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MLS Power Rankings: Four 2015 playoff teams off to 0-2 starts

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MLS Power Rankings: Four 2015 playoff teams off to 0-2 starts

Every year there are predictions before the Major League Soccer season gets underway, and often times the predictions are similar to how the previous season ended up.

It’s natural, of course. Why go against what you’ve seen play out?

However, MLS doesn’t cooperate with predictions. The unpredictable league is at it again with a few of the expected strong teams in 2016 off to 0-2 starts. Four teams that made the conference semifinals last year lost the first two games of 2016. The reigning Supporters’ Shield winners New York Red Bulls, last year’s MLS Cup runners-up Columbus Crew, the Clint Dempsey-led Seattle Sounders and the Vancouver Whitecaps all have early holes to dig out of.

[MORE: Fire showed progress in Orlando, but still have to improve]

Naturally, those teams won’t be expected to stay at the bottom of the league for long, but the slow starts could be legitimate warning signs for rocky years. It's difficult to properly rank teams with two losses knowing they have the talent to be in the top half, or higher, in the league. As a result, these first rankings are a mix between a team's expectations and talent as well as how they've performed through two games.

 

Rank
Team
Record Comment
1 2-0 Montreal Impact: Winning at Vancouver and then spanking the Red Bulls 3-0 is worthy of the top spot in the rankings. Ignacio Piatti is looking like an MVP candidate and he has teamed well with Harry Shipp in the midfield. Did you know Didier Drogba hasn't played yet? Yeah, Drogba hasn't played yet and the Impact are ranked No. 1. Watch out.
2 2-0 Sporting Kansas City: Two wins against 2015 playoff teams is an impressive way to start the new season. Dom Dwyer scored a must-see long-range laser to open the scoring in the 2-1 win against Vancouver and Brad Davis made his Sporting KC debut off the bench. Davis could end up being a huge addition for this team.
3 1-0-1 Toronto FC: The revamped defense showed some cracks against New York City FC on Sunday, but the team showed an extra something to fight back for an away draw against an improved NYCFC. The opening shutout win at the New York Red Bulls showed the defense has improved.
4 2-0 San Jose Earthquakes: Sure, both of San Jose's wins were at home, but 2-0 is 2-0. The Quakes knocked off the Rapids 1-0 and beat the defending champs 2-1 on Sunday, a game which included Quincy Amarikwa's potential goal of the season long-range chip.
5 1-1 Portland Timbers: They weren't a dominant force in the regular season last year, and even caught some luck to get by Sporting Kansas City in a penalty shootout in the postseason, so the loss at San Jose shouldn't be a surprise or a concern. The Timbers will be in the mix throughout the year.
6 1-1 LA Galaxy: So far this looks like last year's team, for better or worse. The Galaxy opened with a resounding 4-1 home win against D.C. United and then followed up by losing on the last kick at Colorado. LA struggled on the road last year, but losing on a last-second wonder goal by Marco Pappa isn't damning.
7 1-0-1 Real Salt Lake: RSL was a bit unlucky not to get the full three points in Orlando, giving up two stoppage time goals for a 2-2 draw. Perhaps that evened out with a late winner from Jamison Olave to beat Seattle on Saturday. Burrito Martinez is one of the most exciting players to watch in the league and Joao Plata is another dangerous attacker. This is a fun team to watch again.
8 1-0-1 Houston Dynamo: The 5-0 win against FC Dallas gave the Dynamo their first win against their in-state foes since 2012, and what a win it was. Arguably the most impressive win of the young MLS season. Houston has a league-leading eight goals through two games.
9 1-0-1 New York City FC: ESPN's Paul Carr dug out the stat that Andrea Pirlo had 110 touches in the 2-2 draw with Toronto on Sunday, which were the most for him since joining NYCFC. Getting Pirlo involved in a big way will be one of new coach Patrick Vieira's biggest tasks. Meanwhile, do they even miss Frank Lampard?
10 1-1 FC Dallas: The 2-0 win against Philadelphia to open the season looked like Dallas as most expected: a fast, talented team led by Mauro Diaz and Fabian Castillo. Against Houston? No one has a good explanation for that 5-0 shellacking, which makes them one of the harder teams to rank.
11 0-2 Vancouver Whitecaps: Two one-goal losses to two 2-0 teams that look really sharp to start 2016 isn't devastating. Vancouver should rebound, although the two losses do show some vulnerability in what should be a very tough and deep Western Conference.
12 0-2 Seattle Sounders: This isn't the way Seattle dreamed the post-Obafemi Martins era would start, but it's not like the Sounders have been totally outplayed. They played down a man for most of the match at home against Sporting KC and lost on a late goal at Real Salt Lake. The lack of offense - just one goal scored in two matches - is a concern though.
13 1-1 Philadelphia Union: Opening with tough away games at Dallas, which ended a predictable 2-0 loss, and Columbus, which was a shock 2-0 win, were a brutal way to start 2016. The team will have to be feeling good to have three points from those two games. Also, seeing Chris Pontius net a pair of goals could be a sign that he is back to his Best XI form of 2012.
14 0-2 Columbus Crew: The opening 2-1 loss at Portland was nothing to be ashamed of, but losing 2-0 at home to Philadelphia is an eye opener. Still, there's too much talent on this team for the Crew to not bounce back.
15 1-1

Colorado Rapids: The Rapids appear to have a stout defense again, but scoring goals may still be a problem. Marco Pappa's stoppage time winner against the Galaxy on Saturday was Colorado's first goal of the season, but they've only conceded one. It will be interesting to see how Jermaine Jones integrates with the team when he comes off suspension.

