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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)

Barcelona tops Levante, ties club record with 28 unbeaten

VALENCIA, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 07:  Jordi Alba of Barcelona celebrates scoring his team's first goal with his teammate Andres Iniesta during the La Liga match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia on February 07, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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Sir Alex Ferguson described the 2010/11 Barcelona team as the best team he ever faced.

This year’s Barcelona side has matched them.

With a 2-0 victory over La Liga basement-dwellers Levante on an own-goal forced by Jordi Alba plus a late score from Luis Suarez, Barcelona has gone 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions, without a loss since a 2-1 defeat to Sevilla on October 28.

Manager Luis Enrique, though, is unmoved. “What matters to me are the team’s objectives,” said Enrique after the win. “These are nice numbers, if they help us win titles at the end of the season, fantastic. We are in good position, but there is still a lot left.”

The Levante victory marked Luis Enrique’s 100th game in charge of Barcelona.

That 2010/11 season, led by Pep Guardiola, Barcelona came a Copa del Rey finals loss to Real Madrid from a quadruple, winning the league, Champions League, and Supercopa de Espana. This time around, they’ve already secured the Supercopa, sit atop the league table by three points over Atletico Madrid and seven above Real Madrid, have yet to lose a game in the Champions League, and the second leg of their Copa del Rey semifinal against Valencia is a complete formality. What’s more, the numbers from this streak are eerily similar to that wildly successful squad five years ago.

That campaign, Lionel Messi scored 31 league goals and 53 overall. An injury sapped him of time in this go around, but Suarez and Neymar have picked up the slack. There has been just one league game in which all three of Messi, Neymar, and Suarez has been held scoreless this season, and to find it you have to travel all the way back to the second game of the year, a 1-0 win over Malaga that saw Thomas Vermaelen score the winner. Those three have combined for 48 league goals this year, more than every team in the Spanish top flight save Real Madrid.

Paris Saint-Germain has a similar streak going at the moment, currently unbeaten in league play throughout the entire season, but their 1-0 loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League on November 3 means their streak across all competitions sits at 19 games.

Watch Live: Bournemouth vs Arsenal (Lineups & Live Stream)

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 28: Mesut Ozil of Arsenal and Adam Smith of Bournemouth compete for the ball during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and A.F.C. Bournemouth at Emirates Stadium on December 28, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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Arsenal is hoping to break its four-game winless streak as it travels to Vitality Stadium to take on Bournemouth, live on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. ET or live online at NBC Sports Live Extra.

The Gunners have drawn three and lost one over its last four matches, leaving them unable to keep pace with Leicester City at the top of the table. With Leicester again winning this week and a matchup with the Foxes looming next time out for Arsenal, this match seems a must-win for Arsene Wenger and company if they wish to remain serious title contenders.

[ WATCH LIVE: Bournemouth vs Arsenal live online at NBC Sports Live Extra ]

Wenger has chosen to leave veteran defender Per Mertesacker on the bench in favor of Gabriel. Francis Coquelin also remains among the substitutes for the second straight match, meaning either Wenger prefers Mathieu Flamini in midfield, or Coquelin remains unfit for a full 90 minutes. Tomas Rosicky was injured last weekend and will be out up to three months, which could end his season.

Eddie Howe has named an unchanged starting lineup from their 2-1 away win at Crystal Palace last week. Winger Junior Stanislas is back on the bench after missing last week. In contrast to Arsenal, the Cherries are unbeaten in four and have won four of their last six, a stretch which has propelled them five points off the relegation zone and the same distance away from the top half of the table.

[ MORE: Premier League Sunday Preview ]

There are no new injury concerns for either side. Both have long-term absentees who are on the mend but still not close to a return. Danny Welbeck, Jack Wilshere, and Santi Cazorla are all out for the Gunners, while Bournemouth duo Max Gradel and Callum Wilson are also sidelined for a while but could return before the end of the season.

