Frequent contributor Jon Marthaler has written about virtually every sport in the Twin Cities, and fills in on Saturdays for the RandBall blog on StarTribune.com. He'll cover the professional soccer scene in the Twin Cities, whether at the Metrodome or at the National Sports Center.

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Report: United 8, Pro Player Academy 0

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: March 14, 2014 - 10:19 AM

Star Tribune special sections editor Paul Duncan is visiting family in the UK, and following Minnesota United's preseason tour. He sent along the following report from United's match that took place earlier this afternoon.


Minnesota United continued its preseason tour of England with a two-hour scrimmage against Pro Player Academy, a team of young Premier League prospects and hopefuls, at Stone Dominoes FC in Staffordshire.

Everyone expected Pro Player Academy to give Minnesota a stern test of the team’s skill and fitness - especially as it included three prospects from Manchester City, one of whom was an U-17 World Cup winner with Nigeria. But in the end, it was a completely one-sided 8-0 stroll for the Loons, against a team that at times looked like they just met yesterday. Certainly the opening 15 minutes against lowlier Matlock Town on Monday night was tougher than anything faced by United here.

From the first shot on goal after three minutes, Minnesota was in complete control of the match. Dominant in the air, quick of feet on the ground, more cohesive as a team and more committed to every ball, coach Manny Lagos will have been delighted with the shift put in by his players, even if he might have expected more from the opposition. The only downside to what ended up being a nice workout was an injury to Pablo Campos, who needed treatment after tangling legs with a defender and falling awkwardly. 

For the record: the goals were scored by Simone Bracalello, Campos, Tiago Calvano, Floyd Franks, Aaron Pitchkolan (who scored twice), triallist JP Pittman and Nate Polak.

The boys get a much deserved night off in Nottingham tonight, then tomorrow afternoon they get to meet the players and staff of West Ham United at the St. George’s Park complex. Next up: Derby County on Monday afternoon.

USA connection of the day

I met a Pro Player Academy coach’s dad, who took the day off work to watch the scrimmage against Minnesota United - and played pro soccer for Buffalo in 1977.

British humor of the day

This sign was in the train on the way to the match.

Match Report: United 3, Matlock Town 0

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: March 10, 2014 - 7:09 PM

Star Tribune Special Sections editor Paul Duncan is in the United Kingdom visiting family - and following Minnesota United's preseason tour. He filed the following report from the first match of the tour.


Minnesota United kicked off their preseason tour of England with a somewhat flattering 3-0 win against Matlock Town on Monday evening. Christian Ramirez, Cristiano Dias, and Nate Polak scored the goals, the latter two coming after halftime.

A closely contested opening 15 minutes saw both sides cancel each other out with no clear cut chances on goal. The best chance of the opening exchanges fell to Matlock, which curled a dangerous free kick into the box that Minnesota scrambled to clear. Matlock had the ball in the net on 17 minutes but it was ruled offside. Just two minutes later, United midfielder Miguel Ibarra was put through on goal by a neat pass from Kentaro Takada, but he scuffed his shot into the goalkeeper's arms.

As the game started to open up, both sides started taking shots on goal, but there was little to trouble either keeper. Minnesota's passing game broke down on a surface that was showing signs of wear from both a rainy English winter and several games over the previous weeks.

As the half wore on, Matlock started showing increased confidence going forward, but were unable to take advantage of a series of attacks that stretched the Minnesota defense. As a few signs of frustration started creeping in; Takada was given a warning by the referee for a lunging challenge. Minutes later, United keeper Matt Van Oekel had to be alert to push away a decent effort on goal on 40 minutes; at the other end, Ibarra wriggled through Matlock's defense, only to thump his effort over the bar.

The breakthrough finally came on 42 minutes when Ramirez, composure personified, scored with a fine curling finish into the top corner. The goal seemed to settle Minnesota, which probably had not been expecting their lower league opponents to be quite as well organized, combative and competitive as they were. It also gave United a 1-0 lead at halftime.

Within a minute of the restart, Matlock had a great chance to equalize as Shaun Tuton danced his way round a series of defenders, only to hoof the ball high and wide. The second half picked up where the first left off - a few meaty challenges, some hard running by both sides. Matlock were making sure Minnesota knew they were in a game. Of English football.

Ten minutes in, coach Lagos made multiple substitutions to give as many of the squad as possible a run out - utterly confusing the linesman, who lost track of who was coming off and who was going on. Among the replacements was triallist JP Pittman, who flew in today - and consequently played with no number on his shirt. Despite the substitutions, though, there was no sign of the competitive edge going off the game on a chilly Derbyshire evening - for which a surprising number of the Minnesota contingent were underdressed.

On 65 minutes, a powerful crossfield pass to Cristiano Dias resulted in a thumping finish past Matlock's recently introduced 18-year-old keeper. Minnesota visibly grew in confidence after the second goal, and some neat interplay in the penalty area nearly led to a third, but new signing Pittman blazed over.

Matlock continued to compete for every ball, but Minnesota looked increasingly comfortable on the ball, absorbing Town's pressure. A pushing and shoving match on 81 minutes - known here as "handbags" - showed that none of Matlock's competitiveness had deserted them. And a minute later, the young keeper allowed a speculative shot from Nate Polak to slip under his dive for Minnesota's third goal.

The result was harsh on Matlock, who matched Minnesota in all areas of the pitch for significant periods of the game. For Minnesota, it was a good confidence booster for what will likely be tougher tests ahead in Stoke on Thursday and Derby next Monday.

Postgame Q&A with head coach Manny Lagos

Paul Duncan: What did you think of the performance?
Manny Lagos: It was mixed. We had a big group play today, two separate groups, and I thought ... You know, listen, it's a long [way to] travel, it's a new environment for us, and I thought the first group at times was struggling with the tempo that Matlock started the game out with, the pressure they put on. They had a couple of long balls that I thought were really dangerous. They played aware of our gaps and how we organized ourselves defensively and I think that affected our possession. We really couldn't get a rhythm going in the first half. The field is what it is, and Matlock's used to playing on this field, and it took us a while to get used to both the tempo and to a field that's been a bit weathered through the winter, probably.

PD: Were you surprised by how competitive Matlock were as a team?
ML: No, not at all. I fully expected a tough challenge and as the game went on it was nice to see some of our quality start to dictate the tempo of the game. Particularly early on I thought they did a good job of putting stress on us. Once we got the ball moving I thought we did a lot better. ... The first goal [by Christian Ramirez] was one of those nice curling finishes that let the team know we have quality. I think it was an important goal for our confidence. Then we started playing some good soccer and creating some good chances.

PD: So a good confidence booster in advance of what may be possibly sterner tests against Stoke on Thursday and Derby on Monday. Do you feel like your team's in a good place to deal with those games?
ML: I think we're in a good place to build for what we're trying to do this week. We're trying to physically challenge ourselves to get fitter and I think that will help us to play well in those games. So the long-winded answer is: Yes!

PD: And what about Matlock Town, they've been great, haven't they?
ML: Since the moment we've got here they've welcomed us. It's nice for us Americans to hear the passion that the fans have for the sport, the cleverness and the wittiness with which they observe the game - it's been fun for me as a coach to listen to some of the banter.

PD: I was talking to one of the executives here and he said, Do you think they'd let us come over and play in Minnesota?
ML: We'd love it! Any time! Just don't come in the winter.

Weird Minnesota connection of the day

The guy selling pies in the concessions stand refereed a USA Cup match in Blaine in 2004.

Quote of the day

"In the interest of international relations, I've been asked to put together a playlist of country & western songs with a sports theme. However, I've discovered that they're nothing about sports - they're all about pickup trucks." --The Matlock Town stadium announcer
 

Catching up with United president Nick Rogers - in England

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: March 10, 2014 - 8:51 AM

Matlock town advertises their match against United.

