Abby Wambach, USWNT

US women host Brazil looking to stay unbeaten in 2013


Abby Wambach and the United States women’s national team never settle. Not for second, not for losses and certainly not for ties.

There’s only one goal, always, and that’s to be No. 1. They have held that ranking by FIFA since March 2008, winning Olympic gold medals that year and last year, but falling to Japan in the 2011 World Cup final. Good enough hasn’t been enough by their standards ever, and with the last World Cup triumph coming in 1999, eyes have long been set firmly on 2015 in Canada.

So results like the 1-1 draw with New Zealand on Oct. 30 don’t sit well with the Americans, even if it was a seemingly meaningless friendly. After a lackluster match from the U.S., New Zealand’s Hannah Wilkinson buried the equalizer in the 87th minute, a result the Americans treated as a loss.

“Ties and losses never sit well with any of us, especially for me, having missed a penalty early on in the game,” Wambach said.

Sunday presents the chance for the United States to end 2013 on a high note against archrival Brazil, and despite the disappointment surrounding the last result, there’s more history at stake at the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, Fla. (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online here).

Only once has the U.S. ended a year in which it played double-digit games undefeated, finishing 2006 with an 18-0-4 record (four other times they ended a year undefeated with less than 10 games played). This year’s 12-0-3 record includes a win and a draw vs. European champion Germany and a 1-1 draw against Sweden. There’s also a 76-game home unbeaten streak and 38-game overall unbeaten streak on the line.

But all of those are just numbers; Sunday is about progressing, and each team will bring a crop of young players to the match.

Marta won’t be playing for Brazil due to UEFA Champions League commitments with her Swedish club, Tyresö, which will also keep Americans Christen Press, Ali Krieger, Meghan Klingenberg and Ashlyn Harris out of the U.S.-Brazil match. Aside from regulars Cristiane and Rosana, this Brazil team features primarily players with less than 10 caps, a very different squad from that historic 2011 World Cup quarterfinal, won by the U.S. on penalties after Wambach’s 122nd minute header tied the game.

“I never overlook Brazil,” Wambach said Friday. “You never really know quite what you are going to get. Sometimes they will send a young team. Sometimes they’ll send all their stars. They train less together than our team, so it’s always a question mark, what system they are going to be playing, what personnel they are going to have – sort of their mystery makes them so good.”

The U.S. has some unknowns at the international level, too. Erika Tymrak and Amber Brooks – both 22 years old and both at Bayern Municg – as well as PSG striker Lindsey Horan, 19, have all joined camp from their European clubs with two total caps between the three of them. Horan, still eligible for the 2014 U-20 World Cup, is unlikely to see much time with the senior team this World Cup cycle with four world-class forwards in front of her on the depth chart, but Tymrak’s NWSL Rookie of the Year season in 2013 put her on the map and has given her the opportunity to prove herself internationally.

Brooks remains an X-factor. She is the only one of the three young players without a senior team appearance, but she’s a versatile talent who can play a position that coach Tom Sermanni still needs to figure out: defensive midfield. Carli Lloyd has been playing in that holding role, but she’s more dangerous getting forward into the attack (in case two consecutive Olympic gold medal-winning goals weren’t enough evidence for that). Shannon Boxx, who owned the role over the past decade, is 36 and currently pregnant.

Sermanni’s most pressing questions right now rest in the back, as noted throughout the last few weeks, and Sunday is another chance to test that. The Scotsman has tried a few different back lines over the last three games, all in October (right to left):

Vs. Australia (10/20): Crystal Dunn–Whitney Engen (Rachel Buehler, 57’)–Becky Sauerbrunn–Meghan Klingenberg

Vs. New Zealand (10/27): Ali Krieger–Rachel Buehler–Becky Sauerbrunn (Christie Rampone, 73’)–Meghan Klingenberg

Vs. New Zealand (10/30): Ali Krieger–Becky Sauerbrunn–Christie Rampone (Rachel Buehler, 46’)–Kristie Mewis

Could Stephanie Cox finally see some time after being in camp last month? She gave birth in the spring and last played for the U.S. against Brazil on April 3, 2012. FC Kansas City defender Leigh Ann Robinson was also in U.S. camp in October after earning her first cap in September, but she did not play in the last three matches.

Whoever lines up in front of (likely) Hope Solo, they know they’ll need to keep an eye on Cristiane, who has 64 goals in 85 appearances for Brazil. But also keep an eye on 22-year-old Debinha, who scored twice in a 4-0 win over Mexico at the Valais Cup in Switzerland in September and was the most dangerous player on Brazil’s young roster. Gabi Zanotti will also make plays from a withdrawn position in the No. 10 role for Brazil.

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)
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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)
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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)
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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.