Heath Pearce-Red Bulls

The Top Ten in ProSoccerTalk’s weekly MLS rankings

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(Nos. 11-19 are here)

10. D.C. United – The pressure is clearly mounting for a team last seen in the playoffs in 2007. On everyone, from the top of the organization to the last man on the roster. Question the performance of referee Mark Geiger in Sunday’s 1-1 draw at home if you like, but the tactics weren’t right from the start, the roles of key players remain an exercise in instability and the players’ ability to keep their cool needs a lot of work, clearly. Club leaders and coaches who pin too much blame the referees aren’t helping matters.

9. Real Salt Lake – The choice to rest two key starters (Alvaro Saborio and Kyle Beckerman) will be seen differently if RSL prevails in tonight’s must-win CONCACAF Champions League match. As it is, the decision did some damage as FC Dallas came into Utah and left with all the points. The club is 3-7-1 in league play since a win over Chivas USA in early June and has now lost four in a row in all competitions.

8. Columbus Crew – Supporters around Crew Stadium have every reason to be excited after seeing just a little bit of Federico Higuaín, who was a bundle of ideas and energy in the Crew’s 2-2 draw at Houston. Chad Marshall doesn’t get the recognition he once did, but he’s still a big cop on the beat for Columbus’ defense. And Eddie Gaven is quietly have a fantastic season.

7. Seattle Sounders – The Sounders responded to a bummer week with a professionally managed win over Cascadia Cup rival Vancouver. Fredy Montero’s role is an increasingly interesting topic. He clearly has starters’ talent, but the man is so doggone effective as a game-changing sub. Five of his eight goals have come off the bench this year, including last week’s second-half strike in the 2-0 win.

6. Angeles Galaxy – Say this for Robbie Keane: he tends to rise in matches when the two big Galaxy men, Landon Donovan and David Beckham, aren’t around. Keane’s goal and his overall play were instrumental as the Galaxy managed a 1-1 draw last week in Columbus, where hearts were heavy and emotions were understandably in a tough place for all. Meanwhile, whispers keep growing that this team is better without injured striker Edson Buddle.

5. Chicago Fire – Chris Rolfe and Sherjill MacDonald look like quite the central, attacking tandem. (Rolfe plays behind recently acquired striker MacDonald.) In fact, that looks like a major upgrade over the previous, primary tandem of Patrick Nyarko and Dominic Oduro. Rolfe’s five goals in 2012, all coming recently, helps explains Chicago’s recent strong form; including last week’s win over New England, Frank Klopas’ side has won three in a row.

4. New York Red Bulls – Tim Cahill’s goal was a point of contention, but probably shouldn’t have been. (C’mon, ref! Call the penalty kick there. Chances are, the home team scores and nobody cares about the decision.) Bottom line here was a dramatic 3-2 win at home over Portland. Heath Pearce (pictured above), looking like quite a mid-season pick-up, provided the late game-winner. In fact, all three scorers Sunday (Pearce, Cahill and Kenny Cooper) were 2012 acquisitions.

3. Houston Dynamo – The sample is still quite small, but historically speaking, no MLS stadium has been as tough for opposition to pull points from. The Dynamo is 8-0-4 at BBVA Compass Stadium following last week’s 2-2 draw with Columbus. Some of the good results have come late; Adam Moffat hit the last week’s equalizer in the 82nd minute.

2. San Jose Earthquakes – Chris Wondolowski’s chances of reaching the MLS single-season record of 27 goals looked pretty good at one point. Now? Not so much. He did score Saturday against Montreal, although he would have preferred a win (or even a draw) over hitting No. 18 on the year. Colorado, struggling mightily, visits this week. The Earthquakes may have fallen out of the top spot here but a relatively soft schedule ahead provides every opportunity to zoom away with the Supporters Shield.

1. Sporting Kansas City – Peter Vermes’ team is wonderfully managing a difficult August slate. The latest positive result came Saturday in Toronto, where Kei Kamara’s sneaky little shot finally served to break down the home team’s stingy defense. Sporting is involved in a big one this week, hosting the New York Red Bulls in an ESPN2 contest on Sunday. That’s No. 1 (SKC) against No. 2 in the East, so it could say a lot about who eventually claims the conference title.

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

Seattle Sounders defender Brad Evans celebrates after Sounders' Nelson Haedo Valdez scored a goal against Sporting Kansas City in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat Sporting Kansas City 1-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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)
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)
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.