As part of our ongoing package previewing the start of Major League Soccer’s 18th season, here are the best and brightest MLS men who are eligible to play for the United States na tional team:
- GK = Real Salt Lake’s Nick Rimando
Why we like him: Real Salt Lake’s backstopper is solidly ensconced as Jurgen Klinsmann’s third man in the net. Just 33 years old — not a bit too old for ‘keepers — he is about to begin his 14th season as an MLS starter. How about them apples?
- RB = Real Salt Lake’s Tony Beltran
- CM = Sporting Kansas City’s Matt Besler
- CB = LA Galaxy’s Omar Gonzalez (pictured)
- LB = New York Red Bulls’ Heath Pearce
Why we like them: Those who would like to debate the center back scene haven’t been paying attention. Gonzalez is a no-brainer (now apparently a U.S. starter until further notice) and Besler isn’t far behind. Beltran just edges San Jose’s Steven Beitashour for right back. Pearce is an interesting one because the Red Bulls and, before that, Chivas USA, like to use him at center back. But Pearce has 35 full U.S. national team appearances … all at left back. That’s his best spot.
- RM = D.C. United’s Chris Pontius
- HM = Real Salt Lake’s Kyle Beckerman
- LM = Houston Dynamo’s Brad Davis
- AM = Sporting Kansas City’s Graham Zusi
Why we like them: Pontius lines up at left midfield or forward for D.C. United; I’m sure he’d play along the right if asked for our little team here. Before anyone reminds me that Osvaldo Alonso is now an American citizen, he is not yet eligible to play for the United States; There are still some fairly significant FIFA hoops to jump. So, it’s Beckerman, who is well in the U.S. national team muddle of holding mids. Between Zusi, Davis and Pontius, you could move them around liberally at the three most advanced midfield spots.
- FW = San Jose’s Chris Wondolowski
- FW = Seattle Sounder’s Eddie Johnson
Why we like them: A total of 41 goals between them last year in league play (27 by Wondolowski)? Yep, we’ll take some of that.
(MORE: full roster of ProSoccerTalk’s Major League Soccer previews and predictions)
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.
[ 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.
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.