Vancouver Whitecaps v Los Angeles Galaxy - Knockout Round

Looking back at five minutes that defined Vancouver’s season

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It took only five minutes to sum up the Vancouver Whitecaps’ 2012 season, a second half span that turned a potential Vancouver upset into the expected result. Los Angeles put an end to the Whitecaps season, 2-1, helped by all mixed blessings that defined an uneven Whitecaps campaign.

It started in the 68th minute, Vancouver carrying the one-goal lead stolen in the third minute when Darren Mattocks placed a ball inside Josh Saunders’ left post. The lead persisted for over an hour before the five-seed had a chance to put one foot in the semifinals, a counter attack creating a three-on-three in front of LA’s goal. Matt Watson played a ball to Kenny Miller, whose flick back to the midfielder produced a hard shot from 16 yards on Saunders. The block went to Miller who couldn’t get a shot on goal, a deflection sent to Barry Robson in the right of the box. When he too couldn’t get a shot on frame, Los Angeles survived a chance that should have ended their title defense.

MORE: Drilling down on Thursday night’s result

The attack was emblematic of all the shortcomings Vancouver’s seen in their two Scottish imports. Kenny Miller, who started the game on the bench, did well to make a run that opened up space behind him. When Watson played him the first pass, he made a nice flick back into the space. Up until he had to shoot, Miller was great, but for a designated player brought in to score goals, the end product matters. When Saunders’ save on Watson’s shot fell to him, the former Rangers star was slow releasing a shot that was eventually blocked.

Why Miller was even in the game was a mystery. At this point, there’s little doubt Darren Mattocks is the superior player, yet much to his chagrin, the Vancouver rookie was replaced in the 59th minute. Was he too tired to continue? It didn’t seem like it. The teams were only 14 minutes into the second half. Up 1-0, Rennie just wanted Miller on the pitch. In the face of a half-season’s worth of evidence, he was the man trusted to help close out the upset.

Then there’s Robson, whose surly attitude and underwhelming production have made him Vancouver’s biggest disappointment. The midfielder’s had the misfortune of being ill-cast as the savior of Vancouver’s attack, Rennie often setting up with the assumption the Scottish import can be an effective playmaker. But that’s never happened. Vancouver was more potent at the beginning of the season than at its end, when a switch to a 4-3-1-2 formation doubled Rennie’s bet on his underperforming dynamo.

One minute after Robson’s hesitation allowed LA to close him down, the Galaxy had won a corner. In the process, Jay DeMerit was hurt, David Beckham having run through his right leg. As DeMerit lay injured, LA played short. Juninho eventually crossed for Mike Magee, who took advantage of poor marking by Robson to equalize. Of course Vancouver wouldn’t yield until DeMerit was broken, and of course, Robson would be involved in the goal.

DeMerit would never return, left to rock back-and-forth on the bench, writhing in pain as Martin Bonjour took his place in the 70th minute. As if anybody needed proof of DeMerit’s value to Vancouver, his absence decided their season. Landon Donovan’s run behind Bonjour found the Argentine’s outstretched left arm. Down he went, drawing Silviu Petrescu’s whistle before the Galaxy captain eventually launched a 73rd-minute match-winner into the left side netting.

So there stood Vancouver, emasculated over the course of five minutes. Their promising start had slipped through their fingers, leaving them to fight their way back with Miller and Robson leading the attack while Jay DeMerit sat on the bench. Yes, they’d made the playoffs, and yes, they’d proved more formidable that anybody expected. But if there was one way Vancouver had to end their season, that was it – reminded of everything that defined 2012.

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)
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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.