PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 12

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What do we do about Sporting Kansas City?

Consider this more than a spotlight on the defending champions. Consider it an exercise in Power Rankings mechanics. What do we do about a team that has so many debilitating but temporary problems? Do we give them a ranking that reflects this team that will be irrelevant come July? Or do we give Peter Vermes’ team a pass and keep a struggling group near the top of our rankings?

The reason I ask is because I don’t know. It’s a Power Rankings-busting problem. For an exercise that’s already less relevant than whimsical, the process becomes complete fancy if we start assessing teams playing (and selecting talent) at their extremes. Do we really need a Power Ranking of depleted squads?

The alternative, the path I’ve taken, is to take a squad’s losses into account. Unfortunately, that means a team that’s 5-4-3 — one that, at the moment, is clearly not one of the league’s best — fourth on our list.

In that sense, these Power Rankings are already useless (or, more useless). A “4” next to Sporting implies they’re the fourth-best team in the league, right now, yet they’re clearly not.  To put them any lower, however, leaves us judging a team based on these short-term, extreme circumstances. Just consider that number “where he thinks they’ll be post-World Cup.”

Have a solution? If so, let me know, below. For now, here’s my look at Major League Soccer after 12 weeks:

MORE: Week 11 Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 New England Revolution: Five wins in a row and a seven-game unbeaten run have put the Revs in a position where one loss might not take them our of the top spot. The goal barrage stopped on Saturday, but if that’s one of the more “down” performances in New England’s run, the team is even better off then its record hints. (7-3-2)

2 Real Salt Lake: Saturday showed there’s a difference between bad and impotent … not that impotent isn’t bad. With FC Dallas visiting Rio Tinto, Jeff Cassar would have expected three points. Instead, held to one shot on target, his team was drawn for the sixth time this season. (6-0-6)
source:  3 Seattle Sounders: There’s nothing wrong with being outplayed in Vancouver, especially without a couple of key cogs. Where the Cascadia Cup is concerned, Saturday’s point may prove a valuable one. (8-3-2)
source:  4 Sporting Kansas City: Remember what we were talking about last week? For some teams (the ones with major World Cup absences), we’ll take the long view with their rankings. Not only is Sporting hurt by the absences of Graham Zusi and Matt Besler, but the injury situation in defense isn’t getting any better (see: Myers, Chance). They’re not playing like the fourth-best team in the league, but we’re giving them the benefit of the doubt. (5-4-3)

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5 UP 1 LA Galaxy: Two convincing wins help in the standings, but what’s fueled LA’s Power Rankings surge is the goals. Six over two games helped address the biggest question the Galaxy carried into the week. (4-3-3)
source:  6 UP 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: For as well as they played on Saturday, the Whitecaps should have taken full points. Their inability to do so, however, is not why they fall. This drop is all about the Galaxy, who wouldn’t have passed Vancouver without a convincing week. (4-2-5)
source:  7 UP 5 D.C. United: This is a huge jump for a team that won one, lost one this week, but two things: (a) the middle (after spot 6) of this table is crammed in a way the mere ordinal ranging don’t capture, meaning teams can make up ground quickly; and, (b) D.C.’s ability to compete with New England was telling. Ben Olsen’s team is clearly not one of the league’s best, but they’ve shown an ability to compete with them. (5-4-3)
source:  8 Toronto FC: With 10 men, the Reds came back to claim a point on the road against the defending champs, though given the state of Sporting’s defense, it’s hard to see what that comeback tells us about Toronto. (4-4-1)
source:  9 UP 1 San Jose Earthquakes: Mark Watson made the tough decision to try a midfield without Sam Cronin – a choice that’s paying off. The new central duo of Khari Stephenson and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi augments the loss of solidity with a versatility San Jose’s lacked. It will be interesting to see how long Watson goes without one of the team’s tenured players. (3-4-4)
source:  10 DOWN 3 New York Red Bulls: Yes, they lost, but they also outplayed (at least, had the better chances against) Portland, a fact that would justify New York maintaining a higher spot on this list. Ultimately, against one of the more mistaken-prone defenses in the league, they couldn’t muster an open play goal. While that’s not enough to drop the Red Bulls out of our top 10, it’s enough to let Toronto and San Jose climb above them. (3-5-5)
source:  11 DOWN 1 Columbus Crew: A drop seems unfair for a team that won 2-0 this weekend, but that’s the nature of Power Rankings. Climbing and falling is not about absolutes. Results are relative. Despite snapping an eight-game winless run, there was still a “par for the course” quality about Federico Higuaín picking apart Chicago. The Fire defense was as bad as the Argentine playmaker was good. (4-4-4)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Houston Dynamo: Two poor performances would justify a bigger drop if somebody below this mark impressed. Between Colorado’s strength of opposition (none) and Portland’s underlying performance, no team made a case to be higher. Add in an allowances for Houston’s key absences and the Dynamo get a break. (5-7-2)
source:  13 UP 1 FC Dallas: Dallas got a point from two tough road games, but the team’s winless run is now seven. Thanks to the Fire’s struggles, however, FCD moves up a spot, with Saturday’s game against visiting San Jose giving Óscar Pareja’s team a chance to break back into the win column. (5-6-3)

