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MLS Power Rankings, Pre-Conference Semifinals

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Eight teams remain in the MLS Cup Playoffs following Wednesday and Thursday first round one-and-dones.

As we bid adieu to San Jose, Sporting KC, Atlanta, and Chicago, let’s rank the favorites for the run to December’s MLS Cup Final.

8. New York Red Bulls – This has little to do with the mettle of Jesse Marsch’s men, and more to do with their path. RBNY will have to best Toronto FC over two legs before even reaching its conference final. Toronto took four of six points from RBNY this season.

7. Columbus Crew – There’s a lot of talent here, but each win will only make the relocation news scream louder. Maybe it’ll make Gregg Berhalter’s men band together, but it seems a big ask. #SaveTheCrew.

6. Houston Dynamo – Hasn’t lost in six matches, and will like their chances of springing an upset on Caleb Porter’s unpredictable Timbers.

5. Vancouver Whitecaps – While we wouldn’t dream of ruling out Carl Robinson’s men, the playoff dismantling of San Jose was just their second win in six outings. Vancouver has the talent to win the whole thing, but it’s alarming that the Caps took just four of 15 points to finish the season when, as it turns out, just six would’ve been enough to finish first in the West.

4. Portland Timbers – The Cascadia Cup champs boasts the likely MVP in Diego Valeri, spent portions of their schedule without Darlington Nagbe, and have won this thing before. One note: the Timbers haven’t shut out a Western Conference team since a 2-0 win over FC Dallas on June 10.

3. New York City FC – David Villa appears to be a man on a proverbial mission, but NYCFC’s threat goes deeper than the Spanish legend. Alex Ring and Jack Harrison have been big parts of City’s season.

2. Seattle Sounders – The reigning champs may be on level footing with NYCFC in terms of talent, but Seattle would not have to face Toronto FC over two legs to win a title. And there’s that matter of winning in Toronto just last season.

1. Toronto FC – The best single season run in MLS history means the No. 1 seed, with health, depth, and home field in Toronto’s favor. Oh, and Sebastian Giovinco. Betting odds? Several books call it as clear cut as 9:4.

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Russian authorities fine hotels for World Cup price-gouging

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MOSCOW (AP) Russian authorities in two cities say they have issued hundreds of fines after finding many hotels were illegally hiking prices for the World Cup.

The Rospotrebnadzor consumer regulator says one Moscow hotel raised prices up to 570 percent above what is allowed by a government decree designed to prevent excessive profiteering during the tournament.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

The regulator’s Moscow branch says it issued fines totaling 5.95 million rubles ($105,000) to 198 legal entities and 181 people.

In the Ural mountain city of Yekaterinburg, where Mexico and France will each play a group game, the regulator said it fined seven hotels, some of which were charging almost three times the allowed rate for rooms.

Russian authorities have taken a hands-on approach to regulating hotel and travel costs during the tournament to prevent the negative publicity of visiting fans being charged large sums.

Spanish police dismantle match-fixing scheme in 3rd, 4th tiers

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MADRID (AP) Spanish police have dismantled a match-fixing scheme involving players and clubs in the country’s lower divisions.

Authorities said more than 20 people have been detained as part of the police operation launched on Monday, including players, although no names were immediately disclosed.

The matches under suspicion were in the third and fourth divisions this season and last season.

The match-fixing scheme reportedly involved Chinese betting sites.

The Spanish league said the operation was based on information collected by its analysts about suspicious activities.

UCL preview: Chelsea host Barcelona; Bayern vs. Besiktas

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  • Chelsea vs. Barcelona, at Stamford Bridge
  • Bayern Munich vs. Besiktas, at Allianz Arena
  • Champions League round of 16 resumes on Tuesday

[ UCL: Spurs fight back to draw Juventus | Liverpool thrash Porto in leg 1 ]

Chelsea, mired in some of their worst form since the disastrous 2015-16 season, welcome a Barcelona side enjoying one of the best six-month runs of results in the famed club’s entire history. The Blues have won just four of their last 12 games across all competitions, while the Blaugrana have lost once in 38 games.

On the plus side, Chelsea enter Tuesday’s colossal clash as winners of their last two games — back-to-back wins for the first time in 2018 — having outscored the likes of West Bromwich Albion and Hull City by a combined 7-0. Star striker Alvaro Morata returned to action against Hull after five weeks out with a back injury, thus Antonio Conte has something of a selection dilemma on his hands with the Spaniard perhaps only partially fit, and Olivier Giroud racking up a goal and three assists in the last two games, his first starts for the club.

Barcelona, meanwhile, have conceded just two goals in their last nine games (all competitions) and even managed to overturn their lone defeat, to Espanyol, and advance to the Copa del Rey semifinals (and eventually final). Despite losing Neymar in the summer, Barca mostly cruised through their Champions League group, only dropping points in draws away to Juventus and Olympiacos. Lionel Messi has, strangely, never scored a goal in his eight career appearances against Chelsea, a record which has been spoken about at length in the build-up to Tuesday — similarly to the goal-less record which plagued him against Juve goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon, whom he finally bested back in September.

[ MORE: Man City win big away to Basel | Real Madrid 3-1 PSG ]

In the other round-of-16 first-leg matchup on Tuesday, five-time (soon-to-be six) defending Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich host surprise winners of Group G, Besiktas, ahead of the likes of Monaco, RB Leipzig and Porto.

Since taking over on an interim basis (through the end of the season), Bayern boss Jupp Heynckes has won 21 of 22 games of which he’s been in charge, including four of six games during the group stage en route to finish second behind Paris Saint-Germain, while also racing out to a 19-point lead back home in Germany.

Aguero involved in clash with Wigan fan after FA Cupset

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MANCHESTER, England (AP) Sergio Aguero was involved in a confrontation with a Wigan fan as ugly scenes marred the end of the third-division side’s shock FA Cup win over Manchester City on Monday.

[ MORE: Wigan shock Man City, the world and themselves ]

Fans spilled on to the pitch at DW Stadium as the host celebrated its 1-0 fifth-round win against the runaway English Premier League leader.

Supporters from both clubs were involved in disturbances, while television pictures appeared to show a home supporter and striker Aguero involved in a physical exchange.

Aguero appeared to hit the supporter after the fan said something to the player, and Aguero had to be held back by his City teammates.

[ MORE: Money from Wembley replay “will support Rochdale for 2 or 3 years” ]

Advertising hoardings were also ripped out and thrown as a pitch invasion by Wigan fans got out of hand while the defeated City players were being escorted off the pitch.

Footage also appeared to show objects, including an advertising board, being thrown at police officers by fans in the City end.