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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…

El Salvador players face bans after biting USMNT’s Altidore, Gonzalez

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While the USMNT booked its place into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night, the team’s quarterfinal opponent was punished for the actions of some of its players.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica ]

The U.S. knocked off El Salvador, 2-0, on Wednesday night, but it was the malice committed by the losers that proved to be so disappointing to watch.

Americans Jozy Altidore and Omar Gonzalez were each bit by El Salvadoran players during the match, with both incidents going unnoticed during live action by the referees.

Henry Romero was given a six-match international ban, while Darwin Ceren of the San Jose Earthquakes was handed a three-match suspension for his role.

According to CONCACAF, the duo will only have to sit out “official matches,” and with El Salvador out of the running for qualification into next summer’s World Cup, the Central Americans will have some down time.

Three takeaways from the USMNT’s win over Costa Rica

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For the first time since 2013, the USMNT will have the opportunity to lay it all on the line in an attempt to hoist the CONCACAF Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica in Gold Cup semis ]

This summer’s competition has been a unique one for manager Bruce Arena and his side, with a large host of players seeing time in the tournament as the second-term boss looks to establish his roster heading into next summer’s World Cup.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s semifinal victory ]

Arena and Co. made its move into the Gold Cup final on Saturday night after disposing of Costa Rica behind a pair of second-half finishes from Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey.

The U.S. will now move on to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday night’s finale, but first, here’s a look at three takeaways from the Stars and Stripes’ victory on Saturday.

Dempsey continues as lead contributor in U.S. attack

Outside of Christian Pulisic, who wasn’t selected for this month’s Gold Cup, there isn’t a more consistent and threatening goalscorer than Clint Dempsey for the USMNT.

The Seattle Sounders veteran was directly involved in both goals last night, with the second — a finish of his own — putting Dempsey on level terms as U.S. Soccer’s all-time leading scorer with Landon Donovan.

Albeit at 34 years of age and likely on the back nine of his career, Dempsey has proven time and time again just how critical his usage and production can be for the Stars and Stripes. Even if Dempsey doesn’t see as much time moving forward with the likes of Pulisic earning starting minutes, the Texas-native is more than deserving of a rotational role within the squad.

Altidore still proving his worth up front

Jozy Altidore opened the scoring for the U.S. on Saturday night, and it was his brilliant, probing run through the Costa Rica backline that freed himself up for Dempsey to pick out his long-time compatriot inside the Ticos area.

The Toronto FC striker has always been scrutinizes on the international level, despite being one of the national team’s go-to threats in the attacking third.

Although Jordan Morris and Dom Dwyer each displayed well during the group stage of the competition, Altidore is the veteran of the group. He’s played at two World Cups and is currently the team’s second active leading scorer all-time, only trailing Dempsey.

Mexico may be only true threat to USMNT

Assuming Mexico is able to dispatch of Jamaica on Sunday and reach another Gold Cup final, it’s difficult to imagine a situation more perfect than a USA-Mexico conclusion. Forget the storied rivalry for a second and consider what this tournament means to both sides.

Yes, there’s a trophy on the line. However, this edition of the Gold Cup is way more important to both programs’ long-term growth, most notably next summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Mexico didn’t bring any of its regulars to this tournament, after many had played the month prior at the FIFA Confederations Cup, but even El Tri’s backups have held up well against their CONCACAF competition.

El Tri has allowed just one goal in four matches thus far, and Jamaica’s attack hasn’t exactly proven to be an offensive juggernaut, so it shouldn’t come as a shock if Mexico does set up a date with the U.S.

Saturday MLS roundup: Revs outlast Galaxy in wild affair and more

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While the U.S. Men’s National Team took center stage in their CONCACAF Gold Cup win on Saturday night, there was still a full MLS docket as well.

[ MORE: Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica, into Gold Cup final ]

David Villa and NYCFC kicked off a busy day of MLS action with a vital 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire, closing the gap between the two sides near the top of the Eastern Conference. Meanwhile, East leaders Toronto FC earned a 1-1 draw against the Colorado Rapids at BMO Field.

Minnesota United’s first-year struggles continued on the afternoon after suffering a 3-0 defeat at home against the New York Red Bulls, who have now scored eight goals in their last two outings.

The day’s most exciting match came at Gillette Stadium though, as the New England Revolution narrowly defeated the LA Galaxy, 4-3, behind a pair of second-half finishes from Teal Bunbury.

