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)

A leader at 23, Draxler mentors inexperienced Germany squad

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) The youngest captain to lead Germany into a tournament in 105 years, Julian Draxler has effortlessly taken on the task of mentoring an inexperienced squad.

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All while displaying the versatility linking up attacks that has helped to steer Germany into the Confederations Cup semifinals.

If Germany coach Joachim Loew learns one thing from the World Cup dress rehearsal, it’s that the 23-year-old Draxler is a strong contender to one day assume the armband from injured goalkeeper Manuel Neuer.

“The way he is coordinating the young team is very good,” Loew said Wednesday. “He is turning into a personality who is in a position to assume responsibilities. He’s taking care of younger players and trying to integrate them into the team.

“He is always keeping his mind on what matters on the pitch but also off the pitch he is very sociable with other players as well.”

Draxler is far from the youngest player in the squad, but he’s the most experienced on the international stage. The semifinal against Mexico on Thursday will be Draxler’s 34th appearance for Germany. He is also one of only three members of the World Cup winning squad from 2014 who were included in the experimental group in Russia.

Shkodran Mustafi is another, and the defender is delighted to see Draxler’s progress from being a bit-part squad member in Brazil to an integral member of the team in Russia three years on.

“He has got a really bright future in front of him,” Mustafi said on the sidelines before training in the southern Russian coastal resort of Sochi. “Talent sometimes is not enough but I think he has the character and the talent, the head, to be the next superstar for sure.”

Don’t take Germany’s word for it. Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio spoke Wednesday of his admiration for Draxler’s role as Germany’s “connector” and the way he finds space in midfield to be the link-man to the forwards.

What Draxler offers Loew is variety. The Paris Saint-Germain player is comfortable on both feet and he is given the freedom to roam across the pitch.

“Julian is a very fast, technically refined player with the ball,” Loew said through a translator in the Fisht Stadium in Sochi. “He can travel through longer distances with no problem while keeping the ball and he has very good scoring capabilities.”

In the opening win over Australia at the Confederations Cup, Draxler netted his fifth international goal from the penalty spot. In the final group match on Sunday, Draxler’s slick back-heel set up Kerem Demirbay for Germany’s opener in a 3-2 victory over Cameroon.

Not since the 1912 Olympics there been a younger German captain at a FIFA or UEFA tournament.

“He’s not the loudest guy but on the pitch you could see his quality in the three games now and he’s talking to the players,” midfielder Emre Can said. “He wants to help. He has a lot of experience and he’s doing it very well.

“You can see he wants always the ball, he wants always to create something on the pitch and he wants to always score always. You can see that in every game.”

Draxler has traveled to Russia after finding some stability in his club career after leaving Wolfsburg for PSG in January for 47 million euros (then about $50 million).

“He is very ambitious,” Loew said. “He is a very classy player.”

Rob Harris is at http://www.twitter.com/RobHarris and http://www.facebook.com/RobHarrisReports

More AP Confederations Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/ConfederationsCup

Germany coach wants clarity on Russia doping claims

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Germany football coach Joachim Loew wants more clarity from sports leaders following speculation that doping of Russia’s 2014 World Cup squad was covered up.

[ MORE: 2017 Confederations Cup news ]

The World Cup-winning coach urged the World Anti-Doping Agency and FIFA to be transparent and identify players implicated.

“If there really are names there, they shouldn’t be hidden at all,” Loew said Wednesday at a news conference in Sochi, where his team plays a Confederations Cup semifinal.

“I can’t prove it and no one apparently can if we are not having the facts here on the table,” Loew said through a translator. “And if players have been doped, well, they have to be removed, they have to be suspended.”

Loew was asked by German broadcaster ARD about the World Cup claim and other new allegations that state-backed Russian doping went deeper into football than was previously suspected.

Earlier Wednesday, the broadcaster released an interview with WADA investigator Richard McLaren who said FIFA is aware of 155 potentially suspect samples given by football players in Russia that await analysis.

McLaren told ARD he suspected Russian authorities kept a bank of clean urine samples from footballers to replace tainted ones – a similar system to evade positive doping tests as was used at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.

FIFA declined to comment Wednesday on ARD’s report.

The Canadian lawyer’s sprawling investigation of the Olympic doping conspiracy implicated more than 1,000 athletes across many sports. It included evidence in emails and documents of at least 35 football cases for FIFA to prosecute.

The evidence had few details, though included a June 2014 document apparently linked to the squad Russia sent to the World Cup in Brazil. FIFA acknowledged being aware of the document this week after a report by a British Sunday newspaper.

FIFA has not formally identified any players under suspicion, nor imposed provisional suspensions.

“We have the report from WADA but we are not supposed to be disclosing any names,” FIFA secretary general Fatma Samoura said Wednesday, in Kazan for the Portugal vs. Chile semifinal. “Until we got the final decision from the laboratory we cannot elaborate.”

Football leaders in the 2018 World Cup host nation consistently dismiss suggestions of a problem.

“There hasn’t been a single doping incident in Russian football in many recent years,” Alexei Sorokin, CEO of the World Cup organizing committee, said this week of the British report. “We do not regard this as any serious matter.”

Germany’s Loew was speaking in the Sochi stadium which hosted the opening and closing ceremonies of the much-criticized Winter Games.

He urged WADA and FIFA to “just call a spade a spade, and then we know what is going to happen from there.”

