Week 8 Preview: Playoff rematches in Seattle, New England; new tests for D.C., New York


Week eight of Major League Soccer’s season begins on Saturday at 4:00 p.m. Eastern in Seattle and Montréal, with weekend’s eight-match slate also featuring two rematches from the 2013 postseason. Here is our quick look at the coming weekend of MLS action.

Note: All rankings reflect PST’s weekly MLS Power Rankings.

#3 Seattle Sounders vs. #8 Colorado Rapids, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Seattle won at Chivas USA, 2-1; Colorado and visiting San Jose played out a 0-0 draw.

Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins have become Major League Soccer’s closest thing to must-watch television. At least, come the last 10 minutes of the game they are. In each of the league three weeks, the Sounders’ forward tandem has produced at least one goal in the last 10 minutes, helping Seattle to seven points over its three-game road trip. They’re not necessarily unstoppable (they seem to be picking their spots), but since the calendar turned to April, nobody’s been able to keep the Sounders’ high-price tandem from taking over the game’s final moments.

Now it’s your turn, Drew Moor. And Shane O’Neill (assuming you start over Marvell Wynne). Same goes for José Mari or Jared Watts, as well as Dillon Powers and Nick LaBrocca. The team you faced in last year’s Western Conference 4-5 game? They’re much, much better now. Here’s your chance to step up.

As Matt Hedges found out two weeks ago, and Bobby Burling learned last week, tracking two forwards who can be as dangerous in front of a defense as running through it stresses but your decision-making. It also provides a huge challenge the defense’s organization. Come the 80th minute, we’ll find out if Colorado’s up to the challenge.


#16 D.C. United vs. #5 FC Dallas, Saturday, 7:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: D.C. drew in Columbus, 1-1; FC Dallas won at home, 2-1 over Toronto

#7 Columbus Crew vs. #17 New York Red Bulls, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Columbus was held at home against D.C. United, 1-1; New York was off but beat Houston midweek, 4-0

D.C. United’s enjoying a four-game unbeaten run, but with its two wins coming at home against New England and New York, there are some strength of competition concerns. With FC Dallas visiting RFK Stadium, however, those concerns disappear. Perhaps a flat Dallas will leave us questioning if their hot start has fizzled out, but if Óscar Pareja’s team plays like it has over the season’s first seven weeks, United will face its stiffest challenge since week one.

For New York, two convincing wins in a row have quelled concerns the team’s slow start was more than an unexpected trough, but as is the case with D.C., there are questions about the competition. Philadelphia and Houston wavered between impotent and inept. Columbus, who D.C. (to its credit) took a draw from last week, will present a stiffer challenge.

source: Getty ImagesWELCOME TO THE GUN SHOW
#2 Real Salt Lake vs. #9 Vancouver Whitecaps, Saturday, 9:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Real Salt Lake beat visiting Portland, 1-0; Vancouver came back to draw LA Galaxy, 2-2

One team will have Álvaro Saborío, Javi Morales, João Plata, Olmes Garcia, and Devon Sandoval. It’s a diverse arsenal of complementary pieces, one that’s capable of being deployed a variety of ways – whatever way annoys the opposition most.

The other team will have Darren Mattocks. And Kenny Miller. As well as Kekuta Manneh, Sebastián Fernández, Russell Teibert, and Erik Hurtado. If his back allows it, former Chilean international Pablo Morales will be there, too. It’s the deepest, fastest, and possibly the most athletic attack in the league. They’re also highly skilled, too. While the … septet? … doesn’t form the same well-tuned machine we see from RSL, Carl Robinson’s crew has the potential to exceed that standard in the long-run.

Unfortunately, the Whitecaps are unlikely to let those talents loose at Rio Tinto. On the road, we’ve seen Robinson employ somewhat conservative approaches. Against the last undefeated team in the league, the Whitecaps may elect for wait for their opportunities instead of pursuing them.

#11 Houston Dynamo vs. #15 Portland Timbers, Sunday, 3:00 p.m. Eastern
Last week: Houston drew in Philadelphia, 0-0, but also lost 4-0 to New York midweek; Portland lost at RSL, 1-0

Want to impress all your friends and followers? Who doesn’t? Reinforce your growing MLS ultzy reputation by noting: This is a clash of philosophies. It’s the unwavering pragmatism of Dom Kinnear against the dreamer’s idealism of Caleb Porter.

Contrast the record of one of the league’s most accomplished head coaches against that of one of the profession’s newest stars. Note how much each team’s has struggled this season, use a cool clichés (“something’s got to give” or “rock and a hard place”), and see those shares and retweets grow. You are the master of your ultzy domain.

#10 New England Revolution vs. #1 Sporting Kansas City, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. Eastern
Last week: New England drew at Chicago, 1-1; Sporting slaughtered Montréal, 4-0

The last time Sporting was in Massachusetts, they saw Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe give the Revolution a 2-1 lead after leg one of the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal. But Rowe, hobbled with a hamstring problem, isn’t expected to play. Nor is Jose Gonçalves. Juan Agudelo is gone, and although he’s been replaced by former Sporting forward Teal Bunbury, the Revolution don’t have the same punch. Jay Heaps’ team is still building toward last year’s level.

Sporting Kansas City, however, looks like its title-winning self. Coming off a 4-0 win on Saturday, Peter Vermes side has hit an early stride, one that’s allowed it to pull away from March’s Champions League disappointment. And in contrast to New England, Sporting returns almost all the pieces that produced last year’s title.

Jimmy Nielsen may no longer be around, but Sporting’s still the best team in Major League Soccer. For now.


#18 Montréal Impact vs. #12 Philadelphia Union, Saturday, 4:00 p.m. Eastern
Last Week: Montréal was routed in Kansas City, 4-0; Philadelphia drew at home with Houston, 0-0

#13 San Jose Earthquakes vs. #18 Chivas USA, Saturday, 10:30 p.m. Eastern
Last Week: San Jose drew in Colorado, 0-0; Chivas USA lost to visiting Seattle, 2-1

Let’s try to make the best of these two, shall we …

The good news about the game in Montréal: You have options. Seattle and Colorado kick off at the some time. Though this game has the potential to be interesting if Philadelphia’s midfield is clicking, the teams’ first meeting doesn’t offer much hope. This match’s equivalent of Dempsey and Martins is either Andrew Wenger and Conor Casey or Marco Di Vaio and Jack McInerney. Wait for the highlights before you commit the full 90.

As for San Jose-Chivas, I’ve spent a good chunk of time defending San Jose this week, explaining why I see them as better than their 0-2-3 record. That doesn’t mean I don’t agree with the conventional wisdom about the Earthquakes’ entertainment value. Unless you’re a huge fan of good defensive tandems and want to zero in on Víctor Bernárdez and Clarence Goodson, this game may not offer much.

If Saturday comes and you find yourself watching this one, hit me up on Twitter. We’ll be each others’ sponsor.

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.