LINEUPS

Bournemouth: Boruc; Smith, Francis, Cook, Daniels; Surman, Gosling; Ritchie, Arter, Pugh; Afobe.
Subs: Federici, Distin, Stanislas, O’Kane, Iturbe, King, Grabban.

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal; Flamini, Ramsey; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sánchez, Özil; Giroud.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Walcott, Campbell, Coquelin, Iwobi.

FIFA candidate Prince Ali claims voting pledge from Liberia

Jordan's Prince Ali bin al-Hussein, flanked by school-age soccer players in uniforms, speaks before about 300 guests during an event at a Roman amphitheater in Amman, Jordan, Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2015. The prince is running for FIFA president, saying Wednesday he will fight "deep-seated corruption and political deal-making" and make soccer's scandal-scarred governing body more transparent. (AP Photo/Raad Adayleh)
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AMMAN, Jordan (AP) FIFA presidential candidate Prince Ali of Jordan says the Liberia soccer federation has pledged its vote to him.

Liberia follows Egypt as the second African voter claimed by Prince Ali since the Confederation of African Football’s leadership endorsed Asian confederation president Sheikh Salman of Bahrain on Friday.

The CAF executive committee urged the 54 African voters among FIFA’s 209-strong membership to back the sheikh in the Feb. 26 election.

Prince Ali’s campaign team on Saturday published a three-page letter of endorsement signed by Liberia federation president Musa Bility.

Bility writes that Prince Ali “represents real change” while other candidates are “not even prepared to criticize” the FIFA system.

Bility was himself an applicant in the presidential contest, then failed an integrity test judged by FIFA’s election monitoring committee.

LVG says Mourinho speculation is false, calls the whole thing “nonsense”

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Louis Van Gaal is sick and tired of the media speculating about his employment (or potential lack thereof), as well as reports linking the presently unemployed Jose Mourinho to his job, so what we’re going to do now is speculate on those reports a bit more.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

But first, we’ll give Van Gaal the chance to tell his side of the story. Who better to explain what’s going on at Manchester United than the manager of Man United, right? OK, Louis, take it away, mate — quotes from the Guardian:

“The last two months have been very difficult for my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my friends to cope with. For me too, but I can cope. In the Netherlands they know I am too arrogant to doubt myself, but I also know that such a nonsense is being created about me. I do not believe that there is already a relationship between José Mourinho and Manchester United.”

“It is logical when you have lost four matches in a row, people are bound to be doubting. … I criticize the media for inventing stories. I never hired security. Never ever. And I am walking on the streets without security and all the people I meet are very positive.”

OK, now that that’s out of the way, Jose Mourinho is definitely talking to Manchester United, or someone is doing so on his behalf. There’s arguably never been a more sitting-duck manager in world football than Van Gaal is right now — not only have the results been extremely “meh” for nearly two seasons now, but he’s also got less than 18 months left on his contract, which means it would cost the club considerably less to make him go away than, say, David Moyes, who still had more than five years(!!!) left on his deal when he was fired in April of his first season.

[ MORE: Saturday’s PL preview — Leicester hammer Man City, Spurs go 2nd ]

Also, they were totally in for Pep Guardiola, too, and since they didn’t get him, they’ll have to respond thusly, and since Carlo Ancelotti has already been named Guardiola’s successor at Bayern Munich, Mourinho is the last “big name” out there right now. Unless, of course, they wanted to tap up Manuel Pellegrini, who’s on his way out to make room for Guardiola. Could be fun. But not as fun as Jose back in the Premier League, at Man United, in the same city with Pep. Remember the last time those two were employed on opposite sides of a heated rivalry?

As spectacular as this year’s PL season has been — and it’s bordering on the best of all time, still with 13 weeks to go — think about what that means for next season. It’s going to have be even more bonkers, so as not to seem boring by comparison. Louis van Gaal seems like a nice enough guy, but his team’s football isn’t that exciting on the field, and he offers little more off it. Mourinho isn’t the hero we deserve, but he’s certainly the one we need.