MLS: Looking at the next month on the fringe of the West’s playoff picture

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You may have noticed at the end of our last post something that looked like a throwaway line:

“In fourth place now, Dallas could find themselves outside of the West’s top five by the time their biggest threat returns.”

Really, Mr. Author? (Oh, wait. That’s me.) You’re just going to say something like that without offering any proof?

Fair enough. Let’s go ahead and take deeper look, trying to assess:

1.) Where we stand right now, in terms of the edge of the Major League Soccer’s Western Conference playoff picture;
2.) What each team is looking at schedule-wise between now and Aug. 4; and finally,
3.) The difficulty of that schedule.

1. Where we are, right now?

Pos. Team GP PTS GD PPG
4 FC Dallas 18 23 0 1.28
5 Vancouver Whitecaps 15 22 3 1.47
6 LA Galaxy 13 20 6 1.54
7 Portland Timbers 17 20 0 1.18

 

Fourth place … FC Dallas looks good, right? Not really. The important thing to note: The two teams with the best points-per-game rates and goal differences have the fewest games played, by a long shot. If you could choose to be one team out of this group, you’d pick Los Angeles, and ask Vancouver to be your backup.

Even if Castillo wasn’t suspended, Dallas should be worried.

2. What does each team’s schedule look like?

Games between now and Aug. 4:

Date FC Dallas Vancouver LA Galaxy Portland
July 5 vs. Philadelphia vs. Seattle vs. Portland at LA Galaxy
July 13 vs. Chivas USA vs. Real Salt Lake at Seattle
July 17 at Toronto vs. New England vs. Colorado
July 20 vs. New England at Real Salt Lake at Sporting KC
July 27 at Vancouver vs. FC Dallas at Seattle at Montréal
August 2 vs. Portland at LA Galaxy

 

While Dallas’s schedule isn’t particularly tough, it is particularly thin. The pack is playing five or six games over the next 32 days, while FCD takes the field three times. This is where that games played column begins to even out (and Dallas’s post-Mauro Diaz slump begins to hurt).

3. And how difficult is that schedule?

We’ll look at this a number of ways: Opponent’s average points-per-game; number of home games; number of opponents with average-average PPG rates:

FC Dallas Vancouver LA Galaxy Portland
Total Games 3 5 6 5
Avg. Opp PPG 1.35 1.54 1.53 1.55
Home Games 2 3 4 1
Above Average 2 3 4 4

 

Here’s the silver lining for Dallas: Their schedule is slightly easier, with two out of three games at home. Contrast that with the other end of the spectrum, Portland, who has only one home game in the next month and has the most difficult of the four schedules, both in terms of points-per-game and above average teams. Add an Open Cup match against Seattle (at Seattle) on July 9, and Portland’s schedule is as congested as LA’s.

It all comes back to the conclusion we made at the end of point one: “If you could choose to be one team out of this group, you’d pick Los Angeles and ask Vancouver to be your backup.”

Former Arsenal, Brazil midfielder Baptista announces retirement

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Julio Baptista’s time at Arsenal only lasted 12 months, but it was a memorable stint.

The Brazilian, who played the 2006-07 season for the Gunners, announced his retirement on Thursday at the age of 37. The former Brazil international only managed 10 goals with Arsenal, but they came in bunches.

Baptista memorably scored four goals against Liverpool in the League Cup quarterfinal, as Arsenal finished with a 6-3 win. Baptista even missed a penalty kick that game.

Baptista cemented his legacy later in the season with a brace in the FA Cup against rival Tottenham.

Baptista, clearly an immensely talented player, suffered from being a good, but not great player. He seemed to have no perfect position other than the No. 10, and most teams he played for had better players in that position. It forces him to play along the wings, deeper in midfield or as a striker during the prime of his career.

In the end, injuries beset his career, especially a short spell at Orlando City in MLS.

 

U-20 World Cup Rewind: Italy tops Mexico, host Poland falls on Day 1 (video)

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Italy opened the FIFA Under-20 World Cup with a bang, knocking off fellow Group B favorite Mexico, 2-1, in Gdynia, Poland.

It only took Italy three minutes to get on the board, as Davide Frattesi found a pocket of space in front of the El Tri backline and dribbled in on goal. The Sassuolo midfielder then decided to fire on goal from distance, hitting a rocket into the corner to give Italy a 1-0 lead.

Later in the first half Gianluca Scamacca also took a rip from outside the box, but his strike sailed just wide.

A defensive error on a corner kick gave Diego Lainez and Mexico life. In the 37th minute, AC Milan product Alessandro Plizzari committed a howler, coming out to punch away the curled corner kick. Plizzari missed the ball and it went right to the head of Roberto De La Rosa, who calmly made it 1-1.

El Tri however suffered a blow late in the match as Italy took back the lead. In the 67th minute, Luca Ranieri collected the ball on the edge of the six yard box and from a tight angle, he scored past Mexico goalkeeper Carlos Higuera.

For Mexico, it’s a rough way to start the World Cup, having to go against a perennial power in Italy and playing on European soil. Not all is lost for Mexico, but it has to rebound with a win in its next game against Japan.

Elsewhere, Colombia defeated host Poland, 2-0, Japan tied Ecuador 1-1, and Senegal beat Tahiti, 3-0.

Saudis, Bahrain, UAE join to bid for FIFA’s U-20 World Cup

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GENEVA (AP) Middle East neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates are jointly bidding to host the Under-20 World Cup in 2021.

FIFA says the Gulf plan is among five to express interest in bidding, including Brazil.

Indonesia, Peru and a Myanmar-Thailand joint bid are the others.

FIFA announced the contenders Thursday, one day after dropping a proposal for Qatar to share hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup with regional neighbors.

The 2021 U20 contenders must submit a formal bid by Aug. 30. FIFA’s ruling Council will pick the winner, likely in October.

The 2019 edition kicks off Thursday in Poland.

Putin awards medal to FIFA president Infantino

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MOSCOW (AP) Vladimir Putin has given FIFA president Gianni Infantino a medal.

The Russian president awarded Infantino the Order of Friendship at the Kremlin on Thursday.

Infantino has often said last year’s World Cup in Russia, where the host nation surprisingly reached the quarterfinals, was the best of the 21 editions of the tournament.

Putin thanked the FIFA leader for “your glowing assessment of our efforts.”

Infantino says of Russia’s “bonds of friendship” with soccer “is not the end, it is only the beginning of our fruitful cooperation and interaction.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports