Real rout Dortmund, as revenge tasted sweet for the Madrid club.

Three takeaways from Real Madrid’s three-goal romp past Borussia Dortmund

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The team’s slipped to third in the Primera Division, but in light of the rest of this week’s results, Real Madrid may still be second favorites in Champions League. At least, if its 3-0 win on Wednesday over Borussia Dortmund is any indication, Carlo Ancelotti’s team has put its brief slump behind its, with goals from Gareth Bale, Isco, and Cristiano Ronaldo helping the team get some revenge for last year’s semifinal loss.

It was a near-perfect night for the home side, one that left only a few, thin misgivings. In the last 10 minutes, Cristiano Ronaldo had to leave the game with an apparent foot injury, with Real Madrid fans left hoping the move was merely precautionary. And in defense, the same, subtly erratic play that’s always characterized the Pepe-Sergio Ramos partnership was evident in small doses. Ahead of Roberto Lewandowski’s return, it’s something to think about.

(MORE: Real Madrid returns the favor, takes 3-0 lead on Borussia Dortmund)

It’s also part of our three observations after the first leg at the Bernabéu.

1. Confidence restored for Real Madrid – Two wins in a row put last week’s slump behind the Merengues, but whereas this weekend’s rout of Rayo Vallecano kept losses to Barcelona and Sevilla in the rearview, today’s romp post Borussia Dortmund put those slips over the horizon. At least in Champions League, Real Madrid is certainly back on track.

To Ancelotti’s credit, you saw the team’s restored confidence from the opening whistle. Not only did Gareth Bale put the team up within minutes, but the control Real Madrid exerted on the game spoke to a team with a purpose. It also portrayed a group that has, at least temporarily, buttressed the fragility that was exposed with the loss to Barcelona.

2. For whatever reason, Borussia Dortmund just wasn’t there tonight – Perhaps Dortmund played into Real Madrid’s resurgence a little, though it’s difficult to get into the mind of a team dealt such an early blow. Still, Jürgen Klopp’s team looked particularly flat on Wednesday, giving one of their worst European performances over the last two seasons. The energy and fight they’ve used to overcome a season of misfortune was never evident at the Bernabéu.

Maybe the team finally started believing the doubts. Throughout the season, player after player has gone down, yet Dortmund kept moving forward. In the face of constant questions as to whether it could push on, the team managed to do so. BVB won its Champions League group, reclaimed second in Germany, and had a relatively easy time in the Round of 16. Particularly going forward, the team looked nearly as capable as last year’s finalists.

On Wednesday, however, Dortmund played like a wounded team. Aside from a few forays from Marco Reus, none of the endeavor we usually see from BVB was there. Even by the standards of a depleted team, it was a drastically sub-par performance, as if it finally started to believe all the negative hype.

3. A defense that gives BVB hope – Next week, however, BVB gets Robert Lewandowski back, and while the 3-0 deficit it was handed on Wednesday looks almost insurmountable, last year’s results should give them hope. In the semifinals, Real Madrid’s leg one trip to Westphalia was met with a 4-1 loss, with Lewandowski scoring all four BVB goals.

With that in mind, the performance of Real Madrid’s defense has to give Klopp the thinnest of silver linings. Granted, El Real still kept a clean sheet (and got some great work from Pepe in the second half), but as is always the case with the Merenguesthere’s a sense that the back line is less than the sum of its parts. Both Pepe and Sergio Ramos are great on an individual basis, yet together, along with Daniel Carvajal and Fabio Coentrao o(two more quality players), the team still seemed vulnerable. Between Reus’s forays, Mkhitaryan’s near-goal in the second half, and Casillas’s near-assist, Real Madrid proved just as vulnerable as last year. BVB just wasn’t able to capitalize.

It’s never good when you have to rely on amazing to get you through, but as last year showed, Lewandowski is capable. And next Tuesday, he’ll be back in the team. It’s not enough to expect BVB to advance, but it is enough to give them a sliver of hope.

U.S. Soccer announces Players of the Year nominees

HARRISON, NJ - JUNE 01:  John Brooks #6 of United States and teammates Clint Dempsey #8,Michael Bradley #4,Geoff Cameron #20 and Julian Green #16 wait for the corner kick in the second half against Turkey during an international friendly match at Red Bull Arena on June 1, 2014 in Harrison, New Jersey.The United States defeated Turkey 2-1.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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U.S. Soccer unveiled the finalists for its top 2016 Male, Female, and youth awards on Monday.

MLS stars Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley, and Clint Dempsey are joined by Geoff Cameron and Bobby Wood as top men’s player nominees. The winner will be announced on the eve of Saturday’s MLS Cup Final.

[ MLS: Best XI has historic American low ]

Stoke City’s Cameron and Hamburg’s Wood are the European-based players on the list, while Fabian Johnson did not make the cut. Dempsey has been limited by heart problems, but still found a way to the list.

John Brooks and Christian Pulisic are also notable exceptions, though the latter is a finalist for the younger award.

The five-woman list for Female Player of the Year sees Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, and Becky Sauerbrunn vying to finish second behind Carli Lloyd (Sorry, we couldn’t resist even with Heath’s incredible season).

The Young Male award promises to be a showdown between Christian Pulisic (Borussia Dortmund) and Jordan Morris (Seattle Sounders), though it’s difficult to see the latter edging the former. Also in the frame are Spurs back Cameron Carter-Vickers, Atlanta United teenager Andrew Carleton and U.S. U-17 star Josh Sargent.

