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Champions League: Real Madrid returns the favor, takes 3-0 lead on Borussia Dortmund

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Real Madrid has taken the first step toward avenging last year’s UEFA Champions League semifinal loss, adopting Borussia Dortmund’s formula while doing so. Whereas last year’s final four meeting between the clubs opened with a 4-1 win for BVB in Germany, this year’s quarterfinal saw an equally lopsided result in leg one at the Santiago Bernabéu. With goals from Gareth Bale, Isco, and Cristiano Ronaldo, the nine-time champions earned a 3-0 win over last year’s finalists, taking a potentially decisive lead into next week’s leg in Westphalia.

Bale opened the scoring after only two minutes, poking a Daniel Carvajal pass beyond Roman Weidenfeller from close range. Isco, starting in place of Ángel Di María, doubled the Merengues lead in the 27th minute, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s 14th goal of the tournament early in the second half allowed the hosts to cruise through the final whistle.

Borussia Dortmund, decimated by injuries for most of the season, where without six of their would be starters, absences reflected in El Real’s dominance from the opening whistle. Though BVB beat Real Madrid 4-3 over two legs in last season’s final four, the team has already conceded as many goals at halftime this year, with the Spaniards putting 11 shots on target to Dortmund’s two over 90 minutes in Madrid.

After holding 61 percent of the match’s possession, Real Madrid is on the verge of its fourth straight semifinal, though the club has not reached a final since 2002 – the year it won its ninth European title. After today’s lopsided result, the club is one step closer to its coveted decima, hoping to become the first team to claim 10 UEFA continental crowns.

(MORE: Paris Saint-Germain crush Chelsea in absorbing Champions League clash)

Bale opened the scoring almost immediately when a run through the middle of the penalty area left him with a chance in front of Weidenfeller’s net. Beating defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos to a ball played in front of goal, Bale poked his shot past Weidenfeller and into an empty net, giving the hosts an early lead.

After controlling play over the next 24 minutes, Real Madrid broke through with a second goal just before the half hour-mark. From just beyond the penalty area, Isco, starting in place of the ill Di María, finished into the left of goal, giving the hosts a reward for a dominant opening 27 minutes.

In the second half, a third score mitigated any damage a potential Dortmund away goal might have, with Luka Modric’s piercing attacking on the BVB defense producing Ronaldo’s score. Dribbling through the middle for the park, the Croatian midfielder danced around multiple defenders before laying off to Ronaldo, who moved around is own defender before an easy left-footed finish from the middle of the box. With his competition-leading 14th score of the tournament, Ronaldo helped reverse the deficit Real Madrid carried out of the Westfalenstadion last season.

source: AP
Cristiano Ronaldo, who scored Real Madrid’s third goal, left the game late with an apparent foot injury. (Photo credit: AP Photos.)

All was not good for Ronaldo, though. In the 81st minute, Spain’s leading goal scorer went to ground with what appeared to be a foot injury. Substituted for Casemiro, the Ballon d’Or winner left under his own power, but his departure marked the latest in a series of first leg injuries during the quarterfinals.

(Injuries: Piqué | Costa | Ibrahimovic)

Real Madrid’s occasionally shaky defense gave Dortmund multiple chances at an away goal, the best of which game near the hour mark. Then, Marco Reus, moving in from the right flank, put a ball cross the face of goal, on which Iker Casillas weakly pushed toward the middle of the box. Attacking midfielder Henrikh Mkhitaryan was there and attempted to fire Dortmund’s opener in from nine yards out. Pepe, however, leapt from this right-center back position to block the shot, preserving his team’s clean sheet.

Carrying the same feeling last year’s meeting had while moving from Germany to Spain, the teams’ quarterfinal resumes next week in Westphalia, with Dortmund left to deal with the same three-goal deficit they handed Real Madrid. In last year’s second leg, the Merengues managed to make it close, scoring twice before BVB was able to bleed out the match.

Without an away goal, however, Dortmund’s task is slightly more difficult. Whereas a third goal last year would have earned Real Madrid a place in the semifinals, a 3-0 win would only force extra time, leaving BVB with a massive hole coming out of leg one.

MLS Cup: Toronto FC all about the team

Toronto FC defender Nick Hagglund, center, celebrates his goal against the Montreal Impact with teammates Michael Bradley, right, and Steven Beitashour (33) during the second half of the second leg of MLS Eastern Conference championship series, in Toronto on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP)
Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP
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Toronto, Ontario (AP) Team has been the theme for Toronto FC in the buildup to the MLS Cup final.

From boisterous practices to team-first media interviews, the All for One club motto has been plain to see ahead of the championship game Saturday against the visiting Seattle Sounders.

“You don’t get to this point by mistake or by accident. You get here because a group of special guys who have all bought into a philosophy, an identity,” said Toronto midfielder Will Johnson, an MLS Cup winner with Real Salt Lake and Portland.

