World Cup Qualifying

World Cup Qualifying slideshow

Debatable Merit of 'The Best' Aside, How Much Longer Can Ronaldo, Messi Reign?

Cristiano Ronaldo has been crowned yet again, by FIFA, as 'The Best.' The eyes roll, a yawn wells in the throat and the mind, prodded reluctantly into action, tries to recall anything he actually did this year other than get a five-game ban for shoving a referee in the Spanish Super Cup final. Not that it really matters. His club won the Spanish league and the Champions League and that its key player in both those triumphs was probably Luka Modric doesn’t matter. Ronaldo is Ronaldo, and so when his team does better than Lionel Messi’s, he wins the individual award. That is what politics and marketing demand, and so that is how it is.

Perhaps that’s a touch unfair. Ronaldo does, after all, continue to score goals in industrial quantities and it’s hardly his fault if the startling nature of his goal returns have become familiar. He did score vital goals in both the Champions League quarterfinals and semifinals–eight over the four legs, before another two in the final; and nothing is so prized, so valued in football as being the man who gets the final touch. Ronaldo certainly isn’t an unworthy winner. He’s just a winner who comes with a sigh, a player who has stripped his game back to eye-catching, prize-winning individualistic essentials.

That Messi in the past couple of months has almost single-handedly dragged an ailing Barcelona to the top of La Liga doesn’t matter. Nor does it matter that Messi produced a performance of almost unparalleled brilliance even by the standards he and Ronaldo have set to carry Argentina to the World Cup. Once Real Madrid had won the Champions League in June, the awards were Ronaldo’s.

The Best doesn’t matter. The Ballon d’Or doesn’t matter. No individual awards matter other than to those obsessive fans who have only to see Messi earning praise to take to social media in defense of their man (or vice versa; it’s not that Ronaldistas have a monopoly on one-eyed mania). And it matters to Ronaldo, of course.

That’s now a full decade that either Messi or Ronaldo has won The Best or the Ballon d’Or (the awards split in 2015; this is the second time The Best has been awarded). On each occasion other than 2010, whichever of Messi and Ronaldo didn’t win came second. They were second and third in the 2007 Ballon d’Or behind Kaka.

Their dominance seems so natural now, it feels so inevitable that it must be Messi against Ronaldo, that perhaps the claims of others are not taken seriously. Modric, Isco, Toni Kroos, Karim Benzema and Sergio Ramos were all arguably just as important to Madrid’s success as Ronaldo was. Gianluigi Buffon, Leonardo Bonucci, Paulo Dybala and Miralem Pjanic were all instrumental in Juventus winning Serie A and reaching the Champions League final. Monaco, who won the French league against all odds and got to the Champions League semifinal, may think Kylian Mbappe, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Benjamin Mendy might have been in with a shout.

Given the award is supposed to recognize all of 2017 (which is absurd and unhelpful, given the natural tendency to privilege performances that win trophies that are handed out in May and June), Kevin De Bruyne’s performances this season should have propelled him into contention. Harry Kane, meanwhile, has outscored Ronaldo in 2017. Neymar, slightly mystifyingly, is the third name on the shortlist, presumably because he helped Brazil qualify impressively for the World Cup and achieved every modern footballer’s dream of becoming the most expensive player in the world.

None of it matters, of course. Even the format of The Best makes clear its fatuousness. Voting is carried out by four different groups: journalists, national team coaches, national team captains and the public. Players, coaches and a sadly large number of journalists are swayed by political concerns; it’s doubtful any member of the public who bothers to vote does so for any reason other than to support their man. This is not a debate about the nature of greatness. And so, necessarily, it becomes a predictable tussle between the two most vaunted players in the world. At least the Ballon d’Or still purports to be about footballing considerations. FIFA's award barely bothers with the pretense.

Perhaps, though, this is the final year when the two will be such obvious candidates. Ronaldo is 32, and even last season he had to be used sparingly by Zinedine Zidane. Messi is 30. His form over the past couple of months has been exceptional, but this surge, apparently fired by frustration with the Barcelona board and pretty much everybody involved with Argentina, came after a lull.

Neymar is looming, even if he spends most weeks performing tricks in a laughably skewed French league. So, too, is Kylian Mbappe, although he, like Neymar, is barely tested at PSG. Success in the Champions League and/or the World Cup could tip things their way. Isco, finally, is beginning to emerge from Ronaldo’s shadow and it’s just about conceivable that by the end of the season he could not merely be Madrid’s key attacking player but could be perceived as such. Success for Manchester City in the Champions League or for Belgium in the World Cup could elevate De Bruyne.