Minnesota United is currently into the first two days of their preseason training trip to England; the team arrived in the UK on Saturday, trained at Derby County yesterday, and is playing a friendly against lower-division side Matlock Town FC this afternoon. Paul Duncan, Special Sections Editor for the Star Tribune, is currently back home in England visiting family, and will be reporting on Minnesota United's preseason tour for SoccerCentric.

Duncan caught up with United team president Nick Rogers on Sunday, as the team trained at Derby.

Paul Duncan: Nick, welcome to England! How are things going?
Nick Rogers: So far so good! We got in Saturday afternoon, got settled and started training right away. We toured the facilities at St George's Park [England's national football center, where the team are staying] which are fabulous, and now we're out here at Derby County doing some training.

PD: How are you dealing with the jet lag?
NR: We had a flight at 9 p.m. on Friday which I think helped some of the guys to sleep on the plane. The travel can be tough on the athletes so we [had a training session on Saturday afternoon] just to blow the cobwebs off. It was good to get that one out of the way!

PD: Tell us how you ended up coming here in the first place.
NR: Well, last season's preseason trip was not so successful. We ended up going to Kansas City and the weather was horrible, we didn't get outside once and didn't play on grass the entire preseason. This preseason we said we were going to do something different. We ended up first going out to L.A. The Derby thing came about through relationships we have [with Derby's American and Canadian owners].

PD: Apart from the "cool" factor of coming to England, something the players have never done before, what do you think is the value of this trip to you as a team?

NR: If you want to be good at something you need to challenge yourself and expose yourself to different ideas. We play in a certain way in the United States and you come here and you get to see the game played differently. Also it's going to be beneficial to form long-term relationships with clubs in England and other places in Europe. We're always looking for the next great player and you never know where that player's going to come from. ... And it's just nice to get away from the distractions and have the guys get to know each other. Number one this is about us getting ready for the season that's about to happen and to be successful.

We want to see how things are done here. We're out of our comfort zone and it's nice to expose yourself to new ideas about things that you take for granted.

PD: You've only been in town for two days, but what kind of reception have you had?
NR: We are the first American club team to visit St George's, and that's a distinction we're proud of. Everybody at St George's has been very welcoming.

PD: Do you find yourself translating soccer to football or football to soccer?
NR: It depends on the audience you're talking to! I've noticed more and more Americans refer to themselves as "footballers". The English called it "soccer" for a long long time!

PD: The English tease the Americans about calling it "soccer" but they're the ones who started it!
NR: I've been calling it "football" all along!

United's match against Matlock Town kicks off at 2:45pm Central time today.

Matlock Town's stadium.

Nuclear Wessel: Your Premier League viewing guide

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: March 7, 2014 - 3:26 PM

Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. Dana is here every week to educate us on the Premier League. Dana?


I hope seven days has been enough time for everyone to recover from the face-rearranging awesomeness that was the THE RETURN OF THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS. Back to (somewhat) business as usual here on the soccer blog that everyone* is reading. There are a couple of FA Cup quarterfinals this weekend that we'll include in this preview, as well.

*my close friends, family and random people on Facebook who accidently click on it while trying to take the the BuzzFeed ‘Which Fraggle Rock Character Do You Look The Most Like?’ quiz.

I was going to write about the US Men's National Team, but I’d rather have all my ex-girlfriends tell embarrassing stories about me to a Super Bowl-sized audience than ever talk about the USMNT’s unwatchable 2-0 loss to Ukraine. A known associate of mine who I correspond with after every US match just sent one message afterwards. “I’ve got nothing.” And neither do I! Moving on!

The quarterfinals of the FA Cup are being held over the weekend, along with five Premier League matches. It’s that time of year where everybody is sitting on a different number of matches played. It makes the table a bit kittywampus. (Name me another soccer column that uses ‘kittywampus’ to describe the uneven number of matches played. I dare you. Seriously. Find one. I'll buy you a beer.)

