll be an awakening in the squad, but if the teamy can’t show more this week against visiting Philadelphia, it’ll be time to consider a major shakeup. (0-4-3)

UEFA Europa League group stage: Man United, Saints handed tough draws

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - AUGUST 19:  Zlatan Ibrahimovic of Manchester United celebrates scoring the opening goal with Paul Pogba during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)
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Premier League clubs Manchester United and Southampton were both handed tough, but exciting, draws in the 2016-17 group stage of the UEFA Europa League.

[ MORE: Europa League schedule

The draw, which took place in Monaco on Friday, saw Jose Mourinho’s United placed in Group A as they face Turkish giants Fenerbache, Dutch powerhouse Feyenoord and Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk with some big games coming up at Old Trafford.

Saints, who have reached the group stage of the Europa League for the first-time in club history, face mouth-watering clashes against Inter Milan, while they also have tough games against Czech giants Sparta Prague and the champions of Israel Hapoel Beer-Sheva.

48 teams who had qualified for the Europa League group stage were split up into 12 groups of four teams with some other big ties cropping up as Group G looks particularly strong as it contains Ajax, Standard Liege, Celta Vigo and Panathinaikos.

The Europa League final will take place in Stockholm, Sweden at the Friends Arena on May 24, 2017.

Below is the draw in full, with the opening group games taking place on Thursday Sept. 15. There are six group games in total for each team and you can see the full schedule by clicking on the link above.


GROUP A
Manchester United
Fenerbache
Feyenoord
Zorya Luhansk

GROUP B
Olympiakos
APOEL FC
Young Boys
FC Astana

GROUP C
Anderlecht
St Etienne
FSV Mainz 05
Gabala

GROUP D
Zenit St Petersburg
AZ Alkmaar
Maccabi Tel-Aviv
Dundalk

GROUP E
Viktoria Plzen
AS Roma
Austria Wien
Astra Giurgiu

GROUP F
Athletic Bilbao
Genk
Rapid Wien
Sassuolo

GROUP G
Ajax
Standard Liege
Celta Vigo
Panathinaikos

GROUP H
Shakhtar Donetsk
SC Braga
Gent
Konyaspor

GROUP I
FC Schalke 04
FC Salzburg
Krasnodar
Nice

GROUP J
Fiorentina
PAOK FC
Slovan Liberec
Qarabag

GROUP K
Inter Milan
Sparta Prague
Southampton
Hapoel Beer-Sheva

GROUP L
Villarreal
Steaua Bucharest
FC Zurich
Osmanlispor

UEFA: Top four leagues guaranteed four teams in UCL from 2018

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 27:  UEFA  Champions League trophy is seen ahead of the UEFA Champions League semi final first leg match between Club Atletico de Madrid and FC Bayern Muenchen at Vincente Calderon on April 27, 2016 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
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The UEFA Champions League will see a big change for three seasons from the 2018-19 campaign.

[ MORE: UCL group stage draw ]

On Friday it was announced by UEFA that several changes, most notably the way teams qualify for the UCL, had been approved and will take place in the next competition cycle.

The biggest change and the one everyone is talking about is that from 2018 the teams who finish in the top four of the four highest ranked UEFA nations will automatically qualify for the UCL group stage.

[ MORE: Analyzing UCL draw for PL teams ]

That means no more UCL play-off for teams who finish fourth in the Premier League.

In a statement on their website, UEFA’s General Secretary ad interim Theodore Theodoridis revealed everyone is happy with the changes.

“The amendments made will continue to ensure qualification based on sporting merit, and the right of all associations and their clubs to compete in Europe’s elite club competitions. We are happy that European football remains united behind the concepts of solidarity, fair competition, fair distribution and good governance.”

Some argue that having 16 places guaranteed to teams from the top four nations in Europe — currently Spain, Germany, England and Italy — is a monopoly and limits the chances of smaller clubs from smaller nations from qualifying.

UEFA also revealed a new coefficient system with clubs no longer having a country share tacked on to their coefficient under most circumstances, plus historical success will be weighted in the coefficient rankings to take into account past UCL and Europa League titles won.

For example, Liverpool’s coefficient will likely increase despite not playing in Europe this season as instead of the coefficient being solely made up of how they and other English teams have performed in Europe over the past few years, now their five previous UCL titles will be weighted and their coefficient will improve due to past success.

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)
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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