If Messi keeps playing with the verve he is at the moment, he would fully deserve another award, in as much as anybody ever deserves an individual award in a team sport. Or with another Champions League for Madrid or success for Portugal at the World Cup and Ronaldo would almost certainly still be on the short list. But it feels at the moment as though both could be creaking along with their walkers at 80 and still be put up to the vote.

After all, when an award recognizes less footballing achievement than fame, why let retirement put an end to it?

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Syria v Australia - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Asia Zone Playoffs - Hang Jebat Stadium, Melaka, Malaysia

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - Syria v Australia - 2018 World Cup Qualifying Asia Zone Playoffs - Hang Jebat Stadium, Melaka, Malaysia - October 5, 2017. Syria's Omar Al Soma reacts on the pitch nearing the end of the match. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin

MLS Decision Day: San Jose Survives; Portland Takes 1st In West; NYCFC Earns Bye

There was one major item left to be decided across Sunday's 11 MLS season finales, and Marco Ureña made sure it went in the San Jose Earthquakes' favor.

The Costa Rican forward, who scored twice on the USA in World Cup qualifying in September, scored in the 93rd minute to snap a 2-2 draw vs. Minnesota United and send the Quakes to the playoffs as the six seed in the West. FC Dallas and Real Salt Lake were hoping for help from Minnesota, and it nearly came to fruition, but Ureña's finish, off an unselfish feed from Chris Wondolowski, burst that bubble to cap the MLS playoff picture.

Seeding was also at stake on Sunday, and Vancouver went from finishing first in the West and having a first-round bye to finishing third and having to play San Jose in a midweek wildcard game after losing 2-1 to Portland, which takes first in the conference. Rival and defending MLS Cup champion Seattle earned the second bye. The other wildcard matchup pits the fourth-seeded Houston Dynamo against the sixth-seeded Sporting Kansas City.

In the east, Toronto FC and NYCFC will be the ones resting this week, while the third-seeded Chicago Fire host the six-seed New York Red Bulls and fourth-seeded expansion team Atlanta United hosts the fifth-seeded Columbus Crew in the conference's two wildcard bouts.

The day also brought a number of farewells, with D.C. United playing its final match at RFK Stadium (a 2-1 loss to the rival Red Bulls), while Kaka played his last game with Orlando City (an embarrassing 6-1 defeat vs. Philadelphia) and Patrice Bernier (scored a PK in a 3-2 loss to New England) and Brian Carroll did the same for their respective teams before heading into retirement.

Here is how all 11 matches–which combined for a single-day MLS record of 46 goals–played out:

Atlanta United 2, Toronto FC 2

D.C. United 1, New York Red Bulls 2

Montreal Impact 2, New England Revolution 3

Portland Timbers 2, Vancouver Whitecaps 1

NYCFC 2, Columbus Crew 2

Philadelphia Union 6, Orlando City 1

FC Dallas 5, LA Galaxy 1

San Jose Earthquakes 3, Minnesota United 2

Real Salt Lake 2, Sporting Kansas City 1

Seattle Sounders 3, Colorado Rapids 0

Houston Dynamo 3, Chicago Fire 0

Watch all the highlights of key goals, moments and changes in the playoff picture from throughout the day below.

URENA HEROIC FOR SAN JOSE

Three minutes into stoppage time, Marco Ureña became a hero for the San Jose Earthquakes. His finish off Chris Wondolowski's unselfish pass in the 93rd minute put San Jose back into the playoff places and just over that fateful red line, breaking FC Dallas's heart in the process.

SENSATIONAL GIOVINCO TIES IT UP

Stop if you've heard this before: Sebastian Giovinco scored on a sensational free kick. It's a big one, too. The pinpoint rocket makes it 2-2 and takes the bye back off the plate from Atlanta United.

The match ended 2-2, and the point gave Toronto FC 69 points, marking a new single-season record in MLS. The 1998 LA Galaxy had the old mark at 68, which was accomplished in 32 games.

SAN JOSE CAPITULATES

All San Jose needed to do was hold off a Minnesota team with nothing to play for, but it couldn't manage to do that, not even on a simple set piece.

Francisco Calvo's header back across goal off a corner kick brought Minnesota level 2-2 with San Jose and brought FC Dallas back into the final playoff position in the West with less than 10 minutes to go in the season.

