ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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Nine rounds remain, and the races for playoff spots just keep tightening; Here is our weekly re-ordering of Major League Soccer teams, following 25 rounds of play:

19. D.C. United – Ben Olsen’s team fell to Montreal. Olsen got tossed out. The team remains on track for some dubious records. Ooof.

18. Toronto FC – Wasn’t Danny Koevermans supposed to be back by now? Every little bit will help for this bunch, which fell in Columbus on Saturday.

17. Chivas USA – Let’s see if the Goats can keep 11 players on the field for a mid-week meeting with FC Dallas. It hasn’t been that easy lately for Chivas USA.

16. FC Dallas – On the one hand, Mauro Diaz looks like a pretty good mid-season addition in the midfield. On the other hand we have that unsightly 11-game winless skid, which dates to May 25.

15. Columbus – Federico Higuain has that September look about him, as a another goal from the Crew’s top man helped give the men in yellow back-to-back wins for the first time this year.

14. Chicago Fire – A summer that had seemed to turn in the Fire’s favor took a downward dip in a 2-0 loss at New England. The team looked suddenly short of midfield ideas. Manager Frank Klopas and center back Bakary Soumare were ejected post-final whistle for their part in a sideline kerfuffle.

13. New England Revolution – Mayhem erupted at the end of New England’s 2-0 win over Chicago. Mayhem aside, it’s a big three points for the sixth-place Revs, considering they are neck and neck with seventh-place Chicago.

12. San Jose Earthquakes – Chris Wondolowski hit his eighth goal of 2013 as the Earthquakes upset Sporting Kansas City, 1-0, at Buck Shaw. “Wondo” and Co. have won five in a row at home, and that success in the Bay area has helped keep the ‘Quakes relevant in the playoff chase.

11. Houston Dynamo – Clint Dempsey was the name to know at BBVA Compass Stadium, but the Dynamo’s Giles Barnes stole the show with two goals, including one blistering right-footer from 35 yards in a 3-1 win over Seattle. Watch Barnes’ fantastic strike here.

(MORE: MLS Round 25 week in review)

10. Montreal Impact – A win over hapless D.C. United is not the achievement to hang your hat on in 2013; on the other hand, the Impact haven’t won a lot lately, so the late-game winner from  Marco Di Vaio was big stuff around Stade Saputo. He had both goals in the 2-1 win, his first strikes in MLS since July 3.

9. Philadelphia Union – It is rarely pretty with John Hackworth’s team, but the Union sure knows how to grind out results. Latest example, a highly useful scoreless draw at the New York Red Bulls. And, of course, if you’re going to play a 0-0 contest, may as well have a streaker after the final whistle to liven up the joint, eh?

8. Seattle Sounders – Stop everything this Sunday evening and watch a Cascadia Cup match for the ages against Portland. It. Will. Rock. … They’ve sold every seat in the building, Clint Dempsey will make his home debut and, of course, it’s Portland! Game time is 10 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

7. New York Red Bulls – The good work in goal of Luis Robles (pictured) was the high point from New York’s side of a scoreless draw against Philadelphia. But should the goalkeeper’s good work be a “high point” for a team blessed with Thierry Henry and other swell attacking threats? Meanwhile, Jamison Olave’s injury is concerning.

6. LA Galaxy – Robbie Keane is the newest hat trick hero around the StubHub Center, doing his three-goal thing in a commanding 4-2 win over Real Salt Lake. This comes after Landon Donovan’s hat trick of a week ago; this is an MLS club’s first back-to-back hat trick since San Jose’s in 2005 (Dwayne De Rosario and Donovan).

5. Vancouver Whitecaps – The Whitecaps suffered just their fourth loss 15 matches, falling 2-0 to in-form Colorado. Martin Rennie’s team resorted to hit-and-hope long balls to get over the Rapids’ busy midfield. They’ll presumably get that sorted out this week around BC Place.

4. Colorado Rapids – Raise your hand if you picked Colorado as a Supporters Shield contender. Hmmmm. … Not seeing many hands. … A 2-0 win over Vancouver is the latest good result for Oscar Pareja’s team, now unbeaten for nine in a row. New DP attacker Gabriel Torres (the club’s first Designated Player) debuted in a Rapids’ shirt.

3. Sporting Kansas City – Paying without Kei Kamara and Graham Zusi proved too much for the visitors in a 1-0 loss at San Jose. Peter Vermes’ team played well enough but did lack that last bit of playmaking and finishing quality that their talented pair provides.

2. Real Salt Lake – Manager Jason Kreis said the Galaxy was simply better, and it was hard to argue the point after a 4-2 thumping at the StubHub Center. (One of RSL goals came at the final whistle.) Not many bright spots, although Ned Grabavoy’s renaissance season remains rolling along.