“I say the same about Seattle. They’re bought into what they’re good at. We’re bought in, very motivated and want to sacrifice and put aside egos to get to a point as a team to compete for the big trophy.”

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

Star striker Jozy Altidore, no fan of chatting with the media, was downright prickly when a reporter asked him if he had taken time to reflect on his personal journey to the championship game.

“No,” he said definitively. “This isn’t personal, this is a team game. We’re here to try to help Toronto to be a winning team. This has nothing to do with individuals. So it has nothing to do with what I’ve been through. This is what the city’s been through, what the fans have been through, what this club has been through. That’s far more important.”

Fullback Justin Morrow, a seven-year MLS veteran, has never played this deep into the season before.

“Each week we build on top of each other and we get closer as the year goes on. It really feels like it’s a culmination this week,” he said.

[ UCL: Who can Arsenal, Man City, Leicester draw? ]

Coach Greg Vanney has made a point of praising the entire squad, including reserves who function as the scout team in practice. While he has done soccer’s equivalent of shortening his bench for the playoffs, the squad has stayed on point. If anyone has beefs, they have been kept to themselves.

That’s no small feat considering the salaries on the squad range from $7.12 million for star striker Sebastian Giovinco to $51,500 for youngsters Mo Babouli and Tsubasa Endoh.

For Morrow, being part of a tight-knit group allows you to forget that it is your job.

“When teams aren’t doing well, players tend to focus on that – their job and not about the other people on the team,” Morrow said. “And I think when teams are doing well, it becomes about the relationships between the players.”

Report: Atlanta United to acquire Parkhurst; Guardado hopes fading

COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 12:  Michael Parkhurst #4 of the Columbus Crew SC controls the ball against against the Philadelphia Union on March 12, 2016 at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
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Atlanta United is adding MLS experience to its high-flying international acquisitions.

The expansion side is set to acquire Michael Parkhurst from the Columbus Crew, according to a report from The Sporting News.

[ MORE: Mourinho worried about Zorya pitch ]

Parkhurst, 32, has been a fixture for the Crew since returning to MLS after stints with Nordsjælland and FC Augsburg. The 25-times capped American defender would join a relatively loaded expansion unit that reportedly will also add veteran Chicago goalkeeper Sean Johnson.

Unfortunately for Atlanta, it seems the first-year club’s hopes of landing Mexican star Andres Guardado are fading.

From Ives Galarcep for The Sporting News:

The club has one remaining designated player slot it is expected to fill ahead of its inaugural 2017 season, but transfer target Andres Guardado appears less likely to be the player to fill that slot, sources have told Goal USA.

The Crew was a massive disappointment last season, failing to make the playoffs one season after making a run to the MLS Cup Final. Is Parkhurst a good gamble for Atlanta?

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Men in Blazers podcast: Conte v. Pep, Cherries comeback, Spurs-Swans

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Rog and Davo relive the tactical battle between Antonio Conte and Pep Guardiola, marvel at tiny Bournemouth’s comeback win over high-flying Liverpool and duck-and-cover while recapping Spurs 5-0 Swansea.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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Mourinho accepts Zorya compliment, but says best coach “doesn’t exist”

Manchester United's coach Jose Mourinho, centre, attends a training session with his team at Chernomorets stadium in Odessa, Ukraine, Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016, ahead of Thursday's Europa League group A soccer match against FC Zorya Luhansk. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)
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On the eve of his side playing Manchester United in the UEFA Europa League, Zorya Luhansk boss Yuriy Vernydub called counterpart Jose Mourinho the best manager in the world.

And Mourinho disagreed.

Well, in principle.

[ MORE: Designing the best UCL Round of 16 ]

The Portuguese was flattered by Vernydub’s compliments and isn’t one to turn down praise. Yet at the same time, Mourinho thinks a coach’s success is year-to-year. There’s no clear best in the sport, according to Mou.

From ManUtd.com:

“He was nice by saying that but I don’t think he is right. I don’t think there is a best coach in the world. It doesn’t exist in my opinion. Every season one has to win the FIFA Gold Ball but I don’t think there is the best. You can say the best of the year and that I agree. Every year there is one with the most important result. So he is just being nice, no more than that.”

That’s almost meta, Mou.

Conceptually we understand, and Mourinho would feel he was the best in the world three seasons ago but not last year or this year (yet). Yet it’s difficult to say that the bodies of work from Pep Guardiola, Mourinho, Carlo Ancelotti, Unai Emery, Antonio Conte, Luis Enrique, and Jurgen Klopp couldn’t be measured against each other, right?

[ MORE: United, Saints advancement scenarios ]

Onto the little picture Mourinho is worried about a potentially rock hard pitch at Zorya affecting the game. This, from the BBC:

“The pitch is very hard, the pitch is very icy,” said United boss Mourinho.

“They are putting warmth on the top of it, but the pitch is very difficult and people cannot make miracles. Let’s hope everything goes well.”

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