Currently, Chelsea are on top with 63 points. Liverpool and Arsenal have identical records, with 'Pool ahead on goal differential. Bringing up fourth is Manchester City, with 57 points but two fewer matches played than the rest of the top four.

No. 3: Arsenal vs Everton at Emirates Stadium in the FA Cup quarterfinals
When: Saturday at 6:45AM on Fox Sports 1 and FoxSoccer2Go.com
Last year: This is the third time they have met in the FA Cup, with the most recent coming in a 1981 Everton victory. These two haven’t played each other yet this season in the Premier League, with both matches still to come in March and April. Correction: The two teams played to a 1-1 draw in early December.

This is a very intriguing matchup, especially seeing as these two haven’t played each other yet this season. For Arsenal, Jack Wilshere is out for six weeks because of a foot injury picked up in the international friendly on Wednesday. My distaste for Arsenal aside, you never want to see a player like that getting hurt at this point of the season, especially in a friendly. Arsenal’s title hopes have already blew out a couple engines but this might be the blow that sends the plane into the mountains.

When I was looking at this match I was trying to figure out who this match and continued run at the Cup means more to. On one hand, you have Arsenal looking to finally add a trophy to the Emirates trophy cabinet after nine long years. It may not be the league trophy, and it certainly isn’t the one with big ears, but after nine years, beggars can’t be choosers. If nothing else, winning this FA Cup would stop all the ‘XXXX number of days since Arsenal last won a trophy’ memes that get retweeted every seven minutes.

You know this means a lot to the players, fans, and especially Arsene Wenger, who has gotten his name tarred and feathered more often than he deserves. The expectations for Arsenal heading into this season were pretty low. I even predicted they wouldn’t finish top four (with Spurs only six points back, that isn’t out of the question). I think if you asked any Arsenal fan before the season started, they would have considered winning an FA Cup a success.

On the other hand, Everton would be overjoyed to get to Wembley for the semi-finals. Winners of the Cup in 1995 and runners up in 2009, it would be quite the thrill for the Toffees, who entered this season with Roberto Martinez as manager after David Moyes bailed to go hang out with the popular kids at Manchester United.

No. 2: Chelsea vs Tottenham at Stamford Bridge
When: Saturday at 11:30AM on NBC Sports Network
Last year: Spurs were able to notch a late 2-2 draw at Stamford Bridge in the 80th minute last season, rallying to equalize on two separate occasions. Spurs have actually managed two draws in their last four matches at the Bridge.

Chelsea have the opportunity to go seven points clear at the top of the table with a win Saturday against London rival Spurs. That number is inflated since the rest of the top four are either off this weekend or playing in the FA Cup, but as they say, you’ll take points in the bank rather than games in the hand any day.

Spurs are still very much on the outside looking in at the top four, but banking a point or three at Stamford Bridge would be massive to get them back in the picture. Three points will be a tall task for Spurs; they have not won at Stamford Bridge since 1990, a span of 26 matches.

The problem for Spurs is that they score as often as Steve Carell in the first 125 minutes of 40-Year Old Virgin (running time 133 minutes; I guesstimate on the occasional soccer fact but I will never hang you out to dry on a movie fact). They have scored 37 league goals in 28 matches so far. To put that into perspective, Manchester City have scored 69 goals. 14th place Swansea has also scored 37 goals. The fact that Spurs are in fifth place with 37 goals scored and 33 conceded is a bit of an oddity.

Chelsea have conceded the fewest goals in the league and rarely let one in at home, and Jose Mourinho has his team playing well. The Blues haven’t lost in the league since December 7th, and the chance to add more points to their lead is more than enough motivation to get up for a London derby.

These are two teams that you aren’t likely to see grabbing wings together after a match. (And not just because I don’t know if they eat buffalo wings in England. Do they? Anyway, I just didn't want to use the "two teams that don’t like each other" cliche.)