1. Portland Timbers – Ryan Johnson and Darlington Nagbe had the goals in a 2-1 win over FC Dallas, but Diego Valeri pulled the strings in a midfield master class at Jeld-Wen Field. Portland was without Will Johnson and Jack Jewsbury, which takes a lot of “heart and soul” off the field, so that made the “W” even more worthwhile.

The USMNT player pool in Europe is as promising as ever

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It would be a challenge to put together a Best XI from Americans performing in Europe this Saturday.

That’s for two reasons, not one of them because there aren’t 11 players worthy of the honor.

One is goalkeepers: Zack Steffen is hurt and Ethan Horvath backing up Simon Mignolet.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule

The other is pretty great: There are many more than 11 players thriving in Europe even with Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Zack Steffen, and Timothy Weah not available for selection.

It’s a weekly thing now. Gregg Berhalter trains a strong and mostly-MLS squad for January friendlies, The Americans Abroad round-ups on our site have shown plenty of progress for those eligible for the USMNT.

There was a time when Haji Wright coming off the bench for VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands had a shot at being the highlight of the weekend.

Now it’s a footnote. The 21-year-old is a regular for the relegation-threatened side after a transfer from Schalke. If anything, the discussion is about two in-a-row off the bench after a run of 10-straight league starts.

Consider this list of players, now that Aston Villa’s Indiana Vassilev and Borussia Dortmund’s Giovanni Reyna made league debuts in the same weekend.

First team players in top tier leagues

Zack Steffen (Man City, on loan to Dusseldorf)
Ethan Horvath (Club Brugge)
DeAndre Yedlin (Newcastle United)
Sergino Dest (Ajax)
John Brooks (Wolfsburg)
Alfredo Morales (Fortuna Dusseldorf)
Tyler Adams (RB Leipzig)
Weston McKennie (Schalke)
Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
Tyler Boyd (Besiktas)
Indiana Vassilev (Aston Villa)
Haji Wright (VVV Venlo)
Giovanni Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
Josh Sargent (Werder Bremen)
Tim Weah (Lille)

Dig deeper and there’s more: Matt Miazga (Reading), Tim Ream (Fulham), Geoff Cameron (QPR), Cameron Carter-Vickers (Tottenham Hotspur), Antonee Robinson (Wigan Athletic), and Duane Holmes (Derby County) have been regulars in the English Championship. Same for Julian Green (Greuther Furth) in 2.Bundesliga and in-form Lynden Gooch at League One’s Sunderland. Niko Hamalainen (Kilmarnock) is a regular starter in the Scottish Premiership.

Then there are heralded U-20 and U-17 prospects Chris Gloster (Jong PSV), Chris Richards (Bayern Munich II), Richie Ledezma (PSV Eindhoven), Alex Mendez (Ajax), Sebastian Soto (Hannover 96), Johnny Cardoso (Internacional), Ulysses Lainez (Wolfsburg II). Some have taken first team bows while others have made the bench or ar eon the verge.

And we’re just talking Europe here, as the U.S. still has a bevy of reliable international players playing domestically like Jordan Morris, Miles Robinson, and Jozy Altidore amongst others. That’s leaving alone the caliber of Homegrown players being produced by Major League Soccer academies, Paxton Pomykal and Djordje Mihailovic among them (Reyna and Richards, too).

In terms of potential, American soccer is at a golden age. This makes Brian McBride’s new role as USMNT general manager even more important, as he teams up with Gregg Berhalter to put the best possible American team together for qualifying.

One thing’s for sure, the player pool is deep and no longer an excuse. Game on.

Watch Live: Burnley v. Leicester City

Watch Live: Burnley v. Leicester City (Lineups and stream link)
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Leicester City looks to build a nine-point cushion on fourth-place Chelsea with a win over Burnley at Turf . Moor on Sunday (Watch live at 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Brendan Rodgers‘ Foxes can go level on points with second-place Manchester City by beating the hosts.

[ STREAM: Burnley v. Leicester City ]

Fifteenth-place Burnley opens the day two points clear of the Bottom Three, losers of four-straight matches.

Jay Rodriguez and Chris Wood start up top for the Clarets against the second-stingiest back line in the Premier League.

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Burnley

Leicester City

PL Sunday Preview: Leicester travel to Burnley; Liverpool put perfect record on the line against Man Utd

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With eight Premier League fixtures on Saturday, two more remain in Matchweek 23.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Burnley v. Leicester City  — 9 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Burnley are free falling and there doesn’t seem to be a safety net in sight.

The Clarets, who are two points removed from the relegation zone, head into a tough three-match window without striker Ashley Barnes. Recuperating from a hernia surgery, the 30-year-old is set to miss bouts against Leicester, Manchester United and Arsenal – to name some.

