PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – The Benefit of Mid-Week Edition

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I could get used to this: Waiting until after the mid-week games to do Power Rankings. Not only does it help with our weekend previews (we love noting where the teams are in our rankings) but it gives us more information. Instead of cramming in the weekend results, trying to turn that around as quickly as possible, we get some time to reflect, hear some explanations, and get some more perspective. Ah, room to think.

Not that it necessarily helps. An exercise like this is always a bit frivolous, but at least we had Wednesday’s result in Colorado to keep us from over thinking LA’s weekend aberration. At least we had San Jose’s showing in Seattle to reenforce what we saw in Salt Lake from the Sounders. Is more information ever a bad thing?

In the wrong hands, perhaps. We’ll let you judge how ably we used our few nuggets. Here’s this week’s version of our “MLS PRs”:

MORE: Last Week’s Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down

1 UP 1 Real Salt Lake: Saturday’s 2-1 win over visiting Seattle ended closer than it played. Though the Sounders are going through their own (strangely familiar) set of troubles, the degree to which RSL controlled a very talented team was eye-opening. Only a momentary meltdown in defense kept the scoreline from matching the underlying performance. (11-4-9)
source:  2 UP 1 Sporting Kansas City: The other team that has a case for number one, Sporting Kansas City shook off their Vancouver worries with an impressive win over visiting Toronto. Though the 4-1 final may have flattered to deceive, it was still a statement, one that would have vaulted the champs to number one had they not lost 2-0 the week before. (12-6-6)
source:  3 UP 2 FC Dallas: A team with this version of Fabián Castillo can beat anybody. You don’t have to be better. You don’t even necessarily have to be good. All you need is for Castillo to find some open space. The fact that Dallas is, in fact, good beyond Castillo leads to results like last Saturday’s, a 5-0 landslide in Santa Clara. (11-7-6)

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4 DOWN 3 LA Galaxy: After reaching number one in our rankings last week, Los Angeles proceeded to lose 4-1 at Columbus and fall behind 3-1 in Colorado. In Wednesday’s second half, the real Galaxy came through with three goals, saving Bruce Arena’s team from a steep fall on this week’s chart. (10-5-7)
source:  5 DOWN 1 Seattle Sounders: With one point in two games, Seattle could justify a bigger drop, particularly given their point came in a home draw to San Jose. Still, there’s a deference you give to a team with this much talent, one you suspect can put it together if they had to win a game tomorrow. Given their recent form (as well as past playoff experiences), that may be too deferential. (13-7-3)
source:  6 UP 1 D.C. United: After a four-goal performance against Colorado, D.C. has a claim to take Seattle’s spot. The only problem: It was against Colorado; at home, nonetheless. At this point, that’s an obligatory win. (12-7-4)
source:  7 DOWN 1 Vancouver Whitecaps: Carl Robinson’s team probably deserved a bigger fall after failing to pick up full points at Chivas USA, but nobody directly behind them stepped up. Unbeaten in six, Vancouver has some claim to staying above teams that can’t avoid bigger stumbles. Eight points in six games isn’t enough, though – not if they plan on staying ahead of Portland. (7-4-12)
source:  8 Toronto and Columbus: On form alone, Columbus should be above Toronto. Columbus beat the ranking’s No. 1 team, 4-1, while Toronto lost by the same score at Kansas City. But we’ve seen these teams head-to-head too often (and with the same, repeated result), we know which one is better. At least, it’s going to take more the one week’s results to convince me Columbus can take Toronto on a neutral field. (TFC: 9-8-5; Crew: 7-8-9)
source:  9 UP 4
source:  10 Portland Timbers: A road draw at New England wasn’t the worst outcome, though it would have been more impressive had the struggling Revolution not looked genuinely capable during parts of the match. Though it’s a better result than Colorado got during a recent visit to Gillette, it still felt like points dropped, particularly for a team needing to scrounge every result to return to the playoffs. (7-7-10)
source:  11 UP 1 New York Red Bulls: A much-needed bye week for set of worn wheels. As with most teams given the week off, New York regressed to the mean. Slightly. (6-7-10)
source:  12 DOWN 1 Philadelphia Union: Jim Curtin’s team managed to make the Dynamo look good, a rarity partially explained by the team’s quick turnaround. After 120 minutes last Tuesday in Dallas, the Union could be forgiven an off night in Houston. (6-9-9)
source:  13 DOWN 4 San Jose Earthquakes: Wednesday’s result was a good one, but Seattle left that game close enough to steal. The more telling result was the weekend’s 5-0 loss to Dallas. In hindsight, it seems like a terrible matchup, but not all terrible matchups end 5-0. San Jose saw that mismatch and raised it a horrible performance. (6-9-7)
source:  14 UP 4 Houston Dynamo: Sure, Philadelphia wasn’t at its best, but Houston showed signs of putting things together. The midfield looked strong, the attack clicked, and the defense kept a rare clean sheet. Progress, for now, is all Dynamo fans can ask for, and on Friday, that’s what they got. (7-12-4)
source:  15 UP 1 Chivas USA: Wilmer Cabrera’s team isn’t quite the pushover we’ve made them out to be, but having dealt Mauro Rosales to Vancouver, the team may have to rely on more 0-0s to collect their points. How is Chivas going to get Erick Torres the ball? (6-11-6)
source:  16 New England Revolution: Just like Portland, New England should see last Saturday’s game as a missed opportunity. At home, against a team outside the West’s top five — one with one of the worst defenses, statistically, in the league — the Revs should have expected full points. They should have expected a turnaround – another home win against a visitor from the west coast. Instead, the team stumbled, albeit in a more muted fashion than it did earlier this summer. (8-12-3)

