Lee Nguyen, Blake Brettschneider, Chris Tierney

PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 11

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The next six weeks of Major League Soccer will take Power Rankings to whole new, ridiculous level. Trying to provide insight into these teams’ relative strengths? Good luck. Until the 31 players who’ve left for the World Cup return, we’re looking at a Football Manager experiment gone wrong. We’re looking at a number of teams that should have never been allowed to transcend hypotheticals.

The 11 Mark Watson had to pick for this weekend’s game in Seattle? That was a U.S. Open Cup blow-off team, but thanks to absences, injuries, and suspensions, the team was fighting for three points in Seattle. And what about Peter Vermes’ options in Bridgeview? They led a staunchly 4-3-3 Sporting to start in a 5-3-2 formation against Chicago. Anything learned at a team-level from these types of games is too ephemeral to take seriously.

As such, don’t expect a lot of movement over the next six weeks. When two in-tact teams face each other, we’ll be able to make some meaningful assessments, but given the teams whose June games are going to be compromised, the pods that’ve formed through the season’s first 10 weeks may hold up:

  • Don’t expect Kansas City, Real Salt Lake, or Seattle to fall out of the top four. If they collapse this month, it will likely be because of their absences. We’ll keep that in mind.
  • Expect a lot of movement in the middle group, but few teams to jump in or out.  LA will likely stay near the top of the six-through-12 cluster, but without Landon Donovan or Omar Gonzalez around, it will be difficult to justify a fall.
  • Any improvement we see from teams like Colorado, Portland, Philadelphia, Chicago — teams left almost unscathed by World Cup call ups — will be taken with a grain lick of salt, particularly if they come against a depleted squad

So what’s the point? If we’re going to be reluctant to change teams’ rankings, why do the list at all? In fairness, the exercise doesn’t have much relevance  under normal circumstances, but to the extent they matter, the rankings can still reflect one person’s view of the league’s balance of power. Just because that’s unlikely to change over the next month doesn’t mean it won’t. If new faces  prove themselves over the next six weeks, they could change a team’s outlook for July and beyond.

Here’s my look at Major League Soccer after 11 weeks:

MORE: Week 10 Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 UP 2 New England Revolution: Do I think New England is going to keep this two games, 10 goals pace? No, but that’s not was these rankings are about, either. After consecutive wins against Sporting Kansas City, at Toronto, versus Seattle and at Philadelphia — a team that had just won in Kansas — the Revolution have done enough to take this spot. The way they’re playing right now, I believe they would beat Real Salt Lake more times than not if playing tomorrow, full strength, on a neutral field. (6-3-2)

2 Real Salt Lake: Part of the reason I kept RSL at two: Strength of opposition. What a surging New England is to the top of this list, Colorado has become to the bottom. While Real Salt Lake didn’t show any weaknesses on Saturday in Sandy, the teams’ opposition didn’t allow them to score the same points New England did in Philadelphia. (6-0-5)
source:  3 UP 1 Seattle Sounders: This rise is more about Kansas City than what the Sounders did Saturday against the Earthquakes. A 1-0 home win over a depleted team is the least Seattle could have one. Thanks to Sporting’s midweek slip, however, that win was good enough to climb a spot. (8-3-1)
source:  4 DOWN 3 Sporting Kansas City: Sunday’s loss at Chicago? Who cares. The team was wiped out, forced to go five at the back to compensate for its lack of central defenders. The loss on Wednesday to Philadelphia, though? That’s what this drop is about. With a full strength team, Sporting lost to one of the coldest sides in Major League Soccer. (5-4-2)
source:  5 UP 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: Carl Robinson’s team had the week off but climbed after the Galaxy’s scoring woes continued in Houston. They’ll back on the field Saturday afternoon against Seattle. Given the team’s World Cup absences, the Whitecaps should expect a win over the Sounders. (4-2-4)

