Watch These — Week of Apr. 22

Welcome to the waning days of so many leagues around the world, the storylines as teams jockey for their final position, trying to stave off relegation or slip in to position for qualification to move up or compete on bigger stages. The drama rises!


Monday, Apr. 22

  • Chelsea vs. Burnley (Premier League) — This might seem like an odd one with Chelsea seemingly being so much better than Burnley, but this is the witching hour of the league. These final weeks are when storylines become clearer. Chelsea are tied with Arsenal on points, but trailing them on goal differential, five goals making the difference between the Champions League and Europa league next season. Can Chelsea claw into a Champions berth next year? Meanwhile Burnley are struggling to stay above the red line and remain in the Premier league. However, their final four matches are Chelsea, Manchester City, Everton and Arsenal. None of those will be easy, but they can’t afford to give up too many points lest they risk falling down.
  • Napoli vs. Atalanta (Serie A) — Napoli are safely ensconced in their rank, they might shift some but they will likely join the Champions League next year. Atalanta are fighting for the hope of making it to the Europa league next season.
  • Brentford vs. Leeds United (English Championship) — Leeds United want their chance in the Premier League and they can make that road easier with a win as they visit Brentford.

Tuesday, Apr. 23

  • Tottenham Hotspur vs. Brighton & Hove Albion (Premier League) — Tottenham have had a very busy week and are struggling with injury, but their perch at #3 in the league is precarious. If they give up points they could conceivably find themselves in the Europa league next season. And they have to defend while continuing to compete for this year’s Champions League.
  • Barcelona vs. Manchester United (Champion’s League) — Barca snatched a 1 – 0 victory on the road in England, can they defend at home? Yes.

Wednesday, Apr. 24

  • Manchester United vs. Manchester City (Premier League) - A Manchester derby is always worth a watch, even if it seems foregone that the Citizens are going to steamroll the current struggling United side.
  • Atlético Madrid vs. Valencia (La Liga) — Valencia could possibly make its way into the Champions league next season if they sneak into 4th in Spain. Defeating #2 is no small feat, but it’s doable.

Thursday, Apr. 25

  • Getafe vs. Real Madrid (La Liga) - Getafe could, like Valencia earlier, make an appearance in the Champions League next year. They need to defend their home and come away with a win over Real Madrid.

Friday, Apr. 26

  • Augsburg vs. Bayern Leverkusen (Bundesliga) — Leverkusen, with a win here, could find themselves in position to be in the Europa league next season. If they lose this one then I think they will fall short for the season.

Saturday, Apr. 27

  • Inter vs. Juventus (Serie A) - Juventus have already won the Italian league, but Inter remains a strong side and they should make this a fun match to catch.
  • Eintract Frankfurt vs. Hertha BSC (Bundesliga) - Frankfurt must furiously defend their position in the league, hoping to remain in position for another Champions League.
  • Rennes vs. Paris Saint-Germaine (Coupe de France) — The finals of the nations cup have arrived and can Rennes upset the country’s top team?

Sunday, Apr. 28

  • Seattle Sounders FC vs. Los Angeles FC (MLS) — The two best teams in MLS clash for the second time time this season.
  • Torino vs. Milan (Serie A) — Milan fighting to remain in the Champions League next year. Torino fighting for the finish that would put them in Europa League. They both need a win.
  • Leeds United vs. Aston Villa (English Championship) — In the 2nd division of England. Leeds United is fighting for a top two spot and the hope of promotion to the Premier League.

The Drama of the Champions League

UEFA, the Union of European Football Associations, is the governing body that oversees soccer for all of Europe. In 1955 they introduced the European Cup, or properly it was known as the European Champion Clubs’ Cup, and it welcomed the top team from each country’s league to compete. Jump forward to 1992, the tournament is changed and rebranded to what it is today.

Participation in the Champions League is for top teams from across Europe, but not just one for each country, the distribution is based on the strength of the countries in FIFA’s rankings. Twenty six teams were inserted directly into the group stage based on their finish in their home leagues. Fifty three others put into the tournament to earn one of the remaining 6 slots.

Three of this year’s Champions League semifinal teams were among those immediately placed into the group stage: Barcelona, Liverpool, and Tottenham. Only one had to earn their way up. That was Ajax.

