UEFA Champions League roundup: All hail Ibra as PSG, Bayern Munich, Real Madrid stay perfect

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As we did after yesterday’s action, let’s take a moment to honor perfection, even if it’s going to take a little longer after today’s action. On Tuesday, Atlético Madrid was the only club that’d claimed full points through three rounds. After today’s action in Groups A through D, three other clubs joined the crowd.

Bayern Munich was most impressive, putting up numbers that we never see in Champions League. The 5-0 they posted on Viktoria Plzen was match by Paris Saint-Germain, but the underlying numbers were as one-sided as you’ll ever see at this level of competition (they had  21-1 edge in shots at halftime). This wasn’t David versus Goliath. This was Drago versus Apollo.

Real Madrid never seemed to hit top gear against Juventus, but thanks to some good fortune, they didn’t need it. Giorgio Chiellini had a bad day, allowing the Merengues to stay perfect. Cristiano Ronaldo’s double highlighted what was a pedestrian performance, but Real Madrid’s standards.

[MORE: No contest – Bayern dominates helpless Plzen.]

[MORE: Ronaldo double helps Real Madrid see off Juve.]

And then there’s Paris Saint-Germain, whose performance came down to one man. I suppose some credit goes to PSG for acquiring Zlatan Ibrahimovic, making him one of the best compensated players in the world, and being smart enough to build their team around him despite a wealth of other talents. Still, at some point you just have to acknowledge: Today was all about Zlatan. His four goals took PSG to 3-0-0.

[MORE: Another night to remember from Zlatan.]

[MORE: UEFA Champions League Tuesday roundup.]

Here’s what else happened Wednesday in UEFA Champions League:

Group A: Manchester United (England) 1-0 Real Sociedad (Spain) [REACTION]

What happened: Early United pressure forced a turnover high along their left flank, with a quick move producing an Iñigo Martínez own goal after Wayne Rooney rattled the right post. Better through most of the match, United failed to find their insurance, leaving the result in doubt until the final whistle.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors:  Rooney continues his post-Ferguson resurgence, but his teammates aren’t keeping up, something we wouldn’t be saying had they found another goal. But the point is they didn’t, allowing this performance to fall into a larger pattern. That they did so with a largely second-choice side is an important caveat; regardless, Group A’s leaders persist with their fledgling between eras.

Group A: Bayer Leverkusen (Germany) 4-0 Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine)

What happened: Bayer absolutely exploded. Stefan Keißling in the 22nd. Simon Rolfes from the spot. Sidney Sam near the hour, then Kießling completing his double. A nightmare night for goalkeeper Andriy Pyatov saw Shakhtar embarrassed in Germany, with Bayer’s talented attack finally letting lose in Champions League.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: It’s hard to believe Bayer’s four goals better than Shakhtar, but on Wednesday they were. The lingering question is how much of this will translate to Donetsk two weeks from now. One view on today’s game may see it as the home side taking their chances and momentum  creating the lopsided result. Another view sees a Bayer’s talented, three-pronged attack as a bad matchup for a defense Sami Hyypiä identified as vulnerable pre-match.

Group B: Real Madrid (Spain) 2-1 Juventus (Italy) [REACTION]

What happened: An early goal from Cristiano Ronaldo left Juventus chasing, but the Bianconeri caught up after 22 minutes. Giorgio Chiellini’s penalty and subsequent dismissal left the Italian champions down a goal, down a man, and destined for third place in Group B.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Juventus’s performance gives them every reason to believe they’ll turn this around two weeks from now, though they will have to do so without the suspended Chiellini. If you’re Real Madrid, you look at this match and consider yourself slightly fortunate Chiellini’s fouls took Juventus out of the match. They’ll need some tweaks before touching down in Turin.

Group B: Galatasaray (Turkey) 3-1 Copenhagen (Denmark)

What happened: First half goals from Felipe Melo, Wesley Sneijder and Didier Drogba killed this one off by halftime. Claudemir’s 88th minute consolation ruined Fernando Muslera’s clean sheet.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: The dominance Roberto Mancini’s team showed in the first half makes you believe they can replicate this result in Denmark. It’s not that they overwhelmed Copenhagen, per se. It’s more that the chances they created were so clear cut. Perhaps merely playing better will pull FCK even next week, but today, they looked overmatched.