MARTINEZ FIRES ATLANTA BACK INTO SECOND

Josef Martinez responded to Toronto FC's goal with a clutch one of his own, sending Atlanta United back into second in the conference. AUFC's plans for the week have been in yo-yo status all day, with the club in and out of bye positioning, but a win and a NYCFC-Columbus draw would secure the bye.

COLUMBUS, TORONTO PULL EVEN, KEEP THINGS SAME ATOP EAST

Despite being robbed on an uncalled penalty, Columbus found an equalizer moments later on a flying header from Josh Williams on a corner kick, making it 2-2 just after the hour mark at Citi Field. That result was good news for Atlanta, which temporarily put the expansion side back into the No. 2 seed, but Jozy Altidore's finish brought Toronto FC level at 1-1, which helps out NYCFC.

That goal from Altidore, his 15th of the season, was followed by an idiot fan throwing a cup at the U.S. international. Altidore feigned heading the cup, only for Sebastian Giovinco to pick it up and drink out of it.

WONDO PUTS SAN JOSE BACK INTO PLAYOFF POSITION

San Jose needed a goal badly, and you'll never guess who delivered it.

Chris Wondolowski tapped home from close range to put the Earthquakes up 2-1 and launch the club back into sixth place and the final playoff spot in the West, despite FC Dallas's 3-1 edge over LA.

The goal also let Wondo snap a tie with the great Jaime Moreno and brings him level with Jeff Cunningham for second on the all-time MLS regular season goals list with 134. Landon Donovan's record sits at 145.

PORTLAND JUMPS BACK INTO FIRST

Things are happening in Cascadia.

Darren Mattocks scored against his former team, Vancouver, to give Portland a 2-1 lead and a provisional place atop the Western Conference and put the 'Caps down to third.

Meanwhile, Seattle nearly conceded the equalizer to Colorado after a handball from Harry Shipp, but the ensuing penalty kick hit the post, keeping the Sounders in second position.

AT THE HALF

VILLA NETS HIS SECOND

It wasn't a masterclass in goalkeeping, but David Villa won't matter. His second goal of the day has NYCFC up 2-1 on Columbus and back into the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference, which comes with a first-round bye.

LAST OPENER AT RFK

Paul Arriola and Luciano Acosta combined for a gorgeous opener against the New York Red Bulls, with D.C. United on its way to shutting down RFK Stadium with a win by taking a 1-0 lead into halftime.

THIESSON STUNNER DROPS SJ OUT OF PLAYOFF PLACES, FCD INTO SIXTH

Jerome Thiesson curled a left-footed blast into the upper left-hand corner to rock San Jose and provisionally put the Earthquakes out of playoff positioning.

That goal put Real Salt Lake into the sixth and final playoff place in the West, but FC Dallas followed with two quick goals from Roland Lamah and Matt Hedges–even with RSL leading SKC 2-0 on a tally from Brooks Lennon.

REPLAY HELPS ATLANTA

A video replay confirmed penalty decision in favor of Atlanta United, and Yamil Asad made the most of the opportunity, putting the hosts up 1-0 on Toronto FC. With NYCFC and Columbus level, that provisionally puts the expansion side into position to secure a first-round bye.

CASCADIA CENTER BACKS SWAP GOALS

Kendall Waston gave the Vancouver Whitecaps a lead in Portland, only to have it canceled out by Liam Ridgewell moments later. It's 1-1 just over half an hour in, but Vancouver remains in position to earn the first seed in the West.

DEMPSEY SENT OFF

A video review helped the referee make his decision, and it's a big one: Clint Dempsey was sent off for a flying elbow, which not only sends Seattle down to 10 men against Colorado, but also ensures Dempsey will miss at least one playoff game.

HOESEN FIRES SAN JOSE BACK INTO PLAYOFF SPOT

After temporarily falling out of the playoff places, San Jose is back into sixth, with Danny Hoesen finishing on the breakaway to give the Earthquakes a 1-0 lead over Minnesota and the result necessary to fend off RSL for sixth.

KAMARA PUTS COLUMBUS IN BYE POSITION–UNTIL VILLA RESPONDS

Ola Kamara has had a sensational season for Columbus, and it continued with the opener against NYCFC which temporarily put the Crew into second place and a first-round bye.

That is, until David Villa responded with a headed off Maxi Moralez's corner kick for his 21st goal of the season and one that made it 1-1 within 19 minutes.

BRUIN HELPS SEATTLE CAMPAIGN FOR A BYE

Will Bruin's ninth-minute goal has the Seattle Sounders up 1-0 over Colorado and into second place in the Western Conference. Does anyone want to see the defending champions in the playoffs, especially with added rest?

