Lionel Messi scores two goals in 26 minutes in first action in two months

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Barcelona decided to be cautious on Sunday, withholding Lionel Messi from their 4-0 shelling of Elche. Today, three days before their table-topping clash with Atlético Madrid, the defending La Liga champions rolled out their previously injured star in Spain’s Copa del Rey, with 26 minutes of action showing the Argentine bears little rust from his near-two month layoff.

Seeing his first action since Nov. 10, Messi scored his team’s final two goals as Barcelona went on to claim a 4-0 lead after the home leg of their Round of 32 matchup with Getafe. Building on two goals from Cesc Fábregas, Messi scored in the 90th and 92nd minutes to double his team’s lead, giving Barça a commanding edge ahead of next Thursday’s second leg in Madrid.

But with the much-anticipated matchup at Atlético on Saturday, the news from this match was less about its Copa del Rey implications than what it means for La Liga. Atlético currently sit tied on points with Barcelona atop the Primera, the team’s matching 16-1-1 records meaning goal difference is the only thing separating the two sides. Barcelona’s five-goal edge, however, could be rendered meaningless should they fall at the Vicente Calderón, with the high point-rate each team’s maintained throughout the season adding increasing the stakes of Saturday’s match.

Though Messi had few chances to test his recovered thigh on Wednesday, there was little evidence of any lingering effects. Instead, Messi quickly resumed his goal-scoring ways, finding himself in the right place at the right time near the end of regulation to put a one-timed left footer inside Jordi Codina’s right post.

Two minutes later, Messi scored a goal if his own creation, blitzing through Getafe’s center backs to carrying the ball within 16 yards of goal, eventually beating Cordina with another left-footer to make it 4-0.

After the brace, questions surrounding Messi will be less about whether he can play than how long he can last. A 26-minute run in a low-impact game (Barcelona were dominating) provides little evidence he’s ready to play 90 minutes against Atlético. Gerardo Martino will have to garner that proof on the training ground.

In the meantime, we’re left wondering how much of an impact Messi will make in Saturday’s all-important clash. With Messi one hundred percent, Barcelona were held to 1-1 scoreline over 180 minutes by Atlético in the Spanish Supercopa. If Messi’s less than 100 percent, the likes of Fábregas, Alexis Sánchez, and Pedro Rodríguez will have to maintain their recent production.

AT HALF: Lletget, Bradley, Dempsey spur USMNT to 3-0 lead

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The United States men’s national team’s bid to recover their 2018 World Cup hopes is off to a flying start.

As it stands, the 3-0 halftime lead provided by Sebastian Lletget, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey has the Yanks up from sixth to fourth in the Hex table.

Sebastian Lletget scored a fifth minute goal to ease the tensions of the Avaya Stadium crowd in San Jose, though he’d leave the match with injury before the match was 20 minutes old.

Sloppy Honduran defending caused a turnover outside the 18, and Jozy Altidore played Christian Pulisic in on goal.

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Keeper Donis Escober got a piece of Pulisic’s shot, but no one followed Lletget to the back post and the ex-West Ham and current LA Galaxy man quickly put the Yanks up 1-0.

Then it was the captain who doubled the lead, as Honduras inexplicably gave him the room to walk across the arc of the 18 to rip a shot across goal. 2-0.

It was Clint Dempsey’s turn in the 33rd minute, after an otherworldly scooped pass from Pulisic.

What. A. Pass. Kid.

LINEUP

USMNT: Howard; Villafana, Gonzalez, Brooks, Cameron; Bradley, Lletget (Bedoya, 18′), Nagbe; Pulisic, Dempsey, Altidore.

Goals: Lletget (5′), Bradley (27′), Dempsey (33′)

LIVE – USMNT looks to right ship vs. Honduras

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The United States starts to make amends for its 0-2 start to the final round of World Cup qualifying with a match against Honduras on Friday in San Jose.

Losses to Mexico and Costa Rica cost Jurgen Klinsmann his job and Bruce Arena will try things differently

[ LIVE – Play-by-play via @USSoccer ]

Most importantly for Arena, Geoff Cameron and Tim Howard are available this time around.

Cameron starts at right back, with John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez in the center of the back four. Jorge Villafana slots into the mix at left back.

Captain Michael Bradley will sit atop the midfield, with Darlington Nagbe, Sebastian Lletget, and Christian Pulisic in the midfield.

Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore are the forwards. Kickoff is set for 10:55 p.m. EDT from Avaya Stadium.

Minnesota’s Molino lifts Trinidad and Tobago to big win (video)

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Minnesota United attacker Kevin Molino has given Trinidad and Tobago life in the race to win a spot at the 2018 World Cup.

Molino’s 37th minute goal gave hosts T&T a 1-0 lead against visiting Panama at Hasely Crawford Stadium in Port of Spain on Friday, and the Soca Warriors held on to win its first points of qualifying.

Panama had a Luis Tejada goal controversially ruled offside as Los Canaleros nearly pulled their fifth point of the Hex. Panama faces the USMNT on Tuesday in Panama City.

[ WATCH: Zaha scores wonder vs. Russia ]

Molino fooled long time LA Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo with a low shot across the body. The Panama backstop couldn’t get low enough or far enough with his dive to stop the shot.

The win has T&T in fifth place on the Hex table, behind Honduras on goal differential and three points ahead of the last place USMNT.

The U.S. needs a two-goal win to pass T&T, and a three-goal win to climb above Honduras.

WATCH: Zaha drives Russia nuts with mazy dribble goal

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Wilfried Zaha combined balance, deft touch, and breakneck speed to score his first international goal for the Ivory Coast.

With his side leading Russia 1-0 on Friday, the Crystal Palace winger worked his way through four defenders before burying his shot.

[ MORE: Smalling hurt, Gibson called up ]

Zaha especially fooled with Ilya Kutepov, a harsh cut nearly tipping both to the field.

He’s just 24, and it seems much longer ago that he made his failed move to Manchester United in 2013.

Failed may be a rough verb considering it all contributed to making him the player he is for Crystal Palace and Ivory Coast today.