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U.S. under-23s: If the London-bound train gets back on track, they’ll need reinforcement


Putting the ol’ cart before the horse is part of the human condition. We just can’t resist.

So we talked at will of over-aged players for the U.S. under-23 side, which we always presumed would become the U.S. Olympic side – and would therefore be positioned to summon its three, permissible over-aged incredibles.

Well, that cart and the horse went off in a ditch Saturday.

It’s just a ditch, though; nobody spilled fully over a cliff here. There’s time and opportunity to put things right tonight, move into Kansas City this weekend and book a sweaty passage to London, even if the mission is tougher today than it seemed Saturday afternoon.

Should things go horribly askew this evening and the United States fail to move forward, we’ll fill up pages with second-guess discussion points.

But bummer of bummers: supporters and media will be denied their given right to discuss and debate these over-aged selections. What a shame, too, because this is a trusty favorite of quadrennial talking points for domestic soccer fans.  It’s a real-life opportunity to play fantasy sports: you study the team, pick apart its weaker points and add feel good about adding the necessary reinforcement.

I’m quite sure Caleb Porter will appreciate the assistance.

So we cannot be denied this chance!

Especially today, as we know much more about where those three over-aged spots should go. Two qualifying matches have taught us so much.

Assumption: Landon Donovan and / or Clint Dempsey would be needed to beef up the attack, to add some veteran wile and big game experience.

Confirmation: And how. Coaches will tell you that skills get you only so far. The game requires problem solving. It’s one of the things that make soccer unique. Timeouts in basketball and the very nature of football make those a “coach’s game.” In soccer, the man on the bench can only do so much once the referee blows his whistle. The players must think their way around the chessboard. The must quickly assess: What’s working on a given day? Where are the spaces to exploit? Where are the matchup problems? Who is “feeling it.”

Potential resolution: Donovan and Dempsey possess that faculty. And, of course, they own world class ability, as well.

Assumption: Center back was an issue. Carlos Bocanegra (above right) would be required.

Confirmation: Yup.

A veteran center back seems an absolute must. But should it be Bocanegra? This one deserves further thought.

The longtime U.S. international could clearly assist back there, adding much needed organization, leadership and plenty of solid tackling. On the other hand, he’ll be 33 by this summer. His shrewd positioning can help him mitigate a clear speed advantage some of the young blazers will enjoy – but he’ll still be exposed here and there.

Plus, this will be a busy summer to the Rangers man. He’ll surely be involved in U.S. World Cup qualifying contests. And who knows what might happen with Rangers, the fiscally fallen Scottish giants, now on the verge of financial ruin? A huge summer sale-off of big contracts (like Bocanegra’s) seems imminent. Not only will Bocanegra need time to change clubs and get himself established at a new address, he’ll need some time off during the summer. And that seems difficult if he’s busy leading the London effort.

Potential resolution: Geoff Cameron or Clarence Goodson.

Assumption: The midfield is solid, so the over-aged spots can be dispersed elsewhere.

Confirmation: Not so much.

The “Mix” was off Saturday, in more ways than one. Canada’s stacked midfield reduced Mix Diskerud’s influence as a linking presence. Further, the midfield never really found its rhythm or basic construction; credit Canada’s diligence and frustrating tactics for some of that.

Jared Jeffrey as the lone holding man never adjusted accordingly, never “found” the game he was in, giving away too many balls and failing to make a difference on the attack.

Potential resolution: Where is the United States’ particularly strong at the full international level? Central midfield. So, Michael Bradley, anyone? For that matter, Jermaine Jones, Maurice Edu or Kyle Beckerman might move things in the right direction.

MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting KC (video)

Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres, right, exchanges words with Sporting Kansas City's Kevin Ellis, left, and Soni Mustivar, center, after Sounders' midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (not shown) was given a yellow card for a foul against midfielder Roger Espinoza in the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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The game in 100 words (or less): There’s a ton to unpack here, so we’ll dive right in. The Seattle Sounders topped Sporting Kansas City in the final knockout-round game of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs. Nelson Valdez scored the game’s only goal, an 88th-minute header, but not without supreme controversy. For starters, Valdez was offside as Joevin Jones played the ball into the box, just as Matt Besler was on a free kick for Sporting earlier in the second half. Besler’s goal was ruled out for offside, Valdez’s was allowed to stand. Benny Feilhaber, perhaps in his final game for Sporting, played like a man possessed and so nearly singlehandedly won the game for Sporting at multiple points on the night. Stefan Frei stood on his head and refused to allow such an occurrence. Osvaldo Alonso could have been sent off twice on the night — once on a straight red; once on a second yellow — but finished the game with just a single caution. Up next, the Sounders will take on Supporters’ Shield-winning FC Dallas in the Western Conference semifinals.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three Four moments that mattered

10′ — Zusi hits the post with a strike through traffic — Benny Feilhaber’s through ball to set up this double-chance for Sporting in sumptuous, and fully deserving of a proper finish.

53′ — Besler heads home, but he’s offside — This is about as close an onside/offside decisions get.

79′ — Frei denies Feilhaber after a spectacular run — Feilhaber’s run was mesmerizing, but Stefan Frei’s save was the tiniest bit better.

88′ — Valdez heads home the late winner — If Besler was offside, Valdez was offside. An unfitting end to a thrilling game.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Benny Feilhaber

Goalscorers: Valdez (88′)

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.