HOUSTON GOES INTO HOSTING POSITION

An early goal from Leonardo has the Houston Dynamo up 1-0 on the Chicago Fire and provisionally into fourth place, which would see the club hosting a wildcard game midweek.

RSL DOES ITS PART

It gets even worse for FC Dallas. Real Salt Lake scored less than three minutes in vs. Sporting Kansas City, with Luis Silva pouncing on a loose ball in the SKC box and making the most of the opportunity.

That provisionally puts RSL into playoff positioning, but San Jose can seize it right back by taking a lead over Minnesota.

GALAXY DEAL FC DALLAS EARLY BLOW

FC Dallas needs some help from Minnesota United, but it's not taking care of its own business.

Michael Ciani's header off a corner kick not even 90 seconds into the match gave the LA Galaxy a 1-0 lead over FCD at Toyota Stadium.

It's been that kind of downward spiral for Dallas this season.

Fluid, Potential Election Field Points to Chaotic U.S. Soccer Presidential Campaign

Rarely have we seen a week in the American soccer landscape when there has been as much back-channel chatter as this one. “It’s the Wild West,” said one of the two dozen U.S. soccer insiders I spoke to over the past seven days.

The reasons are simple: The U.S. failed to qualify for World Cup 2018, producing the most embarrassing moment in the history of U.S. Soccer, and everyone is jockeying for position ahead of what could be a chaotic and nasty campaign for U.S. Soccer president culminating in an election on Feb. 10 in Orlando. Each official candidate for that election will need at least three formal nominations from delegates by Dec. 12.

This is an ongoing story, of course, and in the coming weeks we’ll take a closer look at a number of topics, including: The debate over what needs to change in U.S. soccer; how power works, formally and informally, in American soccer and in the U.S. Soccer federation; who votes in the election; and the chain of command and responsibilities of the various positions at U.S. Soccer.

But for now, here's what we are able to surmise as of Friday about potential candidates for U.S. Soccer president:

WHO HAS ANNOUNCED THEY’RE RUNNING AND SAYS THEY HAVE THE REQUIRED THREE FORMAL NOMINATIONS?

Steve Gans

Who is he? A Boston-based lawyer who has been in soccer for more than 25 years, Gans has been involved in the playing, legal, management and consulting sides of the sport.

Supporters would say: That Gans has an ethical reputation and is right when he criticizes the judgment of Sunil Gulati, the incumbent, over some of his most prominent decisions on national team coaches (including the pre-2014 extension of Jurgen Klinsmann’s and keeping him in the position of USMNT coach for too long).

Critics would say: That Gans isn’t a big enough presence for a position that needs one and doesn’t have enough of the respect needed to make big decisions on the technical soccer side.

Paul Lapointe

Who is he? A Western Massachusetts-based regional director of the UPSL, a national amateur league. Lapointe told SI.com on Thursday that he has the necessary nominations to be an official candidate.

Supporters would say: That Lapointe has some intriguing ideas on things like proposing promotion and relegation in U.S. club soccer for every tier below MLS, but not including MLS.

Critics would say: That Lapointe is taking far too big a leap from the UPSL to become the president of U.S. Soccer.

WHO IS LIKELY TO RUN?

Sunil Gulati

Who is he? The incumbent who has been U.S. Soccer president since 2006. Gulati has not announced whether he is running again, but he is expected to do so.

Supporters would say: That Gulati has presided over 11 years of immense growth in U.S. Soccer, including a 2015 Women’s World Cup title, two USWNT Olympic titles, two knockout-round berths in the men’s World Cup and the establishment of U.S. Development Academies for men and women. He has also increased the power of the U.S. inside FIFA.

Critics would say: That Gulati shouldn’t be rewarded with four more years as U.S. Soccer president after the disaster of missing World Cup 2018; and that U.S. Soccer leadership under Gulati has moved too far in the direction of administration and money and too far away from the soccer itself.

Eric Wynalda

Who is he? One of the greatest forwards the U.S. has ever produced. An outspoken critic of Gulati and many other facets of U.S. Soccer, Wynalda has worked in recent years as an NASL coach and in the media for Fox Sports and SiriusXM. He is expected to announce his candidacy as early as this weekend.

Supporters would say: That Wynalda is the charismatic figure of sweeping change that U.S. Soccer needs who could ride a Trump-like wave of anger toward the current regime to victory. As someone who knows soccer, Wynalda would certainly be an anti-establishment candidate open to instituting promotion/relegation and creating a more open market in the United States.