Ajax is one of the teams from Eredivisie, the top league of the Netherlands. They are a storied club in Europe and they have had success in the Champions League in the past, having won it four times, the most recent one being 24 years ago, 1995. Last season they finished second behind PSV Eindhoven. Due to this, Ajax were forced to enter this year’s Champions League during the second qualifying round. There they defeated Sturm Graz, the Austrian football club, 5 – 1. Ajax then advanced to the third qualifying round where they defeated the Belgian club, Standard Liege, 5 – 2. In the Playoff round they faced Dynamo Kyiv of Ukraine, defeating them 3 – 1. They had to win three matches before Barça, Tottenham and Manchester City, the other semifinalists, even joined the tournament.

In the group stage, four teams in each group play each opponent twice. The best two overall records in the group advance to the knockout stage, the third place team gets inserted into the Europa cup, and the fourth place team goes home.

Tottenham and Barcelona were put into the same group. Barcelona dominated Tottenham in their matches, but Tottenham did well enough that both teams were able to advance out of their group over Milan’s Internazionale and PSV Eindhoven.

Liverpool were in a group with the French powerhouse Paris Saint Germaine, Italy’s Napoli and the Serbian team Red Star Belgrade. Liverpool and PSG advanced to knockouts.

Ajax were put into a group with the German juggernaut Bayern Munich, Portugal’s Benfica, and the Greek AEK Athens. Ajax did very well, overall drawing with Bayern 3 – 3 across their two games, and having a winning record against the other two teams. Both Bayern and Ajax advanced to the knockouts

In the knockouts, the story of the quarterfinals was the elimination of the reigning champions, Real Madrid, at the hands of Ajax. It’s been a tough year from Real Madrid, forcing them to bring back Zinedine Zidane as their coach after a struggling season in their domestic league. In the first leg, Real Madrid won 2 – 1 at home but the trip to the Netherlands was the stuff of nightmares for the Spanish club as Ajax dominated 4 – 1.

Ajax though did not find their road easier from there as they met Juventus. Going from Ronaldo’s previous club to his current one. Unlike Real Madrid, Juventus has had a fairly good season. Perhaps not as dominant as they would have hoped, but still dominant. Surely Ajax had finally reached the end of their story in this year’s Champions League…

And here I remind you they are named for Ajax the Great, the son of King Telamon, and a towering warrior hero in the Trojan war mythology.

Ajax’s journey in the Champions league was again atop the headlines as they vanquished Ronaldo and Juventus this week while on the road in Italy, having held them to a 1 – 1 draw at home, and then they manage to win 2 – 1 in Torino. An upset in the truest sense of the word.

Not to be outdone though, perhaps in the most dramatic and exciting game in the tournament’s history, was this week when Tottenham faced Manchester City. Manchester City are considered to be the best club in the world according to 538’s global soccer club rankings.

I think it is fair to say: Tottenham was expected to lose this game.

One of their stars, Harry Kane, has been out injured. But even with him they would still be outgunned. And yet, saying that, Tottenham had managed a 1 – 0 victory at home last week thanks to Hugo Lloris, their keeper, stopping a penalty kick by Sergio Aguero, which would have tied it up.

So, traveling to Manchester City’s stadium, they are up 1 – 0. In the first 20 minutes of their second game both team score 2 goals, bringing the aggregate to 3 – 2 Tottenham. In the 21st minute, Raheem Sterling scores a goal to put Manchester City even on aggregate, 3 – 3. But Manchester City need to score one more, because Tottenham has the advantage on away goals. It was the 59th minute when Sergio Aguero puts Manchester City ahead.

Now, I need you to understand, these games take place during midday for those of us on the west coast. I watched the majority of it during lunch but I had to stop as I had a post-lunch meeting. And so I had to follow it via social media.

In the 73rd minute, Fernando Llorente scores a contentious goal which takes VAR to verify, but that goal puts Tottenham back in the lead. Then in extra time Raheem Sterling scored a goal which would have sealed it for City, only to have it ruled offside in the build up. Brutal for City and its fans, but the game has become an instant classic of the tournament.

There are stories for each of these teams, I’ve touched on Ajax and Tottenham, who face off in the semifinals. Across from them Liverpool and Barcelona will meet.