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17 DOWN 3 Colorado Rapids: Two games, eight more goals conceded, and the Rapids are free-falling, with a defensive record that suddenly rivals the Timbers’. Without Drew Moor, and with Shane O’Neill’s return uncertain, the offseason loss of Óscar Pareja looms large. Pablo Mastroeni has gone a good job, but we’re starting to get reminders that this is his first year on the job.  (8-11-6)
source:  18 UP 1 Montréal Impact: I’m not sure there’s much more to say about Saturday’s win. The Impact didn’t necessarily improved. They just happened to be playing a team that was on their level. Thanks to a one errant clearance and the finishing of Marco Di Vaio, that was enough to get them back into the win column, but Chicago was the only team Montréal could have beaten with Saturday’s performance.   (4-14-5)
source:  19 DOWN 4 Chicago Fire: Just when you think things can’t get more depressing in Chicago: a 6-0 loss in a cup semifinal; a 1-0 loss to (what was) the league’s worst team; and this continued courtship of Jermaine Jones that’s starting to look a little desperate. The best thing that’s happened to this team all season was Mike Magee’s movie spoof. (4-6-13)

Watch Live: Arsenal v. Tottenham in North London derby

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This is it.

The Premier League returns with a bang following the two week international break as Arsenal host Tottenham Hotspur at the Emirates Stadium (Watch live, 7:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE ONLINE

Arsenal haven’t won any of their last six games in the Premier League against Tottenham, while Spurs are three places and four points above the Gunners in the PL table.

In team news Arsenal start with Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Alexandre Lacazette up top, with Shkodran Mustafi returning from injury.

Tottenham have Dele Alli, Hugo Lloris and Harry Kane fit to play after recovering from injury.

LINEUPS

Arsenal: Cech; Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Ozil, Sanchez; Lacazette. Subs: Ospina; Mertesacker, Wilshere, Iwobi, Welbeck, Maitland-Niles, Coquelin

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris; Sanchez, Dier, Vertonghen; Trippier, Dembele, Sissoko, Davies; Eriksen, Alli; Kane. Subs: Vorm; Foyth, Aurier, Winks, Walker-Peters, Son, Llorente

MLS attendance up, TV ratings lag as US mulls future

AP Photo/Jay LaPrete
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NEW YORK (AP) Major League Soccer’s attendance is up and fan interest is booming, even if television broadcasts are far less popular and some young Americans would rather play in Europe.

