Dillon Powers 2

Colorado Rapids’ Dillon Powers named MLS Rookie of the Year

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Three quick thoughts on this year’s honor, which went to the Colorado Rapids’ midfielder Monday:

Are we getting smarter about this stuff?

A good holding midfielder can stitch his team together in ways many fans and supporters cannot see without the most careful study. Casual observers might see a guy who doesn’t contribute enough to the attack, or does not manhandle enough opposition attackers for their liking. But there is a handsome value on the holding mid who can shape a contest through defensive positioning, by covering ground, by using skill and space wisely in linking possession front to back, etc.

It’s not always glamorous work. But show me a solid team, I can probably show you a steady-eddy holding midfielder.

So we come to Dillon Powers, the first-year Colorado Rapid who was today named MLS Rookie of the Year.

It would have been so easy for voters to choose teammate Deshorn Brown, whose stats made a screaming account. His 10-goals equaled an MLS rookie record – and if there is one thing we American sports fans love, it’s a “scoring record” of any shape or form.

We’ve seen central mids picked as RoY, Maurice Edu most recently, although that was back in 2007. But this one seems different because there was an attractive choice among attackers (Brown).

Young American playing centrally? Impressive

U.S. born-and-bred central midfielders have hardly been non-existent. Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, John O’Brien, John Harkes, Chris Armas, Kerry Zavagnin, Ben Olsen … well, the list could go on. They all made contributions from the center of the field.

But if we’re honest, the list of stately U.S. center backs, forwards and, of course, goalkeepers is probably longer. Bottom line, it’s tough for a U.S. man, especially a younger one, to make his mark as a central midfielder, where technical work and a savvy first touch is of highest value.

So, a bonus congrats to young Powers. Well done, young man.

The award was always bound for Colorado

But then, we were saying that three months ago.

What would have been really interesting: had Rapids’ left back Chris Klute, goalkeeper Clint Irwin or center back Shane O’Neill been eligible. All were practically rookies, although not technically so, having signed low-level pro deals before 2013.

Now that would have created a selection pool of RoY candidates from one team the likes none of us have ever seen.

(MORE: ProSoccerTalk’s staff choices for Rookie of the Year)

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.