PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Whole New World Edition

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As MLS seasons age, Power Rankings can get staid. Writers settle into their opinions We leverage them like biases, rolling new prose into our static views. One or two spots here and there may be enough to spark curiosity, but if you have Real Salt Lake and Sporting Kansas City among your top four all year, is really it saying anything to have them at three instead of two?

Those two teams have been at the top of this particular list since the get go. Seattle joined them soon after, with LA helping form our big four by the middle of summer. For a few weeks, the quartet looked set to pull away from the rest of the league, so much so I was going to put a big black bar between four and five. These are the cup contenders. Those are not.

So much for staid. After this weekend’s results, there are two new teams at the top – teams few people picked to make the postseason back in March. Whether you think FC Dallas and D.C. United will be title contenders come November, they’re among the league’s best teams now. After big wins over Real and Sporting  (respectively), they deserve this list’s top two spots.

And ultimately, that’s what this exercise should be about: Who’s good right now? If you’re asking me to put money on who’s left standing in December, that’s a different conversation. But here’s who I think wins, if the teams played tomorrow:

MORE: Last Week’s Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 UP 2 FC Dallas: 10-man win? At home? Against least week’s number one? Having built a two-goal lead, and you haven’t lost since May? I just can’t ask Dallas to do more to be number one. (12-7-6)
source:  2 UP 4 D.C. United: The Black and Red just posted a 3-0 win at the defending champions – the team that sat atop of Eastern Conference coming into the weekend. They have a better case for taking number one than being slotted in below two. (13-7-4)

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3 UP 1 LA Galaxy: Vancouver looked terrible on Saturday — as bad as they have all season — but controlling the game, keeping a much-needed clean sheet, the Galaxy took the first step toward proving the previous seven days were just an aberration. (11-5-7)

4 DOWN 3 Real Salt Lake: C’mon RSL. I don’t care if Javi (Morales) and Álvaro (Saborío) were out. I don’t care if Dallas is the one team in the league that might not skip a beat when losing a man. You were still playing 11-on-10 for over half the game. When Dallas lost Blas Pérez, it was 0-0. How did you lose 2-1? How? (11-5-9)
source:  5 Seattle Sounders: A great performance by the Sounders in a game they needed to win, but their ranking stays steady. The teams directly above them also had strong days, while recent performances against LA and RSL hint it’s too soon to slide the Sounders past those Western Conference rivals. (14-7-3)
source:  6 DOWN 4 Sporting Kansas City: Credit to Ben Olsen, but blame to the Sporting defense. That back four was downright exploited on Saturday, so much so that you wonder if D.C. didn’t uncover some Achilles heal in the Kansas City defense. I’m betting on “No” (Seth Sinovic should be able to maintain his line a little better going forward), but Saturday’s game still showed us Sporting’s downside. (12-7-6)
source:  7 UP 2 Columbus Crew: Last week we hedged on vaulting the Crew too high, hesitant to slot them above a Toronto team that’s gotten the better of them all year. Four days later, no such qualms. At the moment, it’s pretty clear: Columbus is the third-best team in the Eastern Conference. (8-8-9)
source:  8 UP 4 Philadelphia Union: The four-spot jump looks big, but that’s about more than the Union playing well. That’s Philly taking advantage of slips by Vancouver, Portland, and Toronto. Credit where credit’s due, though. Philadelphia bounced back from its loss at Houston with a strong (albeit, rocky) result against San Jose, making it much easier to blame their struggles at BBVA on the short turnaround between U.S. Open Cup and that Friday night’s lights. (7-9-9)
source:  9 UP 1 New York Red Bulls: Like Philadelphia, it is a team taking advantage of the failings of others. A home win over Montréal isn’t something that justifies a boost in the rankings, but thanks to other teams volunteering to move down, the Red Bulls slide up a spot. (7-7-10)
source:  10 DOWN 4 Vancouver Whitecaps: A two-goal loss at Los Angeles isn’t terrible in the abstract, but Saturday’s version of that abstract was one of the worst performances I’ve seen from the Whitecaps this season. Both attacking and defensively, it was unclear what the Whitecaps were trying to do, with a game plan that needlessly ceded the ball to the Galaxy failing to show it had a way to get forward. At some points of the first half, Omar Gonzalez was allowed to hold the ball at the edge of the attacking third. Vancouver didn’t have anybody within 20 yards of the center line. This team has too much talent to let itself get out-shot 22-6. (7-5-12)
source:  11 DOWN 4 Toronto: This is cumulative effect – a correction after we were so soft on Toronto following a 4-1 loss in Kansas City. Obviously, we were too forgiving, because as they showed while posting only two shots on goal in a 2-2 draw with Chicago, the Reds don’t merit the benefit of the doubt. Ryan Nelsen’s team is the only one in a playoff spot that has a negative goal difference for the season. (9-9-5)
source:  12 DOWN 3 Portland Timbers: This Sunday was the Portland Timbers in a nut shell. The attack is good, but then it hits is final third, where the ball at the feet of anybody but Diego Valeri means the defense is in decent shape. At the back, Liam Ridgewell brought improvement, but during his worst game in MLS, Portland showed they’re still capable of giving up a big number. Stay organized, wait for Portland to give you the ball, then pounce. Sometimes the Timbers’ defense makes it that simple. (7-8-10)
source:  13 UP 2 New England Revolution: At some point on this list, merely being able to get home wins is enough to drive you forward. Although the Rev’s 1-0 win over Chivas USA was in some ways the bare minimum, it’s a minimum other teams may not reach, right now. New England’s moving back in the right direction. (9-12-3)
source:  14 DOWN 2 San Jose Earthquakes: The defense is pulling a Jekyll and Hyde, giving up one goal over 180 minutes to the Sounders while leaking nine to FC Dallas and Philadelphia. Perhaps it’s a symptom of missing Clarence Goodson, but another theory: This team is not equipped to play from behind. If they can’t sit and react, they’re going to give him goals. (6-10-7)
source:  15 DOWN 2 Houston Dynamo: So much for progress. At this point, it’s worth asking what the Dynamo do well. Score goals? They’re 17th in the league. Prevent goals? Tied for worst. At the back and going forward, there are major deficiencies, and while a strong midfield could pick up the slack, that’s not happening. The only silver lining: They’ve won their last two at home. (7-13-4)
source:  16 DOWN 2 Chivas USA: Chivas’s goalless drought is it at 456 minutes, and with Mauro Rosales gone, there’s no end in sight. If Erick Torres isn’t providing goals, a scoreless draw becomes this team’s best case scenario, though as summer’s second half has shown, there’s only so much you can ask of “Cubo”. (6-12-6)

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17 Colorado Rapids: A much-needed weekend off allows an ailing (and, plummeting) Colorado to regroup. The Rapids are still only three points out of a playoff spot. (8-11-6)
source:  18 UP 1 Chicago Fire: A 2-2 result in Toronto is a nice way to put a bad week behind them, but the Fire didn’t offer much to build on. Still, the result was progress, stifling momentum that was sending the season out of control. (4-6-14)
source:  19 DOWN 1 Montréal Impact: It was nice while it lasted, Impact, but after one week out of the cellar, you’re back at number 19. I trust you know where the towels are. You’ll need them to clean up that mess you made in New York. (4-15-5)

Bradley Wright-Phillips gets new deal; Nephew called up to England U-16

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It’s been a big 24 hours for the Wright-Phillips family.

Bradley Wright-Phillips signed a new Designated Player deal with the New York Red Bulls, while his nephew has been called up the England U-16 national team.

D’Margio Wright-Phillips is the son of Shawn Wright-Phillips, the former RBNY player currently plying his trade with Phoenix Rising of the USL.

[ WATCH: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago can win World Cup ]

Of course that will only serve to grow the pride of Arsenal legend Ian Wright, who adopted Bradley and Shaun.

The details:

BWP has signed a new multi-year deal with the Red Bulls which brings the 70-goal man into Designated Player status.

“I’d like to thank Denis, Jesse, and everyone at the club for the opportunity to continue wearing this shirt and playing in front of the best fans in MLS,” said Wright-Phillips. “I am very proud of what has been accomplished in my time here, but my sole focus is on trying to win MLS Cup.”

As for D’Margio, he’s in Manchester City’s academy and obviously taking the right steps toward making it three generations in the Premier League. Both Shaun and Bradley spent time in City’s academy.

VIDEO: Schweinsteiger asked if Chicago Fire can win World Cup

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Big press conferences bring unusual media members out of the woodwork, and this can be pretty embarrassing when it comes to sports.

I remember a few years ago in Buffalo, when the NHL’s Sabres had not resigned Chris Drury and Daniel Briere. A TV newsman, not known for his sports coverage, asked the general manager what they would say to fans who bought Drury and Briere jerseys.

The awkward reply: “Sorry?”

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There was no exception when the Chicago Fire unveiled Bastian Schweinsteiger on Wednesday. The World Cup winning midfielder faced the press and was asked if his arrival would help Chicago win the World Cup.

You read that right. Here’s the video, even as the communications man jumped in to try and save the reporter by suggesting he meant the FIFA Club World Cup.

Woof. The media overseas are having a field day with this one, but it doesn’t have anything to do with American soccer fans, perhaps even sports media. I’d be stunned if the reporter spent a ton of time around the game.

But man, oh man.

Celtic’s dominance under Rodgers reaching new levels

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They’re unbeaten in 29 games, winning 27 of them. They hold a 25-point lead. They’re about to clinch a sixth straight league title this weekend and it’s still not even April.

Celtic’s players have taken their supremacy of Scottish soccer to a new level this season, putting the storied club from Glasgow in the conversation when discussing the most dominant sides in Europe’s domestic leagues in the 21st century.

Celtic will be the Scottish champion again as early as Friday if its closest rival, Aberdeen, loses to Dundee. If Aberdeen wins, Celtic will take an unassailable lead in the Scottish Premiership by beating Hearts on Sunday.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

There’s been a sense of inevitability about the whole thing since the turn of the year, by which time Celtic had jumped into a 19-point lead. It’s long stopped being called a “title race” in Scotland, more a procession.

Meanwhile, the team coached by former Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers won the Scottish League Cup in late November and is also through to the semifinals of the Scottish Cup.

With Celtic’s unbeaten run across three domestic competitions currently at 36 games, this might be the most dominant season by any club in the history of Scotland’s top flight.

A glance around Europe shows a few other examples of title monopolies.

Dinamo Zagreb (Croatia) and BATE Borisov (Belarus) are currently on a streak of 11 domestic leagues titles in a row since 2006. Olympiakos is on course for a seventh straight Greek league title, which would be its 12th in the last 13 years, and Sheriff Tiraspol has won the Moldovan league every year except one since 2000. Basel leads the Swiss league by 17 points and is about to seal a ninth title in 10 years.

[ MORE: Zlatan to stay at United?

In these lesser-profile leagues, teams can dominate because of the cash they receive from participating in UEFA competitions, which often allow them to outspend their domestic rivals.

Last week, UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin, attending a conference in Lisbon, spoke of the threats to European soccer in the coming years, including the “decrease in competitive balance within European club competitions and secondary effects affecting domestic competitions.”

There are examples of lopsided championships in Europe’s big leagues, too: Juventus is closing on an unprecedented sixth straight Serie A title in Italy and on course for a third straight Serie A-Coppa Italia double; Bayern Munich is on course for a fifth straight Bundesliga title in Germany, which included winning one championship after 27 matches of a 34-round league; Lyon won the French league title seven times in succession from 2002; and Ajax won four straight titles in the Netherlands from 2011-14.

Scotland is widely regarded as a backwater in European soccer these days, mainly because of the uncompetitive nature of its league and an increasing lack of exposure and coverage outside Britain.

What didn’t help was Rangers – Celtic’s fierce crosstown rival and winner of a record 54 league titles – getting demoted to the fourth tier of the Scottish game in 2012 because of financial irregularities.

This is Rangers’ first season back in the Premiership, but it hasn’t been able to challenge Celtic and currently sits 33 points behind in third place. There used to be constant talk of the two “Old Firm” clubs crossing the border to join the English league but that has cooled.

“I want to win (the league) by 50 points,” Rodgers, who is in his first season at Celtic, said last month.

[ MORE: RSL hires Petke ]

In any other league, that would be a preposterous comment, but perhaps no longer in Scotland.

The season started so embarrassingly for Celtic and Rodgers, a 1-0 loss to Gibraltarian part-timer Lincoln Red Imps in a Champions League qualifier in July described by some pundits as the club’s worst defeat in its 130-year history.

Now, they are about to lift the league title with eight matches to spare and potentially in the month of March for the second time in four years.

“We want to continue winning, continue the run that we’re on,” Celtic goalkeeper Craig Gordon said, “and make sure we do that for as long as we can.”

AP Sports Writers Graham Dunbar in Geneva and James Ellingworth in Moscow, and Associated Press writers Ciaran Fahey in Berlin, Daniella Matar in Milan, Dusan Stojanovic in Belgrade, Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, and Raf Casert in Brussels, Belgium, contributed to this report.

Steve Douglas is at http://www.twitter.com/sdouglas80

Mourinho: Midseason international friendlies don’t make sense

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United has a big challenge thanks to injuries and a club with far more international participants than the weekend’s Premier League rival.

It has the manager asking, frankly, why the friendlies?

While Phil Jones and Chris Smalling were injured in England training, not the friendly against Germany nor the World Cup qualifier versus Lithuania, Mourinho wonders why the national teams need to play relatively meaningless matches in the middle of club season.

[ MORE: Lamela out for rest of season ]

Mourinho says he is being careful not to be too vocal about his disappointment given that he’ll probably one day need those friendlies as an international boss. From Sky Sports:

“A couple of weeks before the Euros or a couple of weeks before the World Cup makes sense. But mid-season friendly matches mixed with qualification matches, I don’t think that makes sense.

“On top of that the matches are not really big matches so I am not a big fan. But I think one day I will be there so I cannot be very critical.”

Mourinho will be without Jones, Smalling, and Paul Pogba this weekend. He also has several internationals who won’t arrive back at Old Trafford until Thursday. United hosts West Brom on Saturday.