Galatasaray win continues Schalke’s season of contradictions

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There was a freakish nature to the two first half of the goals that sent Schalke crashing out of Champions League, but in a season of confounding highs and dumbfounding lows, today’s elimination at the hands of Galatasaray seems apropos. Conceding twice in six minutes just before halftime, Schalke found the perfect complement to Saturday’s win over Borussia Dortmund, a complement that only the bruised hearts of the club’s followers will be able to appreciate.

Early this season, Schalke looked like one of the best teams in Germany, though a mid-season slide sent them crashing to mid-table. With Saturday’s 2-1 win over rival BVB vaulting them fourth in league, Schalke seemed to have turned a page, but after losing 3-2 at home to Galatasaray, the Miners have instead descended into another valley, one that sees them out of Champions League.

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Having drawn 1-1 at Gala three weeks ago, Schalke were favored to make their second quarterfinal in three years, and after Roman Neustäder stabbed home the opener in the 17th minute, that script seemed set to hold. Though Galatasaray had been the more progressive side before the goal, Schalke had players capable of protecting their lead and seeing out the match. They did it three weeks ago when they bled out a drawn in Istanbul. Surely they could do the same in Gelsenkirchen.

But former Miner Hamit Altintop derailed the plot in the 37th minute. His speculative 26-yard blast after a Gala restart froze Timo Hildenbrand before swerving into the right side of goal. With one low percentage strike, Galatasaray had not only equalized, 2-2, but also found a valuable away goal.

That away goal rule proved large in the 42nd minute when Hildebrand failed to beat Burak Yilmaz to a ball at the top of the Schalke box. The Gala striker was able to chip home into an open net for his eighth goal of the competition, giving Gala a 3-2 lead.

The score could have proved devastating, but when Michel Bastos converted chaos into a goal in the 63rd minute, Schalke had plenty of time to find a winner. With Gala holding the away goals tiebreaker, they’d need it. Their second half onslaught led them to 60 percent of the game’s possession and a 26-15 edge in shots.

But it also left them empty-handed. When Gala substitute Umut Bulut scored in injury time, the tiebreakers no longer mattered. Gala had won outright, their 4-3 aggregate victory sending them to their first quarterfinal in 12 years.

Ironically, they did so without game-breaking performances from their biggest stars. While Yilmaz has proven to be Gala’s best player throughout the tournament, it was the January acquisitions of Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba that were expected to make the Turkish champions a threat in the knockout round. Yet neither player had a significant impact on the tie. Instead, it was Yilmaz, who leads the competition in goals, whose performance defined the tie.

That may be something Schalke learns to regret. In the second half today, we saw what the team was capable of doing, but they only elected to find that gear once pushed to the edge of elimination. Just as in this weekend’s Revierderby, they played one good half of soccer, but unlike BVB, Galatasaray made them pay. Had Schalke played better, Gala may have needed more from Drogba and Sneijder.

Perhaps there’s no better way for Schalke to end this year’s competition: eliminated by a team who didn’t have to play their best to advance. Whether you confine your scope to today’s game, that last week, or expand it to the entire season, Schalke is a team of contradictions. And those contradictions allowed Galatasaray to go into Gelsenkirchen and eliminate them from Champions League.

Toronto FC beats Crew 5-0 to extend unbeaten streak to 8

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TORONTO (AP) Victor Vazquez scored twice and Toronto FC routed the Columbus Crew 5-0 on Friday night to extend its unbeaten streak to a franchise record-matching eight games.

[ MORE: Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape ]

Toronto (8-1-5) is 7-0-1 since its lone league loss of the season, a 2-1 decision in Columbus on April 15. Columbus (6-7-1) has lost five of seven since topping Toronto.

Justin Morrow and substitutes Jonathan Osorio and Jordan Hamilton also scored for MLS-leading Toronto. The Canadian team also was unbeaten in eight games (4-0-4) from May 8 to July 10, 2010.

Toronto was reduced to 10 men in the 81st minute when midfielder Marky Delgado was red-carded for a studs-up tackle on Columbus captain Wil Trapp. Osorio and Hamilton then scored to pad the lead for Toronto in its sixth shutout of the season.

