Will Ronaldo win his first-ever Champions League title with Real Madrid this season?

UEFA Champions League Preview: Youth on display for Real Madrid, up five against Schalke

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A five-goal gap kills the sugarcoating. There are no clichés in the arsenal to make Real Madrid’s Tuesday visit from Schalke  an important game. The managers aren’t even trying. Carlo Ancelotti’s opening discussing resting players. Jens Keller is discussing playing for pride. Nobody’s under any illusions about the 6-1 lead Real Madrid takes into Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League match at the Santiago Bernabéu.

Three weeks ago, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo each bagged two in Gelsenkirchen, with only a spectacular volley from 19 yards out by Klass-Jan Huntelaar giving the Royal Blues a reprieve. Even memories of the strike, as technically perfect as it was, have been almost entirely buried. Schalke fans don’t want to remember leg one. Real Madrid fans are ready for the quarterfinals.

(REVIEW: Real Madrid sends Champions League message with 6-1 demolition of Schalke)

All of which makes Tuesday’s second leg a small nuisance – a game neither team really wants to play. Fans showing up at the Bernabeú tomorrow night are likely to see a series of great young talents, with Jesé, Álvaro Morata, and Isco all set to start. But this is Champions League. This the knockout round. As domestic races hit their home stretches and cup competitions reach their final stages, Europe’s commitments aren’t supposed to be so meaningless. It’s enough to ask why the game’s even happening, let alone why we should watch it.

We know why it’s happening (there’s no mercy rule in Champions Legaue). Why we should watch, however, takes more imagination. Jesé, the 21-year-old attacker who tore up last summer’s U-20 World Cup, is worth it on his own. Watching him try to blow by Schalke defenders is worth two hours of your time. Álvaro Morata, also 21, will provide another glimpse of Real Madrid’s enviable cadre of young attackers, while Isco (yes, 21) gets a chance to rejoin the starting XI. Though the likes of Bale, Benzema, and Ronaldo aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, Tuesday will give fans a glimpse of Real Madrid’s future alternate present.

“Real Madrid and Bayern München are the strongest teams in the world,” Keller said. “We must be realistic – Real Madrid are an amazing team and when you lose 6-1 in the first leg it is not easy to reach the quarter-finals.”

Unfortunately for Schalke fans, that team may still be better than the XI Keller will choose in Madrid, especially since Cristiano Ronaldo is slated to start. When he comes off, Gareth Bale may come on (Benzema, however, has a bad thigh). Ahead of Sunday’s visit from Barcelona — a game that could end Barça’s title defense — Ancelotti has to balance rest with a desire to keep his team sharp. This weekend, however, will be his obvious priority.

“We will make some changes because some players are physically tired,” Ancelotti said on Monday. Thoguh the team carries a 30-match unbeaten run into Tuesday’s game, the Real Madrid boss is intent on resting his stars. “The Málaga match was tough and we had to travel.”

It only adds to the meaningless quality of the game. Given the opportunity, Real Madrid would rather concentrate on Sunday. And Schalke would rather stay in Gelsenkirchen then travel for 90 perfunctory minutes in Madrid. Unless you’re a hardcore Madridistra or can’t get enough of the team’s battalion of young attackers, Chelsea versus Galatasaray is the game for you.

NWSL Playoffs set: Portland, Washington, Chicago, Western New York

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The National Women’s Soccer League will crown its fourth champion in mid-October, and for the first time in three years the winner will not be FC Kansas City.

FCKC finished sixth after the 20-game regular season concluded this weekend, six points out of the final slot occupied by the Western New York Flash.

[ MORE: Allardyce on England hot seat? ]

The Flash join Chicago Red Stars and Washington Spirit in attempting to topple NWSL Shield winners Portland, a Thorns side which won the title in 2013 and has only missed the playoffs once.

Washington hosts Chicago on Friday in the first semifinal, while the Flash travel to Oregon for an Oct. 2 semi.

Portland Thorns (1) vs. Western New York Flash (4)

The two best goal differentials in the league meet at Providence Park, where Mark Parsons’ Thorns and their league-best defense will be tasked with stopping the highest-scoring offense in the NWSL. That means stopping Golden Boot winner Lynn Williams and runner-up Jessica McDonald, who’ve accounted for 21 of WNY’s 40 goals.

The Thorns are loaded. Women’s soccer legend Christine Sinclair, who once lifted a trophy for the Flash, is there with a quintet of USWNT mainstays. French star Amandine Henry, too, as well as leading goal scorer and Danish star Nadia Nadim.

USWNT regulars on each side
Portland: Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg, Allie Long, Emily Sonnet, Lindsey Horan

WNY: Samantha Mewis

Washington Spirit (2) vs. Chicago Red Stars (3)

The two sides split the season series, with Chicago hosting a 3-1 victory on Saturday. Sofia Huerta had a goal and an assist, as she and Christen Press combined for nine shots. They’ve combined for 15 goals on the season, though the Red Stars have only found nine goals elsewhere.