The Chelsea fans hang out at Brit's Pub. The Spurs fans hang out at the Local just down the street. I propose a West Side Story dance-off at halftime. We both walk down Nicollet Avenue snapping our fingers in unison until we meet halfway. Sickest moves after 10 minutes wins. Losers buy beers.

I am only like 21% kidding. Let me know, Spurs.

No. 1: Manchester City vs Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup quarterfinals
When: Sunday at 11AM on Fox Sports 2, Fox Deportes or FoxSoccer2Go
Last year:  Wigan pulled one of the great upsets by beating Manchester City in the FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium

A rematch of what was one of the more memorable FA Cup finals ever. The soon-to-be-relegated Wigan beat the giants from Manchester 1-0. It was such a joy to watch a team like that win a trophy. The looks on the faces players and fans...man, just thinking about it gives me that weird watering sensation in my eyes like when I watch The Notebook. Can they pull the same trick twice? Doubtful, especially since City are at home. But you never know. Like I alway say, that’s why we watch.

That's enough for this week. Remember that the MLS kicks off this weekend, with Seattle hosting Kansas City on Saturday at 2PM on NBC Sports Network. Hopefully Clint Dempsey will show some signs of life so the odds of me having that weird Notebook eye-watering sensation after the group-stage matches at the World Cup decreases.

Until next week, be sure to tip your servers and waiters at your favorite soccer watering hole this weekend.

Nuclear Wessel: Premier League Power Rankings

Posted by: Jon Marthaler Updated: February 28, 2014 - 10:49 AM

Dana Wessel produces the K-TWIN Morning Show on 96.3 K-TWIN Monday-Friday 5:30am-10:00am. The show is hosted by Cane Peterson and Eric Perkins/Rena Sarigianopoulos of KARE 11. He stops by on Fridays to educate us about the Premier League, and make fun of Arsenal. Dana?


Here's the deal. I got a couple hundred words into the usual weekend preview, and it just wasn’t working. I was having flashbacks to college, when I'd try to grind out my word count without having anything of much substance to say. You know, like when you toy with the margins a bit, to create the illusion the paper is longer than it is, in the hope that your mailing-it-in professor won’t notice?

That was me - because the matchups this weekend are pretty lame. Stoke City hosting Arsenal? Okay. Chelsea heading to Craven Cottage to play in one of the more lopsided derbies? All right. Don’t get me wrong, both matches are of crucial importance, as the visitors attempt to win the league and the hosts fight for the privilege of playing in this league next year. But the matchups themselves just lack intrigue.

We were supposed to have a Manchester derby this weekend, but City had to ruin that for everyone by going ahead and making the League Cup final, where they’ll play the mighty Sunderland. The rescheduled derby will be on Tuesday, March 25. Cool. Real cool. A Tuesday game. Thanks a lot, City.

From there...Villa/Norwich? Spurs/Cardiff City? I’d rather be locked in a room with nothing but a Luna Bar and a warm Tahitian Treat, and not be allowed to leave until I watched all 264 episodes of Murder, She Wrote on VHS, than spend two hours of my Saturday watching either of those matches.

So rather than waste everyone’s time, let's do something more important. There are only ten matches left after this weekend. TEN!! We are officially in the home stretch. That can only mean one thing...

THE RETURN OF THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS*

*Not the popular company with a similar name that sells boneless wings, but just buffalo wings in general. The real ones. The ones with bones in them. A boneless wing isn’t a wing. It is a chicken nugget.

1. Manchester City: I really wanted to go with a 1-2 tie at the top between Manchester City and Chelsea, but that is a wishy-washy take, and if there is one thing that THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS isn’t, it’s wishy-washy. So I will swallow my Chelsea-obsessed pride and admit: I still think in my gut that City have the best chance to take the league this year.

They are three points back of the Blues with a game in hand, plus they have a massive lead in goal differential. Unless they start putting some MTV Rock-n-Jock 25-point hot spots out on the field, nobody is catching the Citizens in goal differential. That means you can basically add an extra point to City’s total from here on out, since they'll always win the tiebreaker; being tied with City atop the table wouldn’t do Chelsea or Arsenal any good.