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14 UP 4 Colorado Rapids: That the performance came against Montréal gives us reason to question what we learned from the Rapids’ 4-1 win, but given the team’s main problem has been scoring goals, there may be something worth noting about Saturday’s performance. Had Colorado produced a controlled 2-0 against the Impact, we probably would have kept them lower on this list. Four goals, however, gives us reason to think the attack may come around. (5-4-3)
source:  15 DOWN 3 Chicago Fire: Losing 2-0 to a team like the Crew isn’t that bad, on the surface. That the Fire were taken out of the match so early is the problem. Against a player like Federico Higuaín, Chicago’s defenders were sitting ducks. Does Frank Yallop expect to compete for the playoffs with this back line? (2-3-6)
source:  16 Portland Timbers: A much-needed win for the Timbers gave Portland hope its luck is starting to change. The underlying performance, however, is still troublesome. (2-3-7)
source:  17 UP 1 Chivas USA: An off week for the Goats allows Wilmer Cabrera’s team to take advantage of the Union’s struggles. They’re back in action on Wednesday against Portland. (2-5-4)
source:  18 DOWN 2 Philadelphia Union: Five goals to New England. Four to the Galaxy. Looks like that win in Kansas City was a pure fluke. This team’s not only back to their pre-Sporting selves, the defense may be worse. (2-7-5)
source:  19 Montréal Impact: The Impact’s establishing the type of profile you see with truly hopeless teams. For example, did you know Montréal’s both last in goals scored and tied for first in goals allowed? The Impact is also the only team still in single-digits points on the season. (1-6-4)

Pique: For first time in career, Barca star feels “inferior to Madrid”

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Gerard Pique does not have the sort of personality that makes admitting defeat an easy proposition.

The longtime Barcelona center back is raging after his side was beaten 5-1 over two legs by rivals Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup.

[ MORE: Barca releases statement on terror attacks ]

And for the first time in his life, he thinks Barca is a step behind its El Clasico enemies. From The Telegraph:

“This is a long process and there is room for improvement but in the nine years that I have been here, it is the first time that I feel inferior to Madrid,” Piqué said. “We are not in the best moment, either as a team or as a club. We must stay as close as possible and keep moving forwards.”

Barcelona looked very poor in the second leg of the Super Cup, though the club did hammer the woodwork on multiple occasions. Real is the best team in the world, which makes being its rival a real hassle.

In fact, both clubs have been 1-2 in the world for some time, which has to make it extra perplexing when you’re No. 2 to only the club you despise more than any other.

Bundesliga preview: Schalke, BVB chase Bayern Munich

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The last time Schalke spent a season outside of European football, the celebrated German club finished second in the league en route to a Champions League semifinal the following campaign.

That’s one of the only silver linings from last season’s disappointing 10th place finish, 19 points behind fourth place Hoffenheim.

[ MORE: Schalke’s teen American impact ]

“Naturally, nobody is happy about not playing international this year,” center back Benedikt Howedes told ProSoccerTalk. “During the week we currently have more time to focus on the next opponent. We will battle the European positions with many teams this season. I think, the race is up in the air. The Bundesliga is very balanced.”

World Cup winner Howedes has 334 appearances for Schalke (Getty Images).

Schalke’s tumulutous 2016-17 season started poorly and never really found its footing. The club lost its first five league matches under Markus Weinzierl, who was fired in June, and saw marquee transfers Naldo, Breel Embolo, and Coke miss a lot of time through injuries.

Enter 31-year-old Domenico Tedesco. Don’t let the age fool you, he’s the boss not a player, and youth will be part of the team as well. Schalke still has Embolo, Max Meyer and Leon Goretzka, American teen Weston McKennie has been promoted to the first team, and Amine Harit has arrived from Nantes.

From the outside, that puts an emphasis on veteran leadership. Fortunately for Schalke, it has living club legend Howedes and ex-Man City defender Matija Nastasic amongst others in the fold.

“The spirit, if you could be in the locker room, it’s amazing,” McKennie told PST. “It doesn’t matter how old you are.”