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6 DOWN 1 LA Galaxy: A strong performance at Portland, even in a draw, isn’t something that causes a team to drop, but thanks to New England’s revolution, the Galaxy slip a spot. They remain without a point in games where Robbie Keane does not score. (2-3-3)
source:  7 New York Red Bulls: The Red Bulls deserved to drop after Saturday’s showing in Toronto, but with none of the teams immediately below them giving us reason to move them up, New York holds its ground. (3-4-5)
source:  8 UP 4 Toronto FC: All those teams that failed to pass New York? The San Joses, D.C. Uniteds, and Dallases of the world? They also cleared the way for TFC to make up ground. A close home win wouldn’t normally justify this leap, but Irrelevus, Greek God of Power Rankings, was on the Reds’ side. (4-4-0)
source:  9 UP 4 Houston Dynamo: Like Toronto, Houston takes advantage of mid-chart parody and others’ off weeks to make a big leap, though the Dynamo’s victory over the Galaxy also gives Dom Kinnear’s team three wins in four, further pushing the team’s April struggles into the shadows. (5-5-2)
source:  10 DOWN 2 San Jose Earthquakes: Based on their litany of absences, suspensions, and injuries, I’m willing to give the Earthquakes a pass for their 1-0 loss at Seattle. Toronto and Houston, however, we not as gracious, passing them on the chart. (2-4-4)
source:  10 UP 1 Columbus Crew: Gregg Berhalter’s team offered such a mixed bag in Portland, you could justify almost any move with the Crew. They were up 1-1 while playing 11-on-11 on the road – a positive sign. They also needed a penalty kick and (what should have been) an own goal to stay even with the 10-man Timbers. Ultimately, Saturday’s was an aberrational game that told us little about Columbus or Portland. The Crew finally scored from goals, but their climb is due to others’ falls. (3-4-4)
source:  12 DOWN 3 D.C. United: A draw at home against the league’s worst sidewill cause any team to fall, but D.C.’s performance was more worrisome than a mere 1-1 result. In failing to take advantage of those first 55 scoreless minutes against the Impact, United’s performance hinted the team may be the limited, beatable team many expected after their offseason revamp. The team played like a collection of veterans let go by their previous clubs. While that’s often enough to take an opportunistic win (or four), it’s also enough to leave you within striking distance of Montreal. (4-3-3)
source:  13 UP 1 Chicago Fire: From winless to their first winning streak, the Fire’s consecutive victories have given the team some much-needed momentum. The defense, however, still managed to concede a goal to a depleted, 10-man team. Regardless, Frank Yallop’s group moves up as other fall. (2-2-6)
source:  14 DOWN 4 FC Dallas: FCD’s losing streak is over, but the disappointing results continue. Falling behind and then drawing against Chivas USA only justifies worries this team is lost without Mauro Diaz. Given results with the young Argentine also offered a series of caveats, it’s unclear how good this team is … or can be. (5-5-2)
source:  15 UP 3 Philadelphia Union: Saturday’s loss against the Revolution was troubling, but given what New England did to Seattle the week before, that may be less about the Union than their opponents. The midweek win against a full strength Sporting shouldn’t be forgotten. (2-6-5)
source:  16 DOWN 1 Portland Timbers: Penalty kicks, red cards, own goals, … throw-ins dropping in the six and goalkeepers doing Street Fighter impressions. Portland’s defense continues to find new ways to sink its team, something that’s gone from troublesome to sad. They’re scoring more goals now, but the results are still lagging. (1-3-7)
source:  17 Chivas USA: The Goats got their second straight road result, but they also went without a shot on target before their early second half goal. Saturday’s performance was more a smash-and-grab without the grab than a building block for success going forward. (2-5-4)

