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)

Benevento remains alone in Europe without a point

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ROME (AP) Benevento remained the only club in Europe’s top five leagues without a point after losing at basement rival Hellas Verona 1-0 in Serie A on Monday.

[ MORE: USA U-17s top Paraguay in convincing style ]

Romulo scored with a long volley to conclude a counterattack in the 74th minute.

Benevento center back Luca Antei was shown a direct red card for a sliding tackle late in the first half and Verona striker Giampaolo Pazzini nearly took advantage immediately when he hit the post.

With its first win of the season, Verona moved up to 16th place with six points.

Benevento has lost all eight of its matches.

All of the top-division squads in England, France, Germany and Spain have earned at least a point.

More AP Serie A coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA

Calls for exiled player to go to WCup stirs storm in Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Soon after Egypt qualified for the World Cup for the first time since 1990, a hashtag began trending on social media: “Aboutrika to the World Cup.”

In a country where soccer and politics often mix, and often with explosive results, the pro-government media didn’t like that.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

The hashtag unleashed an intense online campaign by tens of thousands of fans calling for former star midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, who is now living in exile in Qatar, to come out of retirement and play for Egypt at the World Cup in Russia next year.

It stirred a storm in the Arab country because of Aboutrika’s alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian Islamist group that has been outlawed and declared a terrorist organization by the government. The Brotherhood was outlawed after the military’s ouster of a freely elected but divisive Islamist president in 2013.

The 38-year-old Aboutrika faces a host of charges rooted in his alleged financial support for the Brotherhood and lives in exile knowing he risks arrest if he returns home. His assets have been frozen by Egyptian authorities and his name is on a terrorism list. He now makes a living as a soccer pundit on the Qatar-based sports channel beIN.

Aboutrika turned down the call to return in a message to his supporters.

“These are kind feelings for which I thank you,” he wrote on his Twitter account. “But realism is better and I don’t steal the efforts of others. Those men (on the current team) deserve to be there alone.”

Yet that gentle refusal didn’t stop the storm around him, and the unfavorable comparisons made by some between Aboutrika and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah, the team’s current star and new darling of the pro-government media.

“Mohammed Salah is the player who stood by his country, not like the other one (Aboutrika),” said Ahmed Moussa, perhaps the most ardent government supporter among TV talk show hosts. “He (Salah) is Egypt’s only star.”

The 25-year-old Salah endeared himself to fans with both goals, including an injury-time penalty, in a 2-1 win over Republic of Congo on Oct. 8 that ensured Egypt qualified for the World Cup for just the third time, and first time in nearly 30 years.

Salah has also been embraced by the government of general-turned-president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and its supporters in the media as a patriot. A donation of 5 million Egyptian pounds (nearly $300,000) Salah made in December to a development fund founded by el-Sissi has gone a long way to endear him to them.

In the week since qualification, Salah has been branded “golden boy,” “legend” and “genius.”

One media commentator, Dandarawy el-Hawary of the daily “Seventh Day,” wrote of Salah’s decisive goal against Republic of Congo: “It touched off the volcanoes of patriotism, sense of belonging and love of one’s country.”

Not long ago Aboutrika was the national hero – he still is to many – after playing a central role in Egypt’s three straight African Cup of Nations titles in 2006, 2008 and 2010. Those triumphs made Egypt Africa’s most successful team with a record seven titles.

Now, the pro-government media refers to him as a traitor.

Another talk show host, Amr Adeeb, suggested the campaign to bring Aboutrika out of retirement was the work of government critics and berated him for his failure to lead Egypt to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Aboutrika has been labeled a mercenary, with his job with the Qatar-based beIN used as evidence of his lack of patriotism because of Egypt’s diplomatic spat with Qatar over the tiny Gulf nation’s alleged support of terrorism.

[ MORE: Mike Ashley puts Newcastle up for sale ]

Aboutrika’s supporters argue that to have him back on the team would be a just reward for his dedication to Egypt and compensation for his failed efforts to get the team to previous World Cups. They point out that Argentina great Diego Maradona and Cameroon’s Roger Milla both came out of retirement to play for their countries at the World Cup.

Responding to the criticism from government supporters, Aboutrika’s fans have also been posting videos of him scoring goals for club and country in years past, with commentators lavishly praising him for his skill and passion.

MLS playoff scenarios heading into the final weekend

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Time certainly has flown by, and just like that the MLS Cup playoffs are well within sight.

While the Eastern Conference is all locked up in terms of which teams will be in the postseason, seeding can change drastically on the final weekend.

[ MORE: Tab Ramos confirms interest in USMNT job ]

Meanwhile, the West sees three clubs vying for one final spot in what has proven to be a very intriguing battle over the last several weeks.

All eyes will be on three teams in the Western Conference as the San Jose Earthquakes, FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake all have an opportunity to move into the sixth spot.

Below, PST takes a look at where clubs can finish in relation to the playoff race.

