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MLS Power Rankings: Philly back at No. 1 after thrashing Toronto FC, Sporting KC surge to No. 3

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It was another dazzling, fun-filled week in Major League Soccer as the cream of the crop continued to separate itself in the final weeks before the playoff race. There were big, impressive wins for Philadelphia Union and Sporting Kansas City, some derby joy for LAFC against LA Galaxy on Sunday, and a rare win for Inter Miami CF as they temporarily halted Orlando City SC‘s rise in the Eastern Conference.

Jeff Carlisle recaps the weekend with a brand-new edition of MLS Power Rankings for all 26 clubs.

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Previous ranking: 2

Next MLS match: vs. Chicago Fire, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Saturday’s match against Toronto was precisely the kind of game which in the past the Union would’ve fallen flat. Not so this time, as Philadelphia — and hat-trick hero, Sergio Santos — produced one of the most dominating performances in its history, winning 5-0. The Supporters Shield is there for the taking. Can the Union close the deal?

Previous ranking: 1

Next MLS match: vs. New York City FC, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET)

Okay, so Pablo Piatti, Jozy Altidore and Chris Mavinga were among the bigger absences last weekend for TFC. That doesn’t fully explain getting hammered 5-0, even if it was by a very good Philadelphia side. It will be interesting to see how the Reds respond.

Previous ranking: 9

Next MLS match: at FC Cincinnati, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET)

SKC’s form was a bit uneven following MLS is Back, but the month of October has seen Kansas City rise up the table and it now occupies first place in the West. Gadi Kinda has also proved to be quite the pickup, tallying his sixth goal of the season in a 4-0 win over Colorado.

Previous ranking: 4

Next MLS match: vs. LA Galaxy, Weds. Oct. 28 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Usually the Timbers would be pleased with a road draw at rivals Seattle. Except for the fact that Thursday’s 1-1 tie marked the second time in as many weeks that Portland coughed up a stoppage-time equalizer. Cleaning up its defending on set pieces is paramount for the Timbers down the stretch.

Previous ranking: 5

Next MLS match: at Vancouver Whitecaps, Tues. Oct. 27 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Will Bruin grabbed a precious point for Seattle at the death against Portland, but taking two points from the last three games has allowed Kansas City to leap over it in the West. At the risk of being repetitive, Raul Ruidiaz‘s return can’t come soon enough.

Previous ranking: 3

Next MLS match: vs. Atlanta United FC, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET)

The Lions’ 12-game unbeaten streak came to an end at last with a defeat to Miami, but results have been a bit less consistent this month. Can new signing Alexander Alvarado give Orlando the attacking spark it needs?

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Miami stun Orlando with a late goal to secure a 2-1 win and boost their playoff ambitions. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 6

Next MLS match: at New York Red Bulls, Weds. Oct. 28 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

A top-four finish — and a home playoff date — appears to be slipping away from the Revs following a loss to Philadelphia and a draw against Nashville in the past week. At least the return of Carles Gil from injury gives New England hope that it can begin climbing up the table again.

Previous ranking: 8

Next MLS match: at Toronto FC, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET)

Even without a true center forward, the Blues managed to get the better of Montreal 3-1, and with Orlando scuffling their own playoff run-in, the Cityzens could yet climb up the table. Anton Tinnerholm continues to have a standout season for NYCFC and with Maxi Moralez getting back to his best, New York could yet cause problems in the postseason.

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Carlos Vela returns with a goal in LAFC’s 2-0 win vs. rivals LA Galaxy. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 10

Next MLS match: vs. Houston Dynamo, Weds. Oct. 28 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Could it be a case of perfect timing for LAFC? Diego Rossi, Brian Rodriguez and Carlos Vela are all back, and Vela even scored with a gorgeous chip in the 2-0 win over the Galaxy. The Black-and-Gold are hoping the November international window doesn’t disrupt things too much.

Previous ranking: 7

Next MLS match: at D.C. United, Weds. Oct. 28 (8 p.m. ET)

Granted, the Crew’s schedule has been road heavy of late, but such was their play earlier in the season that more is expected than one win in six. At least Darlington Nagbe and Lucas Zelarayan are back on the field.

Previous ranking: 12

Next MLS match: vs. Colorado Rapids, Weds. Oct. 28 (8 p.m. ET)

It wasn’t pretty — games against FC Cincinnati rarely are — but the Loons got a badly needed win thanks to Aaron Schoenfeld‘s late goal. A playoff spot seems a given, but the Loons look far removed from the team that looked so potent earlier in the campaign.