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18 DOWN 2 Colorado Rapids: After losing at home to Chivas USA, Ikept the Rapids above the Goats, feeling they would still win a neutral site game against Wilmer Cabrera’s team. After this weekend’s match in Salt Lake and some more thought about the Rapids’ recent form, they fall again. Until the attack starts clicking, this is one of the worst teams in Major League Soccer. (4-4-3)
source:  19 Montréal Impact: D.C. United didn’t offer much, yet the Impact’s performance still gave Frank Klopas reason for hope. Beyond Cristian’s second half mistake, Montreal put six other shots on Bill Hamid. It may be too much to say they were the better side, but the Impact were competitive on the road. That’s progress. (1-5-4)

Previews of all 10 Premier League games – Week 15

LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 10:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur (10) reacts after a challenge during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United at White Hart Lane on April 10, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Week 15 of the Premier League season has arrived with Manchester United hosting Tottenham, Liverpool welcoming West Ham and Leicester City and Manchester City clashing at the King Power Stadium.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live, here ] 

With some intense relegation battles between Swansea City and Sunderland and Hull City and Crystal Palace, there is plenty on the line as the festive season really starts to heat up.

Below are previews, score predictions and everything else you need to know about all 10 games this weekend.


Chelsea vs. West Brom

Leicester City vs. Manchester City

Manchester United vs. Tottenham Hotspur

Liverpool vs. West Ham

Arsenal vs. Stoke City

Southampton vs. Middlesbrough

Swansea City vs. Sunderland

Watford vs. Everton

Hull vs. Crystal Palace

Burnley vs. Bournemouth

MLS Cup 2016 roundtable: Key topics ahead of Toronto vs. Seattle

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, center, battles for the ball with Seattle Sounders' Cristian Roldan, left, and Aaron Kovar during the first half of a soccer game, Saturday, July 2, 2016 in Toronto. (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)
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Ahead of the 2016 MLS Cup final this Saturday in Toronto, the PST crew take a look at the key issues as Toronto FC host Seattle Sounders FC with both clubs not only searching for their first MLS Cup trophy but also competing in their first-ever final.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

With over 35,000 expected at BMO Field in freezing conditions, everything is set up for one of the most exciting MLS Cup finals in recent history.

Can Toronto’s Designated Players lead them to glory and help them become the first Canadian team to win the title? Will Seattle finally reward its incredibly loyal fans by finishing off its miraculous run to the final with a win?

All that and more is answered, right here.


It’s here, MLS Cup 2016 in freezing conditions in Toronto… What are you most looking forward to about this game and why?

Joe Prince-Wright: The atmosphere. Watching the games in Toronto, the crowd really has been a 12th man and bought into this team. The stadium renovations have helped massively and turned Toronto into one of the most intimidating places to play in MLS. You can guarantee whatever the weather TFC’s fans will be out in full force and doing their best to roar their team on to victory. Something special is happening in the soccer scene in Toronto.

Nick Mendola: A new champion, and a few fantastic story lines: Does USMNT bragging rights goes to Bradley/Jozy or Morris? Is Nicolas Lodeiro able to “out-Seba” Giovinco? Can hardly wait.

Matt Reed: I’m looking to see how the Sounders handle the two-headed monster of Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore. For a long portion of the season teams only had to worry about Giovinco, which was a nightmare in itself, but now you throw in an in-form Altidore and that increases the challenge for the Sounders backline significantly.

Compared to other MLS Cup finals in recent years, is there extra excitement around this? Two well-supported teams with star names and fairly new to MLS.

Joe: I’m going to go out on a limb and say this could be one of the best finals ever. It’s safe to say defending isn’t the strength of either team (at least in the playoffs) and we could see a straight shootout, just like Toronto’s stunning Eastern Conference final win against Montreal. If you add the crazy crowd, the big name DPs and the fact that these two clubs have yet to win an MLS Cup, it’s a recipe for one heck of gameday.

Nick: I think this game had danger of being overlooked and under hyped before the Toronto-Montreal final at BMO. It was impossible to miss, and people will tune in for the atmosphere and the stars. Could be — and this is saying a lot — a watershed moment for MLS.