The Young Female nominees are midfielders Emily Ogle and Andi Sullivan, defenders Kaleigh Riehl and Karina Rodriguez and forward Ashley Sanchez.

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MLS Best XI has just two Americans (and that’s fine)

FC Dallas defender Matt Hedges, center, heads the ball near Seattle Sounders defender Zach Scott, second from left, in the second half of an MLS soccer playoff match, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Seattle. The Sounders beat FC Dallas 3-0. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
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MLS released its season’s Best XI on Monday, and it’s the least American bunch in the history of the award.

Some have asked whether this be a concern. The short answer is: As long as you’re not a xenophobe, probably not.

There’s no question the league is better than ever, so in that sense no one should worry that only Matt Hedges and Sacha Kljestan earned nods in the league’s 3-4-3.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs second DP ]

Several times the league saw five Americans in its Best XI, and once it was four, but this year’s duo marks a new low.

MLS Best XI
GK – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union / Jamaica)
D – Matt Hedges (FC Dallas / USA)
D – Jelle van Damme (LA Galaxy / Belgium)
D – Axel Sjoberg (Colorado Rapids / Sweden)
M – Mauro Diaz (FC Dallas / Argentina)
M – Giovani Dos Santos (LA Galaxy / Mexico)
M – Sacha Kljestan (New York Red Bulls / USA)
M – Ignacio Piatti (Montreal Impact / Argentina)
F – Bradley Wright-Phillips (New York Red Bulls / England)
F – David Villa (New York City FC / Spain)
F – Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC / Italy)

Now of course the next question is, “Where do players 12-24 come from?” Let’s make a quick second XI (and include Nicolas Lodeiro despite his half-season status because, well, did you watch any MLS this year?):

GK – David Bingham (San Jose / USA)
D – Ronald Matarrita (New York City / Costa Rica)
D – Laurent Ciman (Montreal / Belgium)
D – Walker Zimmerman (FC Dallas / USA)
M – Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle / USA-Cuba)
M – Darlington Nagbe (Portland / USA)
M – Benny Feilhaber (Sporting KC / USA)
M – Diego Valeri (Portland / Argentina)
M – Nicolas Lodeiro (Seattle / Uruguay)
F – Dom Dwyer (Sporting KC / England)
F – Ola Kamara (Columbus / Norway)

A bit better, huh? And Dwyer could be American in under a year. Next up would probably be several Americans (Dax McCarty, Luis Robles, Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Drew Moor).

The idea of better players shouldn’t be about Americans racking up the top spots, rather U.S. players being improved by the level of competition.

Look at the Premier League’s Best XI, the PFA Team of the Year, which had a total of four Englishmen (five if you include English-born Jamaican back Wes Morgan). While some will argue for a cap on foreign players — which MLS has — you don’t mess with what makes it great.

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After latest loss, Hull City gets blunt: “We need help”

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Curtis Davies of Hull City jumps with Calum Chambers (25) and Victor Valdes of Middlesbrough (26) during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
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Hull City players and staff are not being bashful.

Mired in the drop zone and following yet another loss, this one a relegation six-pointer at the hands of hosts Middlesbrough, Tigers were speaking out on the talent at the KC Stadium.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

Manager Mike Phelan said “hopefully” there will be action by the club in the January transfer window, as the club continues its quest to stay in the Premier League.

Phelan said the club is lacking “firepower”, and veteran defender Charlie Davies put it even more plainly.

From the BBC:

“We need help. We made signings in the summer and they have done their bit but they were all last-minute. We are thin up top and we need someone who can put the ball in the net.”

Hull went through a mess during the summer, with player acquisition problematic and manager Steve Bruce quitting the club. After a hot start led to Phelan getting the job on a permament basis it’s clear that, like Swansea boss Bob Bradley, this isn’t about who’s in the dugout.

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Boro boss Karanka vows no complacency

MIDDLESBROUGH, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 05:  Aitor Karanka manager of Middlesbrough and Mike Phelan manager of Hull City look on from the touchline during the Premier League match between Middlesbrough and Hull City at Riverside Stadium on December 5, 2016 in Middlesbrough, England.  (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images)
Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images
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Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka stayed level-headed after a controlling 1-0 win over Hull City at the Riverside Stadium on Monday.

Aside from a couple of heart-in-throat moments near the 90th minute, Boro was all over the Tigers in earning three points and jumping into 13th place.

[ MORE: Match recap ]

“We deserved to win this game because we had a lot of chances,” Karanka said after the match on NBCSN. “We scored the goal, had a lot of possession, and were confident on the pitch. When we scored the goal, we had the spirit to manage this kind of game. It’s a game to be really proud of the team. It’s difficult to play Monday.”

He was asked whether Boro was better than being a relegation candidate.

“We have to fight relegation because we are a recently promoted team. We have to keep winning games, if you’re in the Premier League you’re going to pay if you’re complacent. We have done nothing yet.”

Boro appears to have the quality to stay up, and has an interesting road through the congested holiday season of fixtures: at Saints, home for Liverpool and Swansea, at Burnley and Manchester United, then home to Leicester on Jan. 2.

Find 7-8 points in there, and perhaps there will be some exhalations a few days into 2017.

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