Toronto played without the starting forward tandem of Sebastian Giovinco (injured) and Jozy Altidore (suspended for yellow card accumulation). Defender Nick Hagglund also is injured.

Agent: Barcelona offered more than Real for Vinicius Junior

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If Vinicius Junior can become half the player at Real Madrid that Neymar has lived up to be at Barcelona, Los Blancos will be pretty pleased.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on Monaco’s Silva ]

Real closed the deal for the 16-year-old Brazilian this week, but there were several other lucrative offers on the table, according to the player’s agent, Frederico Pena.

[ MORE: Totti leaves future uncertain heading into final Roma match ]

That includes bitter Spanish rivals Barcelona.

The agent stated that the Blaugrana did in fact offer a higher deal to acquire the Brazilian, however, he felt it would have complicated matters further to seek a greater offer from Real.

“There is practically unanimous view of the deal as a success,” Pena said. “If anybody gets criticised it is Real Madrid, for the risk they have taken, but they are sure that it will work. There were other clubs interested, and one offered to pay more money … Barca’s remuneration package offer for the player was higher than Real Madrid.

“But as we had reached an agreement with Real, we did not want to make this last push for them to match it. That could have embittered the relationship. Many people think it is crazy what Madrid are doing, but they were not alone in this craziness. They were not the only ones willing to pay this much for Vinicius.”

Pena also clarified as to why Vinicius chose Real over Barcelona, citing the player’s excitement about the development of Los Blancos during recent seasons under manager Zinedine Zidane and prior.

“Because Vinicius liked Madrid’s project better. There is always the feeling that players choose based on financial reasons, but that is not true. I assure you of that. Real Madrid’s negotiating posture was better.”

Real is on the verge of winning its third UEFA Champions League trophy in the last four seasons as the club prepares to face Juventus in the upcoming final.

Zidane’s men also won La Liga during the 2016/17 campaign.

Pulisic pleased with U.S. Soccer’s improved landscape

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U.S. Soccer has come a long way over the years, and one of the nation’s most promising young players recognizes the progress the United States has made.

[ MORE: Man City acquire Monaco’s Silva after passing medical ]

Christian Pulisic, who plays for Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, is one of several young talents that U.S. hopes to finally bring the American men a moment of glory on the biggest of stages — the World Cup.

The 18-year-old has done just about everything a player of his age could do. He’s played in one of the top leagues in the world, appeared in various UEFA Champions League matches and now he’s likely on pace to appear in the 2018 World Cup, assuming the USMNT advances out of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

The U.S., who have reached the World Cup during seven straight cycles, have come a long way in a short period of time, and Pulisic is happy with the improving U.S. Soccer landscape.

“It’s been big flaw of ours in the soccer department that a lot of our best athletes go and play other sports,” Pulisic told The Guardian. “But I think young players have seen me, and others, go over to Europe and play in some of the best leagues — and MLS is improving so much too.

“There’s so much potential and I think it’s changing: we’ve had some bigger athletes in the past but I don’t think that defines us anymore.

“We’re going to keep moving forward, developing young players and we’re going to have a really good shot in the next few years.”

During this past Bundesliga season, Pulisic recorded three goals and added six assists for a club that has become well known for its high-powered offensive attack.

Report: Kyle Walker a top target for Manchester City

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Manchester City could be looking to bolster its backline further this summer, and the Citizens could turn to Tottenham for help.

[ MORE: Man City closing in on acquiring Monaco’s Silva ]

According to ESPN FC, Pep Guardiola‘s side is growing more and more enamored with Spurs defender Kyle Walker and believes City can acquire the experienced outside back prior to the 2017/18 Premier League season.

With City already losing Pablo Zabaleta and Bacary Sagna since the end of the PL season, Guardiola will have to address the club’s lack of depth at outside back.

Several other big clubs have been considered in the running for Walker’s services, including Chelsea, Manchester United and Bayern Munich.

The 26-year-old has been at White Hart Lane since joining Spurs in 2009 from Sheffield United and has made 222 appearances for the club in that span.