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Why Cristiano Ronaldo’s greatness continues to surprise

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Cristiano Ronaldo breaks so many records on a weekly basis it’s tough to know where to start.

[ MORE: Real batter Atletico in UCL ]

Let’s begin with his latest exploits, a second-straight UEFA Champions League hat trick as he led Real Madrid to a 3-0 win in their UCL semifinal first leg against crosstown rivals Atletico Madrid.

Real have scored nine goals in their last three UCL games. Ronaldo has eight of them and his penchant for delivering at the pivotal moments of the biggest matches continues.

Ronaldo’s three goals took his tally to 103 in the UCL, the most all-time and he’s now ahead of Lionel Messi by nine goals. He also has the most goals in UCL semifinals ever, with 13, plus he is the first player to reach 50 goals (52, to be exact) in UCL knockout rounds and he has equaled Messi’s record of most hat tricks in the UCL (7) and is also the first to score 10 or more UCL goals in in six consecutive seasons.

We will leave the whole “Messi or Ronaldo?” debate for most of the next five decades another day, but Ronaldo is heading towards his fourth UCL crown (third with Real) which equals Messi’s total at Barcelona and the Portuguese national team captain looks nailed on to win a second-straight Ballon d’Or to equal Messi’s current record of five.

Despite all of these incredible stats, it sometimes feels like Ronaldo’s goals, performances and general beast-mode abilities aren’t appreciated as much as they should be. Maybe the stats doing the rounds from his most-recent hat trick will help change that. But probably not. He is revered in Portugal for leading them to their first major title at EURO 2016 last summer and the accolades and awards pour in, but when we reflect on his career will he really join the immortals Pele, Maradona and Messi?

Think about it.

[ MORE: Champions League schedule ] 

There’s a sense of “huh, he’s still doing it, isn’t he?” out there among fans of rival clubs, neutrals and even some of Real’s own supporters who still boo him. That’s right. Booing the man who is the all-time leading scorer at Real with 399 goals in 389 appearances. That’s 76 more goals than Real legend Raul who sits in second place all-time and he took 741 games to reach that mark…

Ronaldo is now 32 years old and he shows no signs of slowing down but it is perhaps his constant posturing which puts off many compared to the more relaxed, unassuming demeanor of Messi. Maybe Ronaldo is just too “in your face” to be mentioned in the same breath of soccer’s greatest-ever players. But if you were that good, wouldn’t you too be pretty proud of it?

While many make fun of his washboard abs he often shows off, his impeccable tan and his wild gesticulations towards officials, what you can’t deny is his supreme professionalism on and off the pitch.

He’s been in the game since the age of 17 at Sporting Lisbon and then Manchester United, but did anyone at either club really believe he would go on to achieve what he has at Real over the past eight seasons? Maybe Ronaldo himself may not have believed it (he probably did, let’s be honest) but he’s doing it. Of course he’s played with some sensational players but since joining Real in 2008 his goals have been the main reason they’ve challenged, and won, major trophies.

Given his incredible physical fitness and a real lack of severe injuries over the years, why can’t he go on doing it for the next decade?

Look at Francesco Totti, a totally different type of player (Messi-esque, if you will) who never relied on pace and power. At the age of 40 he is set to retire, almost begrudgingly, so even father time has caught up with him. It will happen to Messi too but like Totti, his game doesn’t hinge quite as much on sheer fitness and power as Ronaldo’s does.

Messi may get more plaudits than Ronaldo simply because his play on the ball is more aesthetically pleasing as he glides over the grass and bamboozles defenders. Ronaldo’s game is about combining pace and power with technical ability. He often bulldozes opponents to smash home volleys and bullet headers into the top corner. Ronaldo may not be able to go on as long as Messi, but he’s already reinvented himself in many ways, drifting into a central role rather than playing out wide as an out-and-out winger like he did in his early days.

His template to follow should be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Yes, he’s currently recovering from a serious knee injury at the age of 35, but did Zlatan look out of place in the pace of the Premier League this season? Nope. Ronaldo’s soccer brain is clever enough to reinvent himself once more and remain at the top level in Europe for another four or five seasons.