[ MORE: Caleb Porter out as Portland Timbers head coach ]

MLS averaged 22,000 in attendance for the first time in its history this season, ranked among the top seven leagues in the world. The league is set to add a second Los Angeles franchise next year, announce two expansion cities next month and at some point finalize David Beckham’s long-pending Miami club.

But viewers averaged under 300,000 for nationally televised regular-season matches, fewer than the average for a New York Yankees game on their regional sports network. Several top young Americans, such as Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie, have chosen to forego the MLS to play in Germany and test their mettle in a more demanding environment.

And worst of all, the United States – whose roster was filled with MLS stars – failed to qualify for next year’s World Cup, ending a streak of seven straight appearances in soccer’s showcase.

“We need to use this failure as a wakeup call for everyone associated with the sport at all levels to ensure that we have the right processes and mechanisms and development programs and leadership and governance in place to learn from this missed opportunity to ensure that it never happens again,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said this week. “Part of the maturation of becoming a soccer nation is recognizing that qualifying for the World Cup is not a birthright. It’s something you need to earn, and we are unfortunately in the company of some great soccer nations, like Italy and Holland and Ghana and Chile – Copa champions – that have also not qualified.”

MLS playoffs resume next week after the international break with the first leg of Conference Championships. Columbus – whose owners are threatening to move to Austin, Texas, in 2019 – hosts Toronto, while Houston is home against Seattle.

“MLS and soccer in the United States have made great advances in many areas. But its promoters have found that the abundance of existing legacy sports leagues that have the highest quality of athletes on the planet creates a ceiling on professional soccer in the United States,” said Marc Ganis, president of the consulting firm SportsCorp. “It has not, and perhaps never, will supplant any of the major legacy sports unless and until the quality of play and players increases significantly and the U.S. men’s team in particular is more competitive and, in fact, wins some of the major international tournaments.”

Momentum of playoff runs was interrupted because of World Cup qualifying, and the culmination of the league’s season competes for attention with the NFL and college football among the wider American sports audience.

“Long-term demographic things like CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) and stuff with the NFL says maybe there is a long slow decline around some of that, but when you’re starting from where they’re starting, that’s going to take a generation,” Sounders general manager Garth Lagerwey said. “We’ll grow because most of the immigration to the U.S. is from soccer-playing countries and the country is going to grow.”

Launched with 10 teams in 1996, two years after the U.S. hosted the World Cup, MLS expanded to 12 but cut back to 10 after the 2001 season. There has been steady growth since expansion started in 2004. Next year’s total will be 23, already well over the norm for a first division, and the league is planning to settle at 28.

Infrastructure could not be more different than in the early days. The league has 14 soccer specific stadiums, two more renovated for the sport and one built with both the NFL and soccer in mind. Three more soccer stadiums are under construction.

Average attendance is up 60 percent from 13,756 in 2000, boosted this year by 48,200 for Atlanta in its opening season. MLS trails only the Germany’s Bundesliga, England’s Premier League, Spain’s La Liga, Mexico’s Liga MX, the Chinese Super League and Serie A, with Italy’s first division ahead by only 22,177 to 22,106.

But that has not translated yet into big television ratings.

ESPN averaged 272,000 for 30 telecasts this regular season on ESPN and ESPN2, and Fox averaged 236,000 for 33 broadcasts on FS1 and Fox. In addition, Univision is averaging 250,000 viewers for its Spanish-language MLS telecasts.

But the Premier League attracts a larger audience, averaging 422,000 on NBC, NBCSN and CNBC, even though many matches are on weekend mornings.

“We’re not the Premier League,” Garber said, pointing out last year’s MLS Cup drew 1.4 million viewers on Fox. “The fact that we’re able to generate ratings growth across all of our partners here and in Canada, and dramatic growth in Canada, is a positive. So we actually, we and our partners, feel pretty darn good.”

Player payroll has increased as MLS keeps adding what it calls Targeted Allocation Money. While several older American players have returned to MLS from Europe, many of the teens viewed as the future of the U.S. national team have gone abroad as they emerge from the MLS youth academies, which have been mandated by the league since 2007 and produced more than 250 players with first-team MLS contracts.