No Washington player has scored more than five goals this year, and the Spirit haven’t had a multi-goal game in September, but Argentina national teamer Estefanía Banini’s five goals in 13 matches in an impressive haul.

USWNT regulars on each side
Washington: Ali Krieger, Crystal Dunn

Chicago: Alyssa Naeher, Julie Johnston, Christen Press

UEFA Champions League preview: Spurs, Foxes, and BVB hosts Real

MADRID, SPAIN - APRIL 02:  Gareth Bale of Real Madrid takes on Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund during the UEFA Champions League Quarter Final first leg match between Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund at Estadio Santiago Bernabeu on April 2, 2014 in Madrid, Spain.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Leicester City gets a home Champions League match, Spurs head to Russia, and two of the world’s best attacks meet in Germany; Tuesday’s UEFA Champions League slate is pretty tasty.

[ MORE: Allardyce on England hot seat? ]

An out-of-form Cristiano Ronaldo has Real Madrid in a mini-slump, and a trip to Borussia Dortmund isn’t exactly the antidote now, is it? Normally we wouldn’t dial that up, but Ronaldo has a knack for shining brightly when folks question him. We’ve seen this one before. Expect a highlight-reel night from CR7, but perhaps the same from high-flying BVB.

Spurs are buoyed by the news that Harry Kane‘s injury may not be as serious as first thought, but could be sunk back into the depths with a loss at CSKA Moscow on Tuesday. Spurs fell to Monaco, while CSKA scooped up a solid draw at Bayer Leverkusen.

Leicester City is looking to stay perfect after an impressive UCL debut at Club Brugge, and faces a big test in Portugal. Porto does quite well in this tournament almost annually, and won’t be scared by a trip to King Power Stadium. El Tri trio Miguel Layun, Jesus Corona, and captain Hector Herrera join familiar names Iker Casillas, Yacine Brahimi, and Maxi Pereira on the Porto roster.

Tuesday’s UCL matches

all matches at 2:45 p.m. ET

Sporting Lisbon vs. Legia Warsaw
Sevilla vs. Lyon
Dinamo Zagreb vs. Juventus
CSKA Moscow vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid
Monaco vs. Bayer Leverkusen
Copenhagen vs. Club Brugge
Leicester City vs. Porto

Kei Kamara “shocked” at boos in return to Columbus

LOS ANGELES, CA - JULY 13:  Soccer player Kei Kamara attends the 2016 ESPYS at Microsoft Theater on July 13, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)
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Kei Kamara couldn’t gather his emotions after his return to Columbus as a member of the New England Revolution.

The star striker netted 27 times in 41 appearances for the Crew before a locker room falling-out found him traded to New England.

[ MORE: Harry Kane to return sooner? ]

The reigning MLS joint-top scorer and a member of the 2015 Best XI, Kamara was back at MAPFRE Stadium on Sunday. The Revs fell 2-0, thanks to Columbus’  new Kamara, and Kei was booed.

There was bitter, smarmy Kei (from MLSSoccer.com):

“I was shocked,” he said after the match. “Come on. You make so many sacrifices for an organization to really boost it. But hey, if I can bring some life to the stadium for once in the season, why not?”

And there was also sad, pensive Kei:

“It wasn’t something I asked for, to move,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it a lot. It’s been tough. It’s been really, really tough. But after today, I got the final answer to everything. It’s time to move on.”

“It’s time to move on. I’m happy where I am now and I wish [Columbus] the best of luck.”

I’ve rarely understood the booing of former players unless that player grievously harmed your club on the way out the door. Here in Buffalo, I’ve seen even the least-celebrated of ex-Sabres get the boo treatment, though, so it’s not uncommon.

Winter on Allardyce corruption allegations: “Touch and go whether he survives”

England international soccer team manager Sam Allardyce, centre, his assistant Sammy Lee, left, and FA chief executive Martin Glenn, right, applaud during the launch event of UEFA Euro 2020 and the unveiling of the tournament brand and the London host city logo at City Hall, in London, Wednesday Sept. 21, 2016. (AP Photo/Tim Ireland)
AP Photo/Tim Ireland
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As details continue to unfold from the Telegraph’s sting operation that may’ve caught England manager Sam Allardyce in its grasp, the question of whether the ex-Sunderland man could be fired after just months on the job is moving to the forefront.

Allardyce, 61, is on tape talking about third party ownership of players — a big no-no for FIFA — and the words have some alleging that he is giving advice on how to buck the system.

[ MORE: Watford’s Deeney rages after loss]

Given that the manager has only overseen one match for the Three Lions and had been accused, but never charged, with accepting bribes from agents in 2006, some think he may not survive the issue.

Well-connected The Times of London writer Henry Winter says it’s possible.