ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings (in two parts)

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Toronto keeps its spot at the bottom, but for how much longer? New manager Paul Mariner seems to have the Reds moving in the right direction. Here are Nos. 11-19 in the ProSoccerTalk’s rankings countdown.

(Nos. 1-10 are on deck …so check back)

19. Toronto FC – Signs of life? No wins to report during Paul Mariner’s second and third matches in charge along Exhibition Place. But no losses either!  The Reds did cough up two-goal leads in both Round 16 contests, but a draw at Houston and at home against New England does represent progress.

18. FC Dallas – Dallas dominated Chivas USA at home but failed to find the goal in a 0-0 draw – in a match the home team absolutely had to have. Brek Shea was back from injury and represented Dallas’ best threat.

17. Philadelphia Union – Things are looking up at PPL Park, where interim coach John Hackworth hit the right buttons in a 4-0 win over Sporting Kansas City. Yes, a 4-0 win, the second four-goal margin in the club’s brief history.

16. Portland Timbers – Did head coach John Spencer rescue his employment with a massive win over rival Seattle? Only owner Merritt Paulson could say for sure. Either way, goals by Kris Boyd (pictured) and David Horst helped make things temporarily right in Portland as the Timbers made memories with a win over rival Seattle.

15. Chivas USA – Robin Fraser’s men quietly made headway in the Western Conference standings last week, winning at home over Montreal and earning a draw on the road. The problem is that Los Angeles made a little more of it.

14. Colorado Rapids – Rapids defender Drew Moor, after his team let one get away as San Jose scored two late to smite the home team: “I’ve been here for a little bit now, and this one stings as much as any loss I’ve ever had. It has nothing to do with coaching, tactics, formations, it’s just guys digging deep on the field and grinding out results.”

13. Montréal Impact – Jesse Marsch’s team has won two of its last three, including worthwhile wins over Seattle and Houston at Stade Saputo. Saturday’s 4-2 margin over the Dynamo may have been the team’s last match without newly signed Designated Player Marco Di Vaio, who looks ready to go Wednesday at home against Toronto. That’s exciting stuff.

12. New England Revolution – Jay Heaps’ men fell behind early but came roaring back at Toronto. Chris Tierney’s stoppage time header helped rescue a point – not a bad result, at all, considering the Revs were without top man Shalrie Joseph. Benny Feilhaber came on strong, late in this one.

11. Columbus Crew – The men in yellow had a man advantage for the last half hour at Chicago but couldn’t overcome an early deficit. They’ll need to correct some of the hurtful sloppiness with Real Salt Lake coming in town this weekend.  If every Crew starter can be as productive as midfielder Tony Tchani (perhaps his best outing yet in Columbus), things will improve quickly.

Report: Newcastle’s Clark knocked out on Spanish dance floor

Scott Heavey/PA via AP
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A wild story out of Spain says an Englishman knocked Newcastle United defender Ciaran Clark unconscious at a night club.

[ MORE: Sampaoli defends Messi ]

Clark was on vacation in Spain, where he was spending time at Crystal’s Bar in Punta Ballena, Magaluf very early Sunday morning.

Clark and a man “in his 30s” got into an argument that saw the Irish defender knocked out, according to the BBC.

Clark was left unconscious and taken to hospital after an argument between him and the suspect broke out on the dance floor.

The 28-year-old suffered cuts and bruises to his face.

Clark, 28, scored twice in 20 Premier League appearances this season, his second at St. James’ Park.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 9 — Iceland’s next step, Brazilian bounce back?

Photo by Buda Mendes/Getty Images
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Brazil is one of the favorites of the 2018 World Cup, while Iceland is the smallest nation to qualify for the world’s biggest tournament.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

On Friday, both enter their second match days feeling quite different after 1-1 draws.

They won’t face each other, of course, but the contrast is striking nevertheless.

Brazil opens the day’s action when it squares off with Costa Rica, who fell to Serbia in the opener. For Serbia, a dark horse of the tournament, it will be a meeting with Switzerland.

Then there’s Iceland’s bid to climb into the Group D driver’s seat by knocking off Nigeria. A win from Iceland would make Lionel Messi and Argentina’s task of qualifying for the knockout rounds extremely unlikely.

Below is Friday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group D
Nigeria vs. Iceland: Volgograd, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group E
Brazil vs. Costa Rica: Saint Petersburg, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
Serbia vs. Switzerland: Kaliningrad, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Sampaoli defends Messi, blasts Argentina

Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images
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Jorge Sampaoli is lambasting his team after a 3-0 loss put Argentina on the edge of failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup’s knockout rounds.

“The reality of the Argentina squad clouds Lionel Messi’s brilliance,” Sampaoli said. “The team doesn’t gel as well as it should.”

[ MORE: Modric urges humility ]

Sampaoli said his players could not find a way to get the ball to Messi, and that the introduction of Boca Juniors youngster Cristian Pavón was aimed at opening up the field a little bit.

And Sampaoli is not shying away from the long-discussed comparison between Messi and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo. From the BBC:

“Cristiano is a great player and he has achieved a lot with club and country. Right now it is hard to compare these two players because of the ability in the Argentinian squad clouds the judgment. Leo is in a difficult position because the squad doesn’t gel with him. As coach I have to accept that. I don’t feel shame but I definitely feel pain. It has been a long time since I have gone through this experience as a coach and obviously it is more painful when I’m wearing the colours of my country.

“We have no alternative but to give it our all in the final match. We have not performed at the level the country expects. We were ambitious ahead of the game but now it is harder for us as a group. We did think this would be the match we can take off as a team, but it wasn’t in the end. I think this is an excellent squad but we didn’t gel or come together. We need to take advantage of the next match, when the pressure will be on, and hope to progress.”

Now, of course Sampaoli is going to defend Messi, but Argentina’s team is not chopped liver. The side certainly isn’t as deep or solid as Croatia, but 1-1 with Iceland preceded this one.

That said, Argentina’s performance once Croatia essentially decided to surround Messi was unacceptable. If favored Nigeria doesn’t handle its business against Iceland, the World Cup finalists won’t have a prayer of going back.

Modric urges humility after big win, stunning goal (video)

AP Photo / Ricardo Mazalan
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There are few teams who’ve looked as strong as Croatia at the World Cup in Russia.

[ RECAP: Argentina 0-3 Croatia ]

Zlatko Dalic’s men now have a pair of shutout wins against decent competition, topping Nigeria 2-0 over the weekend before hammering Argentina 3-0 on Thursday.

The nature of those performances will have many, us included, debating just how far Croatia can run in this tournament. Veteran midfielder Luka Modric is hoping his team doesn’t do the same.

Let’s not be euphoric or get ahead of ourselves,” Modric said. “Of course this win will boost our confidence for the next game, and we have shown we can create opportunities, but let’s keep our feet firmly on the ground.”

Modric noted that Willy Caballero‘s howler “was a shot in the arm,” but added that they had played a “perfect game.”

That’s true. And while so much focus will be on Messi’s struggles, don’t sleep on the terrific performance of Vatreni. 

Modric also seemed to bristle when asked about shutting down Messi.

“I don’t want to talk about other players. We are happy with our own performance. We wanted to cut out Messi receiving the ball because he is the most dangerous player.”