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PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 9

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Of all the teams to cause this year’s first crisis of conscience, I didn’t expect it to be Sporting Kansas City. Over the four years, the defending Major League Soccer champions have been one of the handful of consistently good teams in the league. If they can’t serve as a Power Rankings barometer, who can?

Consider the fortunes of their most recent opponents. Two weeks ago, Sporting lost 2-0 at New England, but because the game was a relatively chance-free 0-0 before Aurèlien Collin was sent off, we saw that as a push in terms of what it told us about the teams’ ability to win going forward. Sporting dropped one spot because Seattle was awesome (against Colorado). New England dropped because New York had a four-point week.

Fast forward to this week, and Columbus is going up after losing to Sporting. What gives? Again, it’s all about context. Columbus lost 2-0, but they were on the road, in a game that was 1-0 for all but 11 minutes, where the Crew generated as many good chances 11-on-11 chances their hosts. As far as their number seven ranking went, we saw that as a bit of a push, too, but with Toronto falling at home (to New England, of course), the Crew moved up.

Each week, via various mediums, so much reaction comes down to “how do you drop NE a spot for beating SKC” (as one commenter asked last week). There are the in-game factors to consider (like red cards). We also have to factor in what the bigger picture tells us about the team. But as much as anything, we have to factor in the league itself. The rankings aren’t absolute. They’re relative.

Regardless, we’ve added a “Methodology” link, below – a highfaluting way to link back to the explanation that accompanied our first ranking of the season. Remember, the goal here is to rank teams in terms of the neutral field, game tomorrow test. Who is more likely to win that game?

He’s how we feel, relatively, after nine weeks of the Major League Soccer season.

MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Week 8 Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Sounders: Saturday was exactly how you’d expect a team of Seattle’s caliber to respond, given some early misfortune. Though it took them almost 70 minutes to reverse Philadelphia’s early lead, the Sounders preserved their winning streak ,as well as the spot on top of this chart. (6-2-1)
source:  2 Sporting Kansas City: Sporting could not have given a more Sporting performance, even if Sunday was the first time this season the defending champions had scored in the first half. No team is better equipped to hold a one-goal lead, one which Kansas City doubled late for its impressive result. (4-2-2)

3 Real Salt Lake: In a 23-minute span, RSL began dishing out what it’s been taking all season. Four times this year, the Western Conference champions have come from ahead to draw. In Chicago, RSL overcame a late two-goal deficit to stay unbeaten, quelling any doubts they carried out of last week’s draw. (4-0-5)

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4 LA Galaxy: A one-goal loss at Colorado is nothing to worry about. The biggest issue for LA: What do they do when Robbie Keane’s having an off night? The Galaxy have lost both games were Keane’s failed to score; they’re undefeated when their captain gets on the scoresheet. (2-2-2)
source:  5 FC Dallas: For the second week in a row, Dallas was undone by a first half red card, and for the second week in a row, we’ll take a wait-and-see approach before bumping Óscar Pareja’s team down. There’s no reason to believe these red cards will continue. There’s also no reason to pass judgement on a team’s ability to play with only 10. (5-3-1)
source:  6 UP 1 Columbus Crew: How can the Crew rise despite losing? Partially because a close loss on the road at the defending champions isn’t the reason to drop anybody, partially because of Toronto’s fall. As good as Columbus looked at times in Kansas City, this rise is less about its performance than TFC’s. (3-2-3)
source:  7 UP 4 New England Revolution: Against a newly-healthy Toronto, New England looked just as good as it did last week against Kansas City; if not better. Whereas that game saw the Reds tied 0-0 at home before Collin’s sending off, Saturday saw Jay Heaps’ team claim a 2-1 win at BMO Field. While Doneil Henry’s failings played a big part, New England continues to prove themselves capable of taking advantage of others’ mistakes. (4-3-2)
source:  8 New York Red Bulls: Eighty minutes playing against 10-men tells us almost nothing about New York’s strength going forward. The three road points are a boon in the standings, but the Red Bulls tread water in this chart. (3-2-5)
source:  9 Vancouver Whitecaps: The home-road duality of Vancouver continues. This team seems built to take advantage of BC Place. Carl Robinson just needs to find a formula that works on the road.  (3-2-4)