[ MORE: Guide to two promoted Bundesliga teams ]

In the case of Nastasic, who won the Premier League with Manchester City in 2013-14, his 24 years carry a lot of experience. He’s thrived at Fiorentina, become a staple of the Serbian national team, and rebounding from his injury-hit time at City and is a leader at Schalke.

And those young guys can learn from Nastasic, who’s seen it all at 24.

“When I just arrived in Italy I was only 18 and it was the first year out of my country,” Nastasic told PST. “I didn’t expect at the beginning that I would play that much. Then I changed to England, and it was totally different. Italy is more tactical. Football in England is physical with a lot of tempo and running. I was young also without so much experience but when I was fit I think I played good.”

Schalke will need its young attack to find more goals. Its defense was Top Five in goals conceded last season, but its 45 goals was mid-table.

“Everyone knows that last season was not as good as we had expected,” Howedes said. “With our new coach, we want to improve our game and make our fans happy again. We are training hard and I am sure, that we will be more constant and improve our performances this season.”

[ MORE: First female ref to make Bundesliga debut ]

“From the team I expect a much better season than last year,” Nastasic adds. “We are not playing international games so maybe that’s an advantage for us. We can concentrate on the Bundesliga.”

Both Nastasic and Howedes heaped praise on McKennie, as well as American teammate Haji Wright, who will spend the season on loan to Sandhausen, and the game overseas in general.

“Haji Wright started spectacular,” Howedes said. “For young players the most important thing is to play. On loan in Sandhausen the chance is greater than here. I rejoice for him he get this opportunity. The step in the 2.Bundesliga can be a good beginning of his career.

“The American soccer is really developing the last years. It is no coincidence that a lot of great players like Kaka and Gerrard joined Major League Soccer. And who knows, I also can imagine to play there some day in the future.”

Different champs (but probably not different champs): Bayern Munich will neither have Xabi Alonso nor Philipp Lahm this season, but that doesn’t mean they are runaway favorites to claim its 27th title and sixth-straight since Borussia Dortmund’s two-year reign ended with the 2011-12 crown. Carlo Ancelotti has reloaded with James Rodriguez and Corentin Tolisso, and will be favored to hold off BVB for the crown.

Here’s to the new Bosz: USMNT phenom Christian Pulisic is already making an impact in the mind of his new coach, Peter Bosz, and the manager will be pleased to note that reports say Pulisic has no interest in looking into his future until after the 2018 World Cup.

Sleepers? Eintracht Frankfurt dropped into 11th last season, and may benefit from not finishing in a European place. The club has added Mexican national teamer Carlos Saucedo, Dutch star Jetro Willems, and well-traveled Jonathan De Guzman for its new season.

Americans Abroad:
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Julian Green (Stuttgart)
Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)
Fabian Johnson (Borussia Monchengladbach)
McKennie (Schalke)
Timothy Chandler (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Bobby Wood (Hamburg)
Aron Johannsson (Werder Bremen *expected to be sold)
Caleb Stanko (Freiburg)

Old faces, new places:
Serge Gnabry (Hoffenheim, on loan from Bayern Munich)
Mahmoud Dahoud (Borussia Dortmund, from ‘Gladbach)
Mathew Leckie (Hertha BSC, from Ingolstadt)
Sven Bender (Bayer Leverkusen, from BVB)
Marcel Heller (Augsburg, from Darmstadt)
Kyriakos Papadopoulos (Hamburg, from Bayer)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg, from Hertha)
Paul Verhaegh (Wolfsburg, from Augsburg)
Holger Badstuber (Stuttgart, from Bayern)

New faces, new places:
James Rodriguez (Bayern Munich)
Jonathan Klinsmann (Hertha BSC)
Reece Oxford (Gladbach, on loan from West Ham)
Harit (Schalke)
Jonathan de Guzman (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Jetro Willems (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Carlos Salcedo (Eintracht Frankfurt)
Viktor Fischer (Mainz)

Opening weekend
Bayern Munich vs. Bayer Leverkusen — Friday
Hamburg vs. Augsburg — Saturday
Hertha Berlin vs. Stuttgart — Saturday
Hoffenheim vs. Werder Bremen — Saturday
Wolfsburg vs. Borussia Dortmund — Saturday
Mainz vs. Hannover 96 — Saturday
Schalke vs. RB Leipzig — Saturday
Freiburg vs. Eintracht Frankfurt — Sunday
Borussia Monchengladbach vs. Koln — Sunday

FC Barcelona releases statement after terror attack

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FC Barcelona found tragedy at home on Thursday when a terrorist plot unfolded in Las Ramblas, killing 13 and injuring more than 100.

