The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(Nos. 11-19 in the rankings countdown are here)

10. D.C. United – It took some heroic goalkeeping from Bill Hamid in the end, but United withstood its first test after Dwayne De Rosario’s season-ending knee injury. Rising American star Chris Pontius did his part in the 2-1 win over New England. The schedule breakdown is tricky from here: On one hand three of the next four are on the road; on the other hand, none of the visits are to clubs that will make the playoffs.

(MORE: Bill Hamid, PST’s Player of the Week)

9. Columbus Crew – Team officials say Federico Higuain will play in the Crew’s midweek meeting in Ohio with Chivas USA. He had better; it’s really now or never. If Robert Warzycha’s men cannot pull all three points in a home match against the league’s worst team, then they probably do not deserve to be a playoff side. Andy Gruenebaum’s chances of playing looking promising, which would improve the Crew’s chances of success.

8. Real Salt Lake – Tough call for coach Jason Kreis, whether to add emphasis in personnel decisions to positioning in the MLS playoff race, or whether to put more eggs into the CONCACAF Champions League basket? We’ll know a little more tonight as RSL meets Panama’s Tauro in regional tournament play. Kreis’ team then hosts Portland four nights later.

7. Houston Dynamo – Perhaps a 1-1 draw at Sporting Kansas City helped stanch the downward flow, as Houston has slipped all the way to fourth in the East. Dominic Kinnear’s team surely wants to make up the gap on New York or Chicago, hoping to avoid that fourth-vs.-fifth playoff white knuckler. But this is where the timing CONCACAF Champions League action does a disservice to the teams involved. Because Houston (like others in MLS) has to pay attention to those matches, as well.

6. Chicago Fire – Chris Rolfe (pictured above) for MLS Newcomer of the Year? (Or perhaps Comeback Player of the Year?) I know Victor Bernardez and Federico Higuain and some others will make a big claim for Newcomer, but the Fire’s do-all attacker is having a fantastic season since recovering from spring injury. And the Fire? They haven’t done much … except rise from rather anonymous status in 2012 to Eastern Conference challenger, suddenly pushing Sporting Kansas City for top spot.

5. New York Red Bulls – “Dear Rafa Marquez: If you keep playing as sharply you did in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Columbus, pinging those balls into Thierry Henry and effectively linking the play through midfield, even making a couple of big runs forward, we will consider taking back every derogatory thing we ever said about you. No promises! But it does begin with continued performance on both ends of the field. Best.”

4. Angeles Galaxy – How about that Marcelo Sarvas! European veteran Christian Wilhelmsson made his debut, and Landon Donovan got back on the field – and what was everyone buzzing on about? About Sarvas and the impact he had on a 2-0 win over Colorado. The Galaxy travels into Puerto Rico this week for a match with the Islanders and a chance to more or less cinch off Champions League group stage matters.

(MORE: Sarvas makes ProSoccerTalk’s MLS Team of the Week)

3. Seattle Sounders – Fredy Montero has 12 goals and 6 assists. And his goals always seem to have that certain panache.  (Did you see that out-of-nowhere shot and goal in Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Portland?) If the feisty Colombian attacker can boost that assist rate just a tad and add, say, two or three more goals over the Sounders’ final six matches, can’t we make a compelling argument for league MVP?

source: Getty Images

2. Sporting Kansas City – Peter Vermes’ team did enough to own the night against Houston, but the inability to generate maximize points in more of these matches at home must be concerning. (Not to mention the concern over not being able to get over on Houston at home; Friday’s 1-1 draw makes SKC winless in its last three against Houston at Livestrong Sporting Park.) C.J. Sapong (right) may be coming on, which would provide a huge boost.

1. San Jose Earthquakes – A little PK controversy shouldn’t subtract from another businesslike win for the league’s top team. Western Conference clubs may not publicly acknowledge it, but it’s time to start jostling for second place, third place, etc. – because they aren’t going to reel in San Jose. Another win or two (a golden opportunity is up Wednesday as Portland comes to town, surely vulnerable after such an emotional afternoon against Seattle) and San Jose will be out of reach for New York, Chicago and Sporting Kansas City, the only Eastern Conference clubs that can realistically chase down San Jose for Supporters Shield spoils.

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.”