Sporting Kansas City v Columbus Crew

MLS Preview: Chicago Fire vs. Sporting Kansas City


• Chicago Fire will be without head coach Frank Klopas and defender Bakary Soumaré, both sent off in Saturday’s 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution. For Sporting Kansas City, Kei Kamara’s sprained ankle from earlier this month has not healed yet.

• The all-time series heavily favors Chicago, with a record of 23-12-10, but Kansas City won 2-1 at Toyota Park on July 7, and the teams played to a scoreless tie on March 16, way back at the start of the season.

• Sporting has lost three of its last four games for the second time in 2013. Last time, Kansas City followed up that run with a difficult 1-0 win over Eastern Conference rival Houston Dynamo away from home.

When the Chicago Fire hosts Sporting Kansas City on Friday (8:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), both teams could be fielding second-choice players in attacking spots.

Key Kansas City men Graham Zusi and Kei Kamara are questionable for the match, as is Chicago Fire leading scorer Mike Magee and the club’s second- and third-highest scorers, Chris Rolfe and Patrick Nyarko. As a result, neither club scored in its previous game, a 2-0 loss to the New England Revolution for Chicago and a 1-0 setback against the San Jose Earthquakes for Sporting.

Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen (pictured) has shown his worth as one of MLS’s top shot-stoppers in the past couple seasons, and he will have to be on point again for Kansas City to succeed in a tough Chicago environment. The way the wind whips around Toyota Park can confuse goalkeepers in reading aerial balls, and it can even slow down balls on the ground if it is blowing with enough intensity.

Chicago has lost just that one match in its previous five outings, a run that has seen the Fire draw closer to the line in the standings separating the playoff-bound teams from those whose seasons will end after the regular season. The team just above it, New England, was the one that beat it last week.

Kansas City, meanwhile, has a different goal in mind. Despite its loss last week, Sporting is just three points behind Real Salt Lake in the race for the MLS Supporters’ Shield, tied with the New York Red Bulls, Colorado Rapids and Portland Timbers with 38 points.

With both teams fighting for their lives in different respects as the MLS calendar nears its playoff run, it won’t matter which set of players ends up on the field — everybody will be desperate for points.

What they’re saying

Sporting Kansas City defender Seth Sinovic on playing the Fire: “It’s always a tough game against Chicago. It seems to be a battle, a low-scoring game. We took one from them last time we were up there in Chicago, and hopefully, we can get another one this weekend.”

Chicago Fire defender Gonzalo Segares on climbing up the table: “We’re definitely searching for points. Now, we’re in the final stretch of the season, with 12 games left. We’re right there. We’re knocking on the door. We’ve just got to keep pushing. It’s very, very important to get a win this Friday.”

Kansas City head coach Peter Vermes on the Eastern Conference standings: “Usually, the table gets sorted out a little more defined than it is right now. Everybody’s still in play. … A lot of teams are still in it. I think that’s the difference right now.”


It’s hard to see a makeshift Fire back line stopping Kansas City from getting through, even without Kei Kamara on the field. Sporting has enough firepower in its second string to take down a lot of first-choice MLS teams — and both teams remember how quickly (inside the first 10 minutes) Kansas City jumped out to a 2-0 lead last time they met. A win here will help Sporting keep pace at the top of the league table.

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
Leave a comment

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)
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.