Las Ramblas is just a 20-minute ride from the Camp Nou, and the Catalan club hosts Real Betis on Sunday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

A terrorist-driven rental van was driven at 50 mph through a crowded plaza. As of post time, two men had been arrested but the driver remained on the loose.

Saying it was sickened by the attack, FCB announced it will fly flags at half-mast, wear black arm bands during the match and hold a minute’s silence.

Here’s the full statement:

FC Barcelona wants to express its profound sorrow and utter disgust at the terrorist attack that has hit the heart of our city, la Rambla de Barcelona. The Club wishes to send our support and thoughts to the victims, their families and friends as well as the people of Barcelona and its visitors.

As a mark of respect, the flags will fly at half-mast at the Club’s facilities and the players from both teams will wear black armbands in all the Club’s matches this weekend.

On Sunday, before the 2017/18 La Liga opener against Betis, the Camp Nou will hold a minutes silence in recognition and memory of the victims.

AC Milan and Napoli likeliest challengers to Juve’s crown

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MILAN (AP) Juventus’ six-year Serie A domination could end this year.

AC Milan has reinforced its squad, Inter Milan has had some much-needed stability after four managerial changes last season, while Napoli looks set to mount an even stronger challenge this time around.

Lazio could also be surprise contenders after Simone Inzaghi’s side withstood a late comeback to beat Juventus 3-2 and win the Italian Super Cup on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Another American teen making Bundesliga name ]

However, Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri has warned the rest of Serie A that it will be a very different performance from his team in Saturday’s season opener at home to Cagliari.

“We cannot and must not play like that in the league,” he said. “This defeat brings us back to earth. Some of the players aren’t fully fit yet, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy … but starting on Saturday you’ll see a different Juve.”

Allegri also took encouragement from the last time Juventus played Lazio in the Super Cup, in 2015.

“We beat Lazio in Beijing for the Super Cup two years ago and then had a bad start to the Serie A season, so hopefully we’ll do it the other way round this time,” he said.

Juventus has dominated Italian soccer for nearly a decade, winning three successive league and cup doubles and it will be tricky for anyone to prevent the Bianconeri from extending their league record to seven straight Serie A titles.

Milan was the last team other than Juventus to win the title and, despite having last finished in the top three in 2013, it looks the likeliest to depose the Turin-based club.

The Chinese-led consortium that purchased Milan from Silvio Berlusconi for $800 million in April has infused the club with cash and splashed out more than 200 million euros ($234 million) in the offseason.

[ VIDEO: Giovanni Reyna’s MOTM job for USYNT ]

As well as signing Italy’s top defender Leonardo Bonucci from Juventus, Milan also brought in forward Andre Silva from FC Porto; midfielders Ricardo Rodriguez (Wolfsburg), Franck Kessie and Andrea Conti (Atalanta), Hakan Calhanoglu (Bayer Leverkusen) and Lucas Biglia (Lazio); and defender Mateo Musacchio (Villarreal).

Fourth place in Serie A now guarantees qualification to the Champions League and that will be the minimum requirement for Vincenzo Montella’s team. But, if the new team gels quickly, there is the feeling that Milan could make a strong challenge for the title.

Bonucci was playing down his new side’s chances.

“Juve remains favorite and Napoli has a great chance of fighting for the title,” Bonucci said in interview with Gazzetta dello Sport. “As we are now we’re still a step below both, but we shouldn’t put limits on ourselves. After those two, I see Milan, Inter and Roma as equal.”

Napoli has finished in the top three in four of the past five seasons but even a record number of points last campaign still left it third, five points behind Juventus.

However, talk of the `scudetto’ is no longer a taboo for Napoli, which hasn’t won the title since 1990.

But, while it didn’t make any big signings in the transfer window, its biggest success of the offseason has been in keeping its band of talented players together.

It sold Ezequiel Lavezzi in 2012 and Edinson Cavani the following year – both to Paris Saint-Germain – while Gonzalo Higuain moved to Juventus in 2016.

This year Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne have signed new contracts, while Marek Hamsik is just three goals away from breaking Diego Maradona’s scoring record for the club.

Mertens was reportedly pursued by a number of clubs – both in Italy and abroad – but the Belgium international, who scored more than 30 goals for Napoli last campaign, opted to extend his stay with the southern side.

“I stayed here because the team plays very beautiful football and doing that we can get a lot of joy,” said Mertens, who scored again as Napoli beat Nice 2-0 in the first leg of its Champions League playoff on Wednesday.

Napoli played arguably the best soccer in Italy last season and its attacking flair saw it score 94 goals, but it faltered against teams in the lower half of the table and coach Maurizio Sarri is hoping to have corrected that by the time it kicks of its Serie campaign at Hellas Verona on Saturday.

More AP Italian soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/SerieA