Lee Nguyen, Blake Brettschneider, Chris Tierney

PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 11


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

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)


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)


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)

‘Ravens’ challenge soccer orthodoxy in Belarus

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MINSK, Belarus (AP) Less than three years ago, Alexander Skshinetsky’s soccer career seemed over.

The former under-21 international found himself unemployed after his career stalled, and was working on construction sites when an offer came. Would he consider joining an amateur team that had been playing seven-a-side soccer but now wanted to go pro, founded by a small group of fans staking thousands of dollars of their own money to build a club from scratch?

Two seasons and two promotions later, the 26-year-old midfielder is a key player in one of European soccer’s most unlikely success stories. In only its third professional season, Krumkachy Minsk is playing top-flight soccer, beating established names and challenging the economic orthodoxy in one of Europe’s most closed-off countries.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Krumkachy – “Ravens” in Belarusian – has soared into the country’s top league with a shoestring budget but an enthusiastic and growing fan base of hipsters, families and others turned off by the stagnation of soccer in the ex-Soviet nation. Before a recent run of losses, it was even challenging for Europa League qualification.

The secret has been finding talented players on the verge of leaving the game, or even those who have already quit, “people who have been underestimated and put down,” in the words of co-founder Denis Shunto, who set up Krumkachy with friends in 2011. “We get those guys and we can really make them into a team.”

After starting out in recreational competitions, Shunto and his friends decided to aim higher. Belarusian soccer has a three-tier league system packed with clubs backed by various government agencies and state-run factories in the country’s Soviet-style economy, a set-up which prefers predictability over ambition and can give rise to conflicts of interest. With a spot open in the third tier, but without a state patron, Krumkachy scraped together a few thousand dollars to apply. Each subsequent step up the pyramid brought predictions of imminent financial collapse.

“Everyone said we wouldn’t have the money, we couldn’t take part,” said Skshinetsky, the midfielder. “We played for free in the second division, and in the first division it wasn’t much. Maybe $100 for a win in the first division and salaries maybe $150 (a month).”

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

On a freezing Friday night in Minsk, the crowd was small and the game scrappy. Goalkeeping errors helped to hand Krumkachy a 2-1 win which all but ensured the club’s top-flight survival for 2017 in the Belarusian league’s calendar-year system. Financial survival is always a trickier question.

“We’ve got the smallest budget (in the league) and we’re still putting money in ourselves,” said Shunto, who wonders if the approach of going without government funding may be “too romantic.”

At Friday’s game, commercial tie-ups were prominent and Krumkachy’s shirts were covered in a myriad of small logos from various businesses which have chipped in as sponsors, while opposition Granit Mikashevichi bore only the logo of its backer, a state-run quarry. Consumerism may be the norm in most European leagues, but in Belarus’ state-dominated economy, it’s the mark of the plucky underdog.

After ending a nine-game wait for victory, the players came over to celebrate with the sparse crowd. An hour later, the reserve players were still sharing the field with fans and their children having a kickabout.

“It’s an atmosphere like home, very warm. It’s been helping the guys not to give up,” said Vasily Khomutovsky, one of Krumkachy’s two co-coaches.

At a recent away game, “a woman with two children who went there, with two small kids 7 and 10 years old, she made each player a little souvenir by hand and signed it, something different for each player,” Khomutovsky said.

There’s a family atmosphere within the club, too, with Shunto’s brother serving as a backup goalkeeper and Skshinetsky’s wife in charge of fitness training.

[ MORE: Power rankings — Going to the playoffs edition ]

Vladimir Harlach, one of the team’s supporters, said Krumkachy reminds him of AFC Wimbledon, the English club founded by fans after owners relocated its previous incarnation to another town, and which has since shot up several divisions.

“That’s a bit different, there was history,” Harlach said. “Here, it’s from scratch. History is being written in front of our eyes. You could compare it to other countries 100 years ago, when (soccer) was all being created.”

Krumkachy’s average home attendance of about 1,500 is tiny by European standards, but enough to put it comfortably above all but the biggest clubs in Belarus, as well as higher than that of FC Minsk, the city government-run club whose stadium Krumkachy is using.

Some at the club wonder whether European qualification might be possible next year, another improbable step up, but the top spot in Belarus appears far out of reach. Able to outspend rivals with cash from occasional Champions League appearances, BATE Borisov has just sewn up its 11th straight title.

Khomutovsky welcomes the comparison to Leicester, a team which was promoted to top division in England, survived one season, then won a wildly unlikely title the following year.

“I hope next year,” Khomutovsky said, “we do what we can to become the Belarusian Leicester.”

MLS Cup Playoffs Weds. preview: Toronto, LA host openers

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco, right, celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against the New England Revolution during first-half MLS soccer game action in Toronto, Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. (Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP)
Chris Young/The Canadian Press via AP
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Here we go, sports fans.