Matt: I think the fact that not only has neither team ever won a cup but couple that with the reality that they’ve each never played in a final prior to Saturday makes it all the more enticing of a matchup. Despite the frigid temperatures it could very well be one of the most highly anticipated finals we’ve seen when you consider the stars involved the game (Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco, Jordan Morris, Jozy Altidore, etc.).

Seattle has reached its first MLS Cup against all the odds. Does anyone have the sense their name is written on this trophy?

Joe: Sort of. When Sigi Schmid was fired and Brian Schmetzer was hired, nobody thought this would happen. I think most of the Seattle organization, their fans and even the players are a little bit stunned they’ve made it to MLS Cup. When you compare this team to others they’ve had in recent years, it’s not as good individually plus injuries to Clint Dempsey and others this campaign have been very disruptive. Somehow, they’ve made it to MLS Cup and these dream runs happen for a reason. Soccer works in mysterious ways.

Nick: I wouldn’t want to bet this game, mostly because Seattle is coming across the country and that’s been a recipe for struggle for almost every MLS side this year. Have to think Toronto is favored, fate or not (especially since fate is better known as the arrival of Nicolas Lodeiro!).

Matt: It just seems like 2016 is the year of the Sounders. Both clubs have had superb seasons and have their own unique storylines heading into the match, but when you consider the fact that the Sounders looked dead in the water halfway through the season, made a coaching change and are playing without arguably their most influential player (Clint Dempsey) it really looks like this team will have their fate sealed in the biggest way possible on Saturday night.

What will be the key battle in this game?

Joe: I think Seattle’s defense staying firm and not allowing Morris to latch on to balls from Lodeiro in behind. With the home crowd roaring them on, it would be quite easy for Toronto to go at it early on and leave themselves exposed defensively. If Justin Morrow, Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour can use their vast experience in MLS wisely, and regain their top form from the regular season, TFC will have a great chance of winning.

Nick: Seattle’s veteran back line against Giovinco and Altidore.

Matt: Nicolas Lodeiro has been the game changer for the Sounders since joining over the summer and Morris definitely can’t do this all by himself. I think the Uruguayan will need to be on top of his game against the talented Toronto back line and if he can work some of his magic, particularly finding Morris, then the Sounders will have a solid chance to take home the cup.

If you had to pick one striker right now, would you have Jordan Morris or Jozy Altidore?

Joe: I’m going to go with Altidore, but only just. The way he is right now, you sense he will score every time he steps on the pitch. He has done that throughout the playoffs and he finally seems fully fit and has his confidence back. It feels like Altidore’s time to shine. Morris’ time to be the main man in MLS and for the USMNT will come in the future.

Nick: Altidore. His motivation is high and his experience better. Morris is more of a 1b choice than 2, though!

Matt: I love what Morris has done this season but have to pick Altidore here. He’s been on fire since early August and playing with Giovinco certainly makes it a lot easier to shine when you don’t have defenders solely zoning in on you.

So, if TFC wins MLS Cup, do you think they can build a dynasty like DC United back in the day and LA Galaxy in recent years?

Joe: That have a great chance. Greg Vanney hasn’t got enough credit for the balance he has brought to this team and if they can continue to add to the squad wisely, their three DPs will be around for the next three to four years.

Nick: It’s possible. The key players/Dps are young enough, that’s for sure. But Toronto also has given the league a bit of a blueprint for making the playoffs.

Matt: Toronto has to be one of the most, if not the most, complete squads in MLS right now. The moves the club made during the offseason were spot on, starting with Will Johnson, Drew Moor and Steven Beitashour. Then the attack has two of the most deadly strikers in all of MLS. In short, yes, I think this team is here to stay.

And if Toronto does win, will Michael Bradley be applauded for his decision to leave Europe to lead this squad?