I'm guessing Man City puts out a soft team Sunday against a Sunderland side that has a much more invested interest in the League Cup than City. This match, plus their quarterfinal FA Cup tie with Wigan next Sunday, mean City won’t have another league match until March 15 (and will by then have another game in hand). The fixtures are going to start piling up for them. It will be interesting to see how they handle it.

2. Chelsea: The league leaders' biggest flaw was on full display in their midweek Champions League match at Galatasaray: their inability to kill off a match. It bit them two weeks ago when they conceded late and had to settle for a 1-1 draw at West Brom, and it happened again Tuesday in Turkey with the same scoreline. Their inability to deliver a Scorpion-esque Fatality against lesser opponents could be what keeps the trophy out of their hands this season. I guess that is what happens when you don’t have a striker on your team. But they’ve made it this far, hopefully can keep finding ways until May.

After Fulham on Saturday, they are home vs Tottenham and away to Villa before the big match against Arsenal on March 22 at Stamford Bridge. That’ll be a big one. Shame it is at 6:45AM, but that is a problem for Future Us to deal with.

3. Liverpool: I have been touting them for weeks so I can’t stop now! Just three points behind second-place Arsenal and with no other pesky cups to play for, the lads from Anfield are in solid position right now to make a run at this thing, if they are up for it.

Check out this run of matches they have in their serving bowl: at Southampton, at Manchester United, and at Cardiff City. Not the easiest matches, being on the road and all, but definitely three matches where a championship caliber team should be able to grab at least seven of nine points. After that, they welcome both Manchester City and Chelsea into Anfield where they are unbeaten in their last eleven games. It is still very much an uphill climb that will require the top three sides to slip, but Liverpool can still very much win this thing.

4. Arsenal: The 4-1 result against Sunderland last week erased any worries there may be some lingering effects from the Bayern Munich debacle a few days earlier. That said, I feel like I do this every week, but you have to keep pointing out who they have left in this devastating stretch.

  • Everton - home - FA Cup QF
  • Bayern Munich - away - Champions League
  • Tottenham - away - Premier League
  • Chelsea - away - Premier League
  • Manchester City - home - Premier League
  • Everton - away - Premier League

That list is exactly why I can’t rank Arsenal above Liverpool right now. Points will be dropped. It is inevitable. That’s why a relatively easy task of away to Stoke City is so important this week. They need all three points, because their schedule certainly isn’t getting any easier.

5. Everton: I have been impressed by Everton all year and wish like heck they had won a few more matches so they’d have a shot at catching Liverpool. But unfortunately, they faltered in some big matches, and are now in a fight with Spurs and Manchester United for fifth place -- the kids table at Thanksgiving of the Premier League.

They get West Ham at home this weekend, before that FA Cup match next weekend at the Emirates. It would be really cool to see this side win and get to Wembley for the FA Cup semifinals. Imagine if they won the FA Cup AND finished ahead of former manager David Moyes and his crumbling Man U side? That would be fantastic. Although I am sure any Everton supporter would be happy with just one or the other.

6. Tottenham: Credit to Spurs for not folding after the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. They’ve managed to string together enough good results to be sitting all alone in fifth right now, six points behind Liverpool.

They still have a shot at fourth, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. A fresh start next season with some games under their belt will do them good. This season was always going to be difficult, after the big Gareth Bale $hopping $pree they went on this summer. It isn’t easy to take a bunch of new players and get them running as a cohesive unit. It is even tougher when AVB is your manager. But he is gone next year and Spurs will be back next year threatening for a Champions League spot.

7. Newcastle: No, I have not forgotten a team, and no, this is not trolling. I have Newcastle above Manchester United. Rather than waste time talking about Newcastle, let's get to the Red Devils.