But quite possibly more alarming than that is the team’s recent form. Losing seven out of their last nine, just two points divide Burnley from the drop zone. Sean Dyche‘s team are clueless in the box, scoring one goal in four league bouts. Trouble looms over Turf Moor.

But even then, Dyche, who has made Burnley a force to be reckoned with in the past, believes his side are still a threat.

“They are a good side,” Dyche said about Leicester. “We are on a tough run of form, but I don’t think they are naive enough to think it is turn up and get the business done. We are not a million miles away.”

Can Burnley pull a Southampton and stun a top-four bound Leicester?

“We weren’t at our best [against Southampton] and we didn’t have the energy and intensity that we would have liked,” Brendan Rodgers said ahead of Sunday’s early match.

“We work twice as hard and that’s what we’ve done after every setback. We still have a lot to improve on.”

The Foxes had a rare full week to train, so one can bet that Rodgers is serious about his word.

INJURIES: Burnley —  OUT: Barnes (hernia), Gudmundsson (hamstring) | Leicester City — OUT: Ndidi (knee), Amartey (ankle), James (match fitness)

Liverpool v. Manchester United — 11:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Manchester United are a part of the exclusive anti-Liverpool club for more than the obvious reason.

Yes, the North West Derby is one of the league’s most heated rivalries, with countless flashbacks in its 203 meetings during its over 100 years of history.

But these two, star-studded squads led by Jurgen Klopp and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, respectively, also have a permeating rivalry of their own. The Reds, who have yet to taste defeat this season, have dropped points to only United.

It can be argued that Sunday’s bout may be Liverpool’s most complicated and least favorable, despite maintaining an immaculate record at home. This is the “big one” that many didn’t particularly circle on the calendar.

“It’s a very, very important football game,” Klopp said. “Very important. We have to learn how to deal with games like this in the right manner. We haven’t done bad in the past but we can still improve.

“Old Trafford [a 1-1 draw in October] was a good example, [we were] not at our best because of their quality. We have to make it more likely we’re at our best.”

Solskjaer had his tactics in place last time around; a small injection of final quality and the team would have crushed Liverpool’s aspirations of matching the Iinvincibles or Manchester City’s points record.

“The last two performances [against Liverpool] at Old Trafford we have drawn twice and been close to winning both games, so we’ve got some games to look back at and that will give us loads of belief… if we perform to our best we have a chance to win,” Solskjaer said.

Sunday presents itself as the final chance for United to pull the upset, and reaffirm why they’re a part of the exclusive club to begin with. But Liverpool are slowing becoming invincible themselves.

INJURIES: Liverpool —  OUT: Lovren (hamstring), Clyne (knee), Keïta (groin), Milner (hamstring) | Manchester United  — OUT: Tuanzebe (hamstring), McTominay (knee), Pogba (ankle)

Serie A roundup: Immobile nets hat-trick, Lazio runs over Sampdoria (video)

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Lazio’s record-extending 11th straight Serie A win highlights Saturday’s Serie A action.

 [ MORE: Serie A scores, schedule ]

Lazio 5-1 Sampdoria  

Like Lazio’s season, Ciro Immobile continues to make strides with each passing day.

The 29-year-old’s hat-trick powered Simone Inzaghi’s side past Sampdoria 5-1, extending his goal count to 23, nine more than Cristiano Ronaldo and Romelu Lukaka.

 

Lazio, who are three points behind top-of-the-table Juventus and one behind second-place Inter Milan, were up three goals by the 20-minute mark. By the 65th minute, Immobile reached the three goal mark, converting from the spot.

“We would need too much time to count his records,” coach Simone Inzaghi said on Immobile’s magnificent run of form. “We are talking about an extraordinary team player. He has shown that so many times. Immobile has been doing extraordinary things for four years, I’m not surprised.”

Full of confidence, Lazio turn one of the most challenging corners of the season, as they take on rivals AS Roma defend the Italian Cup against Napoli.

“We’ll enjoy this 11th win but we have to already be thinking about the next matches,” Inzaghi said. “We know what a derby means but I can’t allow myself to think about Roma.

“We play Napoli on Tuesday, we know what the Italian Cup means for us, what it meant last year, we have it on our shirts and we will fight for it again.”

When it comes to Sampdoria, things are going from bad to ugly, quick.

“Tonight I’ll add salt and pepper and I’ll eat them alive,” Sampdoria coach Claudio Ranieri said of his players.

“Lazio was too good for us, you could clearly see the difference between the two teams, but it was without doubt the worst Samp performance since I’ve been here.”

Elsewhere

Sassuolo 2-1 Torino

Napoli 0-2 Fiorentina