San Jose Earthquakes v Chivas USA

Three good questions for: San Jose head coach Frank Yallop

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PORTLAND, Ore. — As opposed to last February when everybody was picking the LA Galaxy to run away with the West (how did that prediction work out for us), preseason 2013 sees the Western Conference’s powers in flux a week-and-a-half before the regular season starts. Real Salt Lake has shuffled their deck, Seattle’s admittedly in flux, while the LA Galaxy have yet to replace David Beckham.

Given the flux, the easy pick would be the reigning Supporters’ Shield holders San Jose, but while catching up to head coach Frank Yallop at Portland’s annual preseason tournament, it was clear the Earthquakes have their own set of challenges to navigate ahead of First Kick. New expectations and the loss of any surprise factor the Goonies would carry into the season are amplified by the more tangible issues: the loss of a key talent, injuries to a previously deep forward corps, and the challenge of matching a 2012 fueled by a number of breakout seasons.

If only this feature was called “As Many Questions As You Need.” Unfortunately, we get only three:

After your success last year, and how the season ended last year, how is that influencing your preparation for this year?

It’s the same as we would be doing anyway. You try to prepare your team for the first game and building a squad for the rest of the season.

We’ve got a lot of guys out – big, key players for us last year. It’s been a little bit funny in preseason. We’ve not had out full unit at all.

But, we’ve managed. We keep ticking on. A lot of young guys are getting their chance to play. We see what they’re all about.

One of the keys last year was not only [Chris Wondolowski] but the forwards around him. What’s a fair goal, as far as Chris’s goal numbers this year, and how is the absence of, say, Steven [Lenhart] going to affect that?

NOTE: Steven Lenhart continues his recovery from a torn meniscus suffered at the end of last season. The team has yet to establish a timetable for his return.

Alan Gordon’s out, too. He scored 14 goals. Between the two of them, they had 24 goals, which is a big, big number in our league. Simon’s obviously gone, Dawkins back to England, so we’ve got a lot of weapons that are not at our disposal at the moment.

For Wondo, we know he’s going to score goals. He needs chances to score. I think the big thing for me is making sure we do give him enough chances to bury chances. If you don’t give him any shots on goal then he’s going to (have to) create his own stuff, it’s tough for him. You give him enough looks a goal, he’ll score from goals.

For him to get 27 goals would be tough. But he’s grown. He’s scored 18, 27, I think 16. He’s always going to be one of the top scorers in our league. We just want him to continue that with us.

You had a lot of breakout performances last year. If you were going to pick one person from this squad to have a similar breakout, who would it be?

Um, that’s a good question. I think a lot of the guys last year, the guys that played, for sure had good years. Sam Cronin and Rafa Baca, you could go on and on with those guys. I don’t know.

I think Nana Annakora and Ty Harden have looked good in preseason, center backs.

Um, God, I don’t know.

It’s difficult to pick a new breakout star when everybody broke out in 2012. Beyond the injuries and losses, that may be the biggest issue for San Jose. Wondolowski’s not going to score 27 goals again, we know that. He’s going to fall back slightly to his normal, excellent level of performance.

The challenge for Yallop: How do you keep your team in first when the rest of the squad may see that same regression? Just like their Western Conference rivals, San Jose has their own unique issues heading into 2013.

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)
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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.