16 0-2 New York Red Bulls: It's hard to see the early struggles continuing to this level for very long, but just based on performance they have been the worst team in the league through two games. They are the only team in the league yet to score a goal and are tied for the most goals conceded (five). The loss of Matt Miazga appears to be looming large, but RBNY should turn it around.
17 0-0-2 New England Revolution: The Revs played to a high-scoring draw with Houston in the opener and then played to a scoreless draw with D.C. United the next week. A lack of consistency was a killer last season and playing two very different kinds of draws to start the season may be a sign of another up and down year for New England.
18 0-1-1 Chicago Fire: After last season, the Orlando game at least showed some positive signs, but the lack of possession and a still spotty defense are worrying. David Accam looks like a lock to be an All-Star and maybe even an MVP candidate, if the Fire win enough to warrant his contention.
19 0-0-2 Orlando City: The Lions held a man advantage for parts of each of the first two matches and both were at home. Despite being up a man for a total of 83 minutes, Orlando was outscored 1-0 in that time. That's ugly. Whenever Kaka returns that will be a big boost, but there's no doubt they've struggled out of the gate.
20 0-1-1 D.C. United: Holding New England to a scoreless draw on the road was a big improvement from the 4-1 drubbing United took at the hands of the Galaxy in the opener. Luciano Acosta could be one of the best additions in the MLS offseason, but the 21-year-old is being asked to do an awful lot for that attack.

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

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NBC Sports Chicago

Manchester City brings Premier League trophy to Chicago ahead of preseason game in Soldier Field

Manchester City is coming off a season in which it dominated the English Premier League to the tune of a record 100-point season.

City is kicking off the preseason of its title defense in Chicago. City takes on Borussia Dortmund at Soldier Field on Friday night.

The last time the reigning Premier League champions were in Chicago was when rivals Manchester United came to Soldier to take on the Chicago Fire in 2011.

The Citizens won’t have the full arsenal of stacked stars for its U.S. tour, which also includes stops in New York and Miami as part of the International Champions Cup. Many of the team’s best players are getting a break after playing in the World Cup. Belgium’s Kevin De Bruyne, one of the stars of the tournament, is one of six Man City players to reach the semifinals.

Paul Dickov, who played for City for nearly 10 years between 1996 and 2008, is on tour with the team and talked about City’s preparations.

“The reason the clubs want to come to the States and play in International Champions Cup is the facilities are fantastic, the training facilities, the hotels, the treatment they get and just give them the best preparation going into what’s going to be a hard season,” Dickov said. “Nobody has won the Premier League back-to-back titles for nearly 10 years now so it’s going to be tough. Coming here and being able to prepare the way they can in the United States is going to put them on a long way to regain the title again.”

City brought the Premier League trophy to Wrigley Field on Thursday for the Cubs-Cardinals game. Dickov got to throw out the first pitch. The Scotsman threw a strike, much to his relief.

“I was quite calm beforehand, but I must admit when I got out there and I had to walk out there both hands started getting a bit sweaty,” he said. “I managed to make it and I got a fantastic reception off the Chicago Cubs fans so thank you to everybody at Chicago Cubs for having me there. It was great. Something I’ll never forget.”


Dickov compared Cubs fans to City fans in the way both teams struggled for a long time before finding success.

“They stuck by us through thick and thin when things weren’t as great,” Dickov said of Man City fans. “I suppose it’s a little bit like the Chicago Cubs here in Chicago. The fans turn out, they get 30-40 thousand, great atmosphere, back their team.”

While promoting the game, the Premier League trophy made multiple stops in Chicago, including with the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field on an off day.

City also took the trophy and new signing Riyad Mahrez, who just joined Man City from 2016 champions Leicester City, to Haas Park in Logan Square. Haas Park includes a soccer field donated by Manchester City and the American embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2012.

“The outcome of it has been great,” Dickov said. “Thousands of children and families benefiting, not just from the soccer part of it, but the education program as well. To be down there the other day for the full day and seeing the joy in the kids face seeing soccer here and the other activities that are on is great because, yeah, football is fantastic, soccer is fantastic and when you’re out there and you play you want to win, but it’s important, especially from Manchester City’s point of view, the city and the community. The stuff that they do off the field is second to none and it’s giving something back.”

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

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USA TODAY

Chicago Fire permanently sign midfielder Aleksandar Katai

The Fire have secured the transfer of midfielder Aleksandar Katai from Deportivo Alavés of the Spanish La Liga, the team announced Wednesday afternoon.

This season’s breakout playmaker has been signed with Chicago through 2019, with a 2020 club option. Before the transfer, Katai was on loan from Alavés, which was set to expire after July.

The Serbian player has emerged as one of the most important pieces of the Fire’s offense this season. Since joining the club on Feb. 6, Katai has scored eight goals in 18 league matches, tying forward Nemanja Nikolić for the most on the team. Katai also has three assists in 2018.

The 27-year-old’s biggest game of the year came against New York City FC last month when he scored two goals to lead the Fire to 3-2 victory. His production this season in the MLS has been much more significant than it was in 23 matches with Alavés, where Katai only tallied three goals and four assists.

His transfer fee is unknown but, according to Sam Stejskal of MLSsoccer.com, he will be a “Targeted Allocation Money player” for the rest of this season and will not be a Designated Player until 2019. Whatever the official price was, acquiring Katai for a lengthier amount of time seemed like a must.

Throughout this season, the Fire were rumored to be in talks with legendary Spanish striker Fernando Torres. On Tuesday, he signed with Sagan Tosu, a Japanese club. The Fire signed Katai the next day, showing that the team was possibly waiting for Torres to leave the market.

Chicago will face the Philadelphia Union Wednesday night at Toyota Park, where Katai will look to continue his impressive season.