APTOPIX Spain Soccer Champions League

Pedro strike sends Barcelona through on away goals

Leave a comment

Their nightmare unfolded for 70 minutes, Barcelona fans left ruminate over a Paris Saint-Germain performance that had not only stole an early second half lead but monopolized all the chances on goal. Seventeen times the likes of David Villa and Cesc Fabregas had tried to test Salvatore Sirigu, but with each errant hope’s collision with the side netting, flight into the stands, or meeting with a phalanx of PSG defenders, Blaugrana supporters were reminded of the two things that were about to see them out of Champions League: Lionel Messi was hurt; and their side had been second best.

When Messi’s 62nd minute arrival failed to pay immediate dividends, the feeling started to grow: PSG’s 3-2 (aggregate) lead might actually hold up.  Then, in a piece of sublime execution that could have been written on Jordi Roura’s whiteboard, Barcelona’s focal point ignited the move that secured his team’s Champions League survival.

(MORE: Bayern advances, and the state of Italian soccer.)

In the 71st minute, Messi received a pass in his office – the area right above the arc. His short ball forward found David Villa making a run through the box, with the Spanish international able to carry the ball across two defenders. Drawing in the opposition, Villa laid off for Pedro Rodríguez, whose assured strike into the right of goal hit PSG’s defense with a realization of the inevitable. As their shoulders sank under the burden of their new reality, you knew Barcelona was going through.

The feeling was familiar but still surprising, given how the match had unfolded. The idea that Barcelona would, of course, find a way to dismiss Paris Saint-Germain felt right, even if that idea had no place in the match’s first 71 minutes. The speed of Ezequiel Lavezzi and Lucas Moura gave Barcelona problems from the opening kickoff, and while the home side was initially able to match the Parisians’ chances with half-threats of their own, eventually PSG became the dictating force. By halftime, Barcelona’s possession gave them little more than reprieves between PSG attacks, and when Zlatan Ibrahimovic set Javier Pastore past Dani Alves early in the second half, the visitors finally translated pressure into product.

For the next 20 minutes, two banks of four formed PSG’s line. It wasn’t Chelsea-esque, but it was single-minded: Survive the next 40 minutes, and Barcelona’s out. Ultimately, Barça found a crack, leaving the Parisians to ponder where they could have found one more goal over the match’s 180 minutes.

source: APThat Barcelona was forced to lean on away goals to eliminate them might evolve into a point of pride, but when they think back over this year’s quarterfinal, PSG may see themselves as the better side for much of the tie. And rightfully so. Yes, Barcelona controlled the ball, but Paris Saint-Germain created more chances. They were able to play within their comfort zone for most of the round. The tie unfolded exactly as they would have requested. All that’s left is for them to regret that  planning and fortune couldn’t be parlayed into results.

But some credit is due Victor Valdes (right), a man whose recent performances for club and country are starting to justify the lofty praise his club’s supporters have constantly adorned. Gerard Piqué is also due some plaudits, the defender who has struggled for much of the season raising his level over the quarterfinals. Andres Iniesta deserves credit for pushing the team before Messi’s arrival, and of course, there’s Messi, whose first leg score and second leg contribution played a part in Barcelona’s only open play goals.

When 180 minutes ends 3-3, you can afford some mealy-mouthed conclusions, like Barcelona’s individuals carrying their squad past the better team. Those are the type of vagaries often used while try to explain that one side (PSG) had the better plan, superior organization, and would be more likely to win if the circumstances unfolded again. But in the talents of players like Messi, Iniesta, and Valdes, Barcelona has equalizers – the type of performers you need to advance through round after round knowing somewhere along the way, you just might be outplayed.

It’s a testament to Barcelona that they can face one of the most talented teams in the world, have an inferior plan, generally be outplayed (if only slightly), and advance despite the temporary loss of their best player. They may face a more talented squad in the semifinals, but they’re unlikely to face as many obstacles.

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
Leave a comment

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
Leave a comment

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

Leave a comment

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

Getty Images
Leave a comment

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.