Eastern Conference

#1 seed: Toronto FC is locked into the top spot

#2 seed: NYCFC — clinches the two seed with a win; Chicago Fire — clinches two with win and NYCFC draw or loss; Atlanta takes two with win plus NYCFC loss/draw and Fire loss/draw

#3 seed: Fire — finishes third with win; NYCFC — takes third with loss to Crew and Fire win; Atlanta — third with win and Fire loss; Crew — finish third with win over NYCFC and don’t overtake NYCFC on GD, plus losses by Fire and Atlanta

#4 seed: NYCFC — fourth with loss to Crew and overtaken on GD, plus Fire win; Fire — finish fourth with loss and Atlanta win, plus NYCFC win or draw; Atlanta — takes fourth with loss and NYCFC/Fire wins; Crew — fourth with win over NYCFC, Fire win and Atlanta loss/draw

#5 seed: Crew — finish fifth with loss/draw; Atlanta — finishes fifth with loss and Crew win; Fire — takes fifth with loss and Atlanta/Crew victories; NYCFC — drops with loss to Crew, Atlanta win and Fire win/draw

#6 seed: New York Red Bulls are locked into sixth spot

Western Conference

#1 seed: Whitecaps — clinch top spot with win; Timbers — finish first with win and Whitecaps loss

#2 seed: Whitecaps — finish second with loss to Timbers; Timbers — second with loss/draw and Sounders/Sporting KC losses; Sounders — finish second with win and Whitecaps win

#3 seed: Timbers — third with loss and Sounders win; Sounders — loss to Rapids and Sporting KC/Dynamo losses; Sporting KC — finish third with win, Sounders loss and Whitecaps/Timbers draw; Dynamo — third with win, Sporting KC loss and Sounders loss

#4 seed: Whitecaps — finish fourth with loss to Timbers, Sounders/Sporting KC wins; Timbers — loss to Whitecaps, plus Sounders/Sporting KC victories; Sounders — finish fourth with loss/draw and Sporting KC win; Sporting KC — fourth with loss and Dynamo loss/draw; Dynamo — finish fourth with win and Sporting KC loss

#5 seed: Timbers — fifth with loss to Whitecaps and Sounders/Sporting KC/Dynamo wins; Sounders — loss to Rapids, plus Sporting KC/Dynamo victories; Dynamo — finish fifth with loss; Sporting KC — fifth place with loss and Dynamo win

#6 seed: San Jose Earthquakes clinch with win; FC Dallas takes sixth with win/draw and Earthquakes loss/draw; Real Salt Lake clinch with win/draw, Earthquakes loss and Dallas loss/draw

The next Pulisic? A 10-year-old American is heading to AS Roma

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With everything that has transpired since last week’s U.S. Men’s National Team debacle, American soccer fans can use a pick-me-up.

What better could there be than perhaps another young star-in-the-making? Dare I say, the next Christian Pulisic?

[ MORE: Bruce Arena is out as USMNT manager ]

Perhaps, but it’s way too early to say that.

His name is Alessandro Cupini, a 10-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri that is about to complete a dream that a soccer player of any age would be thrilled to achieve.

Less than two weeks ago, Cupini and his family announced that the Kansas City Fusion midfielder/striker would be accepting a spot in the AS Roma academy starting in the Spring 2018, after having trained with the club for the better part of two years off and on.

Pro Soccer Talk had the opportunity to speak with Cupini’s father, Eddie, ahead of his son’s big move to Italy.

“This is something that Alessandro has worked really hard for,” Eddie Cupini told PST. “There are times where I tell him that he needs to take a step back and be a normal kid, but he doesn’t have any of that. He’s an incredibly hard-working and driven kid that does more than most people regardless of his age.”

Alessandro — who recently turned 10 years old — isn’t the typically American youngster though, according to his father.

“There are times where I wish Alessandro would take a break and be a kid, but that’s just not in his desire,” Cupini said. “We built him a mini stadium downstairs where he trains basically every day after school. As soon as he gets home from school he’s doing work down there and always looking for other kids to come over to practice with.”

That’s where the comparisons to Pulisic can be worked into the conversation.

Pulisic followed a very similar path to the professional level when he left his hometown of Hershey, Pennsylvania at the age of 16 to sign with Borussia Dortmund. Now, he’s U.S. Soccer’s most promising star as the USMNT looks to rebuild.

“We’re very familiar with Christian’s story, and he’s certainly somebody that Alessandro looks up to,” Cupini said.

Cupini is already on the radar of U.S. Soccer and the Olympic Development Program (ODP), which helps identify young talent in the United States starting at the Under-12 level.

However, because of Cupini’s Italian heritage and his unique opportunity to move to Italy next year, Alessandro could potentially have the chance to represent either the USMNT or the Azzurri in the future.

“It’s a long ways away and we’re taking things slow in that regard,” Cupini said in regards to his son’s international plans. “We’d certainly be willing to explore our options, but I think it would be a real dream and his main goal to play for Italy.”

New Jersey-native and former Italy international Giuseppe Rossi made a similar career choice when it came down to choosing a national team. Despite living in the United States for much of his youth years, Rossi appeared for a number of Italy’s youth teams before holding a stint with the senior side from 2008 to 2014.

Prior to making the announcement that Roma would be where Cupini will ply his trade next year, the young American also had the opportunity to train with Italian academies Empoli and Atalanta.

“My father is from Rome, so for Alessandro to have the opportunity to play for his hometown club it was almost a no-brainer,” Cupini said. “We were very grateful to the other clubs for the chance Alessandro had to train with them, but Roma is a club that is very close to our family.