8. Manchester United: The term "crisis" gets thrown around a lot in English soccer. Anytime there is a bad result, or even the slightest hint of a changing room disagreement, the tweets and headlines fly. “IS [insert club] A CLUB IN CRISIS?!” It happens so much that the word "crisis" is thrown around as a punchline now more than anything.

But hear me when I say this: Manchester United is a club in crisis if there ever was one.

I'll watch any form and level of soccer. Men's, women's, World Cup, high school, whatever. That United/Olympiakos match Tuesday was one of the more unwatchable 90 minutes I have ever seen, and I watched all 120 minutes of the Fulham/Sheffield United FA Cup match last month.

United could barely be bothered to run, and it was evident that nobody gave a crap. Rob (I refuse to call a man Robin) van Persie calls out Moyes. Supporters want Moyes gone. Supporters of other teams want Moyes given a lifetime contract. It is a mess at United, and the thing is, it is going to get worse before it gets better. There only route back to Champions League was to go on a run and win the whole thing. But the players can’t even be bothered to get up for a match against a Greek side that recently sold one of their top players to Fulham. Fulham!

That kind of effort shows you one thing and one thing only. The players have quit on David Moyes, and already have it in their minds that they will find a way out this summer. They might not even bother to grab their stuff from Old Trafford after the last match. Things are dire for United. They have until mid-March to summon the courage and motivation to beat Olympiakos at home and advance in Champions League, the only thing they have left to play for, or things are going to get awfully shouty over at the Theater of Dreams.

9. Southampton: The darlings of the first two months of the season continue to overachieve, and will finish top half of the table. Also, they will be a team nobody who needs three points will want to play down the stretch.

10. Hull City: This sounds about right.

11. West Ham: I bought a West Ham fan a beer when they were a few weeks away from getting relegated in 2011. Great guy. He has to be happy about the Hammers this year and that makes me happy.

12. Swansea City: Ahead of Aston Villa and Norwich on goal differential. Good for them.

13. Aston Villa: See above.

14. Norwich: See above. And them move your eyes just one more spot above.

15. Crystal Palace: Palace will be in a dogfight these last eleven matches to survive their first year back up in the Premier League.

16. Stoke City: Tough one this week against Arsenal with matches against Norwich, Villa and Hull looming.

17. Fulham: I WANT TO BELIEVE! SIT THE CURRENT PLAYERS DOWN IN A ROOM AND MAKE THEM WATCH THE GREAT ESCAPE VIDEOS ON REPEAT. DO IT FOR BRIAN MCBRIDE!

18. West Brom: Absolutely no margin for error right now, just one point above the drop zone.

19. Sunderland: My hopes this season for Sunderland were to avoid relegation and for Jozy Altidore to bag a bunch of goals and be in great form heading into the World Cup. Yeah...about that...anybody have a beer...or nine?

20. Cardiff City: Sorry lads, somebody has to be last. And in this edition of THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS it is you Cardiff City!

Alright, that’ll do it for this week. Hope you enjoyed THE RETURN OF THE NUCLEAR WESSEL HOT SPORTS TAKES ATOMIC EPL POWER RANKINGS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BUFFALO WINGS.

Before you stop reading poorly written soccer blogs and go back to work, one last shout-out. Congratulations to Brian McBride, Kristine Lilly and Bob Bradley for their much-deserved election to the United States Soccer Hall of Fame.

Bradley, our fearless manager through two Gold Cups and a World Cup, always deserved much better than the criticism he constantly drew on Twitter (even from myself, I admit it), and he is getting that now.

Lilly is the all-time soccer (either gender) leader in caps with 352. 352. Only 10 other women reached 200. No others reached 300. That is insane. Cobi Jones is the leader of the USMNT with 162.

McBride, well, I could start writing about McBride but 4,000 words, 84 viewed YouTube videos, 6 hours and countless nostalgia later I would probably still be writing. I will just say this: Legend.

Alright, that’s it for me. Have a great weekend and make sure to tip your servers and barkeeps at your local soccer pubs this weekend.

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