Group C: Anderlecht (Belgium) 0-5 Paris Saint-German (France) [REACTION]

What happened: Zlatan Ibrahimovic happened. Four goals in 62 minutes, three of the highlight reel variety. Edinson Cavani had PSG’s other goal.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Anderlecht obviously did their part allowing it to happen (though that third goal, whoa), but that performance from Zlatan wins most games. Maybe he doesn’t score four times, but he still decides that match. Today, he vaulted PSG to nine points through three games, leaving Anderlecht sputtering at the bottom of their group.

Group C: Benfica (Portugal) 1-1 Olympiacos (Greece)

What happened: Alejandro Dominguez gave the visitors a lead that held up until the 83rd minute, but one piece of set piece magic allowed Benfica to salvage a point. However, if it wasn’t for Roberto’s misread of Benfica’s late restart, Oscar Cardoza would have never had a chance to equalize for the hosts, the 1-1 allowing the Eagles to salvage a point in Estadio do Luz’s bog.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: Olympiacos got their first half lead, tried to hold on, and it didn’t work out. That’s not to say today’s result wasn’t good; however, they could have really put Benfica in a bad place had they taken full points. Still, if they hold serve at home next week, they’ll consolidate their place as the team most likely to join PSG in the next round. Benfica, however, should have a better game plan in Piraeus.

Group D: Bayern Munich (Germany) 5-0 Viktoria Plzen (Czech Republic) [REACTION]

What happened: It’s been a while since we redressed Michel Platini’s desire to see more small league-winners in Champions League (mostly because we all seem to agree this is a good thing), but let’s consider today’s numbers. Total Shots: Bayern 35, Plzen 1. Shots on Goal: Bayern 18; Plzen 0. Possession: Bayern 77 percent. Bayern may be incredibly good and Plzen may be one a borderline team for this competition, but when those two elements meet, you get this type of result, something you can’t help think is bad for everybody involved.

Maybe it’s just randomness, or extremely colliding in a very unlikely way. Regardless, we don’t need to see this. At least, we don’t need to see it in Champions League.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: We’ll have another 90 minutes of this in two weeks. Hopefully we’ll see a little rotation from the Germans, because clearly they don’t need their first choice attackers to take down Plzen.

Group D: CSKA Moscow (Russia) 1-2 Manchester City (England)

What happened: A leaky City defense saw Zoran Tosic give CSKA a mid-first half lead, a score that lead to an almost immediate response from Sergio Agüero. A second goal from Kün gave City the lead before halftime, a gap that held up through full-time, though Joe Hart was forced to come up big on Keisuke Honda in second half stoppage time.

Hows, Whys, and Whatfors: There’ll be qualms about how they went about it, but against a talented, experienced team, playing on a horrible, frozen pitch a continent away from home, City snared full points. At times, it didn’t look like they deserved it, so consider the outcome more resourceful than convincingly. Regardless, City went to the home of their chief competition and got three points. That’s a best-case scenario.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s win over Costa Rica

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For the first time since 2013, the USMNT will have the opportunity to lay it all on the line in an attempt to hoist the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica in Gold Cup semis ]

This summer’s competition has been a unique one for manager Bruce Arena and his side, with a large host of players seeing time in the tournament as the second-term boss looks to establish his roster heading into next summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s semifinal victory ]

Arena and Co. made its move into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night after disposing of Costa Rica behind a pair of second-half finishes from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

The U.S. will now move on to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday night’s finale, but first, here’s a look at three takeaways from the Stars and Stripes’ victory on Saturday.

Dempsey continues as lead contributor in U.S. attack

Outside of Christian Pulisic, who wasn’t selected for this month’s Gold Cup, there isn’t a more consistent and threatening goalscorer than Clint Dempsey for the USMNT.

The Seattle Sounders veteran was directly involved in both goals last night, with the second — a finish of his own — putting Dempsey on level terms as U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer with Landon Donovan.