Major League Soccer starts its playoffs with a pair of knockout round games on Wednesday and another two on Thursday.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Philadelphia Union at Toronto FC — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Union are back in the playoffs for just the second time in playoff history, the same amount as Toronto. The difference is that Toronto has made the postseason in back-to-back season and isn’t entering the second season on a brutal cold streak.

Philly has lost three-straight and five of seven, making the playoffs on goal differential and — as Brotherly Game points out — has the lowest points-per-game of a playoff team since 2006.

That’s probably not going to fly at the new, loud BMO Field, where TFC’s supporters will finally get a home playoff match. Sebastian Giovinco is close to full fitness, Jozy Altidore has been on fire, and Michael Bradley isn’t exactly a player who shirks the big game spot light.

But it’s going to be players like Drew Moor and Clint Irwin who keep TFC calm under the bright lights. They’ve been here before. In fact, Moor has actually been at BMO in the playoffs, when Colorado trumped FC Dallas for a 2-1 win at MLS Cup 2010.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Real Salt Lake at LA Galaxy –10:30 p.m. ET

Before the season began, LA looked like it had an embarrassment of riches that could challenge for one of the best records in MLS history. Between Giovani Dos Santos, Robbie Keane, Ashley Cole, Nigel de Jong, Steven Gerrard, and Gyasi Zardes — let alone the rest of the crew — the Galaxy were terrifying.

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 11: Robbie Keane #7 of Los Angeles Galaxy celebrates his goal with Giovani dos Santos #10 to take a 4-1 lead over the Orlando City FC at StubHub Center on September 11, 2016 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Dos Santos and Keane (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

About 700 miles northeast was a team expected to do, well, not much. Real Salt Lake had its mainstays in Kyle Beckerman and Nick Rimando, but had the club done enough to make up a 10-point playoff deficit from 2015?

Injuries and defections stopped the Galaxy from reaching its potential, while RSL rode a hot start into the playoffs. Both teams finished their seasons in cold fashion; In Real’s case, ice cold.

The Galaxy only lost one game at the StubHub Center this season, and it’s realistic to think that trend will continue on Wednesday. But there’s something about RSL and the playoffs — and the potential absences of not just Zardes but Keane and Gerrard — that lead us to believe something strange could be coming by the time Thursday morning hits the East Coast.

USMNT’s Zardes nearing return for LA… but not this week

CARSON, CA - FEBRUARY 09:  Gyasi Zardes #11 of Los Angeles Galaxy attemps to break away from Leiton Jimenez #30 of Club Tijuana at StubHub Center on February 9, 2016 in Carson, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Photo by Harry How/Getty Images
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Gyasi Zardes waits on X-rays, and it’s not just a matter for LA Galaxy concern.

Yes, the MLS side is chasing its sixth Cup and has as many as two playoff matches coming in the next five days.

But Jurgen Klinsmann has regularly called upon the 25-year-old attacker for the United States men’s national team who, in case you haven’t heard, have two of the toughest World Cup qualifiers on their slate in the next few weeks.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

There’s good news and bad news. First, the good, from MLSSoccer.com:

Gyasi Zardes, returning from a broken foot this past August, happily took to the field with his teammates in a sign of a potential return in time for the postseason. The offensive favorite spent a little under an hour with the team, not quite completing a full training session, but definitely close to returning to his usual fitness.

Now the less good: Zardes cannot return until his next scheduled X-ray on the aforementioned broken foot.

That X-ray comes next Thursday – well after Wednesday’s game and any weekend matches.

Will a fit Zardes instantly reclaim a spot in Klinsmann’s 23? Wingers have had strong performances in his stead, and the coach’s take on that position is a bit unknown as we anticipate the United States and Mexico in Columbus on Nov. 11.

Juventus CEO: agent to earn $30 million for Pogba transfer

VERONA, ITALY - JANUARY 31:  Paul Pogba of Juventus celebrates the victory after the Serie A match between AC Chievo Verona and Juventus FC at Stadio Marc'Antonio Bentegodi on January 31, 2016 in Verona, Italy.  (Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images)
Photo by Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
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TURIN, Italy (AP) Juventus CEO Giuseppe Marotta has revealed that Paul Pogba‘s agent will be paid 27 million euros ($30 million) for the player’s record transfer to Manchester United.

Pogba returned to United in August for a world-record fee of $116 million.

Marotta was quoted by Italian media as telling Juventus’ shareholders meeting Tuesday as saying “27 million (euros) will be paid to (Pogba’s) agent Mino Raiola. So the total net gain for Pogba was 72 million ($78 million)” after other fees are taken into account.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Marotta says that Pogba joined Juve from United in 2012 for a bargain price of 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million).

Marotta adds that Juan Cuadrado‘s two-year loan from Chelsea costs 5 million euros ($5.4 million) per season and if Juventus wins Serie A this season it will be obliged to buy Cuadrado’s full rights for an additional 20 million ($22 million).