Sydney Leroux, USWNT, Mexico v United States

Late Leroux goal keeps U.S.’s streak against Canada alive


A first half goal from center back Kadeisha Buchanan put Canada on the verge of a breakthrough, but after its former resident turned nemesis equalized late in the second half, the team’s long winless run against the United States continues. With Sydney Leroux beating Erin McLeod in the 78th minute, the United States came back for a 1-1 draw in Winnipeg, Manitoba, running the team’s unbeaten streak against its northern rivals to 30 games.

Canada took the lead after 35 minutes when Buchanan, an 18-year-old defender from the University of West Virginia, headed Diana Matheson’s corner into the left of Hope Solo’s goal, providing the home side a lead it’d hold for over 40 minutes. Part of a defense that included two other teenagers (Surra Yekka, 17; Rebecca Quinn, 18), Buchanan spend most of the night giving a player of the match-caliber performance while keeping the U.S. off the scoresheet.

Twelve minutes from time, however, Canada’s hopes of claiming a fourth win in 56 games against the U.S. evaporated. On a cross from the right from substitute fullback Crystal Dunn, Leroux saw the ball dropto her at the far post, with her quick finish beating McLeod for another dramatic goal on Canadian soul.

Last June, the British Columbia-born Leroux scored the winning goal at Toronto’s BMO Field, giving the U.S. a 3-0 win in the teams’ first meeting since Canada’s controversial semifinal loss in the 2012 Summer Olympics.  Following her goal, Leroux responded to a crowd that had booed her introduction with a shushing finger against her lips, eventually lifting the U.S. crest toward the audience to reiterate her allegiance.

If there was one person Canadian fans wouldn’t have wanted to stand between them and a long-sought victory, it would have been Leroux. The players, however, probably won’t take things as personally. Instead, John Herdman’s team can take heart in a performance that looks like progress. The winless streak goes on, but so does the host team’s development ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

For the U.S., questions remain, but without a permanent head coach, it’s unclear who should answer them. The team again set out in a 4-3-3, starting veteran Abby Wambach at its tip, but failed to summon the intensity needed to pull off the setup. University of Virginia star Morgan Brian continues to be a willing subject in a defensive midfield experiment but at times appeared unaccustomed to playing at that level of the field.  The U.S. didn’t play badly, but for a team that just fired its coach while it sat No. 1 in the world, it didn’t play up its standards, either.

As hinted on ESPN3’s broadcast, Tyreso head coach Tony Gustavsson — a former assistant of Pia Sundhage — is now the favorite for the permanent job. Beyond current interim head coach Jill Ellis, it’s unclear what other candidates are being considered, with U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati having all but ruled out a NWSL candidate during an interview at halftime of this weekend’s Sky Blue-Boston match.  If his Gustavsson’s team’s participation in this month’s UEFA Champions League final is the only thing preventing the 40-year-old’s immediate appointment, the U.S. will surely have a new boss  by the time it faces France on June 14.

At that time, the U.S. can start moving forward. For now, the team’s treading water.

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.