Barcelona is the club of Messi, a player who inexplicably has people argue whether he’s the best player currently playing the game or not. Liverpool are coached by Jurgen Klopp and have the Egyptian footballer Mohammed Sallah. Both Barcelona and Liverpool have won the Champions League five times. Liverpool having won it most recently in 2005, Barcelona in 2015. In this matchup, I favor Barcelona to win on the back of a solid defense and another godly performance from Leo Messi.

The only team among these final four not to have won the Champions League in their history is Tottenham. They face Ajax, and the question becomes can Ajax continue their run or can Tottenham push their way into the finals this year?

I cannot wait for the games in two weeks, this is the peak of club soccer drama out of Europe.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 7

The league is stabilizing but there are still a few shakeups in the ranking this season. LAFC, Sounders, DC and now Houston lead the league.

Biggest climber: Houston Dynamo. Biggest loser: Toronto FC.

The Leaders

1. Los Angeles FC

Change: +0 — Form: WWWWD
As of today LAFC are 19% favorites to win the MLS Cup according to 538. It’s not a perfect prediction, but since they’ve been making MLS predictions they have never rated a team as favored this early in the season that much. LAFC look to be historically good.

2. Seattle Sounders FC

Change: +0 — Form: WWDWW
Seattle played an excellent game against Toronto FC. It was a tight one, not a blow out, but it was well played and Seattle walked away with another win. They are proving themselves to be the marriage of offensive weaponry and the gritty frame of old. It’s a historic start for the team.

3. DC United

Change: +1 — Form: WLWWD
DC United regained their winning ways with a win on the road.

4. Houston Dynamo

Change: +4 — Form: WWWWD
Houston are one of the few undefeated teams left in the league with wins at home and on the road.


The Pack

5. LA Galaxy

Change: +0 — Form: WWWWL
The City of Los Angeles is expected to discuss being renamed “Zlatopia.” A goal and a PK for the Swede.

6. Toronto FC

Change: ‑3 — Form: LDWWW
Pozuelo is my pick for newcomer of the league, Toronto looked strong and put up a good fight against Seattle.

7. Sporting KC

Change: ‑2 — Form: DDWDW
SKC fought in the CCL, and that has hurt their power rankings as the team’s depth has been tested. And yet they claimed 11 out of 15 points for their last five matches. They could easily be in the lead group were it not for two draws and stiff competition.

8. Columbus Crew

Change: ‑2 — Form: LWWLW
Caleb Porter’s boys put up a good fight in Montréal and couldn’t walk away with a point. Columbus looks threatening and now Portland is coming to visit them.

9. FC Dallas

Change: +1 — Form: WLWWL
The latest team to benefit from Portland coming to town.

10. Minnesota United

Change: ‑1 — Form: DWLLW
Minnesota opened their new stadium with a 3 – 3 draw against NYCFC. First goal to the Sounder legend Ozzie Alonso. I’m sure they would have preferred a win but a draw isn’t as bad as it could have been.

11. Philadelphia Union

Change: +0 — Form: LWWWD
Philly faced LA Galaxy and discovered they were not as good. Simple as that.

12. Atlanta United

Change: +3 — Form: WLDDL
Finally the five stripes get a win and on the road. Could this be the firestarter for Atlanta?


The Chase

13. FC Cincinnati

Change: ‑1 — Form: LDLWW
Sometimes you stand in front of the steamroller and get rolled over.

14. Montréal Impact

Change: +3 — Form: WDLWL
Montréal got the goal in the 55th minute and got to bounce back from the drubbing when they were in Kansas City.

15. New York Red Bulls

Change: ‑2 — Form: DLLLW
They drew on the road at Kansas City, nothing to be overly shamed of, but being winless in four means as the table shifts they find themselves two spots lower. You know how you climb the table? Win.

16. NYCFC

Change: ‑2 — Form: DLLDD
Winless in how many weeks? The pigeons are sinking and they need to win. Soon.

17. Chicago Fire

Change: ‑1 — Form: DDWWL
Chicago welcomed the Whitecaps to town and found a draw. An underwhelming result against the Caps.

18. Real Salt Lake

Change: +0 — Form: WLLLL
RSL went up 2 – 0 and only thanks to the great Nani did Orlando get hope of coming back.

19. Orlando City

Change: +0 — Form: LWLWL
Orlando is so thankful for Nani, but is he enough to keep them floating upwards? He wasn’t in Salt Lake City.