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10 Colorado Rapids: A home win over the Galaxy allowed Colorado to move past its loss in Seattle, but in the context of those rankings, the result is what you’d expect from a team that sits at this point of the chart. (4-2-2)
source:  11 DOWN 5 Toronto FC: This seems a little high for a team that’s lost three-in-a-row (including two at home), but implicitly, after nine weeks, this spot has become the line between teams that have shown “something” (playoff potential, for more than a moment) and teams still looking for solutions. Toronto’s right in the middle. The team has a solution — we saw it earlier this season — but given this slump, this may be time for a slight re-think. They’re not playing to their talent. (3-4-0)
source:  12 UP 2 Portland Timbers: Just as with Toronto, this seems too high, particularly considering a 3-2 home win against D.C. United isn’t usually something that would send a team climbing this chart. A look below this spot, however, reveals a list of teams who, like Portland, have significant questions two months into the season. The Timbers are just the best of an evolving bunch, for now. (1-3-5)
source:  13 DOWN 1 San Jose Earthquakes: As we were reminded Week 1 when New York visited BC Place, there are some teams that are never going to look good in Vancouver. Given their personnel and style, San Jose may be the prime example. Although Mark Watson tried to adjust by starting Yannick Djaló beneath Chris Wondolowski up top, that plan blew up early. Regardless, San Jose’s ill-fit for BC Place is neither news nor something to worry about. (1-3-3)
source:  14 UP 2 Houston Dynamo: Given Chivas USA’s quality, there’s only so much we should read into Saturday’s result. There were, however, signs Houston may be ready to play like the playoff contenders we expected. Boniek Garcia had one of his most productive days of the season. Both strikers (Will Bruin, Gilles Barnes) got on the scoresheet, while Brad Davis got another 85 minutes after his long layoff. (3-4-2)
source:  15 D.C. United: D.C. was mistake-prone on Saturday, with the first and third goals sticking out as particularly preventable, but between the first and 94th minutes, D.C. may have played its best game of the year. At the same time, both of their equalizers required major contributions from Portland players. Credit United for nearly snaring a point, but the 3-2 could have also been worse. (3-4-2)
source:  16 DOWN 3 Chicago Fire: The general excuse we’ve been making for the Fire all season: They look decent, but they make one big mistake each game. On Saturday there were three major breakdowns in a 23-minute span. Chicago’s playing better than their record, but it’s no mystery why Frank Yallop’s team can’t get over the hump. (0-2-6)
source:  17 Philadelphia Union: One shot on target, and it wasn’t even a dangerous one. Even if it requires pulling the roof down on the team’s foundation, John Hackworth is approaching the point where he has to change it up. This isn’t just a matter of a team’s shooting percentage being lower than expected. This team isn’t generating the type of chances that will bring its numbers up. New options, new ideas, new personnel – the Union need something, because with Brad Evans’ own goal they just had their new luck. (1-3-5)
source:  18 UP 1 Montréal Impact: The bye week allows Frank Klopas’s team to make some progress on this chart. (1-4-3)
source:  19 DOWN 1 Chivas USA: When they fell flat against the Galaxy, you thought ‘this is just what happens in this rivalry.’ When Chivas USA laid an egg against the Dynamo, memories of 2013 began to resurface. This team not only missed Mauro Rosales, Dan Kennedy, and Thomas McNamara; it also missed the fight they showed in March. (1-5-3)

Electricity restored at Maracana after some late bills paid

This Feb. 2, 2017 shows Maracana stadium with a dry field in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Stadium operators, the Rio state government, and Olympic organizers have fought over $1 million in unpaid electricity bills and management of the venue. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Rio’s electricity utility has turned the power back on at the famous Maracana stadium after it was shut off for almost a month in a dispute over $1 million in unpaid bills.

The utility on Thursday said power had been restored after the stadium operator paid 1.3 million reals ($430,000) in late bills from November through January. It was shut off on Jan. 26 in the dispute.

The utility said it is still negotiating for 1.8 million reals ($600,000) in unpaid bills from the organizing committee of last year’s Rio Olympics. Rio 2016 organizers still owe millions to companies which helped prepare the Olympics and Paralympics

The stadium has been vandalized over the last month with seats torn out, televisions stolen and the grass field left untended.

VIDEO: FC Dallas youngster Kellyn Acosta unleashes howitzer goal

Arabe Unido goalkeeper Miguel lloyd (1) reaches up to block a shot from FC Dallas as defender Rigoberto Nino (2) and FC Dallas' Kellyn Acosta (23) watch in the first half of a CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals soccer match, Thursday, Feb. 23, 2017 in Frisco, Texas (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
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With FC Dallas taking on Panamanian club Aribe Unido in the quarterfinals of the CONCACAF Champions League, 21-year-old Kellyn Acosta grabbed a second for the Major League Soccer club 10 minutes past halftime.

It wasn’t just any old goal. It was a STRIKE.

The Texas native trailed the play, and with Roland Lamah shut off in the box by solid man-marking on the ball, Acosta was there to provide an outlet, and he blasted a vicious strike into the top-left corner. The find by Lamah was a smart one with a host of defenders closing in, and his calm demeanor was rewarded as his teammate launched a rocket into the back of the net.

The goal is a fodder for those who believe Acosta, who has played full-back for much of his career, should be a midfielder instead. His positioning and ability to trail the play with deadly accuracy is what makes this goal so special.

Acosta would bag a third in the dying minutes of the game, giving FC Dallas a 3-0 lead to take on the road as they travel to Panama for the second leg on March 1st.

Top Premier League Storylines – Week 26

LEICESTER, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 08:  Claudio Ranieri, manager of Leicester City speaks with his players during the break in extra-time in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay match between Leicester City and Derby City at The King Power Stadium on February 8, 2017 in Leicester, England.  (Photo by Matthew Lewis/Getty Images)
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Well. This weekend’s return of Premier League action was already slated to be an exciting one, but now with today’s enormous bit of breaking news, it has become even more intriguing.