Critics would say: That Wynalda doesn’t have the temperament to be U.S. Soccer president and doesn’t have enough experience in management.

WHO IS CONFIRMED TO BE CONSIDERING RUNNING?

Landon Donovan

Who is he? One of the greatest players in U.S. soccer history.

Supporters would say: That Donovan cares deeply about the sport and has the hardcore soccer background to re-balance the soccer and business sides in U.S. Soccer. It’s also likely that Donovan could gain the support of the MLS-based voters who would be uncomfortable supporting any of the other candidates.

Critics would say: That Donovan hasn’t demonstrated any previous ability to hire coaches or manage an organization.

Charlie Stillitano

Who is he? The chair of Relevent Sports, which organizes International Champions Cup summer preseason games for top European soccer teams in the United States. SI.com has called Stillitano “the best-connected American in European soccer.” He also hosts a show on SiriusXM.

Supporters would say: That Stillitano is a soccer guy who knows the biggest names in the sport and also know how to stand up to the U.S. Soccer establishment, having clashed with them for years over his summer tournaments; and that Stillitano would make sweeping changes without being as potentially volatile as Wynalda.

Critics would say: That Stillitano wasn’t successful as the GM of the MLS MetroStars and has too many antagonists in U.S. Soccer to get things done.

WHO ARE POTENTIAL REALISTIC CANDIDATES WHO ARE CONFIRMED TO NOT BE INTERESTED IN RUNNING?

Joe Cummings (current consultant, former head of National Soccer Coaches Association of America, former member of New England Revolution leadership).

Julie Foudy (two-time World Cup winner, former USWNT captain, former president of Women’s Sports Foundation, current ESPN journalist).

Nelson Rodriguez (Chicago Fire general manager)

Claudio Reyna (NYCFC sporting director)

Brad Friedel (U.S. men’s Under-19 coach)

Rocco Commisso (owner, New York Cosmos)

Rishi Sehgal (NASL interim commissioner)

John Motta (president, U.S. Adult Soccer Association)

Angela Hucles (member of U.S. Soccer Athletes Council, two-time Olympic gold medalist, former president of Women’s Sports Foundation)

Mia Hamm (two-time World Cup and Olympics winner, part-owner LAFC)

Kyle Martino (former USMNT player, current NBC Sports analyst)

Dave Checketts (former owner Real Salt Lake, former NBA GM)

Alexi Lalas (former USMNT World Cup player, current Fox Sports analyst, not interested in U.S. Soccer presidency “despite the undeniable fact that I would be awesome. Besides, they can’t afford me.”)

WHO ARE QUALIFIED, POTENTIAL CANDIDATES WHO HAVE YET TO DENY OR ACKNOWLEDGE INTEREST?

This is a fluid list, and the lack of confirmation is connected to different factors that include an inability to reach them. The list of potential Major League Soccer/Soccer United Marketing nominees are people who the MLS/SUM power structure might turn to at some point if they feel they want a favorable candidate who isn’t Gulati.

Tim Leiweke (former AEG chair, currently working to confirm David Beckham’s MLS team in Miami)

Mary Harvey (management consultant, World Cup and Olympics winner, served on U.S. Soccer board for 12 years, former FIFA director of development)

Potential MLS/SUM power structure nominees (Portland owner Merritt Paulson, Seattle owner Adrian Hanauer, Dallas owner Dan Hunt, Soccer United Marketing president Kathy Carter, New England owner Jonathan Kraft)

Ali Curtis (former New York Red Bulls sporting director)

Chris Klein (LA Galaxy president)

Garth Lagerwey (Seattle Sounders president of soccer)

WHO ARE SOME INTERESTING SUGGESTIONS I HAVE HEARD FROM TOTALLY OUTSIDE THE SOCCER WORLD?

Mark Cuban

Condoleezza Rice

Jerry Colangelo

Mitt Romney

(One person suggested the creation of a GoFundMe page for a member of the American Outlaws supporters group. The fund would support the member if they won the presidency, which is an unpaid position.)

RFK Stadium's Last Call a Final Farewell to American Soccer's Common Thread

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a couple weeks of gut punches, aloof arrogance and so many expressions of faith stomped on and returned to sender, American soccer could use a bit of a pick-me-up. It needs a reminder of what the sport should be about (in part), and why it appeals almost universally. And it’ll get that reminder here Sunday afternoon, as a community says a reverential goodbye to a stadium its been eager to leave for years.