20. Vancouver Whitecaps

Change: +1 — Form: DLDLL
Two points in five games. Vancouver needs a fucking win. Or a fucking change. One of these two things.


The Basement

21. Colorado Rapids

Change: ‑1 — Form: LLLLD
Second from the bottom in the west, only thanks to Portland being worse.

22. San Jose Earthquakes

Change: +1 — Form: LWLLL
San Jose lost to Houston, far from unexpected. Why the bump? New England is just that much worse.

23. New England Revolution

Change: ‑1 — Form: LLWLL
Brad Friedel is an American legend. But let me say this: #FriedelOut.

24. Portland Timbers

Change: +0 — Form: LLLLL
Has someone registered HasPortlandWonYet.com?

Watch These — Week of Apr. 15

Champion’s League, as you would expect, leads the exciting matches for this week. However there’s several other quality matches from Japan to Denmark to the top leagues in Europe and here in the states. Let’s look at the schedule!


Tuesday, Apr. 16

  • Juventus vs. Ajax (Champion’s League) — They ended 1 – 1 last week, giving Juventus the edge. Now they return to Turin to finish out the match. Who will advance? 538 favors Juventus and I tend to agree.
  • Barcelona vs. Manchester United (Champion’s League) — Barca snatched a 1 – 0 victory on the road in England, can they defend at home? Yes.

Wednesday, Apr. 17

  • Manchester City vs. Tottenham (Champions League) - Sadly this is where I think Tottenham’s Champions League run ends, but I will still be watching, hoping for a miracle.
  • Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage (NWSL) — Women’s soccer is back in the US after it’s long off season. The kicked off this weekend and their first midweek game of the season brings two of the league’s top teams face to face.

Thursday, Apr. 18

  • Napoli vs. Arsenal (Europa Cup) - Napoli must come back from a two goal deficit as they return home to Italy, if they want to advance.
  • København vs Midtjylland (Denmark Super League) - I know nothing about either of these teams except that they sit atop Denmark’s league and the game is broadcasting on ESPN+. Games like this are one of the great things about being a soccer fan, you get to see players and teams from around the world play the game.

Friday, Apr. 19

  • LA Galaxy vs. Houston Dynamo (MLS) — #3 and #4 in the west meet. Historically these two teams have had a fairly balanced history, though the Galaxy have dominated when Houston came to town. Can they continue that trend this time?
  • Sanfrecce Hiroshima vs. Tokyo (J1 League) — Japan’s J1 league is underway and so far it is both of these teams sitting atop it. J1 is broadcast in the US on DAZN, which isn’t a network I normally watch so I am not positive how watchable this game will be to us Americans.

Saturday, Apr. 20

  • Manchester City vs. Tottenham (EPL) - Manchester race to hold onto the lead in the league, and Tottenham fight to claim the third spot in the league after their recent slide. Will Kane be healthy? Can Tottenham manage an upset against the Citizens?
  • Inter vs. Roma (Serie A) - #3 vs #5 in Italy, but only 3 points separate them. A win by Roma would tie them with Inter.
  • Borussia M’gladbach vs. Red Bull Leipzig (Bundesliga) — A top battle in Germany. M’gladbach (#5) hosts the Red Bulls.
  • Feyenoord vs. AZ (Eredivisie) — The Netherlands sees two of their top 5 squads face off, it might just be my imagination but it seems like the Eredivisie has had a series of weeks with high level face offs. Good stuff.

Sunday, Apr. 21

  • Los Angeles FC vs. Seattle Sounders FC (MLS) — The two best teams in MLS clash for the first time this season. It’s going to be a high stress, high intensity match I expect.
  • Reign FC vs. Orlando Pride (NWSL) — The NWSL season is still getting underway, but it’s fair to expect both of these teams be dominant performers in the coming season.

MLS Power Rankings — Week 6

This week had its share of surprises, though few of those surprises were stunning upsets. Definitely fewer major swings in the power rankings below than in previous weeks.

Biggest climber: Orlando City SC. Biggest loser: New York Red Bulls.

The Leaders

1. Los Angeles FC

Change: +0 — Form: WWWDW
LAFC continue to dominate, this time with their 4 – 0 rout of DC United. Sure, Rooney got a red card but it didn’t look his presence would have changed this game’s outcome.

