German soccer star J Klinsmann is i

Five points to ponder from U.S.-Antigua & Barbuda

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TAMPA, Fla. – The basic theme from U.S. players and manager Jurgen Klinsmann after Friday’s soggy 3-1 win to open World Cup qualifying: It was far from perfect and needs to get better, but “mission accomplished” just the same.

“We know we have to step it up a lot going into Guatemala, which we’ll do,” Klinsmann said.

All that does sound reasonable enough. Qualifying for a World Cup is a long slog, more marathon than one-game sprint.

Here’s what else I’ll take away from the win over tiny Antigua and Barbuda.

Let’s salute Carlos Bocanegra

Who cares if Carlos Bocanegra, at age 33, it already on the downslope of his pro career? He is so valuable to this team.

Not only is Bocanegra the unquestionable anchor that holds down the U.S. back line (along with co-anchor Steve Cherundolo, I suppose). It was Bocanegra who sneaked around to the back post to get that important, pressure-venting early goal – which the captain himself said just 24 hours earlier would be so critical.

By the way, that was No. 13 for  him in a U.S. shirt, and that ties him with Marcelo Balboa for most career goals among American defenders.

Oh, and he can still play left back in an emergency, too. Clearly.

Landon Donovan remains a valuable contributor – but in spurts

Donovan’s signature bursts of “caffeinated Donovan” helped create two goals: the first half penalty kick and Herculez Gomez’s second half goal of persistence. (Gomez had three bites off the apple of opportunity, staying with the play long enough to get the ultimate reward.)

Still, it’s OK to ask why Donovan can’t be a little more assertive a little more often. That is, in matches like this one. Why can’t the uber-Donovan make a few more appearances? With the L.A. Galaxy man, it’s always about motivation and mindset. I guess he had just enough of it Friday.

How many more chances will Oguchi Onyewu get?

At this point, what’s the point? Seriously. He was in for about 10 minutes when he made complete Raymond James hash of a play that reasonably could be expected to be contained. Peter Byers exposed Onyewu’s failing foot speed and his decision making, stepping around the center back to break in alone on Tim Howard and make the margin just one goal in the second half – not a comfortable place for the Americans.

Klinsmann is always positive, always a glass-half-full kind of guy. But surely that has its limits.

Klinsmann says he knows Onyewu is still “catching up,” after a long series of injuries. “We are not expecting everyone to play perfect games. If there is a mistake, it happens.”

Well, sure. But what if these happenings keep happening?

The sharpness must improve in the final third

Klinsmann said at halftime what everyone in U.S. fan nation (and everyone along press row) was saying throughout the first 45: They need to get their shooting shoes on and aim a couple more efforts toward goal. Klinsmann talked to Dempsey about it during the break; the striker pointed out they were trying to shoot more, but that two or three Antiguan bodies habitually in the way was problematic.

“We created enough chances, but then you’ve got to be clinical enough to put them away,” Klinsmann said.

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s Guatemala test

Tuesday’s match will look nothing like this one … well, unless it’s played in a monsoon. Then it might bear a certain resemblance. But not otherwise.

Antigua was committed defensively, and semi-well organized, at least. Mostly, they just got a lot of numbers back, often in a five-man back line look. Guatemala on Tuesday? As Clint Dempsey said afterward: “I doubt they’ll sit back at home.

We have more on this match:

Here, on Terrrence Boyd

Here, on Jose Torres

Here, on Man of the Match Landon Donovan

Here, on Donovan and Clint Dempsey

And here, on Jozy Altidore’s slippage on the depth chart

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.

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.