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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)

Europa League roundup: Manchester United through, Southampton bounced

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton is chased by Shir Tzedek of Hapoel Be'er Sheva during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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The Europa League group stage finished up Thursday and a pair of Premier League teams are through, along with other big-name clubs.

Manchester United secured its spot in the knockout stage by beating Ukranian side Zorya 2-0 on goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Paul Pogba looked incisive as well, feeding Zlatan on the second goal. They finish second in Group A after Fenerbahce beat Feyenoord on a wonderful overhead kick from bike specialist Moussa Sow, giving the Turkish club the group’s top spot.

Southampton, however, suffered a double blow as they needed a win or a 0-0 draw against Israeli side Hapoel Be’er Sheva, but were dumped from the competition with a wild 1-1 draw after Maor Bar Buzaglo scored with 11 minutes remaining to send the Israeli club through. In addition, the Saints may have lost striker Charlie Austin for some time after he went down with what looked to be a dislocated shoulder, as trainers appeared to pop it back in as Austin lay on the pitch, before he came off in clear pain.

Group B finished with a tight margin. Cypriot club Apoel Nicosia defeated bigger brothers Olympiacos 2-0 with one early and one late. That sent Apoel clean through at the top of the club, while the Greeks took second. Olympiacos finished level with Young Boys on eight points, but the Greek club went through thanks to a win and a draw against their Swiss groupmates.

Group C ended even tighter as St. Etienne completed a stunning comeback, down 2-0 in the first half on the road at Anderlecht before coming from behind to win 3-2 with all three goals coming in a 12-minute span in the second half. That gave the French side the group win with 12 points, while the Belgians came in second with 11. FC Mainz won 2-0 over Qabala but finished third with nine points.

AZ Alkmaar’s wire to wire 3-2 win over Group D winners Zenit St. Petersburg saw them advance despite Maccabi Tel Aviv’s victory, while Celta Vigo overtook Standard Liege to move on through Group G thanks to a 2-0 win over Panathanaikos. The Spaniards came into the day tied with Standard Liege on points, and the three points saw them through, while the Belgians were bounced after managing just a draw against group leaders Ajax.

Group F is the only question mark, as Genk and Sassuolo were meant to play, but the match was postponed due to signifncant fog cutting sight to essentially nothing at Mapei Stadium in Italy. Athletic Bilbao, meanwhile, sits atop the group, but a 1-1 draw Thursday with Rapid Wien means Genk is still able to take over the top spot from the Spaniards with a draw or win.

Red Bull Salzburg caught FC Krasnodar on points thanks to a win over group leaders Schalke plus a Krasnodar loss to Nice, but it wasn’t enough thanks to the head-to-head tiebreaker, so Schalke and Krasnodar move through in Group I.

Finally, Villarreal secured a place in the knockout stages thanks to a late 2-1 win over 10-man Steaua Bucharesti. Manu Trigueros scored the winner in the 88th minute, pushing them clean into second behind Turkish club Osmanlispor who won the group with a 2-0 win over FC Zurich thanks to two late goals.

SCORELINES

Zorya 0-2 Manchester United
Southampton 1-1 Hapoel Be’er Sheva
Feyenoord 0-1 Fenerbahce
Astra Giurgiu 0-0 Roma
AZ Alkmaar 3-2 Zenit St. Petersburg
Standard Liege 1-1 Ajax
Inter Milan 2-1 Sparta Prague
Red Bull Salzburg 2-0 Schalke
Villareal 2-1 Steaua Bucharesti
Qarabag 1-2 Fiorentina
Sporting Braga 2-4 Shakhtar Donetsk
Anderlecht 2-3 Saint Etienne
Mainz 2-0 Gabala
Panathinaikos 0-2 Celta Vigo
Viktoria Plzen 3-2 Austria Wien
Konyaspor 0-1 Gent
PAOK 2-0 Liberec
Apoel Nicosia 2-0 Olympiacos
Young Boys 3-0 Astana
Osmanlispor 2-0 FC Zurich
Nice 2-1 Krasnodar
Sassuolo vs. Genk (postponed until Friday)

The draw for the Round of 32 will take place on Monday, December 12th.

ROUND OF 32:

Group winners: Fenerbahce, Apoel Nicosia, St. Etienne, Zenit St. Petersburg, Roma, Athletic Bilbao, Ajax, Shakhtar Donetsk, Schalke, Fiorentina, Sparta Prague, Osmanlispor.

Runners Up: Manchester United, Olympiacos, Anderlecht, Anderlecht, Astra Giurgiu, Celta Vigo, KAA Gent, Krasnodar, PAOK, Hapoel Be’er Sheva, Villareal.

Dropping down from Champions League: Ludogorets, Besiktas, Borussia Monchengladbach, FC Rostov, Tottenham Hotspur, Legia Warsaw, FC Copenhagen, Lyon.

Report: Messi, Aguero 18 minutes from suffering Chapecoense fate

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 30: A detailed view of the Chapecoense badge during a minutes silence ahead of the EFL Cup quarter final match between Arsenal and Southampton at the Emirates Stadium on November 30, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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According to a report by Brazilian Folha de São Paulo, a flight bearing the Argentinian national team was dangerously close to crashing in the same manner that saw much of the Brazilian club team Chapecoense tragically perish just a week ago.

The report states that the national team, bearing Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, and other star players on November 11th, was traveling on the exact same plane that crashed on November 28th, and was 18 minutes from running out of fuel before landing in Buenos Aires. The British Aerospace 146 aircraft has a maximum fuel capacity for a flight of four hours and 22 minutes, and the trip from Belo Horizonte to Buenos Aires took four hours and four minutes, according to the report, citing flight logs.

Information disemminating from the November 28th crash shows the aircraft did not reach its destination due to a loss of fuel.

According to an editorial written by Airways Magazine editor in chief Enrique Perrella following the Chapecoense crash, it is a common occurrence in South America for pilots to routinely stretch the maximum flight distances for aircrafts, and to take fuel amounts dangerously close to actual flight time without much pushback. Many flight governing bodies around the world state minimum fuel requirements to be enough fuel for flight time plus distance to an alternate landing location plus an extra 45 minutes.

The Perrella editorial states, citing the flight plan for the November 28th crash, that the pilot for the plane carrying Chapeocense was also the owner of the airline, causing a conflict of interest. In the interest of saving fuel costs, he apparently registered enough fuel on his flight plan for the exact amount of flight time from Santa Cruz to Medellin – four hours and 22 minutes. When the plane was asked to sit in a holding pattern to allow another flight with mechanical problems to land, they ran out of fuel and crashed just a few miles from the destination.

Should all this information prove accurate, the not only was the accident clearly preventable, but it could have happened more than once, and clearly a change in culture is needed.

Southampton’s Charlie Austin suffers horror shoulder injury

SOUTHAMPTON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Josh Sims of Southampton stands over injured team mates Charlie Austin during the UEFA Europa League Group K match between Southampton FC and Hapoel Be'er-Sheva FC at St Mary's Stadium on December 8, 2016 in Southampton, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Charlie Austin could be out for some time.

[ MORE: Europa League standings ]

In the first half of Southampton’s UEFA Europa League group decider against Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Thursday — the Premier League side need a win or a 0-0 draw to the make the knockout stages — Saints’ top scorer Austin fell awkwardly when sending a header wide at the back post and landed on his shoulder.

What ensued was ugly to watch.

The Englishman was screaming in agony on the floor and it looked like he had dislocated his shoulder with Saints’ physios running on to treat him.

Austin, 27, is Saints’ top scorer this season with nine goals in all competitions and if he is set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines, that’s a big problem for Saints.

The former QPR and Burnley forward has dislocated his shoulder on multiple ocassions before and had an operation on his right shoulder in 2014 when at QPR.

