DC United v San Jose Earthquakes

Drilling down on: at San Jose 5, D.C. United 3

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Man of the Match: With goals Nos. 9 and 10, Chris Wondolowski reassumed Major League Soccer’s goal leadership. That’s through just nine games, barely over a quarter of the way through 2012, and that’s quite a strike rate. His second Wednesday was a clean finish on a header; nine of 19 this year for the Western leaders came off a ‘Quakes noggin.

Packaged for take-away: 

  • Steven Lenhart had a pair as well, Wednesday, adding up to five this year. That matches last year’s goal total and leaves the curly-headed one just a goal shy of a career high (6 goals in 27 matches for Columbus in 2010.)
  • Credit both coaches and clubs for leaning into the goal-scoring efforts; no cagey, tactical chess match for this one. Both clubs poured on the attack and the result was a highlight reel disguised as a soccer game … and it was a hoot.
  • Like a few other matches this year, Marvin Chavez won’t show up on the score sheet as much as some others, but his contributions were immense, easily Man of the Match-stuff as well. Even though he plays out wide in San Jose’s midfield, the speedy right-sided man finds a way to insert himself busily into so darn many offensive sequences. His active work on defense is every bit as important.
  • Perfect “for instance:” Chavez won’t get an official assist for the ‘Quakes’ fifth Wednsday, but it was pretty much his goal. Chavez created just enough space for himself to squeeze off a well-aimed left-footed shot, which careened down off the crossbar and bounced in off Lenhart, who got credit for the goal.
  • Ben Olsen had hoped to solve his team’s back line injury crisis by moving Perry Kitchen (with plenty of experience in the rear guard) back into central defense.  But the bottom line, it seems, is that D.C. United’s defense this year will not be the same when center back Emiliano Dudar isn’t around. They were certainly in over their heads in this one.
  • Marcelo Saragosa replaced Kitchen as holding midfielder, but the veteran Brazilian doesn’t have Kitchen’s range or distribution ability.
  • Speaking of midfield distribution, does anyone remember a better passer or possession specialist at Buck Shaw than Tressor Moreno? Perhaps it was Geovanni during his rather short 2010 stay?
  • A 35th-minute shot-save combo was as good as any you’ll see in MLS this year. Dwayne De Rosario’s wonderful bicycle kick was heading into goal — but Jon Busch pulled off something special with his one-handed, acrobatic stop. Good stuff, all the way around.
  • De Rosario did push one past Busch, scoring a beauty on a night full of them in MLS. That was No. 95, so D.C.’s brilliant playmaker is five goals away from becoming Major League Soccer’s newest member of the 100-career goal club.

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.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.