Where they stand: Groups A through D after round one of UEFA Champions League

1 Comment

A six-game season leaves very little margin for error. This can be easy to forget with Champions League because the group stage is so spread out, leaving too much time to fine solace in the two months teams have to recover. But if this were a league and one-sixth of the season (six or seven games) had done by, every headline about the team would include the word “panic.” The truth is surely somewhere in between.

A better, more nuanced way to look at it: There are certain matches you expect to win to get the points you need to advance. When that doesn’t happen, group stage becomes unforgiving. All of a sudden you’re staring at games you thought you could lose realizing you now need a result.

[MORE: Champions League Roundup: Upsets give way to goals.]

That’s where Real Sociedad is after today’s loss. Same with Galatasaray, Olympaicos, and Viktoria Plzen. Each team lost at home, meaning at some point (if they want to advance) they’ll need to go on the road to reclaim what they’ve lost.

Conversely, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Real Madrid, and Shakhtar Donetsk each created room for error. With road wins, they bought themselves one slip. Drop points at home later in the tournament, and they can lean on today’s result. In the case of Shakhtar, if you’re likely to be in a battle for a knockout round spot with the team you just beat, you’ve created a huge obstacle for your rival.

[MORE: European titans find from on Champions League’s first day.]

Beyond the standings, those are the scenarios you have to look at after match day one. It’s not so much where you sit right now. It’s more about whether you’ve taken points you shouldn’t have or dropped points you wanted.

Here’s where Groups A through D stand after day one of Champions League.

To each of these standings we’ve added a column labeled +/-: a crude attempt to track how many points a team has dropped at home (minus) or picked up on the road (plus). It’s a very crude attempt to gauge the extent to which teams are holding serve.

Group A
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Manchester United 1 1 0 0 4 2 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 0
Shakhtar Donetsk 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Bayer Leverkusen 1 0 0 1 2 4 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 0
Real Sociedad 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

Manchester United’s win was convincing, but they essentially held serve at home against Bayer. The Germans now know where they stand without dropping any significant points. Every team’s aware they could lose at Old Trafford.

Shakhtar, however, scored a huge win, particularly considering they were decidedly outplayed in the first half at San Sebastian.  After two second half goals, the Ukrainian champions snatched three road points against one of the teams they’ll compete with for (at least) second place. In the process, they dealt Real Sociedad a significant blow.

[MORE: Rooney’s double gives Moyes’s first Champions League win.]

Group B
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Real Madrid 1 1 0 0 6 1 5 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Juventus 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1 +1
FC Copenhagen 1 0 1 0 1 1 0 0-1-0 0-0-0 1 -2
Galatasaray 1 0 0 1 1 6 -5 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

Gala’s plus-minus column reads -3, but they’re not the only team that’s going to lose at home to Real Madrid. There’s some chance that may even out over the course of the tournament.

Likewise, Juventus may be disappointed with their result, but the big picture’s more kind. They picked up a road point, and while they may have expected to get a win in Copenhagen, holding serve at home will likely get them into the knockout round.

[MORE: Ronaldo records hat trick in win at Gala.]

[MORE: Drogba injured, taken off in Istanbul.]

[MORE: Rib injury forces Casillas off early.]

Group C
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Paris Saint-Germain 1 1 0 0 4 1 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
Benfica 1 1 0 0 2 0 2 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Anderlecht 1 0 0 1 0 2 -2 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 +0
Olympiacos 1 0 0 1 1 4 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

This is what’s so crazy about PSG’s performance (and Shakhtar’s, for that matter). They were second best for 45 minutes but still even going into halftime, where they could have braced themselves to dig in and survive their road challenge. Instead, they go out and secure a multi-goal victory, turning a tolerable draw or loss into three road points.

On the other end of that is Olympiacos, whose loss isn’t as disastrous as Real Sociedad’s. PSG is the clear alpha in this group and could take points in their other road matches. If that happens, Olympiacos’s loss could turn out to like Anderlecht’s: Disappointing, but ultimately not a big deal.

Group D
Team GP W D L GF GA GD Home Away PTS +/-
Bayern München 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 1-0-0 0-0-0 3 +0
Manchester City 1 1 0 0 3 0 3 0-0-0 1-0-0 3 +3
CSKA Moscow 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-0 0-0-1 0 0
Viktoria Plzen 1 0 0 1 0 3 -3 0-0-1 0-0-0 0 -3

The problem for Plzen, who may be looking at Europa League (third place) as a viable goal, is not so much the loss today. It’s what happens when Manchester City goes to Russia. City could win there, to0, giving CSKA the same -3 road points Plzen were dealt today. But CSKA’s also capable of winning that game. Or at least drawing. Plzen may not have lost ground on City as much as they’ve potentially lost ground to CSKA.

For the Russians, today’s result was a rare loss from a team that’d gone undefeated through eight Russian rounds. But ultimately, this group isn’t going to be defined by results in Munich.

[MORE: Bayern dominant to open title defense.]

[MORE: Manchester City explodes for three quick second half goals.]

MLS Cup Playoffs: Seattle Sounders 1-0 Sporting KC (video)

Seattle Sounders defender Roman Torres, right, exchanges words with Sporting Kansas City's Kevin Ellis, left, and Soni Mustivar, center, after Sounders' midfielder Osvaldo Alonso (not shown) was given a yellow card for a foul against midfielder Roger Espinoza in the first half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Seattle. (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.