AP Sports Writer Tales Azzoni in Kazan, Russia, contributed to this report

STREAM LIVE: Portugal, Chile clash in Confed Cup semifinal

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Cristiano Ronaldo and Alexis Sanchez do battle in Kazan with a place in the 2017 Confederations Cup final on the line.

European champions Portugal play South American champs Chile on Wednesday (Watch live, 2 p.m. ET online via Telemundo Deportes) in an eagerly anticipated clash.

[ STREAM LIVE: Portugal vs. Chile ]

Ronaldo, 32, took his tally to 55 goals in 54 games in all competitions for the 2016-17 season as Portugal won Group A to set up a tasty clash with Chile who finished runners up in Group B behind Germany.

Sanchez scored his 38th goal for Chile against Australia in their final group game, making him their all-time leading goalscorer as the Arsenal striker continues to see his stock rise with just one year left on his contract.

The winner of this game will meet either Germany or Mexico (they play their semifinal tomorrow in Sochi) in the final in St. Petersburg on Sunday, with Mexico the only previous Confed Cup winners left in the field.

Click play on the link above to stream the game live online, and we will have analysis and reaction from Kazan right here on ProSoccerTalk.

Not-so-shy Messi tying the knot with childhood sweetheart

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There is a different side to Lionel Messi, one that not everyone gets to see.

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The player who shines with the ball by his feet appears to be extremely shy off the field. But the timid-looking Argentina star, who for years has been attracting the world’s attention because of his mind-boggling soccer skills, is an outgoing, cheerful and humorous character when he is among those he knows and trusts.

It’s the lighthearted and extroverted version of Messi that will be the center of attention on Friday in his hometown of Rosario when he marries 29-year-old Antonella Roccuzzo, his childhood sweetheart and mother of his two children.

The wedding is a highly anticipated event in the central Argentine city, located about 300 kilometers (186 miles) northwest of the capital of Buenos Aires, although the public is not expected to have any access to the festivities.

About 250 guests, including some current and former teammates, are expected to attend the ceremony in a five-star hotel that overlooks the city’s largest shantytown. Special security measures are expected to be in place as guests begin arriving for the event.

Among those expected to attend are Barcelona teammates Neymar, Luis Suarez and Gerard Pique. Colombian singer Shakira, Pique’s wife, is also expected at the ceremony.

Organizers said personal hairdressers will be available for the guests, along with entertainment services for their children. About 150 journalists will be allowed to cover the wedding under very strict rules, without any direct access to the ceremony or the party.

Messi and Roccuzzo have requested that wedding gifts come in the form of donations to the Leo Messi Foundation.

Messi is already in Rosario on vacation, but hasn’t made any public appearances. He was in the city to celebrate his 30th birthday this week.

Messi grew up in a lower-middle-class neighborhood in Rosario along with two brothers and a sister. Roccuzzo was the cousin of a close friend of Messi, and the two were always around each other and shared a close relationship from a young age.

They stayed in touch after Messi left to play in Spain as a teenager, and eventually started their relationship in the late 2000s, reportedly after he returned to Argentina following the death of one of Roccuzzo’s close friends in a traffic accident.

Roccuzzo eventually moved to Barcelona, where the couple have two boys, 4-year-old Thiago and 1-year-old Mateo.

“I’m a normal person. I have the same life as any human being,” Messi said in an interview with ESPN before the 2014 World Cup. “When I finish playing, I have my family, my friends. I live like any other person.”

Even before Messi turned into one of the best players in the world, he was already the type of person who kept to himself and avoided the spotlight but opened up in the company of friends and relatives.

People close to Messi and some of his former teammates say he is just a normal guy, talkative and often joking. The serious-looking player who rarely shows any expressions on the field or in front of the cameras is nothing like “the real Messi,” they say.

“No, no, no …,” former Barcelona teammate Jonathan Dos Santos said when asked if Messi was as shy as he appears.

Dos Santos, in Russia with Mexico’s national soccer team at the Confederations Cup, said that Messi always opened up while with his teammates.

“He is a great guy, just a great guy,” said Dos Santos, who was a teammate of Messi’s at Barcelona from 2009-14.

Messi and his family recently were photographed with friends on vacation on a boat in Ibiza. Messi was seen playing with his children and laughing with his friends. It was the same when an Uruguayan television channel showed footage of Messi and Suarez playing cards with friends, with Messi joking and smiling all the time.

Messi, who has tattoos of both of his children, showed a more rebellious side of himself recently, dying his hair blond. He also has tattoos honoring his mother and Jesus.

He became much more active in social media recently, opening an Instagram account and posting many pictures of his children and some private moments with his family.

“I think that on the field I’m completely different than I am off,” Messi told Television Publica Argentina a few years ago.

The soft-spoken Messi rarely speaks publicly and almost never talks to the media after or before games. Only a few times he has shown up at news conferences during tournaments with his club or national team.

Messi moved to Barcelona when he was 13 after being diagnosed with a hormone disorder that affected his growth. Barcelona offered to help him with the treatment.

The entire family initially moved with him, but Messi’s mother and two siblings soon returned to Argentina. Messi stayed in Spain with his father, but he couldn’t play at first because he didn’t have the proper documentation.

“One day I asked him, `What do you want to do? Because in the end, the decision is yours,”‘ his father, Jorge, said in a television documentary about Messi’s life. “And he told me, `I want to stay. I want to play for Barcelona.”‘

Now he wants to get married, and he’s gone back home to do it.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni