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)

Miguel Almiron named MLS Newcomer of the Year

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Unsurprisingly, one of Atlanta United’s biggest stars took home some hardware on Monday after a stellar first season in Major League Soccer.

[ MORE: Previewing the MLS conference finals ]

Atlanta attacker Miguel Almiron was named MLS Newcomer of the Year today, beating out Chicago Fire forward Nemanja Nikolic and teammate Josef Martinez for the honor.

Almiron, who joined Atlanta from Argentine side Lanus, netted nine goals and added 14 assists for the Eastern Conference squad in 2017 and helped guide the club to the MLS Cup Playoffs after finishing fifth in the East.

The 23-year-old received an 37.38% average of the vote for the award, which was compiled based on votes from a combination of media members, MLS players and executives. Nikolic finished second with 24.92 percent, while Martinez checked in at number three.

Watch Live: Brighton and Hove Albion vs. Stoke City

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Chris Hughton looks to lead his Brighton and Hove Albion to a fifth-straight result as the Gulls welcome Stoke City to the Amex Stadium on Monday (Watch live at 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

WATCH LIVE, ONLINE, HERE

The Gulls have won two and drawn two, powered by goals from Glenn Murray and the playmaking of Pascal Gross.

Stoke’s 3-4-1-2 has Ramadan Sobhi, Eric Choupo-Moting, and Xherdan Shaqiri attacking the final third.

LINEUPS

Brighton and Hove Albion: Ryan, Bruno, Dunk, Duffy, Bong, Stephens, Propper, Knockaert, Izquierdo, Gross, Murray. Subs: Krul, Hemed, Goldson, Schelotto, Suttner, Brown.

Stoke City: Grant; Zouma, Shawcross, Wimmer; Diouf, Fletcher, Allen, Pieters; Shaqiri, Ramadan; Choupo-Moting. Subs: Haugaard; Berahino, Jese, Afellay, Martins Indi, Adam, Crouch.

World Cup bribes, death threats: Corrupt world of FIFA

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Hour after hour in a New York City courtroom, the schemes to corrupt world soccer are spilling out.

The millions of dollars in “inducements” to secure contracts to televise matches. The bribes sought by FIFA executives with the power to determine World Cup hosts. The death threats for cooperating with investigators.

It took the intervention of the U.S. Department of Justice to disrupt years of embezzlement by officials who abused roles in the global soccer governing body, FIFA, to enjoy a gilded lifestyle. Two years after a sprawling investigation of FIFA led to waves of arrests that shook soccer, the trial of three men is underway and about to enter its second week.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked | What’s next for WBA? ]

Though the trial in Brooklyn is dealing with corruption allegations before new FIFA leaders emerged in 2016, officials still prominent in soccer are not untouched by the evidence already heard in court – particularly relating to the awarding of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar.

Here is a look at the talking points from the first week of the trial:

ON TRIAL

The three men on trial pleaded not guilty to charges they took part in a 24-year scheme involving at least $150 million in bribes paid by marketing firms in exchange for lucrative broadcasting and hosting rights for prestigious tournaments:

– Jose Maria Marin (Brazil): Former president of the Brazilian soccer federation arrested in a raid on a hotel in Zurich in May 2015.

– Juan Angel Napout (Paraguay): Swept up in a second wave of arrests at the same hotel in Zurich in December 2015. As president of South American soccer confederation CONMEBOL, Napout was portraying himself as an agent of reform who could clean up FIFA before being indicted.

– Manuel Burga (Peru): Former Peruvian soccer federation president detained along with Napout at the Baur au Lac hotel close to FIFA’s Swiss headquarters.

STAR WITNESS

More than 40 other officials, business executives and entities have been charged. Many have pleaded guilty, hoping to receive reduced sentences, including Alejandro Burzaco, the former head of the Argentine sports marketing company Torneos y Competencias, who is a star witness for the prosecution.

QATAR WORLD CUP

No decision has proved more toxic for FIFA than the 2010 vote that handed the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. The bid has been stained by suspicion of wrongdoing for years, although FIFA has been unable to uncover evidence it says would warrant stripping the Middle East of its first World Cup.

Usually quick to defend their integrity, the Qataris have been silent on the fresh claims of vote-buying divulged in court.

According to Burzaco, three South Americans were among 22 FIFA executive committee voters who took million-dollar bribes to support Qatar, which beat out the United States in the final round of voting in December 2010.

[ MORE: Busy week for PL big boys ]

A rule-breaking voting pact between Qatar and the Spain-Portugal campaign in the 2018 bidding – twice investigated by FIFA’s ethics committee but unproven – was given fresh credence in court by Burzaco, a trusted associate to the late former FIFA senior vice president Julio Grondona, to whom he channeled bribes worth millions.

Grondona was the most influential of South America’s trio of FIFA voters, and would surely have been indicted but for his death in July 2014. The other two voters, Ricardo Teixeira of Brazil and Nicolas Leoz of Paraguay, were indicted by U.S. prosecutors in 2015 but have avoided extradition from their home countries.

Burzaco testified to conversations and incidents with Grondona in 2011, including a confrontation about media reports of bid bribes with Qatari officials at the five-star Copacabana Palace Hotel in Rio de Janeiro.

An angry Grondona, Burzaco testified, later complained he got into “all these mess and scandal for only” $1.5 million while two others had fooled him and got $75 million. Those two, the court was told, were Teixeira and Sandro Rosell, a former Nike executive and then-president of Spanish club Barcelona who had business ties to Qatar.

FIFA has not directly commented on last week’s courtroom allegations, inevitably waiting for the conclusion of the trial. Qatar’s hosting of the World Cup has come under fresh attack in recent weeks by neighboring countries that have severed diplomatic ties with the emirate.

BROADCASTERS’ BRIBES

While the probity of the World Cup vote has been thrust back into the spotlight, much of the evidence so far relates to how officials sprayed illegal cash payments to secure broadcasting rights in the Americas.

Leading broadcasters have been implicated by Burzaco’s evidence about the trail of bribes, including Fox Sports (United States), Televisa (Mexico) and TV Globo (Brazil), which deny wrongdoing.

SLIT-THROAT GESTURE

The most dramatic moment in the opening week of the trial saw Burga accused of threatening Burzaco by making a slashing motion on his neck as the witness testified. Burga claimed he was scratching his throat but still had his bail conditions tightened. Burzaco earlier disclosed he became the target of death threats after it emerged he was cooperating with authorities.

SUICIDE

A former Argentine government official, Jorge Delhon, killed himself hours after the court was told he took millions in bribes in exchange for handing out television rights.

Jorge Delhon, a lawyer who worked in the administration of former Argentina President Cristina Fernandez, dealt with the now-defunct government program Futbol para Todos (Football for All), which broadcast local soccer matches on public TV. Burzaco implicated Delhon in taking bribes.

POLITICAL LINKS

The close ties in South America among lawmakers, judges and soccer leaders are becoming clearer.

In a series of WhatsApp messages detailed in court Wednesday, Napout revealed his links to the current state president of Paraguay, Horacio Cartes.

Napout passed on to Burzaco a request from Cartes’ private office to buy eight tickets for Argentina’s game against Iran at the 2014 World Cup. Around that time, Napout also noted CONMEBOL had been in a legal case with a businessman and that Cartes “resolved the entire trial and did it all because of me.”

Cartes also advised Napout to “stay close” to Grondona of Argentina to fulfil his ambition to lead CONMEBOL, the WhatsApp messages revealed.

When Argentina reached the semifinals, Napout asked Burzaco to get four tickets for Paraguay’s attorney general to buy. In a WhatsApp message, Napout tells Burzaco, “we have a trial over there. There are two judges mad because I refused” to get tickets.

CURRENT OFFICIALS

The desire by FIFA to characterize the trial as dealing with officials long banished from world soccer is made harder when officials currently influential in the game are mentioned in court.

FIFA’s current finance committee chairman, Alejandro Dominguez, was referred to during the trial on Wednesday as “not a very successful businessman (who) will probably request” a bribe.

Burzaco, the prosecution’s star witness, said he was told this about Dominguez by Napout in early 2015. Napout is a Paraguayan like Dominguez, and his predecessor as CONMEBOL leader.

Under current FIFA President Gianni Infantino, Dominguez is a key ally in Zurich as one of FIFA’s eight vice presidents and was rewarded with being made chairman of the finance panel.

Among many soccer officials whose photographs Burzaco was asked by prosecutors to identify on Tuesday were Sunil Gulati, the most influential American at FIFA, and Nasser Al-Khelaifi, the Qatari who heads French soccer club Paris Saint-Germain and broadcaster beIN Sports. Al-Khelaifi is under criminal investigation in Switzerland for suspected bribery linked to FIFA awarding beIN broadcast rights to the 2026 and 2030 World Cups.

The U.S. has not accused Gulati or Al-Khelaifi of any offenses.

EVADING JUSTICE

Several soccer officials indicted in 2015 are absent from court as they fight extradition to the United States:

– Jack Warner (Trinidad and Tobago): Charged in May 2015, four years after quitting as a FIFA vice president to avoid sanctions in the bribery case connected to a presidential election. Later banned for life by FIFA for misconduct during the 2018-2022 World Cup bidding process.

– Marco Polo del Nero (Brazil): Despite being charged with corruption, remains president of the Brazilian federation and met with FIFA’s Infantino during the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. Del Nero fled Zurich in May 2015 when FIFA colleagues were arrested, quit the executive committee after missing meetings and was then indicted in the U.S. in December 2015.

– Nicolas Leoz (Paraguay): President of CONMEBOL from 1986 to 2013, when he resigned for receiving $130,000 in payments from a former FIFA marketing partner. Wanted in the U.S. on charges of receiving millions of dollars in bribes linked to marketing and television contracts, Leoz’s extradition was finally approved by a judge in Paraguay last week just as the FIFA trial was getting underway in Brooklyn.

– Ricardo Teixeira (Brazil): A former son-in-law of Joao Havelange, FIFA’s president in 1974-98, Teixeira quit as Brazilian federation head and a FIFA executive committee member in 2012 as corruption allegations mounted.

Status of FIFA cases: https://www.justice.gov/usao-edny/file/799016/download

More AP FIFA coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/FIFA

MLS Conference Final preview: Rematch spoilers?

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There’s an MLS Cup Final rematch on the cards if you play the favorites for this week’s conference finals.

Seattle beat Toronto in last season’s Cup final via penalty kicks, and Brian Schmetzer could again match wits with Greg Vanney come 4 p.m. ET on Dec. 9 in Ontario.

[ MORE: Pulis sacked | What’s next for WBA? ]

The finals begin Tuesday with a doubleheader of sorts, scheduled 90 minutes apart in Columbus and Houston.

Toronto FC vs. Columbus Crew
First leg — 8 p.m. ET Tuesday in Ohio
Second leg — 7:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Ontario

The Trillium Cup rivals meet with a lot more on the line, and the subplots are many. Toronto FC is aiming to win its first MLS Cup title after a record-breaking season lifting the Supporters’ Shield. The Crew is being held hostage by its owner who’s done his level best to engineer a move to Austin come 2019, and the players are giving their fans on-field thrills to go with #SaveTheCrew protests.

There’s a terrific chance for Columbus to pull ahead in leg one as it did against New York City FC, as the Reds will be without suspended stars Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

The Crew are led by the wizardry of Justin Meram (Iraq) and the finishing of Norwegian striker Ola Kamara. Then there’s rejuvenated and/or ageless playmaker Federico Higuain, and young USMNT backstop Zack Steffen.

Managers Greg Vanney and Gregg Berhalter are both capable of sublime tactics, and how Tuesday looks may go beyond the missing stars if Vanney is able to trump his Columbus counterpart.

Seattle Sounders vs. Houston Dynamo
First leg — 9:30 p.m. ET Tuesday in Texas
Second leg — 10:30 p.m. ET Nov. 29 in Washington

Clint Dempsey’s defiant comeback tour rolls on. One year after he was relegated to street clothes champagne celebrator in Canada, Dempsey is rollicking through MLS with his heart surgery a poignant but distant memory.

Dempsey scored twice in the conference semifinal defeat of Vancouver, the lone two goals, and has been no worse for the wear despite an injury to key attack partner Jordan Morris. On the season, he’s nabbed 14 goals and 4 assists.

“Deuce” joins Nicolas Lodeiro and Cristian Roldan as key pieces in trying to deconstruct Wilmer Cabrera’s Dynamo, who are trying to add a second title to the city’s trophy haul following a difficult summer for Houston.

Houston has its band together for this critical time of year, with no Gold Cup or CONCACAF World Cup qualifying to deprive them of Alberth Elis or Erick Torres. Can it knock off the No. 2 seed after handing top-seeded Portland its demise?