Houston Dynamo v Sporting Kansas City - Eastern Conference Semifinals

Wasteful Sporting Kansas City bombs out of MLS playoffs


Sometimes it certainly is possible to set a tempo a little too high. Sporting Kansas City showed us how it can happen.

The Eastern Conference champions, definitely the better team Wednesday at Livestrong Sporting Park, gave the Houston Dynamo all the helter-skelter, hell-bent, high-pressure soccer the visitors could handle in the back half of their conference semifinal.

SKC had everything in the performance – except, that is, a little composure near goal.

They needed two in order to match Houston’s pair of goals from Sunday’s opener in the series. They got just one – but, oh, did they miss a bundle.

Kansas City won, 1-0, but fell to the Dynamo on total goal aggregate over the two-game series, 2-1.

Considering the amount of possession and the number of quality chances created (the home team out-shot Houston 20-3), it’s fair to say that SKC’s season is ending prematurely because of some terribly wasteful finishing.

It looked like one of those games from the earliest minutes. Let’s go through the list that will haunt SKC fans

  • In the early minutes, striker C.J. Sapong broke free just to the right of goal but shot directly at Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall from 18 yards.
  • Not long after, Kei Kamara arranged a nice little something for Graham Zusi from the right, but the U.S. international got under the ball and left his shot from about 12 yards well high.
  • A few minutes after that, Kamara was in the middle for a shot with lots of potential, but saw that one that blocked from about 14 yards.
  • On a quality, headed layoff from Kamara, Sapong failed to connect solidly from point blank range, just outside the six-yard box. The “shot” rolled harmlessly to Hall. (You’re going to keep seeing Sapong’s name on this list.)
  • Sapong got loose for a first-half stoppage time header off a sharp corner kick delivery from Zusi, but that effort went well wide. Zusi, by the way, was all over the place, doing his part and then some to help his team dominate possession and create some of these chances.
  • None of that, by the way, is even considering Kamara’s snapped header, down low toward the far post, on another of Zusi’s precision free kick deliveries. That one went wide, too. Kamara was called offside, but the point is all the same. It was more haphazard finishing.
  • In the second half, Sapong, on a cross from Myers, got over Houston center back Andrew Hainault but watched his header fly well high.
  • Peterson Joseph shook free and, with time and the ball on his favored right foot, went way wide from about 15 yards wide.
  • Sapong had a chance to redirect a Kamara shot but failed to push it toward goal from 12 yards in the 66th minute.
  • Shortly after that, Sapong squeezed in between Houston’s two center backs and Hall, but squandered another one, blowing his shot from 12 yards into the stands, high of goal.
  • Oriol Rosell had time to line up a long-range effort but sprayed his effort from 22 yards harmlessly wide to the left.
  • Finally, center back Matt Besler – in fairness, he isn’t paid to score goals – lifted his right leg high and twisted somewhat awkwardly to volley over goal from close range.

There were a couple of others that were crisply hit, but right toward Hall.

In fact, what you’ll see there, or more accurately will not see there, are a bunch of stretching, diving, heroic saves from Hall. Houston’s No. 1 had another solid match, getting off his line quickly and confidently to snatch the balls that needed snatching.

But SKC will rue all those chances to test the visiting goalkeeper, at very least.

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.