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Special treatment comes at no surprise

Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United hold an eight-point lead in the Premier League.
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Rob Stone

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter.


Welcome back to Five-A-Side – your weekly spot to get caught up with all the chatter that will dominate the headlines each week.

Miss any of the action from the weekend? Want to be up to speed on what everybody is going to talk about around the water cooler and on the message boards? Don’t get left behind. Strap on your boots and get on the pitch to find out the five topics that have the biggest buzz this week.

Does United get preferential treatment?

This is a big talking point this week. While the good teams always seem to get the breaks, my point is that good teams earn those breaks. They are the ones attacking, creating havoc in the back, forcing the miscues and putting players in bad situations which ultimately force officials to slip up at some point. I don’t buy the idea that Manchester United — or any other good team — gets favored. These clubs are simply better-coached with better players. That adds up to them getting some questionable calls in their favor.

Having said that, two relegation threatened teams really got jobbed this weekend by inexplicable officiating. This bothers me. Manchester United or Chelsea getting a call doesn’t faze me. But having calls impacts two teams just fighting to survive? That kicks me in the head.

But that’s life in this sport. We don’t have replay, we don’t review things, and soccer has that human element we don’t want to take away. It stinks, and I do feel for them. But if you’re Wigan, and you point to that one call as the reason you go down, I say that you should be looking at all the other games that you had chances to earn points.

Who’s going down?

Wolves. They’re done. Sorry, there’s no digging out of that windowless cellar, where only scraps of stale bread are left over.

For some reason, — probably because I saw Wigan live at the DW Stadium this season — I want them to survive. But once I put on my focused glasses, I have to say they are stuck. They are not going to get points Wednesday at home against Manchester United, and few others look to be for the taking down the line.

So, it comes down to Bolton, QPR and Blackburn. Lately, QPR and Bolton have shown me just enough promise and hope that they will remain above the cutline. That being said, Rovers are going down in my book.

The points tell the story: Blackburn earned impressive results against big clubs, but those aren’t the points you need. The ones you have to earn are against mid-table teams and the sides you are fighting for survival with. I don’t think any of these teams should be looking at the ‘Big Five’ teams and expect to get points — instead, they need to win against the smaller clubs.

I do want to add that Bolton were robbed due to Stuart Holden’s injury. I am biased, guilty as charged. I like the kid a whole lot, both on and off the field. Yet, when small teams have a big element taken away from them like that, it's hard to expect them to achieve the success they were hoping for. I want to see Stu in the Premier League next season, I want to see Tim Ream continue to grow — and so apparently, I’ve become a Bolton fan!

FA Cup resumes in London, Liverpool

These are two derbies that feature one team that is clicking, and one team that is clunking.

Everton has been so difficult to play against throughout the season and with the form that Liverpool’s in, I just don’t see the Reds getting it done. The same is the case in the London derby: Tottenham’s woes have them questioning who they are, and are now left searching for the magic they had in the first half of the season.

What’s weird is that Chelsea has somehow become the feel good team of this season — you find yourself rooting for them and for Fernando Torres. I think a lot of people never expected they would cheer for them either, but after what they’ve gone through, I do think people want them to succeed. Bottom line: Chelsea and Everton are moving on to meet at Wembley.

Dempsey keeps on truckin’

Remember when you said the word “Clint” and “American soccer” and the conversation was about Clint Mathis? (Still miss his mohawk and Southern twang!) Now, it’s all about Dempsey.

Dempsey has absolutely seized the mantle as the “best American player” right now. What he has done has been appreciated in England and internationally — and it has been massively overlooked in the States.

I don’t know why, but the exposure isn’t there. OK, Dempsey doesn’t come off on TV as warm and bubbly — he’s got that tight hair, the stare and that look, the one where it looks like he can put a dagger in you. That’s what you want in a player, for sure, but maybe not in a poster on your wall.


Want to find out the top American performances overseas? Check them out here.

Personally, I loved the kid when he came out of Furman – when the Revs picked him up, I thought he had abilities you don’t often see in American players and felt he would do really well in MLS. There has been no pause at all in his growth: he has taken every step from MLS, to Europe, to the full national team, to the World Cup without a hiccup.

The American public — and I’m talking to you, big marketers and corporations — need to sit up and take notice of this guy. He and his family are about live comfortably for a long time because after this season is over, he’s going to be one of the hottest players on the market.

Come on, Toronto FC!

I’ve been on them all year. They deserve it. What Toronto did against LA in the CONCACAF Champions League was admirable, their home crowd was huge, and they advanced to the semis. But then they got embarrassed, and if you ask me, they set our league back with that. They have zero points in MLS so far. Zero! This is a team that has never been in the playoffs, and they’re always claiming “this is our year.” I’m tired of it. I don’t know what the issue is there, but top to bottom they need to sort it out. I love the city, I love their fans — but both deserve better.


See all the action from the fifth week of Major League Soccer's season.


Let’s talk about the Galaxy for a second too. I’m curious how close the panic button is to being pushed in the offices there. Failure is not an option for them. Remember though, Bruce Arena has been a patient guy before, who has shown he can get it done when things don't look promising. In 1996, we saw DC go from their slow start to winning the title. The Galaxy have the talent, but they are not playing as a team, and defensively they are tough to watch. My gut tells me that they are going to do something big this summer. I think they wanted to make a splashy offensive signing but they need help preventing goals. All is not lost right now, but the pressure is building.

Balotelli to MLS? Why not?

I would absolutely HATE Mario Balotelli as a teammate. Everything that I’m allowed to see from the outside screams, “bad teammate, bad guy.” And I get tired of the excuses around him; It’s his upbringing, he’s a young man, this isn’t his home — forget it. He gets paid a lot of money to do a simple job. All he needs to do is be a professional, be a good teammate and try and win games. Instead, he’s probably cost the team a head coach and almost certainly a title. I have no clue what team would actually want to bring him in and risk sabotaging their locker room, but someone will.

Having said that, I’d be fired up if Balotelli joined MLS! Imagine the conversation it would generate for the league throughout the soccer community. Maybe a move like that is what Balotelli needs — go to a lower club in a smaller soccer country and be the main man, rather than an element amidst a bunch of stars. Come to MLS, Mario. After all, Toronto needs a guy who can score goals.

A 15-year broadcast veteran, Rob Stone is the lead studio host for FOX Soccer Match Day, Goals on Sunday, and UEFA Champions League coverage. Follow him on Twitter  @RobStoneONFOX.

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