To succeed at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho must adapt again

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04:  Jose Mourinho manager of Manchester United looks on fromthe bench prior to the Premier League match between Everton and Manchester United at Goodison Park on December 4, 2016 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Manchester United is not in the crisis everyone says they are.

No, they are not the ones in a crisis. Their manager, however, is a different story.

Throughout his career, Jose Mourinho has been quite adaptable. Through his wildly successful journey across four different European top flights, he’s been able to wire himself differently to fit each different league, and it’s worked. It hasn’t always made a lot of friends at each stop, but it’s worked – at least for a time, before burning to the ground. What Mourinho has not been able to do on a regular basis, however, is admit that he’s wrong.

Therein lies the identity crisis Jose Mourinho currently faces. He’s got it blatantly wrong at United, and to fix things in the short-term, he must admit his mistake, not publicly, but by making a critical change.

[ MORE: Arsene Wenger discuesses Sanches, Ozil futures ]

Through two stints at Chelsea, the 55-year-old has found a formula that works in the Premier League: find a deadly striker, grab a goal or two, and sit on it. And it’s worked. Didier Drogba and Diego Costa got him the goals, while John Terry, Gary Cahill, Petr Cech, Michael Essien, and John Obi Mikel held those leads. In their title year of 2004/05, 17 of Chelsea’s 29 wins came while scoring two goals or less. The next year, they won the league again with 19 of 29 wins coming with two goals or less. In their last title season of 2014/15, 16 of Chelsea’s 26 wins came while scoring two goals or less. It was a seemingly simple formula, and with the right players he executed it to deadly perfection.

That, unfortunately, is what Manchester United doesn’t currently have, and it has Mourinho baffled. The right players.

You can see why Zlatan Ibrahimovic was attractive to Mourinho’s tactics. He is meant to be United’s Drogba. He is their Costa. And it’s working, to the tune of eight goals so far. What United doesn’t have is the lockdown defense Mourinho relies on, yet he continues to try and rely on it.

[ MORE: Swansea chairman backs Bob Bradley ]

In the nine matches Manchester United has dropped points in, they conceded first inside the opening 35 minutes four times (twice in the opening two minutes), and in three they’ve conceded in the final five minutes. The other two were 0-0 draws.

Mourinho has consistently blamed circumstance for United’s poor start. He’s partly right; United has been on the wrong side of crucial refereeing decisions, bad bounces, and a host of games where shot after shot after shot refuses to find the back of the net. Unfortunately, this is glossing over the real reason Mourinho’s bunch has failed to put up results indicative of their performances.

Manchester United’s defense just won’t cut it. Chris Smalling has served the club valiantly since coming over from Fulham at a young age, but at 27 years old he has failed to improve for a number of seasons, and will not find himself among any awards lists in the near future. Marcos Rojo has a horrific disciplinary record and can’t get out of his own way. Eric Bailly has looked a solid piece but has been injured, only just returning. Daley Blind is a versatile piece but still has not found his best position, and thus has found the bench instead. Phil Jones, still just 24, can’t be trusted. Luke Shaw can’t stay on the field. Matteo Darmian has been pressed into action and has yet to prove his worth.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 players in the Premier League ]

That’s not a bad defensive unit, but it’s certainly not a title-winning one. It’s a whole lotta “meh.”

Mourinho’s insistance on leaving Henrikh Mkhitaryan is a microcosm of the larger issue. Only just starting the $45 million signing for the first time in league play last time out, Mourinho has preferred the more possessive Jesse Lingard, despite Mkhitaryan’s ruthless attacking presence he proved last year with Borussia Dortmund, creating 82 chances in Bundesliga play, more than twice anyone else on the squad (hey look! he scored in the Europa League today because he’s actually getting time!).

[ VIDEO: Mkhitaryan scores in Europa League play ]

This team needs to attack, and they need to do it soon. If United can prove more ruthless at the front end, this team can pick up steam at a rapid pace. But for that to happen, Mourinho needs to adapt from his old ways and instead play to the squad he has. United can up the defensive unit in January and even next summer, but until that happens, this club will continue to suffer with the status quo.