PST’s Major League Soccer Power Rankings – Week 9

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Of all the teams to cause this year’s first crisis of conscience, I didn’t expect it to be Sporting Kansas City. Over the four years, the defending Major League Soccer champions have been one of the handful of consistently good teams in the league. If they can’t serve as a Power Rankings barometer, who can?

Consider the fortunes of their most recent opponents. Two weeks ago, Sporting lost 2-0 at New England, but because the game was a relatively chance-free 0-0 before Aurèlien Collin was sent off, we saw that as a push in terms of what it told us about the teams’ ability to win going forward. Sporting dropped one spot because Seattle was awesome (against Colorado). New England dropped because New York had a four-point week.

Fast forward to this week, and Columbus is going up after losing to Sporting. What gives? Again, it’s all about context. Columbus lost 2-0, but they were on the road, in a game that was 1-0 for all but 11 minutes, where the Crew generated as many good chances 11-on-11 chances their hosts. As far as their number seven ranking went, we saw that as a bit of a push, too, but with Toronto falling at home (to New England, of course), the Crew moved up.

Each week, via various mediums, so much reaction comes down to “how do you drop NE a spot for beating SKC” (as one commenter asked last week). There are the in-game factors to consider (like red cards). We also have to factor in what the bigger picture tells us about the team. But as much as anything, we have to factor in the league itself. The rankings aren’t absolute. They’re relative.

Regardless, we’ve added a “Methodology” link, below – a highfaluting way to link back to the explanation that accompanied our first ranking of the season. Remember, the goal here is to rank teams in terms of the neutral field, game tomorrow test. Who is more likely to win that game?

He’s how we feel, relatively, after nine weeks of the Major League Soccer season.

MORE: Player of the Week | Team of the Week | Week 8 Power Rankings | Methodology

RANKING
Up/Down
source:  1 Seattle Sounders: Saturday was exactly how you’d expect a team of Seattle’s caliber to respond, given some early misfortune. Though it took them almost 70 minutes to reverse Philadelphia’s early lead, the Sounders preserved their winning streak ,as well as the spot on top of this chart. (6-2-1)
source:  2 Sporting Kansas City: Sporting could not have given a more Sporting performance, even if Sunday was the first time this season the defending champions had scored in the first half. No team is better equipped to hold a one-goal lead, one which Kansas City doubled late for its impressive result. (4-2-2)

3 Real Salt Lake: In a 23-minute span, RSL began dishing out what it’s been taking all season. Four times this year, the Western Conference champions have come from ahead to draw. In Chicago, RSL overcame a late two-goal deficit to stay unbeaten, quelling any doubts they carried out of last week’s draw. (4-0-5)

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4 LA Galaxy: A one-goal loss at Colorado is nothing to worry about. The biggest issue for LA: What do they do when Robbie Keane’s having an off night? The Galaxy have lost both games were Keane’s failed to score; they’re undefeated when their captain gets on the scoresheet. (2-2-2)
source:  5 FC Dallas: For the second week in a row, Dallas was undone by a first half red card, and for the second week in a row, we’ll take a wait-and-see approach before bumping Óscar Pareja’s team down. There’s no reason to believe these red cards will continue. There’s also no reason to pass judgement on a team’s ability to play with only 10. (5-3-1)
source:  6 UP 1 Columbus Crew: How can the Crew rise despite losing? Partially because a close loss on the road at the defending champions isn’t the reason to drop anybody, partially because of Toronto’s fall. As good as Columbus looked at times in Kansas City, this rise is less about its performance than TFC’s. (3-2-3)
source:  7 UP 4 New England Revolution: Against a newly-healthy Toronto, New England looked just as good as it did last week against Kansas City; if not better. Whereas that game saw the Reds tied 0-0 at home before Collin’s sending off, Saturday saw Jay Heaps’ team claim a 2-1 win at BMO Field. While Doneil Henry’s failings played a big part, New England continues to prove themselves capable of taking advantage of others’ mistakes. (4-3-2)
source:  8 New York Red Bulls: Eighty minutes playing against 10-men tells us almost nothing about New York’s strength going forward. The three road points are a boon in the standings, but the Red Bulls tread water in this chart. (3-2-5)
source:  9 Vancouver Whitecaps: The home-road duality of Vancouver continues. This team seems built to take advantage of BC Place. Carl Robinson just needs to find a formula that works on the road.  (3-2-4)

