The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(Nos. 11-19 are here …)

10. FC Dallas – Talk about hanging on in the playoff race by your chinny-chin-chin. That’s FC Dallas, which got out-muscled in the end of that crazy 3-3 weekend draw with San Jose. Brave and worthy as it was, a result against the league’s best won’t mean a thing of David Ferreira and Co. cannot take all three points this week at the league’s worst, Chivas USA. Rookie center back Matt Hedges (pictured) rose to the challenge in George John’s absence last week.

9. Houston Dynamo – Dominic Kinnear’s crew had three matches at home down the stretch and desperately needed to maximize points against three teams already out of it for 2012. So, one down and two to go. But it wasn’t as smooth as all that, as the goals came late and even later in a 2-0 win over New England. There’s still something not quite right about Houston at the moment.

8. D.C. United – This site points out that United needs four points from its next two matches reach the playoffs (for the first time since 2007). Can they get there? Things look good, as the loss of talisman Dwayne De Rosario has hardly proved to be the crusher it could have been. Ben Olsen’s club posted close wins over New England, Philadelphia and Chivas USA lately and a managed a 1-1 draw on the road at Portland, which is playing better lately. A betting man might reckon that Columbus, not D.C. United, will be the odd man out of this playoff debate.

7. Real Salt Lake – Is Real Salt Lake rising at just the right time? Fabian Espindola was a creative monster in a showy 4-0 win over Chivas USA. Alvaro Saborio did his share of damage with a hat trick. On the one hand, it was Chivas USA, easily the league’s worst side at the moment. On the other, RSL is 5-1-1 across two competitions lately, and that’s not bad. Nat Borchers is not getting a lot of mentions in 2012, but the veteran center back is still performing at a high level.

6. Chicago Fire – How big does that game in hand look in the MLS Eastern Conference standings? It certainly helps take some of the bitter sting from last weeks’ 2-0 loss to conference-leading Kansas City. Beyond the standings and playoffs and such, the organization celebrates its 15th anniversary Wednesday. What better way to celebrate than with a win over Philadelphia that scoots the boys from Bridgeview right back up the backside of first-place KC?

5. New York Red Bulls – I got some heck for referring to Thierry Henry as “King Henry” after last week’s commanding performance, with a goal and three assists in the 4-1 result over beleaguered Toronto FC. But you know what? Who cares. A man delivering such a commanding performance as that one deserves a royal moniker. Goalkeeper Luis Robles looked sharp in his MLS debut.

(MORE: Looking at the Red Bulls best midfield combo)

4. Seattle Sounders – Like Chicago, Seattle has a game in hand that looks enormous in the three-team jostle. At stake is second and third place, which is highly preferable to finishing fourth or fifth and playing one extra post-season contest (and a perilous one). For this week’s Cascadia Cup clash against rival Portland, club officials have opened up all 66,000-plus seats – and you can bet your lucky green scarf they’ll all be full. That means Sunday’s nationally televised match will set a club record, and will likely be the second largest MLS crowd in 17 years that’s not a part of a doubleheader.

source: Getty Images

3. Angeles Galaxy – “Paging Tommy Meyer – you are on the spot, son.” Meyer appears to be the man tapped for replacement duty following A.J. DeLaGarza’s injury. Otherwise, things look sunny in So Cal, with David Beckham (pictured right) back on the field for Sunday’s 1-1 draw outside Denver. Becks was far from his best, and he said as much, but there’s a month to go before the playoffs, so just getting back into the lineup was the important mile marker here.

(MORE: DeLaGarza apparently done for the regular season)

2. San Jose Earthquakes – A 3-3 draw at home with FC Dallas exposed the best and the worst in Frank Yallop’s men of high drama. They keep falling behind. But they absolutely, positively never believe they won’t make up the deficit. Stephen Lenhart was the late hero this time. One point will seal the deal in the West, but the Earthquakes clearly have something more grand in mind: the Supporters Shield.

1. Sporting Kansas City – Did Sporting KC show a little vulnerability late in last week’s sizeable clash with second-place Chicago, dropping a notch over the last 30 minutes as the visitors, overrun early, worked steadily into the game? Or was it down to spot-on tactics, with high-pressure providing the early goal, followed by a wise dropping-off later? Either way, well done, ye men of SKC. This late-season change in defense – volatile All-Star center back Aurelien Collin out, Lawrence Olum in – is interesting, isn’t it?

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.”