2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

The moment that turned MLS Cup 2012

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CARSON, Calif. – You could feel it coming in the moments after the kickoff. LA Galaxy had just scored their 60th minute equalizer, and with the energy from an ignited Angel City Brigade at their back, the defending MLS champions poured through Houston’s formation after the scream of Silviu Petrescu’s whistle.

A ball played left, Beckham closed. Tapped forward, there’s Juninho and Omar Gonzalez. It happened in second. Swarming, piercing through Houston’s attack, LA mobbed the Dynamo, winning back possession moments after the rulebook charitably gave it away. There was no way Houston was keeping the ball.

MORE: What we learned from LA’s Sunday victory

For four minutes the Galaxy pushed their opponent to within a standing eight count, their pressure rewarded when Houston conceded a foul 30-yards from goal.

It’s was the edge of David Beckham territory – the area in which the set piece legend had made his career. On a night that was the Galaxy superstar’s Major League Soccer farewell, his storybook’s latest chapter would have gotten a fairytale ending had another long distance shot spun inside the opposition’s goal.

Instead, Beckham demurred, chipping to the edge of the six. There, Omar Gonzalez had an unchecked run toward Tally Hall.

The resulting chaos turned the match for good:

Throughout the night Tally Hall had been slow off his line, one of the few faults in the skillset of one of the league’s emerging talents. On Beckham’s restart, that hesitation cost him, though not as much as his defense forgetting to pick up LA’s most dangerous aerial threat cost their team on the scoreboard.

Bobby Boswell had been marking Gonzalez throughout the night, but in the chaos that followed the foul, the Dynamo center half failed to pick up his man. The mistake was understandable. At the end of an anarchic four minutes that left Houston begging for a reprieve, the dead ball seemed a moment to collect themselves. Surely Beckham would have his crack on goal, so all the team needed to do is erect Hall’s wall and be prepared.

Beckham defied them, and Gonzalez did his job, his header forcing Clark to try a desperation flick clearance. The ball was popped up to Tommy Meyer in the middle of the area, with his header put toward goal by an overhead kick from Mike Magee. Clark made another block, the ball dropping for Robbie Keane as Petrescu blew his whistle, pointing to the spot.

MORE: On Omar Gonzalez’s dominant night in Carson.

The moment Magee’s shot makes contact with Clark’s arm, Los Angeles is en route to their title. Donovan almost assuredly will make his kick, and without the lead, momentum, or any solutions for Gonzalez at in defense, Houston are long shots to derail the Galaxy’s title defense.

What if Beckham takes the kick and puts it out of play? Houston has their reprieve. If Hall catches the cross? Or Petrescu swallows his whistle on the handball? Houston likely survives the Galaxy’s rush in the same way LA weathered the Dynamo’s opening match surge.

But they didn’t, leaving that one, turbulent sequence to give the Galaxy the final push they needed.

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.

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.