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10 Colorado Rapids: A home win over the Galaxy allowed Colorado to move past its loss in Seattle, but in the context of those rankings, the result is what you’d expect from a team that sits at this point of the chart. (4-2-2)
source:  11 DOWN 5 Toronto FC: This seems a little high for a team that’s lost three-in-a-row (including two at home), but implicitly, after nine weeks, this spot has become the line between teams that have shown “something” (playoff potential, for more than a moment) and teams still looking for solutions. Toronto’s right in the middle. The team has a solution — we saw it earlier this season — but given this slump, this may be time for a slight re-think. They’re not playing to their talent. (3-4-0)
source:  12 UP 2 Portland Timbers: Just as with Toronto, this seems too high, particularly considering a 3-2 home win against D.C. United isn’t usually something that would send a team climbing this chart. A look below this spot, however, reveals a list of teams who, like Portland, have significant questions two months into the season. The Timbers are just the best of an evolving bunch, for now. (1-3-5)
source:  13 DOWN 1 San Jose Earthquakes: As we were reminded Week 1 when New York visited BC Place, there are some teams that are never going to look good in Vancouver. Given their personnel and style, San Jose may be the prime example. Although Mark Watson tried to adjust by starting Yannick Djaló beneath Chris Wondolowski up top, that plan blew up early. Regardless, San Jose’s ill-fit for BC Place is neither news nor something to worry about. (1-3-3)
source:  14 UP 2 Houston Dynamo: Given Chivas USA’s quality, there’s only so much we should read into Saturday’s result. There were, however, signs Houston may be ready to play like the playoff contenders we expected. Boniek Garcia had one of his most productive days of the season. Both strikers (Will Bruin, Gilles Barnes) got on the scoresheet, while Brad Davis got another 85 minutes after his long layoff. (3-4-2)
source:  15 D.C. United: D.C. was mistake-prone on Saturday, with the first and third goals sticking out as particularly preventable, but between the first and 94th minutes, D.C. may have played its best game of the year. At the same time, both of their equalizers required major contributions from Portland players. Credit United for nearly snaring a point, but the 3-2 could have also been worse. (3-4-2)
source:  16 DOWN 3 Chicago Fire: The general excuse we’ve been making for the Fire all season: They look decent, but they make one big mistake each game. On Saturday there were three major breakdowns in a 23-minute span. Chicago’s playing better than their record, but it’s no mystery why Frank Yallop’s team can’t get over the hump. (0-2-6)
source:  17 Philadelphia Union: One shot on target, and it wasn’t even a dangerous one. Even if it requires pulling the roof down on the team’s foundation, John Hackworth is approaching the point where he has to change it up. This isn’t just a matter of a team’s shooting percentage being lower than expected. This team isn’t generating the type of chances that will bring its numbers up. New options, new ideas, new personnel – the Union need something, because with Brad Evans’ own goal they just had their new luck. (1-3-5)
source:  18 UP 1 Montréal Impact: The bye week allows Frank Klopas’s team to make some progress on this chart. (1-4-3)
source:  19 DOWN 1 Chivas USA: When they fell flat against the Galaxy, you thought ‘this is just what happens in this rivalry.’ When Chivas USA laid an egg against the Dynamo, memories of 2013 began to resurface. This team not only missed Mauro Rosales, Dan Kennedy, and Thomas McNamara; it also missed the fight they showed in March. (1-5-3)

Champions League, Europa League: How to watch, odds, start time, predictions

Champions League odds
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The UEFA Champions League and Europa League action has resumed and I’m going to reveal my predictions for this next round as well as the latest odds for Europe’s top two continental tournaments.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores

With Manchester City still in the Champions League and Manchester United and Wolves among the favorites to win the Europa League, there is a lot on the line for Premier League clubs in the coming weeks.

Just because the Premier League season is over, that doesn’t mean the action is over. Far from it. Both Manchester clubs are the bookmakers favorites to seal their respective European glory.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores ]

In the next few days the Europa League and Champions League quarterfinals will take place as the mini tournaments begin.