Here’s a full look back at Saturday’s MLS scoreboard.

New York City FC 2-1 Chicago Fire (RECAP)
Minnesota United 0-3 New York Red Bulls
D.C. United 1-3 Houston Dynamo
Toronto FC 1-1 Colorado Rapids
Columbus Crew 1-0 Philadelphia Union
Montreal Impact 1-2 FC Dallas
New England Revolution 4-3 LA Galaxy
Real Salt Lake 1-1 Sporting KC

Player ratings from USMNT’s 2-0 win over Costa Rica

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The U.S. national team is headed to the final of the 2017 Gold Cup after knocking off Costa Rica 2-0 on Saturday.

Who stood out for all the right — and wrong — reasons, as Bruce Arena’s side prepares to face either Mexico or Jamaica in Wednesday’s final?

[ RECAP: Super-sub Dempsey propels USMNT past Costa Rica ]

GK — Tim Howard: 7 — Forced to make two saves, the first of which was a hero’s intervention with Marco Ureña racing in one on one. The second came not long before the opening goal, and he did well to spill it no more than a foot or two in front of him. Howard looks at the top of his game, again.

LB — Jorge Villafaña: 6.5 — For the first time all tournament, he got forward with regularity and served the ball into the box. With the entire flank open ahead of him, Villafaña had to fill the void of width. Still, not a ton of quality. Fortunately, he was tested very little in open space.

CB — Matt Besler: 7.5 — Best of the defensive unit, perhaps so much so he’s vaulted himself back into the four-man rotation for the World Cup.

CB — Omar Gonzalez: 6 — Besler stood out as the star, hardly putting a foot wrong all night, thus overshadowing Gonzalez for the most part. Costa Rica opted to build with the ball on the ground, thus negating Gonzalez’s greatest strength, his aerial presence. That said, he wasn’t remotely exposed in the weakest facet of his game, either.

RB — Graham Zusi: 6 — Paul Arriola’s presence ahead of him was immeasurably important. I’m still bullish on Zusi as a right back, with the necessary shading of defensive help. Before you lose your mind, consider the italicized part.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s Gold Cup coverage ]

CM — Michael Bradley: 7 — Not his most influential game, but it didn’t need to be. With Kellyn Acosta doing much of the heavy lifting, in terms of covering acreage, Bradley played the part of disciplined organizer slightly deeper in midfield than we’re accustomed to seeing. It’s a role that suits him well, with the right partner ahead of him. His influence on Acosta will also benefit the USMNT for years to come.

CM — Kellyn Acosta: 7 — The kid is (still) alright, even after a couple subpar games during the group stage. As stated above, the partnership matters. Afforded a bit more time and space by the Ticos, Acosta pushed into the final third all night long and provided the extra man to play with possession high up the field.

LM — Darlington Nagbe: 6.5 — He’ll always shade more toward the center of the field, even when played as an out-and-out wide midfielder, and that’s what he did against Costa Rica. It’s nice having that extra man in the middle, but it turns the left wing into a barren wasteland. Take the good with the bad.

RM — Paul Arriola: 6.5 — You may not get a ton of final product from Arriola, but with Zusi playing an out-of-role right back behind him, it’s vitally important that the wide player on that side of the field offers defensive cover from the front. Arriola does so, and gets into (and wins) more than a winger’s fair share of 50-50 challenges. He’s a net positive in a lot of things that don’t show up in boxscores. There’s always a place for a player like that.

[ MORE: Mexico beat Honduras, book their place in semifinals ]

FW — Jozy Altidore: 6.5 — We’ve known this for a while, but Altidore is far more effective playing with a partner up top. His tendency to drop into midfield helps to link play with someone ahead of him. When he’s all by his lonesome, who/what’s he to link?

FW — Jordan Morris: 7 — Piggybacking on the above point about Altidore, Morris is the perfect complement — quick in short bursts, a burner in the open field, and a smart runner of channels on occasion. He was the best player on the field the opening 30 minutes or so. Faded down the stretch, but the strong first half earns him positive marks.

Sub — Clint Dempsey: 9 — An assist and a goal, all in 24 minutes’ work. More on the hero of the day in a bit.

Sub — Gyasi Zardes: N/A — 7 minutes on the field, with little to no real impact on the game.

Sub — Dax McCarty: N/A — 5 minutes off the bench, but he served his purpose in helping to keep possession and put the game to bed.