Albeit at 34 years of age and likely on the back nine of his career, Dempsey has proven time and time again just how critical his usage and production can be for the Stars and Stripes. Even if Dempsey doesn’t see as much time moving forward with the likes of Pulisic earning starting minutes, the Texas-native is more than deserving of a rotational role within the squad.

Altidore still proving his worth up front

Jozy Altidore opened the scoring for the U.S. on Saturday night, and it was his brilliant, probing run through the Costa Rica backline that freed himself up for Dempsey to pick out his long-time compatriot inside the Ticos area.

The Toronto FC striker has always been scrutinizes on the international level, despite being one of the national team’s go-to threats in the attacking third.

Although Jordan Morris and Dom Dwyer each displayed well during the group stage of the competition, Altidore is the veteran of the group. He’s played at two World Cups and is currently the team’s second active leading scorer all-time, only trailing Dempsey.

Mexico may be only true threat to USMNT

Assuming Mexico is able to dispatch of Jamaica on Sunday and reach another Gold Cup final, it’s difficult to imagine a situation more perfect than a USA-Mexico conclusion. Forget the storied rivalry for a second and consider what this tournament means to both sides.

Yes, there’s a trophy on the line. However, this edition of the Gold Cup is way more important to both programs’ long-term growth, most notably next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Mexico didn’t bring any of its regulars to this tournament, after many had played the month prior at the FIFA Confederations Cup, but even El Tri’s backups have held up well against their CONCACAF competition.

El Tri has allowed just one goal in four matches thus far, and Jamaica’s attack hasn’t exactly proven to be an offensive juggernaut, so it shouldn’t come as a shock if Mexico does set up a date with the U.S.

Saturday MLS roundup: Revs outlast Galaxy in wild affair and more

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While the U.S. Men’s National Team took center stage in their CONCACAF Gold Cup win on Saturday night, there was still a full MLS docket as well.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final ]

David Villa and NYCFC kicked off a busy day of MLS action with a vital 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, closing the gap between the two sides near the top of the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, East leaders Toronto FC earned a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field.

Minnesota United’s first-year struggles continued on the afternoon after suffering a 3-0 defeat at home against the New York Red Bulls, who have now scored eight goals in their last two outings.

The day’s most exciting match came at Gillette Stadium though, as the New England Revolution narrowly defeated the LA Galaxy, 4-3, behind a pair of second-half finishes from Teal Bunbury.

Here’s a full look back at Saturday’s MLS scoreboard.

New York City FC 2-1 Chicago Fire (RECAP)
Minnesota United 0-3 New York Red Bulls
D.C. United 1-3 Houston Dynamo
Toronto FC 1-1 Colorado Rapids
Columbus Crew 1-0 Philadelphia Union
Montreal Impact 1-2 FC Dallas
New England Revolution 4-3 LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake 1-1 Sporting KC

Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica

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The U.S. national team is headed to the final of the 2017 Gold Cup after knocking off Costa Rica 2-0 on Saturday.

Who stood out for all the right — and wrong — reasons, as Bruce Arena’s side prepares to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday’s final?

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 7 — Forced to make two saves, the first of which was a hero’s intervention with Marco Ureña racing in one on one. The second came not long before the opening goal, and he did well to spill it no more than a foot or two in front of him. Howard looks at the top of his game, again.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 6.5 — For the first time all tournament, he got forward with regularity and served the ball into the box. With the entire flank open ahead of him, Villafaña had to fill the void of width. Still, not a ton of quality. Fortunately, he was tested very little in open space.

CB — Matt Besler: 7.5 — Best of the defensive unit, perhaps so much so he’s vaulted himself back into the four-man rotation for the World Cup.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 6 — Besler stood out as the star, hardly putting a foot wrong all night, thus overshadowing Gonzalez for the most part. Costa Rica opted to build with the ball on the ground, thus negating Gonzalez’s greatest strength, his aerial presence. That said, he wasn’t remotely exposed in the weakest facet of his game, either.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Paul Arriola’s presence ahead of him was immeasurably important. I’m still bullish on Zusi as a right back, with the necessary shading of defensive help. Before you lose your mind, consider the italicized part.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 7 — Not his most influential game, but it didn’t need to be. With Kellyn Acosta doing much of the heavy lifting, in terms of covering acreage, Bradley played the part of disciplined organizer slightly deeper in midfield than we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s a role that suits him well, with the right partner ahead of him. His influence on Acosta will also benefit the USMNT for years to come.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 7 — The kid is (still) alright, even after a couple subpar games during the group stage. As stated above, the partnership matters. Afforded a bit more time and space by the Ticos, Acosta pushed into the final third all night long and provided the extra man to play with possession high up the field.

