Lionel Messi driven by criticism, says coach Gerardo Martino

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Barcelona manager Gerardo Martino has revealed that prior to Lionel Messi’s brace in the Blaugrana’s 4-1 win over Sevilla on Sunday, the Argentine’s pride had been affected by negative criticism over his recent form.

Leading up to last weekend’s contest Messi had played in three matches since returning from a two month layoff with a hamstring issue. During that three game spell Messi scored only once – a penalty in the 3-2 loss to Valencia – triggering widespread criticism of the forward’s form.

“Those that are negative do not realize they are affecting his pride,” Martino said. “When you do that to the best player in the world, this is what happens.”

“This,” as Martino refers to it, was the sensational double that Messi handed Sevilla. Both goals came on brilliant counter attacks in conditions that would’ve had Noah rounding up the animals.

The first came 44 minutes in with the score deadlocked at one apiece. A Marc Bartra tackle at the edge of the box was recovered by right-back Martin Montoya, who fed Xavi, who found a streaking Andres Iniesta. The Spaniard’s diagonal ball was met by Adriano at midfield, who played Alexis Sanchez wide left. The Chilean cut back at the top of the Sevilla box and served up Messi, trailing in the center of the park. With the water-logged pitch a nuisance, Messi brilliantly stabbed the ball into the air before rifling a left-footed volley into the far side-netting.

Without a doubt, it was one of the best team and individual goals in a long time.

The second came in the 55th minute when Sevilla’s Kevin Gameiro was met by a well-timed Gerard Pique slide tackle 10 yards outside the Barcelona box. Iniesta latched on to the ball and quickly found Xavi, who played out to Montoya, who then served up Alex Song in the center of the park. Song split the Sevilla midfield with a pass to Messi inside the center circle, who then fed a breaking Iniesta, who passed back to Messi 25 yards out from goal. As three Sevilla defenders quickly collapsed, Messi settled the ball with his right foot before  unleashing a low, left-footed curler into the bottom corner.

Putting a cap on Martino’s musings was Iniesta, who reminded critics of one of Messi’s greatest tricks – the ability to lull opposition into believing he’s not into it: “Leo never goes missing, he is one of the few players in the world that in a few seconds or in a few meters can turn a game. He does it all the time and he did it again against Sevilla.”

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.