2. Seattle Sounders FC

Change: +2 — Form: WDWWW
A win is a win. It wasn’t the prettiest, it wasn’t the offensive monster we saw in early weeks, but it was a win. And the Sounders are having the best start for their franchise.

3. Toronto FC

Change: +0 — Form: DWWW
Pozuelo looks to be an exciting signing for Toronto and I can’t wait to see more of him in the league, but they only managed a draw with Chicago. Surprised it wasn’t a win.

4. DC United

Change: ‑2 — Form: LWWDW
It isn’t cause for panic, sometimes you take a shot on the chin and fail to regain your footing.


The Pack

5. Sporting KC

Change: +0 — Form: DWDWL
SKC went on the road to Cinci and left with a point, a point on the road is a fine result. Had they not given up the penalty, they might have left with a win though.

6. Columbus Crew

Change: +0 — Form: WWLWW
Twelve points in their last five games has to feel good for Caleb porter and the team. Will be curious to see how they handle the trip up to Montréal this week.

7. LA Galaxy

Change: +0 — Form: WWWLW
The Galaxy heard my criticisms last week and went to Vancouver to make a statement. Now they get to return home and welcome Philadelphia for next week. Zlatan playing on turf is something I am extremely here for.

8. Houston Dynamo

Change: +0 — Form: WWWD
Bye week.

9. Minnesota United

Change: +2 — Form: WLLWW
They stop their losing skid and get a win on the road in New Jersey against the Red Bulls. They get a win for some confidence just in time to return home next week and open their new stadium. Should be quite the celebration.

10. FC Dallas

Change: ‑1 — Form: LWWLW
Dallas nearly got out of Philadelphia with a point, only to have it snatched away by Alejandro Bedoya in the final moments of the game. Had Minnesota not jumped them, this loss wouldn’t have affected their power ranking.

11. Philadelphia Union

Change: +3 — Form: WWWDL
A third win in a row for Philadelphia is impressive. Bedoya gave them the W, but the team worked to keep them in a position for it.

12. FC Cincinnati

Change: +1 — Form: DLWWD
Cinci were disappointed with a draw against the western powerhouse of SKC, that is the right mentality and a result they should be satisfied with. Cinci have really impressed me thus far this season and I am eager to see how their inaugural season unfolds.


The Chase

13. New York Red Bulls

Change: ‑3 — Form: LLLWD
Three losses in a row. Red Bulls are officially in crisis as they try and halt their skid. Also two of these losses occurred at home, which is a bitter pill to swallow.

14. NYCFC

Change: ‑2 — Form: LLDDD
Seeing NYCFC as a powerhouse of the east seems so long ago. I wonder how much they wish they still had David Villa in their roster.

15. Atlanta United

Change: +0 — Form: LDDL
Bye week.

16. Chicago Fire

Change: +0 — Form: DWWLD
A draw on the road is an acceptable result in most cases. For it to be a draw in a match that you could easily see being a loss is a great outcome.

17. Montréal Impact

Change: +0 — Form: DLWLW
A draw is, you guessed it, a fine result. But Montréal needs to do more and keep climbing in the east.

18. Real Salt Lake

Change: +1 — Form: LLLLW
A fourth loss in a row is tough for Petke and his crew. As a Sounders fan they looked dangerous and had some bad luck in not walking away with a point. But thanks to Colorado dropping, they get a bump in the ranking.

19. Orlando City

Change: +3 — Form: WLWLD
A win over Colorado isn’t the biggest of results, but for Orlando it was another spark in their engine as they try to figure out their system.

20. Colorado Rapids

Change: ‑2 — Form: LLLDL
Three points in their last four games is not good. They are destined for the basement if they can’t get a win soon.


The Basement

21. Vancouver Whitecaps

Change: ‑1 — Form: LDLLL
One point in their last five matches. At this point, I think their coach could be the first one fired this season.

22. New England Revolution

Change: ‑1 — Form: LWLLL
Four points after six games is not a good result. Friedel’s seat has to be getting quite warm as pressure to deliver mounts.

23. San Jose Earthquakes

Change: +1 — Form: WLLLL
San Jose gets their first win in 220 days with their victory over Portland. Even more, they didn’t look awful. Could they finally be waking up?

24. Portland Timbers

Change: ‑1 — Form: LLLLD
Portland is bad and Merritt + Gio should feed bad. The team needs a reboot.