Man City beat Real Madrid 4-2 on aggregate, while Chelsea lost Bayern 7-1 on aggregate as they crashed out of the Champions League. Man United and Wolves are both in the quarterfinals and favored to go far.

Lisbon, Portugal will host the Champions League games from the quarterfinal stage onwards, while the Europa League games will be hosted around Germany.

Below is a look at my predictions, the odds for the games this week and how to watch and follow all of the fixtures in the USA.


How to watch, stream Champions League and Europa League

Dates: August 5-23
Location: Quarterfinals onwards in Lisbon/Germany
How to watch: CBS Sports
Live updates: UCL here at NBCSports.com & Europa League here at NBCSports.com


JPW’s Champions League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)
Wednesday, August 12: Atalanta 2-3 PSG
Thursday, August 13: RB Leipzig 1-2 Atletico Madrid
Friday, August 14: Barcelona 1-3 Bayern Munich
Saturday, August 15: Manchester City 3-1 Lyon


JPW’s Europa League predictions

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
Monday, August 10: Inter Milan 2-1 Bayer Leverkusen
Monday, August 10: Manchester United 3-1 Copenhagen
Tuesday, August 11: Wolves 1-2 Sevilla
Tuesday, August 11: Shakhtar Donetsk 1-2 Basel


Champions League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 12-15)

(+210) Atalanta v. PSG (+117). Tie: +275
(+225) RB Leipzig v. Atletico Madrid (+135). Tie: +220
(+235) Barcelona v. Bayern Munich (+115). Tie: +255
(-305) Manchester City v. Lyon (+750). Tie: +450

Outright winner
Manchester City (+220)
Bayern Munich (+325)
Paris Saint-Germain (+500)
Atletico Madrid (+800)
Barcelona (+800)
Atalanta (+1000)
RB Leipzig (+1700)
Lyon (+3500)


Europa League betting odds

Quarterfinals (August 10-11)
(+112) Inter Milan v. Bayer Leverkusen (+240). Tie: +250
(-385) Manchester United v. Copenhagen (+1000). Tie: +480
(+235) Wolves v. Sevilla (+120). Tie: +230
(-106) Shakhtar Donetsk v. Basel (+290). Tie: +255

Outright winner
Manchester United (+180)
Inter Milan (+325)
Sevilla (+500)
Bayer Leverkusen (+650)
Wolves (+700)
Shakhtar Donetsk (+1100)
Basel (+2500)
Copenhagen (+6000)

Barcelona reach 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal

Barcelona - Napoli
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Barcelona – Napoli saw Lionel Messi and Co., book the eighth and final place in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals, by way of a 3-1 victory on the night (4-2 on aggregate) on Saturday.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

It was, as it so often tends to be, Messi who shone brightest and stole the spotlight en route to Barca’s 13th straight Champions League quarterfinal appearance.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

Barca entered Saturday with the slimmest of advantages, knowing that a scoreless draw would see them through to the quarterfinals after grabbing a vital away goal in the first goal. Lyon knew that no matter what, they needed to score at least once or they would be out. That threat was reinforced, and strengthened, when Clement Lenglet headed the Blaugrana ahead in the 10th minute.

Messi slipped, Messi got back up, Messi slipped again, Messi got back up again, Messi rifled the ball inside the far post to score a(nother) fantastic solo goal and make it 2-0 (3-1) in the 23rd minute. It was only slightly more complicated than that for him (WATCH HERE). Messi put the ball in the back of the net again just a few minutes later, but the goal was taken off the board by way of a somewhat suspect handball decision upon video review.

Nonethless, that was just about that after Luis Suarez converted from the penalty spot early in first-half stoppage time. Messi won the penalty by sneaking around Kalidou Koulibaly and winning the ball in the blink of an eye, forcing the Senegalese center back to foul him on the edge of the box lest Messi walk in on goal for a virtual tap-in.

Lorenzo Insigne converted a penalty kick of his own a couple minutes later before the interval, but the threat level never peaked higher than a 2-out-of-10 for Barca.

