Few executives beyond Major League Soccer HQ in New York have meant as much to domestic professional soccer than Kevin Payne.
If we aren’t counting league officials (i.e., only talking about club officers), the longtime president of D.C. Untied has probably been the most influential non-owner since the league’s inception.
Today, Payne is on the move. The club has announced his departure, but without comment on Washington Post reports that his new MLS address will be at BMO Field with Toronto FC.
Payne had become something of a lightning rod around RFK Stadium. On the one hand, he was the architect of all those good times around the venerable ground, the early successes at the gate and in the win-loss column.
But the last few years have been lean, to say the least. There was a succession of failed coaches. The gap in playoff appearances (2007 until this year) could be traced not just to that coaching instability, but to a succession of flawed roster choices. Payne and GM Dave Kasper were always at the top of the player selection totem pole, a fact not lost on restless DCU faithful.
And there is the ongoing, seemingly never ending pursuit of a new stadium, one more befitting a club that once reigned competitively over MLS – but one that fell behind the times and sometimes demonstrated a lack of self-awareness, the aging lothario of MLS clubs, if you will.
It’s hard to pin the perennially stalled stadium negotiations on Payne. Truly, that thing has been a politically anchored mess that might have been impossible for anyone to untangle. Still, it will be one of his legacies, fairly or unfairly.
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.
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Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu
Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)
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 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.
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“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.
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.