Previous ranking: 13

Next MLS match: vs. New England Revolution, Weds. Oct. 28 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

The Red Bulls have been grinding out enough points to be solidly within in the playoff places, and stoppage time was once again kind to RBNY thanks to the efforts of Brian White, who seems to have a knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Previous ranking: 15

Next MLS match: at Montreal Impact, Tues. Oct. 27 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

It was nearly an epic week for NSC, but they had to settle for a 1-1 draw against New England after beating Dallas 3-0. An encouraging sign is that the team’s forwards have begun to come alive. Walker Zimmerman has been outstanding at both ends of the field as well.

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Playoff hopefuls Nashville SC and New England Revolution finish level in Tennessee. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 11

Next MLS match: vs. Inter Miami CF, Weds. Oct. 28 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

After getting saved by the woodwork — and Jimmy Maurer — multiple times, FCD will gladly head back to Dallas with a point in tow. Taking a defensive posture against RSL after getting walloped by Nashville was probably the right move, but Dallas must get its offense back on track.

Previous ranking: 14

Next MLS match: vs. Real Salt Lake, Weds. Oct. 28 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Vancouver was an opportunity squandered as it kept the Whitecaps and Real Salt Lake within touching distance of the playoff race. At least Cristian Espinoza continues to be an assist machine. His 21 helpers are tied for third-most in MLS since the start of 2019.

Previous ranking: 16

Next MLS match: at Minnesota United FC, Weds. Oct. 28 (8 p.m. ET)

After being idled for a month by a COVID-19 outbreak, the Rapids showed considerable rust in losing to Kansas City. They’ll have to regroup quickly with matches at Minnesota, home to Seattle and at Portland over the next 10 days.

Previous ranking: 17

Next MLS match: at Philadelphia Union, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

The Fire isn’t out of the playoff race yet, but throwing away two points in stoppage time against the Red Bulls cuts deep. Not for the first time in the last few seasons, the component parts look decent enough, but it’s not paying off in results.

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Vancouver Whitecaps come back from a goal down against San Jose to win 2-1. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 19

Next MLS match: vs. Seattle Sounders FC, Tues. Oct. 27 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

The ‘Caps dug deep to come back and beat San Jose, a result that keeps it inside the playoff places. Considering that its “home” matches are being played in Portland, manager Marc Dos Santos deserves some kudos for the job he’s done.

Previous ranking: 18

Next MLS match: vs. Nashville SC, Tues. Oct. 27 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Manager Thierry Henry said he took the blame for the defeat to NYCFC after sending his players home to Montreal for some family time. But what’s really killing his team is the kind of backbreaking defensive errors that led to NYCFC’s opener.

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NYCFC put up three goals in the second half to down Montreal Impact. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 22

Next MLS match: at FC Dallas, Weds. Oct. 28 (8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Yes, that’s Miami currently hanging on to the 10th and final playoff spot in the East, and they did it against Orlando without the suspended Gonzalo Higuain. And no Atlanta, you can’t have Leandro Gonzalez Pirez back, especially after his stoppage-time winner.

Previous ranking: 20

Next MLS match: at San Jose Earthquakes, Weds. Oct. 28 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

If RSL fails to make the postseason, it will likely rue the home draw with Dallas, especially given the chances it squandered. Wednesday’s match at San Jose is shaping up to be a playoff place six-pointer.

Previous ranking: 24

Next MLS match: vs. Columbus Crew SC, Weds. Oct. 28 (8 p.m. ET)

Break up the Black-and-Red. That’s two road wins in a row following Saturday’s victory at Atlanta. The odds of making the playoffs are still slim but incredibly DCU is just three points back of the final playoff spot. Credit to interim manager Chad Ashton for picking the team up.

Previous ranking: 21

Next MLS match: at Orlando City SC, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET)

The Five Stripes are now 12th in the Eastern Conference and are playing just poorly enough to avoid victory. With a closing run that includes games at Orlando and away to Columbus, a playoff spot looks unlikely.

Previous ranking: 23

Next MLS match: at LAFC, Weds. Oct. 28 (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+)

Memo Rodriguez continued his solid season for Houston with a goal against Columbus, but the Dynamo’s 1-1 tie did little to help its playoff prospects.

Previous ranking: 25

Next MLS match: at Portland Timbers, Weds. Oct. 28 (10 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Yes, LAFC’s first goal was tainted. So it goes for the Galaxy. GM Dennis Te Kloese said his intention is for manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto to finish out the season. Given the way things are heading, it’s tough to see the Galaxy manager surviving much beyond that.

Previous ranking: 26

Next MLS match: vs. Sporting Kansas City, Weds. Oct. 28 (7:30 p.m. ET)

Last year, Cincinnati set a record for most goals conceded with 75. This year it might set a mark for averaging the fewest goals per game. At present, FCC has averaged 0.55 goals per game. The record belongs to the 2013 D.C. United squad that scored 0.65. FCC needs four more goals to avoid an ignominious mark.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

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– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
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Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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