Pulisic, at 19 already the leading American star, left Hershey, Pennsylvania, to sign with Borussia Dortmund at age 16, able because of his grandfather’s Croatian citizenship to play in Europe before he turned 18. McKennie left FC Dallas’ academy when he turned 18, signed with Schalke and scored in his U.S. debut this week.

“I didn’t want to become one of those guys that started in MLS and said, man, I wonder if I could have made it to Europe,” McKennie said. “I wanted to spread my wings and see what I could do over here.”

Forward Josh Sargent decided against Sporting Kansas City and is waiting until he turns 18 in February to sign with Werder Bremen.

“I think I’ve just always wanted since I was a little kid to play in Europe,” he said.

Tyler Adams, who also made his U.S. debut this week, played his first MLS game with the New York Red Bulls last year at age 17 and became a regular this season. Garber says “Tyler Adams probably is playing more minutes today for the Red Bulls than he would if he was not in Major League Soccer.”

Adams is happy but thinking ahead.

“Obviously a goal of mine is to play Champions League one day, and obviously the MLS is working its way to becoming one of the top leagues in the world,” he said. “Maybe one day I find myself in Europe. You never know.”

Sometimes big contracts only stall a career. Matt Miazga left the Red Bulls to sign with Chelsea in January 2016, saw little playing time and didn’t get in games regularly until late that autumn during a loan to the Dutch club Vitesse Arnhem.

“If your only desire is to go to Europe, there are flights leaving every hour on the hour from JFK and LAX and everywhere in between,” said retired American defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox analyst. “But getting to a place in Europe where you are making good money, where you are playing consistently, where you are learning, where you are valued as a player and as an American player, where you are able to adapt and adjust and live in the other 22 1/2 hours that we often don’t talk about, that’s whole `nother story, and there’s not a lot of flights leaving that have that on the other end.”

With the U.S. soccer community in turmoil following the World Cup failure, some have called for MLS to guarantee playing time for young Americans.

“Our coaches universally believed that that was not the best way to ensure we had the highest-possible product quality to be able to have competitive games and to drive the growth of our fan base,” Garber said.

AP Sports Writer Tim Booth contributed to this report.

Bartra error emphasizes Dortmund’s latest Bundesliga woes

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Christian Pulisic sat out Friday’s 2-1 Dortmund defeat against Stuttgart. Coincidence? Perhaps.

However, the club’s struggles are apparent as Dortmund’s winless run extended to four matches and their gap from Bundesliga leaders Bayern Munich could be up to nine points by the end of the weekend.

[ MORE: Chris Coleman steps down from Wales, expected to take Sunderland job ]

BVB was without several of its top talents for the match, including U.S. Men’s National Team star Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but it’s Dortmund’s defending that continues to be the side’s biggest issue.

Stuttgart struck after five minutes when Chadrac Akolo broke the deadlock off of an embarrassing blunder by Marc Bartra and the Dortmund defense.

Bartra attempted a routine back pass to goalkeeper Roman Burki during the early moments of the match, but his ball back proved to be way too strong and deflected off of Burki and into the path of Stuttgart forward Akolo (video below).

Dortmund atoned for the former Barcelona man’s mistake just prior to halftime when Maximilian Philipp equalized, but it took just six minutes into the second stanza for Josip Brekalo to restore the Stuttgart advantage.

Moyes: Chicharito could miss two weeks with hamstring strain

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David Moyes has given Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez assurances that he’ll have the opportunity to compete for a starting role with the Hammers, but the Mexican international will have to wait a bit for a chance.

[ MORE: North London Derby takes center stage Saturday morning ]

Hernandez, 29, is currently nursing a hamstring strain, leaving his status for this weekend against Watford in doubt.

“I think everyone knows he [Chicharito] has got a hamstring injury,” Moyes said during Friday’s press conference. “It could take a week, it could take two weeks.”

Moyes didn’t mince words recently when speaking about Chicharito and other players within the squad, essentially pointing out that no player will be awarded a starting role simply because of their stardom.

Hernandez has scored four goals in 13 matches this season for West Ham, who currently sits 18th in the Premier League. The Hammers have won just two matches to start the 2017/18 campaign and sit on nine points.