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MLS Power Rankings: Youthful Philly replaces Columbus at No.1

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There is a new No. 1 in this week’s edition of MLS Power Rankings, with Columbus’ stumble against Toronto clearing the path for the youthful Philadelphia Union to become kings of the league. At the other end, Thierry Henry’s Montreal lost twice in a week to fall 10 places down the order.

Previous ranking: 2

Next MLS match: Saturday at Toronto, 7:30 p.m. ET

A scoreless draw at Cincinnati in midweek was underwhelming, but the Union rebounded to rain on the parade of Gonzalo Higuain’s MLS debut in a dominant 3-0 win as the heavens opened in Philadelphia, providing a deluge of precipitation and goals. Twenty-year-old Anthony Fontana and 19-year-old Brenden Aaronson chipped in with a goal each as the league’s model academy continues to power its strongest club.

Previous ranking: 5

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Philadelphia, 7:30 p.m. ET

Toronto moved just two points off the lead in the race for the Supporters’ Shield by knocking off Eastern Conference contenders NYCFC and then league-leading Columbus. Alejandro Pozuelo scored in both of the pivotal wins, serving a reminder that the 29-year-old is very much in the race for this year’s Landon Donovan MVP award.

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Previous ranking: 1

Next MLS match: Saturday at Dallas, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Crew’s three-week reign on top of MLS Power Rankings came to an end following their 3-1 defeat to Toronto — the most goals that the league’s best defense has conceded in a single game all season.

Previous ranking: 4

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Red Bulls, 4:30 p.m. ET

Orlando took four points from two trips in the span of four days, beating Sporting KC 2-1 before settling for a 0-0 draw in Dallas. For a club that’s never made the MLS Cup playoffs, Oscar Pareja & Co. are 10 points clear of the East’s final postseason place.

Previous ranking: 8

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Colorado, 11 p.m. ET

A couple of tense 1-0 wins — including an always-satisfying triumph over the Sounders — have the Timbers tied for the top spot in the West. Gio Savarese was able to rotate his squad, too, which is always a nice thing.

Previous ranking: 3

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Vancouver, 10 p.m. ET

The Sounders bounced back from their midweek disappointment against the Timbers with an emphatic away win against the Galaxy. Jordan Morris continued his fine season with a goal and an assist.

Previous ranking: 6

Next MLS match: Saturday at Miami, 8 p.m. ET

Heber tore his ACL in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to Toronto, so NYCFC will be without their No. 9 for the remainder of the season, but the club’s depth in attack picked up the slack as Alexandru Mitrita netted twice and Jesus Medina added another in a 4-0 win over Cincinnati. They’ll need that to continue if the Bronx side is to make a playoff run.

Previous ranking: 13

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Nashville, 7:30 p.m. ET

The wins came against strugglers D.C. and Montreal, so take them with a grain of salt, but those results have given the Revs some separation from those sides fighting for their postseason lives.

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Major League Soccer: Gustavo Bou (86′) D.C. United 0-1 New England Revolution. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 7

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Columbus, 8:30 p.m. ET

FCD manager Luchi Gonzalez managed to avoid defeat against his old mentor Oscar Pareja, but a 1-0 loss earlier in the week against Atlanta is a bad result. The attack continues to be feast or famine for Dallas.

Previous ranking: 16

Next MLS match: Saturday at Portland, 11 p.m. ET

The Rapids walloped San Jose 5-0, only for three staff and one player to test positive COVID-19. Here’s hoping that all involved recover quickly and get back on the job soon.

Previous ranking: 22

Next MLS match: Saturday at Orlando, 4:30 p.m. ET

After losing three of four, the Red Bulls outscored Miami and Montreal 8-2 for a crucial six-point haul. That those wins saw six different goal scorers provides further evidence that New York is still without a focal point for an inconsistent attack.

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After a wonder goal by the Impact the Red Bulls take over, winning 4-1. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 17

Next MLS match: Saturday at New England, 7:30 p.m. ET

With four points from games against D.C. and Houston, Nashville has lost just once — to Supporters’ Shield leader Columbus — in five September fixtures. Daniel Rios, who scored the Music City side’s lone goals in the win over D.C. and draw with Houston, makes him the expansion side’s leading scorer with two.

Previous ranking: 20

Next MLS match: Sunday vs. LAFC, 9:30 p.m. ET

RSL looked to have a pair of tough match-ups against the Galaxy at home and Minnesota on the road, and still managed to pick up four points. Goalkeeper Andrew Putna was sharp in the 0-0 draw against the Loons.

Previous ranking: 14

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Cincinnati, 8 p.m. ET

There was no disgrace in losing 2-1 against Columbus, but disappointment was the byword after creating more of the chances in the 0-0 draw against RSL. Kei Kamara is still awaiting his first MNUFC goal.

Previous ranking: 9

Next MLS match: Saturday at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. ET

The Galaxy have scored just one goal in their past four games, and just three with Chicharito on the field (compared to 10 against) this season. Sure, it’s a team game, but Chicharito’s production hasn’t been anything near what was expected.

Previous ranking: 17

Next MLS match: Sunday at Salt Lake, 9:30 p.m. ET

The Black and Gold’s season of inconsistency continued after a blowout win against Vancouver and then falling apart in a 2-1 home loss to San Jose. Meanwhile, Brian Rodriguez has one goal in 22 league and playoff appearances. LAFC desperately needs some end product from the attacker.

Previous ranking: 11

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Kansas City, 8 p.m. ET

The Dynamo’s winless streak has hit five after getting torched by the Fire and tying Nashville on the road. Matters would be even worse if Maynor Figueroa hadn’t popped up for his second equalizer in as many weeks.

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Maynor Figueroa’s late leveler helps the Dynamo leave Nashville with a point. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 12

Next MLS match: Saturday at Houston, 8 p.m. ET

A chance to get three points at Colorado will have to wait after a cluster of COVID-19 cases within the Rapids team, which means the home defeat to Orlando will stick in the craw for a bit longer. For those counting: just one win in the past seven for SKC.

Previous ranking: 24

Next MLS match: Saturday at Montreal, 7:30 p.m. ET

Having scored twice in his first 10 appearances, DP striker Robert Beric has scored in each of his past four appearances, including Wednesday’s 4-0 romp over Houston and Saturday’s 2-0 win over Atlanta.

Previous ranking: 10

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Chicago, 7:30 p.m. ET

Last week Montreal lost twice by a combined scoreline of 7-2 and followed it up with a 3-1 defeat at the Red Bulls and a 4-1 capitulation in New England. The Impact have just one win in September, conceding 18 goals in seven contests.

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After weeks of bad results, a wild finish gives San Jose their first-ever win over LAFC. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 26

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. LA Galaxy, 10:30 p.m. ET

After a 5-0 defeat in midweek to Colorado, another blowout seemed in the offing against LAFC. Credit the Quakes for a 2-1 fightback thanks to Jackson Yueill‘s ridiculous finish for the game winner.

Previous ranking: 19

Next MLS match: Saturday at Seattle, 10 p.m. ET

After the ‘Caps got smashed by LAFC last Wednesday, they pushed the Timbers to the limit — in a “home” game at Providence Park — but it wasn’t enough. Still, Vancouver is just three points outside the playoff places.

Previous ranking: 18

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. NYCFC, 8 p.m. ET

Gonzalo Higuain‘s debut will be remembered for a missed penalty and an ensuing near-brawl as Miami looked as lifeless as ever in attack, falling 3-0 at Philadelphia on the heels of being on the wrong end of a 4-1 rout at home against the Red Bulls.

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Fabian Herbers and Robert Beric net goals in Chicago’s 2-0 win over Atlanta. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Previous ranking: 25

Next MLS match: Saturday at D.C. United, 7 p.m. ET

Wednesday’s 1-0 win over Dallas was the first victory of the month for Atlanta, but followed it up with a 2-0 defeat in Chicago. The Five Stripes have scored more than a single goal in any games just twice since MLS play resumed in July, both times against expansion side Nashville.

Previous ranking: 21

Next MLS match: Saturday at Minnesota, 8 p.m. ET

Cincinnati was shut out by Philadelphia and NYCFC, collecting a point from its pair of games last week. In the nine games since returning from the MLS is Back bubble in Orlando, Cincy has scored just two goals.

Previous ranking: 23

Next MLS match: Saturday vs. Atlanta, 7 p.m. ET

Defeats to Nashville and New England leave D.C. at the foot of the league table. United have won just once since March. With the utmost respect to Ben Olsen and his decade in charge of the club, his seat surely must be getting warmer than would be comfortable right now. The same goes for GM Dave Kasper.

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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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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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