Barca will face Bayern Munichin a sensationally mouth-watering, single-leg quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

3 things learned: Bayern Munich v. Chelsea

Bayern Munich - Chelsea
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Bayern Munich – Chelsea, leg no. 2, looked eerily similar to leg no. 1, played back in late February, with the lone exception being the lack of fans inside the Allianz Arena for Thursday’s dead rubber.

[ MORE: Champions League predictions ]

The eight-time Bundesliga champions were simply too good — and too healthy, by comparison — for Frank Lampard and the Blues to put up a reasonable fight from 3-0 down after the first leg. It was an unceremonious end to Lampard’s first season in charge at Chelsea, but a foregone conclusion before they boarded the plane back in London.

[ LIVE: Champions League schedule ]

With their 4-1 victory on the night (7-1 on aggregate), Bayern will face Barcelona in a sensationally mouth-watering quarterfinal matchup next Friday.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Allianz Arena, as the I’s were dotted and the T’s were crossed in Bayern Munich – Chelsea.


NO DRAMA NECESSARY, BAYERN TAKE CARE OF BUSINESS EARLY

Credit to Bayern for their ruthless efficiency and disinterest in letting the tie descend into drama and tension. Robert Lewandowski scored early (10th minute) and Ivan Perisic did the same in the 24th, bringing the aggregate score to 5-0 with 65 minutes left to play. With so many key players out injured, Chelsea had virtually zero chance of pulling off the impossible comeback prior to kickoff, and Hans-Dieter Flick’s side made sure to keep it that way from the opening whistle. Corentin Tolisso put the tie further out of reach late in the second half (76th), and Lewandowski duplicated his side’s three-goal advantage from the first leg not much later.


CHELSEA’S ISSUES STILL AT THE BACK

For all of the development of young players that Frank Lampard was able to realize this season — and for all of the big-money signings either already confirmed or heavily reported to be imminent this summer — Chelsea still have serious questions to answer with regard to their defense. The below highlight is but one small example in a season full of defensive blunders at missed assignments (you’ll find another one below in the next section). Cesar Azpilicueta remains solid, but he’ll turn 31 this month and probably only has another year or two left to function at the UCL level. Reece James and Fikayo Tomori still have some way to go in their development to be UCL-caliber players. The likes of Kurt Zouma, Antonio Rudiger and Andreas Christensen have all proven, time and again, they’re simply not at that level and probably never will be. All of that is to say, Chelsea need to execute a full-on rebuild of their defense this summer, or it might not matter how many goals they can score every game next season.


BAYERN’S END-OF-SEASON FORM IS TERRIFYING

Pop quiz: When was the last time Bayern simply didn’t win a game, let alone lost one? The answer: Feb. 9 (19 games ago). And their last defeat? Dec. 7 (28 games). They won all nine of their Bundesliga games following the season’s restart, plus another two in the DFB-Pokal and now the second leg against Chelsea in the UCL. Of course, things will suddenly become far more tricky when 1) the likes of Barcelona and Man City factor into the equation in the quarterfinals and the semifinals, and 2) each round is decided over a single leg rather than the traditional home-and-away format of the Champions League. And still, Bayern have the look of serious Champions League contenders, if not favorites, based on their scintillating form dating back to the start of the calendar year.

VIDEO: Messi shreds Napoli to score fantastic solo goal

Lionel Messi goal video
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Lionel Messi has done, once again, as Lionel Messi is known to do: he has scored another fantastic Lionel Messi goal (video below) in the UEFA Champions League round of 16.

[ MORE: Andrea Pirlo named Juventus manager | Sarri sacked ]

One, two, three, four, five defenders in his way? So what, says Messi.

One or two decent attempts to tackle the ball away — and perhaps even succeeding on at least one occasion? Again, so what?

He’ll have the ball back, continue on his merry way and tuck the ball just inside the far post, all while falling down, getting back up and falling down again. The goal put Barcelona 2-0 ahead on the night (3-1 on aggregate). Prior to this post being published, he scored again, but the goal was taken away for a perceived handball upon video review.

Surely we’ve discovered a superhuman soccer league we can send him to by now, just to level the playing field a bit more for the actual humans walking planet Earth.

Anyway, here’s the latest head-shaking, smirk-inducing Messi goal video you came to see.