Imagine how many more records he will break when his career is finally up. That’s if that moment ever actually comes…

Photo: Flamengo supporter tattoos club jersey on body

MAURÍCIO DOS ANJOS VIA VICE
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A supporter in Brazil has taken fandom to a whole new level with a piece of body art that shows his devotion to the club.

[ MORE: Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks ]

Maurício dos Anjos, a passionate Flamengo fan, has been a life-long supporter of the Rio de Janeiro-based club, and has the tattoo to prove it.

While it may look like body paint, Dos Anjos has a tattoo on the upper-half of his body depicting the Flamengo jersey, and it’s pretty awesome.

“People ask me if I don’t find it strange that I’m always wearing a Flamengo shirt. And I just don’t,” dos Anjos told VICE. “To me, it’s normal. But it doesn’t seem like anyone I talk to about it actually dislikes my tattoo.”

In total, Dos Anjos says the body work took over 90 hours and 30 sessions to complete the tattoo.

Has the perception of MLS really changed?

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When David Beckham arrived in Los Angeles back in 2007 his presence changed the complexion of Major League Soccer for all the right reasons, and the perception of the growing league changed.

[ MORE: Go behind the scenes at NYCFC’s new training facility ]

Over the years, MLS has strived to move into the upper-echelon of the global game, in an attempt to compete with the likes of the Premier League, Bundesliga and La Liga, but naysayers still indicate to this day that the United States’ top flight lacks the quality of the aforementioned.

Phrases like “retirement league” and “uninspired” have been used to describe MLS in the past, particularly when it comes to the league’s willingness to spend boatloads of cash on notable players well past their prime.

Examples such as Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Rafael Marquez have at times dampened the perception of MLS due to the lack of quality on the pitch from those players, along with several others that had previously boasted extensive resumes.

Now, we’re at a time where MLS has picked up its scouting, with clubs focused more on younger, more skilled talents from South America and Europe.

That has led to major signings over the past several years, such as Ezequiel Barco, Miguel Almiron, Diego Rossi and Jesus Medina, to name a few.

Has that changed the overall complexion of MLS though?

On Thursday, Kevin De Bruyne‘s agent, Patrick de Koster, suggested in an interview that the Belgium international would likely “finish” his career in MLS.

“For now, he’s very happy at this club,” De Koster said. “We always look what the best solution for the player, both financially and football wise. Kevin’s future? I can see him finish at Los Angeles.”

This comes on the heels of a 36-year-old Zlatan Ibrahimovic joining the LA Galaxy in a move that has sent shockwaves across the league and the world because of the Swede’s great presence on a global scale.

It’s not to say that players like Ibrahimovic, or previous signings like David Villa and Didier Drogba cannot help the overall growth of MLS, because they certainly bring an awareness to the matches and draw attention to their respective clubs.

However, the long-term viability of MLS has been and will continue to be sustained on youth players succeeding in the league, as well as being able to draw promising young talents into the top flight of the U.S.

Report: USMNT likely to face Brazil, Mexico in September friendlies

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The U.S. Men’s National Team won’t have a busy schedule throughout the summer, but Dave Sarachan and his side will get a tiny taste of the World Cup in September.

[ MORE: Chivas’ Almeyda exhales after CCL title win ]

ESPN FC is reporting that the USMNT will likely face Brazil and Mexico — both of whom will travel to Russia in June — later this year, as the U.S. Soccer Federation is in the process of finalizing both friendlies.

The matches are set to be played during the September international window, which runs from Sept. 3 through Sept. 11.

Both fixtures will reportedly be played in the United States, although venues haven’t been determined yet.

The U.S. has already begun booking a slate of difficult matches to round out 2018, with England and Italy already confirmed opponents for the Yanks in November.

The Yanks are 1-17-0 all-time against Brazil in all competitions, while the U.S. hasn’t faced Mexico since its 1-1 draw at the Estadio Azteca in June 2017 during CONCACAF World Cup qualifying.

Men in Blazers: Jurgen Klopp talks loss of Coutinho and more

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Roger Bennett talks with manager Jurgen Klopp about revolutionizing Liverpool, his Greatest Show on Turf-esque offense, the loss of Philippe Coutinho and how he keeps football in perspective.

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