[ WATCH: Previewing every match in Week 26 ]

There’s plenty to discuss at the top of the Premier League table, as Arsenal and Spurs look to heal their European wounds, but it’s what’s at the bottom that has everyone talking today.

How will Leicester City react after the firing of Claudio Ranieri?

Leicester City vs. Liverpool —  3:00 p.m. EDT Monday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Well. The Foxes had their work cut out for them coming into this match already, but now it has a whole new flavor. Claudio Ranieri has been dismissed just nine months after winning the Premier League title, and sitting just a point off the drop coming into the weekend (and inside the relegation zone coming into the match?) Leicester City will be lead into King Power Stadium by Assistant Manager Craig Shakespeare and First Team Coach Mike Stowell.

Liverpool stopped a five-match winless streak last time out with a quality 2-0 win over Tottenham, but the Reds defense has been leaky all season, and if Leicester is to break its horrid 610-minute goalless streak, it would be here. The Foxes are without a win in five and have not scored a Premier League goal in all of the 2017 calendar year. Can they respond and begin to play for themselves rather than their former manager?

Can Dele Alli and Tottenham bounce back?

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. EDT Sunday on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs looked like they had rediscovered their Champions League form with a comprehensive smothering of Championship side Fulham in the FA Cup. Then, they welcomed KAA Gent to Wembley and promptly lost their heads. Dele Alli was sent off for one of the worst challenges you’ll see, and Spurs were vulnerable as a result, crashing out of the Europa League.

Now, Mauricio Pochettino must regroup the squad and get them ready to host Stoke, a team they clobbered 4-0 in the third match of the season. The squad is still healthy, and the loss of European play may actually help them in the long run. Here, however, it provides them with negative form and a short prep time. They need this one badly to solidify a top four place moving forward, can Poch turn it around?

Can Sunderland get a result against surging Everton?

Everton vs. Sunderland — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Hull City hosts Burnley. Crystal Palace welcomes Middlesbrough. With those two fellow occupants of the relegation zone playing at home against lower-half sides, the spotlight is squarely on Sunderland. The Black Cats have a tough matchup, on the road at Everton.

The Toffees haven’t lost a Premier League match since falling to Liverpool in mid-December, and have scored 19 goals in the eight matches since that blemish. With that in mind, Sunderland must get some kind of a result to pull off the bottom of the Premier League table. Can they snatch points at Goodison Park?

EFL Cup final could leave Chelsea well out in front

Chelsea vs. Swansea City — 10:00 a.m. EDT Saturday on NBCSports.com

Chelsea is already eight points ahead of the pack and looks to be the clear favorite to win the Premier League title. It could get even clearer after this week. Manchester United is off, Manchester City is off, and Arsenal is off. Couple that with Tottenham struggling and Liverpool facing a desperate Leicester City side, and it’s entirely conceivable that a win for Chelsea over Swansea City could leave the Blues as far as 11 points clear at the top of the table, albeit a game ahead of some. That would all but wrap things up, wouldn’t it?

Mario Balotelli handed 2-match ban for abusing referee

FILE- In this Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 file photo, Nice's forward Mario Balotelli, of Italy, reacts during the Europa League group I soccer match between OGC Nice and FC Salzburg, in Nice stadium, southeastern France. Nice striker Mario Balotelli’s teammate Alassane Pleas has confirmed he heard Bastia supporters racially abusing Balotelli with monkey chants during the league match on Friday, Jan. 20, 2017. (AP Photo/Claude Paris, File)
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After being sent off for referee abuse in last weekend’s Ligue 1 win over FC Lorient, Nice striker Mario Balotelli has been handed a two-match ban.

Balotelli earned his second red card of the season in the 69th minute of a 1-0 win that kept Nice within striking distance of the leaders Monaco. It was his second straight red and third sending-off of the season, having already been dismissed in reverse fixture against Lorient after a pair of yellows in the final three minutes of the game.

After the mercurial Italian’s hot start to the season, he has just one goal in the last two months, the third in a 3-1 win over Guingamp. He has not scored a point-winning goal since bagging both in a 2-1 win over Dijon back on December 18th.

Balotelli’s agent, the well-known Mino Raiola, was so frustrated with his client’s continual dismissal problems that he told French media conglomerate RMC Sport that the solution to Balotelli’s problems is to “cut out his tongue.”

“I have already found the solution: you have to cut out his tongue,” Raiola said bluntly. “To play soccer, there is no need for language! In all seriousness, he knows he made a big mistake and he has no excuse. He knows he needs to improve that. He is very sad for him, for the team.”

The suspension leaves Balotelli on the sidelines for tomorrow’s match against 11th placed Montpellier and then on March 4th at 17th placed Dijon. Nice sits in third, level on points with 2nd placed PSG and three back of leaders Monaco.