Real Madrid cruise at Osasuna, advance in Copa del Rey

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Real Madrid never seemed to leave first gear. Then again, first gear was always going to be enough, particularly when a pair of weak hands from Osasuna goalkeeper Andrés quickly dispelled any notions the hosts could mount a comeback. Doubling the 2-0 lead they carried into today’s second leg, los Blancos used goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Ángel Di María to cruise into Copa del Rey’s quarterfinals, the 4-0 aggregate final setting up a final eight matchup with Espanyol.

The Catalan club secured their spot in the next round with a 4-2 win Wednesday against Alcorcón, reversing the 1-0 loss they suffered on the road in leg one. The first leg of their quarterfinal against El Real will take place next Wednesday, with a semifinal berth to be decided on Jan. 29.

Despite their two-goal lead, Real Madrid started a relatively strong team, with Cristiano Ronaldo, Pepe, and Xabi Alonso all featuring in Carlo Ancelotti’s starting XI. The inclusions of Jesé, Aiser Illarremendi, and Iker Casillas, however, did give some regulars a chance to rest, with the choice of left back Fabio Coentrão marking the Portuguese international’s first appearance since Nov. 2.

The bigger lineup news was Ancelotti’s continued use of the 4-3-3 formation he deployed this weekend at Espanyol. Ángel Di María was again in midfield with Alonso, with Illarremendi taking Luka Modric’s place in the middle trio. Instead of Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale joining Ronaldo in attack, Isco became the center piece as a false nine, with Jesé playing wide in front of right back Álvaro Arbeloa. For the second match in a row, Real Madrid showed they may be moving away from a  4-2-3-1 they’ve used since shortly after José Mourinho’s arrival in the Spanish capital.

The results, however, were little different from the team’s weekend match in Catalonia, where a set piece produced Real Madrid’s only goal in a 1-0 victory. On Wednesday, a Merengues team that split possession with their hosts needed a goalkeeping error to put them in front, with Andrés allowing a Cristiano Ronaldo shot to go off his hands, through his legs, and into goal for the 21st minute opener.

Early in the second half, Real Madrid increased their overall lead to four, with Ángel Di María transcending recent controversy to record the tie’s final goal. Off a 56th minute ball cutback from the right by Jesé, the Argentine midfielder one-timed a shot into the right of Andrés’s net, giving the visitors the 2-0 (4-0) lead they’d carry to full-time.

The match’s final 30 minutes played out with the same sense of inevitability that characterized the first hour, with neither team giving us reason to think Real Madrid weren’t going through. Come full-time, los Blancos had confirmed their place in the final eight despite making progress with their new approach.

That system will get another dry run on Saturday when El Real visits last place Real Betis in league action. Then, it’s Espanyol again, with Copa’s semifinals set to begin next week.

Elsewhere in Copa

Yesterday

Racing Santander 2-0 (3-1) Almería
Atlético Madrid 2-0 (3-1) Valencia

Today

Espanyol 4-2 (4-3) Alcorcón
Athletic Club 2-0 (2-1) Real Betis
Levante 1-0 (1-0) Rayo Vallecano
Osasuna 0-2 (0-4) Real Madrid

Tomorrow

Getafe (0-4) Barcelona
Villarreal (0-0) Real Sociedad

Quarterfinals

Levante vs Getafe/Barcelona
Real Sociedad/Villarreal vs. Racing Santander
Espanyol vs. Real Madrid
Atlético Madrid vs. Athletic Bilbao

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

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New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”

USMNT: 4 players, including Brooks, Lletget, released; Arriola added

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Hours after his side’s 6-0 thrashing of Honduras to resuscitate dreams of qualifying for the 2018 World Cup, Bruce Arena announced on Saturday five changes to the U.S. national team roster ahead of Tuesday’s qualifier against Panama.

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John Brooks (sinus infection), Sebastian Lletget (foot), Jordan Morris (knee) and Michael Orozco (knee) were all released back to their club teams, while Club Tijuana midfielder Paul Arriola was added to the squad.

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Brooks dealt with the sinus infection throughout USMNT camp this past week, as Morris did his knee injury which he picked up last weekend. Lletget left Friday’s win over Honduras in the 18th minute and will undergo further tests to determine the severity of his injury; he was seen leaving the stadium on crutches and wearing a walking boot.

The USMNT’s roster for Tuesday’s qualifier in Panama City, Panama, now stands at 23 players, and reads as follows:

Goalkeepers: David Bingham (San Jose Earthquakes), Tim Howard (Colorado Rapids), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake)

Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley (Houston Dynamo), Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City), Omar Gonzalez (Pachuca), Tim Ream (Fulham), Jorge Villafaña (Santos Laguna), Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City)

Midfielders: Kellyn Acosta (FC Dallas), Paul Arriola (Club Tijuana), Alejandro Bedoya (Philadelphia Union), Michael Bradley (Toronto FC), Jermaine Jones (LA Galaxy), Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls), Dax McCarty (Chicago Fire), Darlington Nagbe (Portland Timbers), Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund)

Forwards: Jozy Altidore (Toronto FC), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC), Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes)

Rapinoe won’t back down on social issues despite U.S. Soccer policy

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Megan Rapinoe recently earned her spot back in the U.S. Women’s National Team squad ahead of next month’s friendlies against Russia, but the veteran won’t remain silent when it comes to her stance on the social climate of America.

[ MORE: Looking back on USMNT’s big win over Honduras ]

The 31-year-old was scrutinized for joining NFL player Colin Kaepernick in 2016 when they knelt during their respective sporting events, along with dozens of other athletes across the United States.

While Rapinoe admits that the form of protest is up for discussion, she also states that social inequality issues in the U.S. go far beyond that.

“What has surprised me the most, especially post-election, is that people are still sort of arguing against it. It’s really obvious that we have very serious inequality in this country across many different spectrums,” Rapinoe told the Guardian. “Yes, we can talk about the form of protest, or the way it’s done, or this or that. But it’s still not really the conversation that I think we desperately need to have more of in this country.”

A few weeks back, U.S. Soccer announced that it now requires all players that represent the Stars and Stripes to stand when the national anthem is played, and Rapinoe has agreed to do such.

While her days of kneeling on the pitch are in the past, Rapinoe believes she wouldn’t do anything different because she was simply trying to spark discussion amongst the American people.

“I don’t think there’s any perfect way to protest. I think if there was something else being done, something else would have been said about it. I can’t look back and say that I would have done this different, this different or this different.

“I can sleep at night knowing that I genuinely tried to have a really important conversation, or at least tried to open it up. I think I came to it with an open mind, an open heart and tried to get as many people to talk about it as I could.”