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Torres double sees Chelsea reclaim control of Champions League group, ease past Schalke

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With Samuel Eto’o coming off a weekend brace (and being pulled early from Chelsea’s match with Cardiff), many thought the Cameroonian international would start tonight’s game in Gelsenkirchen. But Fernando Torres, saved for today’s match while recovering from a knee injury, quieted all those misgivings within five minutes. That’s how long it took today’s number nine to put the visitors up on Schalke.

Despite some first half close calls, the Germans were never able to pull that goal back, and with second half goals from Torres and Eden Hazard, Chelsea had their second road win of their Champions League campaign. Cruising to a 3-0 win, Group E’s favorites regained control of their quartet.

The 2011-12 champions came into the day three points back of Schalke, their home loss to Basel to open the tournament leaving them above par for the competition. But after claiming full points today at the Veltins-Arena, Chelsea have pulled even with the Miners ahead of the teams; early November rematch at Stamford Bridge. Closing group stage with games at Basel and versus Steaua Bucharest, Chelsea’s have regained the frontrunners’ status they’d temporarily lost.

Though they eventually reclaimed that control with ease, the first half hinted Chelsea would have a difficult time. Torres’s early goal came ahead of a half where Schalke generated the better chances, with the hosts testing Petr Cech three times without equalizing. In the second half, Schalke maintained their control of the ball, but Chelsea started generating opportunities, Torres’s 68th minute goal giving the visitors a commanding lead.

It’s the type of performance we’ve come to expect from the new-look Chelsea, one that becomes more and more Mourinho-esque with every performance. Though on Monday the returning boss alluded to his continued adjustments to his new personnel, his players are clearly adapting to his philosophies. Rather than exert the consistent control that’s characterized recent Chelsea teams, this year’s group’s defined by their execution in moments, something that’s a hallmark of all Mourinho sides. While Schalke may have controlled the game’s tempo and possession (to the tune of 60 percent of the ball), it was Chelsea that defined the match.

source: AP
Timo Hildebrand (right) received little help from his defense on Tuesday, Schalke falling 3-0 in UEFA Champions League to visiting Chelsea. (Photo: AP Photo.)

Near match’s end, a counter attack looked set to give Torres his hat trick, but isolated one-on-one against Timo Hildebrand, Hazard finished Chelsea’s scoring in the 87th minute, putting the visitors up 3-0.

It was another poor performance for a Schalke defense that, having allowed 19 goals through nine Bundesliga rounds, has sparked another downturn for the inconsistent club. Torres’s opener provided a good example of their problems, a simple far post cross finding Torres abandoned by Dennis Aogo. Caught on the third goal, Schalke’s defense did Hildebrand no favors on Chelsea’s last bit of insurance.

With Basel drawing at Steaua Bucharest, Schalke’s chances to advance out of Group E were only marginally hurt. Still, the divide between the group’s best and second-best teams was obvious. It’s unclear why Schalke should expect anything different in two weeks at Stamford Bridge.

LIVE – EFL Cup: Manchester Derby, West Ham-Chelsea, Saints-Sunderland

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - APRIL 12:  Wayne Rooney of Manchester United evades Fernandinho of Manchester City during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on April 12, 2015 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
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There are still three more teams yet to join the quintet who clinched quarterfinal berths in the EFL Cup on Tuesday.

We’ve got three all-PL ties to decide their fates.

[ LIVE: Follow EFL Cup scores ]

Follow the action above, as we learn who takes the remaining spots alongside Newcastle United, Liverpool, Arsenal, Leeds United, and Hull City.

Holders Man City are off to Old Trafford for a derby match-up in the Round of 16, while it’s an all-London match at the Olympic Stadium between West Ham and Chelsea.

Finally, Sunderland hopes to break out of its season-long slump to join Northeast rivals Newcastle in the quarters. The Black Cats will need to win at Southampton to move on.

