LA Galaxy’s new Brazilian loanee … and thinking back to last year’s young MLS import from Brazil

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Juninho’s presence in midfield for the LA Galaxy is a testament to what Bruce Arena’s team can leverage in loan from Brazil, so if there’s any trepidation about what the Carson-based bunch are doing by importing 22-year-old Samuel on loan from Fluminense, fans can look at the Galaxy’s track record. Though the team has a soft spot for Major League Soccer veterans, they have been somewhat shrewd about what they order from the Brasileirao. (Defender Leonardo has also provided valuable depth.)

Immediately upon hearing about the loan, however, I thought back to Rafael – the (then) 20-year-old that D.C. United imported last year as a young Designated Player. Unveiled as having experience in Brazil’s first division, the young striker’s time at Brazil’s top level was actually very limited, his only score coming in a meaningless game to close the 2012 season. After arriving from Bahia, the attacker never truly made an impact, his only goal in seven games coming from a long shot that Columbus’s Andy Gruenebaum badly misread. By June, Rafael was gone.

Samuel appears to be a much better bet then Rafael, mostly because we can see what he’s done in Brazil’s top division. Over the last two years with Fluminense, the forward has made 49 appearances (24 starts) and scored nine goals. While those aren’t earth-shaking numbers, they’re encouraging given Samuel’s age, the teams he played for (a league-winner in 2012; a relegated team in 2013), and the presence of Brazilian international Fred, who served as the team’s primary focus in attack.

In that sense, this isn’t just another random guy from Brazil on whom an MLS team is taking a flyer. LA fans aren’t being asked to believe scouting they can’t see or take it for granted that being imported form a better league necessarily means something about future output. They can look at what’s Samuel’s actually done.

The forward wasn’t a sure-fire starter for Fluminense (one of the biggest clubs in Rio de Janeiro), but he was getting playing time, scoring a goal every 257 league minutes. If that production carries over to MLS, he could be a useful spare part. If he improves on it against a lower level of competition, LA’s found themselves a valuable piece – somebody that could provide Arena with some valuable flexibility during the long MLS campaign.

Of course, there are the obligatory questions of fit and acclimation, but this isn’t another Rafael situation, and LA’s hasn’t had to use a young DP slot to make the move. This is a young player who has scored goals with a big team. And now he’s LA’s latest experiment in loans from Brazil.

Here’s a little taste of what he can do:

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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.