Joe: I think Bradley has come under some unjust criticism in recent months. If you dissect his form for Toronto this season, he’s been one of the main reasons they’re in MLS Cup. Sure, he’s had a few bad displays for the USMNT but it’s not like anybody else around him has excelled either for the USA. He wanted to lead a team to glory and he’s on the cusp of doing so. I respect that.

Nick: I doubt it. The excitement of his arrival and ability to see him each week has been seriously tarnished (for now) by the disappointing performance of the USMNT. He’ll be rightly celebrated as a champion, but I’m doubting too many outside of Toronto will say, “Yeah, NOW it was worth it.”

Matt: I’m not sure Bradley will be applauded because he’s certainly received criticism over his move back to the states but he’s definitely played an integral role in the Toronto midfield. I think it’s easy to get lost in the Giovinco hype and looking at the talent in the backline, but Bradley has been stellar this season controlling the midfield.

We can’t not mention Sebastian Giovinco. If he plays the hero role (highly likely) and TFC wins, will he go down as the best-ever DP in MLS history?

Joe: Apart from Robbie Keane, which other DP has had a bigger impact than Giovinco in MLS history? I’m struggling to answer that. If he wins MLS Cup, I think he will sit alongside Keane as the best ever.

Nick: Yes.

Matt: I’m not sure Giovinco automatically becomes the best with just one title but he’s easily a top 5 DP. If Toronto builds this into a dynasty I think it’ll be easier to justify the Italian being considered the best of all-time over a Robbie Keane.

Finally, not letting you go without a score prediction. Who wins it?

Joe: Toronto to win 2-1. Somehow, I had a major epiphany in March during our preseason picks in the roundtable chat and I predicted Toronto to beat Seattle 2-1 in MLS Cup final. So, I’m sticking with that.

Nick: Toronto, 2-1.

Matt: The Sounders have defied all odds to get to this point but I think Toronto takes it 3-2 on their home field.

LIVE – Europa League group stage finale: Saints, Man United in crucial deciders

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03:  Virgil van Dijk of Southampton celebrates after scoring his team's first goal during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and FC Internazionale Milano at St Mary's Stadium on November 3, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Ian Walton/Getty Images)
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This is it, don’t get scared now.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

Premier League duo Southampton and Manchester United both go into their final group game of the UEFA Europa League needing to avoid defeat if their going to make the knockout rounds.

For United, their task is simple. Jose Mourinho’s men need just a point from their trip to Ukraine to play Zorya Luhansk to advance to the Round of 32, while a win could see them finish top depending on the result of the Feyenoord vs. Fenerbache game.

As for Southampton, it’s a little bit more complicated.

A win for Claude Puel‘s side at home against Hapoel Be’er Sheva at a sold out St Mary’s would see them safely through to the knockout rounds of the Europa League for the first time in club history. A 0-0 draw would also do the trick but a score draw (1-1, 2-2, 3-3 etc) would send the reigning Israeli champions through instead as they’d have the advantage in head-to-head away goals after the duo drew 0-0 in Israel back in October. Making the knockout rounds of this competition would be a huge deal for Southampton and would keep their cup momentum going after they reached the semifinals of the EFL Cup last week.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]   

Elsewhere there is plenty on the line across the 12 groups, with the standings page in the link above very handy to work out the permutations as the top two teams from each group (first place team is seeded, the second unseeded) advance to the Round of 32 and will be joined by the eight teams who finished third in their respective groups in the UEFA Champions League group stage.

Below is the full schedule for Thursday’s game which kick off in three separate time slots, while you can follow live commentary and stats on the games by clicking on the link above.