LM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — He’ll always shade more toward the center of the field, even when played as an out-and-out wide midfielder, and that’s what he did against Costa Rica. It’s nice having that extra man in the middle, but it turns the left wing into a barren wasteland. Take the good with the bad.

RM — Paul Arriola: 6.5 — You may not get a ton of final product from Arriola, but with Zusi playing an out-of-role right back behind him, it’s vitally important that the wide player on that side of the field offers defensive cover from the front. Arriola does so, and gets into (and wins) more than a winger’s fair share of 50-50 challenges. He’s a net positive in a lot of things that don’t show up in boxscores. There’s always a place for a player like that.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 6.5 — We’ve known this for a while, but Altidore is far more effective playing with a partner up top. His tendency to drop into midfield helps to link play with someone ahead of him. When he’s all by his lonesome, who/what’s he to link?

FW — Jordan Morris: 7 — Piggybacking on the above point about Altidore, Morris is the perfect complement — quick in short bursts, a burner in the open field, and a smart runner of channels on occasion. He was the best player on the field the opening 30 minutes or so. Faded down the stretch, but the strong first half earns him positive marks.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 9 — An assist and a goal, all in 24 minutes’ work. More on the hero of the day in a bit.

Sub — Gyasi Zardes: N/A — 7 minutes on the field, with little to no real impact on the game.

Sub — Dax McCarty: N/A — 5 minutes off the bench, but he served his purpose in helping to keep possession and put the game to bed.

Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final

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It took considerably longer than Bruce Arena would have hoped, but the U.S. national team edged its way past Costa Rica, courtesy of Jozy Altidore‘s 72nd-minute goal, in the two sides’ 2017 Gold Cup semifinal in Arlington, Tex., on Saturday.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

It was Arena’s injection of Clint Dempsey just six minutes earlier which would prove to be the game-changing moment. The soon-to-be all-time leading scorer in USMNT history created Altidore’s goal, the 38th tally of his international career, with a silky smooth turn and through ball that unlocked an otherwise formidable, frustrating Ticos defense. The Nacogdoches, Tex., native pulled level with Landon Donovan on the USMNT’s scoring charts 10 minutes later as he sealed the Yanks’ passage into the final.

The clock read 11 seconds when the USMNT’s first scoring chance arrived. Straight from the kickoff, they worked the ball to a streaking Jordan Morris, who in full stride unleashed a hard, right-footed strike from 10 yards out. Post.

For all the early excitement, and the massive possession advantage (61-39), it was the closest the USMNT would come to beating Patrick Pemberton, as the Yanks failed to put a single shot on target in the opening 45 minutes.

Tim Howard was called into heroic action in the 37th minute, when Bryan Ruiz dribbled through the heart of midfield and played Marco Ureña into the penalty area. The San Jose Earthquakes striker went low and far post with his effort from 12 yards out, but Howard was quick to get down and make the one-on-one save.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

The Americans’ first chance of the second half didn’t come until the 70th minute. Clint Dempsey played a simple square ball to Kellyn Acosta, whose first-time shot forced Pemberton into a tough save to push the ball high into the air.

Two minutes later, the breakthrough. Dempsey slipped Jozy Altidore through with a delicate through ball into space, and the Toronto FC man latched onto it quickly and slotted it past Pemberton despite the ‘keeper getting a hand on it.

Dempsey’s history-making moment seemed innocuous enough from the start — a free kick from all of 25 yards out, at a difficult angle. Whatever, said Dempsey, who went for goal anyway. His bouncing ball evade Pemberton at the near post and gave him 57 international goals.

The winner of Mexico versus Jamaica, the second semifinal which will take place on Sunday, awaits the USMNT in the final on Wednesday.