Clint Dempsey 2

Clint Dempsey named U.S. captain for Costa Rica, Mexico matches


With Carlos Bocanegra absent, the United States needed a stand-in captain for their World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. Many put Michael Bradley’s name forward and there were suspicions Jermaine Jones could end up with the armband, but when U.S. Soccer announced that Clint Dempsey would captain the team over the next two days, the decision seemed to be met with a collective “Yeah, that makes sense.”

This is one of those things that only becomes important if you screw it up. It’s not that the captaincy doesn’t matter at all — the attitude within the team means it does, a little — but it only becomes important if the wrong man gets the honor. If the position is handed out carelessly or used by the boss to make a point, the decision could create divisions or undermine other important figures.

That’s not going to happen with Dempsey. Currently the most accomplished player in the team (and the least likely to be left out of a starting XI), “Deuce” getting the armband was the default choice.

“Clint is one of our most experienced players and ready to assume a more vocal leadership role,” Jurgen Klinsmann said in a release from U.S. Soccer. “He has been huge for us in World Cup Qualifying so far and is already one of our key leaders. We know he will do a great job for these two important games.”

Dempsey will be the fifth different player to wear the armband under Klinsmann, joining Bocanegra, Tim Howard, Jones and Kyle Beckerman.

(MORE: Despite scrutiny, Klinsmann may have plan.)

According to German outlet Kicker, Bradley was the only other serious candidate. Based on his presence, experience, and role in the team, it would have been a sensible choice, but in giving the honor to Dempsey, Klinsmann’s acknowledging the player that’s accomplished most. He’s scored in two World Cup, worked his way through English soccer, and is now contributing to a Champions League-level club. Those kind of CV bullets are respected throughout the team and cast him into a de facto leadership role.

To this point, that role may have been confined to leading by example or serving as an important voice in a smaller section of the team. That’s just how the team was set up before. Bocanegra was the captain, and Landon Donovan had his unique place in the team. Everybody else fit in where they could.

Klinsmann may be looking for Dempsey expand that role, something that makes sense given the squad’s turnover. The old dynamic’s being blown up. Now players may move in and out of the team, but no matter how much the squad turns over, everybody’s aware of what Clint Dempsey’s done.

(MORE: Bocanegra speaks out | Howard follows | Bradley: Anonymous critiques ’embarassing’)

If Dempsey can leverage that respect in a leadership role, it could help stabilize the team, and while you want to be cautious about reading too much into a two-game move, words like take “a more vocal leadership role” hints at long-term goals with this short-term move.

Though he’s long been near the center of fan attentions, it may be time for “Deuce” may be asked to move front-and-center within the team.

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.

David Moyes faces FA charges after being sent off during EFL Cup

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David Moyes and Sunderland have gotten off to one of the worst starts in Premier League history.

If they fail to earn a point against Arsenal this weekend, they will tie the 1995-96 Manchester City team for the worst start ever through 10 matches with two points.

It appears those frustrations carried over to the EFL Cup for Moyes. On Wednesday, the manager was forced to leave the dugout toward the end of Sunderland’s 1-0 loss to Southampton after he protested a no-call from referee Chris Kavanagh.

Moyes was charged by the FA for his protests, saying the manager “used abusive and/or insulting words towards a match official”.

It’s just another thing to add to Moyes’ plate as he looks to keep Sunderland’s hopes of safety alive in the Premier League.