Full Europa League schedule, Thursday Dec. 8

11 a.m. ET
Konyarspor vs. Gent
Qarabag vs. Fiorentina
Osmanlispor vs. Zurich
Braga vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Villarreal vs. Steaua Bucuresti
PAOK vs. Liberece

1 p.m. ET
Vikrotia Plzen vs. Austria Wien
Apoel Nicosia vs. Olympiacos
Sassuolo vs. Genk
Anderlecht vs. Saint-Etienne
Zorya Luhansk vs. Manchester United
Rapid Wien vs. Athletic Bilbao
Young Boys vs. Astana
AZ Alkmaar vs. Zenit Saint Petersburg
Feyenoord vs. Fenerbahce
Maccabi Tel-Aviv vs. Dundalk
Mainz vs. Gabala
Astra Giurgiu vs. Roma

3:05 p.m. ET
Panathinaikos vs. Celta Vigo
Standard Liege vs. Ajax
Inter Milan vs. Sparta Prague
Southampton vs. Hapoel Be’er Sheva
RB Salzburg vs. Schalke
Nice vs. Krasnodar

Bob Bradley will remain in charge, says Swansea chairman

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With reports circulating in the British press that American coach Bob Bradley could be fired after just seven games in charge of Swansea City, their chairman has publicly backed the former U.S. national team head coach.

[ MORE: Ranking the PL superstars ]

Bradley, 58, has just one win in his opening seven games in charge of the Swans who currently sit bottom of the Premier League table on nine points, three points off safety.

That poor form, coupled with many other issues at the club, has reportedly prompted new American owners Steve Kaplan and Jason Levien (they took over as majority owners in July) to conduct an extensive review of every department at the club.

However, chairman Huw Jenkins has moved to quell rumors about Bradley becoming the second Swansea manager to be fired through the opening 14 games of the season.

“I don’t know where that story came from, but it’s natural in football that everyone wants and needs results. But the last thing we need at this moment of time is a continual change in manager. We need stability first and foremost,” Jenkins told talkSPORT. “Take a team like Fulham, they changed managers three times in the season they tried to stave off relegation and we’re in a similar position now.”

“Perhaps in the summer I could have made a better decision – from pre-season onwards I don’t think things were right, it was too flat at the club. That had a knock-on effect and obviously it’s taken us a while to work through it. But we’re with Bob now to try and turn that corner – that’s what we’re working towards. We look at the January window as a chance to reinforce things. There are players not hitting the form levels they have done in the past and we have to find out why that is and get that right as well.”

So, it seems that sense is prevailing after all.

Jenkins took the blame for Swansea’s poor start to the season in media interviews on Wednesday and now the long-time chairman is backing his manager.

The south Wales businessman was part of a consortium which saved Swansea in 2004 and then led them on an incredible journey up from the fourth-tier to the Premier League, plus winning the League Cup and getting to the group stages of the Europa League. He and other directors have come in for some serious stick from Swansea’s fans for selling their stake to the new American owners and Jenkins is believed to have made just over $10 million from selling 8.2 percent of his 13.2 percent stake in the club.

On the pitch, it’s difficult to blame Bradley for the current situation Swansea finds itself in.

After some woeful moves in the transfer window last summer (Jenkins has admitted they weren’t great with Ashley Williams and Andre Ayew allowed to leave for big profits but their replacements just haven’t been good enough) the American coach needs at least one transfer window to bring in better players and the Swans are only three points off safety with a pivotal stretch of six games to come in the Premier League.

Home games against Sunderland, West Ham and Bournemouth, plus trips to West Brom, Middlesbrough and Crystal Palace will see the Swans go up against direct relegation rivals between now and Jan. 3.

The next four weeks will be huge not only for Swansea’s future but also for Bradley and ahead of their crunch home game against Sunderland on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) the American coach is eager to cut out defensive mistakes as the Swans have now conceded 19 goals in his seven games in charge.

“When you are a manager it (the pressure) goes with the territory,” Bradley said. “It is work as usual, knowing from the beginning when I got here that it would be a big challenge, and it is. When you see a scoreline like that it is easy to jump on us. We are not going to survive if we keep on conceding goals like this.”