EFL Cup fourth round, Wednesday games

West Ham United vs. Chelsea — 2:45 p.m. ET
Southampton vs. Sunderland — 2:45 p.m. ET
Manchester United vs. Manchester City — 3 p.m. ET

MLS Cup Playoffs Thurs. preview: Seattle, DC riding hot streaks

SEATTLE, WA - MARCH 06:  Osvaldo Alonso #6 of the Seattle Sounders FC dribbles against Roger Espinoza #27 of Sporting Kansas City at CenturyLink Field on March 6, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The 4-5 match-ups in each conference are set for Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs, with two of the league’s hottest teams set to hit the pitch.

[ MORE: MLS Cup predictions ]

Both Seattle and DC are at home for their “play-in” matches, and face road teams with plenty of veteran experience and firepower in what should be a pair of beauts on each side of our country.

DC United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET

The Black-and-Red have hit their stride under coach Ben Olsen, and seem on board the plan.

Montreal, however, has not seen tranquility in Quebec. Ignacio Piatti has been fantastic, but the headlines have revolved around Didier Drogba‘s unhappiness at not starting under Mauro Biello.

It’s difficult to think Biello won’t start the Ivorian in a must-win match on the road, given Drogba’s experience and ability to dominate a game.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high in MLS Playoffs ]

Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10:30 p.m. ET

Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris have helped Seattle make up for the absence of transferred Obafemi Martins and injured Clint Dempsey.

The duo has been simply fantastic in “rave green”, and Sporting KC is going to have a whale of a time slowing Seattle. Consider the ability and season of under-the-radar MVP candidate Osvaldo Alonso in the center of the park, and all bets are off.

Of course, the thing about KC is there’s little question it has the mettle to not just win on the road, but win a tournament. Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Dom Dwyer, Brad Davis, Benny Feilhaber… who in that locker room is going to shrink under the bright lights of the playoffs?

TFC’s Bradley: “Responsibility, privilege and passion” on line in playoffs

WASHINGTON, DC - OCTOBER 11: Michael Bradley #4 of United States looks on against New Zealand in the second half during an International Friendly at RFK Stadium on October 11, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Toronto FC’s supporters fell in love with the club almost immediately, but it’s taken to Year 10 for the Reds to get a home playoff match.

The latest batch of TFC stars have embraced the battle for relevance, at times even surpassing expectations the lofty expectations of championship-starved Toronto.

[ MORE: Bradley talks TFC renaissance

This is a city which has seen the Blue Jays and Raptors find the precipice of glory in recent seasons, but not reach the apex. The Leafs haven’t been to a Stanley Cup final since the NHL had a whopping six teams.

So winning would be a mighty big accomplishment, right Michael Bradley?

From MLSSoccer.com:

“Being captain or a big player on a team in this city carries an extra weight,” said captain Michael Bradley. “I’ve loved every second of that; playing in this city, for this city, and being captain. It’ll be nights like Wednesday night where the responsibility, privilege and passion that I have for this role will get magnified that much more.”

He has a way with words, doesn’t he? The USMNT captain begins Canada’s quest for a title at 7:30 p.m. ET against visiting Philadelphia.

Whitecaps lock up Welsh coach Robinson through 2020

VANCOUVER, BC - APRIL 5:  Head coach Carl Robinson (right) of the Vancouver Whitecaps FC during their MLS game against the Colorado Rapids April 5, 2014 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Colorado won 2-1. (Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images)
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Vancouver is hanging onto stalwart coach Carl Robinson despite a massively disappointing season.

The Whitecaps were tipped to compete for the Supporters’ Shield, only to miss the playoffs. There were plenty of excuses for the ‘Caps, including an injury to Kekuta Manneh and the transfer of Octavio Rivero.

And Vancouver is alive as the No. 1 seed in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals, also claiming the Cascadia Cup.

[ MORE: Nyarko says DC can aim high ]

Robinson has signed an extension through 2020, from WhitecapsFC.com:

“Carl’s body of work over the course of his five years at the club has shown that he is one of the top up-and-coming head coaches in North America. While this past season was certainly a learning experience for everyone involved within the club, we have complete faith in Carl’s continued vision in acquiring the necessary players to build a team that will compete with the best in MLS.”

Robinson turned 40 this month, and has been leading the ‘Caps since December 2013. This is a smart move for both Vancouver and its coach.