Graham Zusi Matt Besler

MLS Preview: Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting Kansas City

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Have you missed MLS? Of course you have! Worry not, because on Saturday, the 2014 season kicks off in style. Defending MLS Cup holders Sporting Kansas City travel to an undoubtedly boisterous CenturyLink Field, where they’ll take on the new-look Seattle Sounders (Watch live on NBCSN at 3 p.m. ET and online via Live Extra).


The hosts are far and away the leaders in this contest, having lost just once in eight meetings, and recording a tie just once as well. The last game between the two, in Kansas City, ended in dramatic fashion, with Djimi Traore getting the only goal deep in stoppage time.


But will all that change now that the Sounders have revamped their squad? Despite making the playoffs for a fifth consecutive season, Seattle have made major changes to their team. Gone are Eddie Johnson, Mauro Rosales, Steve Zakuani, Jhon Kennedy Hurtado and Michael Gspurning. In come Kenny Cooper, Chad Marshall, Marco Pappa, Jalil Anibaba, Tristan Bowen and Stefan Frei. The man in charge remains the same, however, with Sigi Schmid beginning his sixth season at the Sounders’ helm.

The Sounders will also be hoping for more from Clint Dempsey, who signed on as a DP last summer, but failed to provide as much of a boost as fans had hoped. The American just returned from a loan spell at Premier League bottom-side Fulham, where he did little to impress. Seattle will be hoping he settles in, finds a spark and spurns the team forward.


Sporting KC, on the other hand, have made few changes to their side. Goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen retired, and forward Teal Bunbury got traded to New England. But for the most part, Peter Vermes mans a side that’s nearly identical to the one that beat Real Salt Lake on penalties last December to lift the MLS Cup.

With so few changes, it’s unlikely the team’s style will change, either, which will disappoint some MLS fans who bemoan Sporting’s physical approach. But it’s worth remembering that Benny Feilhaber can pick a pass, Graham Zusi can select a cross and Claudio Bieler can score the goals. They can slice apart defenses – and where better to start than a potentially shaky Seattle backline?

What they’re saying

Schmid on whether Dempsey will feature: “He’ll play a role for us,” the Sounders coach told reporters. “I have to talk to him, he lands today and we’ve gone back and forth on text a little bit. I want to see how he feels after the flight, how many minutes he can play. We’ll just have to go from there.”

Feilhaber on Sporting’s defense of the MLS Cup: “If you’re not improving, you’re getting worse,” said the midfielder. “Teams are going to come after us a little bit more because they know they’re playing against the defending champions. But even though we won the MLS Cup, we didn’t play our best soccer each and every game. We have 10 of our 11 starters back, and I think that makes a huge difference. We continue to grow together and learn more and more how everyone plays. That only leads to more success.”


As a Sounders fan living far, far away from Seattle, I’d feel mighty disloyal if I predicted anything but a home win. It may not be pretty, but the hosts could very well be buoyed by their 12th man.

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.