D.C. United will entertain the New York Red Bulls on Sunday in the final match of the 2017 regular season, which doubles as the host’s final appearance at crumbling, crusty RFK Stadium. After a long road trip to start 2018, United finally will have a home of its own as it moves southwest to Audi Field. There’s very little at stake in the finale, at least superficially. New York (13-12-8) is locked into sixth in the East and almost certainly will be resting players ahead of a mid-week knockout-round game. United (9-19-5), the four-time league champion that had qualified for the playoffs three straight years, will finish this season in the conference cellar. The Atlantic Cup rivalry trophy is up for grabs, but that’s of little concern for most.

Instead, it’s the intangibles that will provide meaning and motivation. There will be nostalgia, celebration, collective experience and memory—all the things soccer is about for so many people around the world. No place in the USA has more of those things than RFK, which opened in 1961 as a football and baseball venue but over time became inextricably bound to American soccer.

Every story needs a setting. If U.S. soccer has one, it’s been RFK. There isn’t a significant player or team, men’s or women’s, over the past half-century that doesn’t have an RFK connection. It’s the only American stadium that’s been home to men’s and women’s professional teams and hosted World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Women’s World Cup and Olympic matches (not to mention CONCACAF Champions Cup, MLS Cup, NASL Soccer Bowl, U.S. Open Cup finals, etc.). Johan Cruyff, Jaime Moreno and Mia Hamm called it home. FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Boca Juniors stopped by. The U.S. men’s national team has visited RFK more than any other venue, and for the U.S. women it ranks No. 2.

RFK is American soccer’s common thread. Fans who attended Dips or DCU games now can sit in the same seats with their children. Or they can watch them play—John Harkes captained both the USA and D.C. United in 1996. His son, Ian, is finishing out his rookie season with the club. This country is massive, soccer cultures are diverse and much of the game’s domestic history remains parochial, nascent or unwritten. Except at RFK. It’s all happened here.

The Redskins departed after the 1996 season and baseball returned in 2005 and then left again in ’08. By then, RFK already was long past its prime. United remained, reluctantly, losing money and falling behind its MLS peers as it searched for a new home. But the stadium never lost its character, and to DCU’s credit, it took ownership of those flaws and tried to make them a strength, whether it was the stuffed raccoons sold at the club shop or the understanding that opposing teams wanted to be there even less.

RFK’s trajectory as DCU’s fortress mirrors the trajectory of both the club and MLS.

Apart from a handful of club staffers and a couple journalists, nobody has spent more time at RFK in a professional capacity then Ben Olsen, the long-time midfielder turned head coach.

“It was authentic, early. The crowd support was very good,” he told SI.com this week while sitting in one the stadium’s abandoned baseball dugouts. “The team was great, so you knew you were in for it. You add all that up and it was just a great venue to play in.”

While other MLS clubs had silly names and played in ridiculous uniforms inside cavernous NFL bowls, United and RFK looked like soccer. The black kits, the country’s first large and organized supporter’s groups, the shaking stands—it was something the American game hadn't seen. It was an arena that literally bounced and breathed. The high walls and iconic, undulating roof trapped the sound. RFK represented, for a time, what the rest of the league wished it could be.

“It never compared to stadiums with all of the luxuries,” long-time U.S. and MLS player Alexi Lalas said to The Washington Post’s Steven Goff, who’s been covering DCU since day one. “But it was something authentic and organic.”

That template was improved upon several times over in other cities as DCU investors came and went, and a new stadium remained elusive. Eventually, Erick Thohir and Jason Levien took over in 2012 and found the right path. Meanwhile, Olsen and United had to figure out how to continue to make RFK work.

“As the years went on the place changed—or I should say other places changed,” Olsen said. “They started building new venues. Soccer evolved in this country over the 20 years and this place became every year, a little bit dingier. The crowd numbers would move up and down.

“I’ve passed teams when they’re coming in here and they can’t believe what a s***hole this place is,” Olsen continued. "They don’t see it every day. We’re at the point where we embrace that. That’s how the narrative has kind of changed. David Villa’s not in the mood to play because there’s cement falling in the locker room? Great! We’ll use our home advantage, whatever it may be.”

?

D.C. is 10 games below .500 this season but has a chance to finish its home schedule on even terms if it can beat New York. So it still works, to some small extent. But it’s time to go.

“We’ve been at a point, where frankly we need to get out of here,” Olsen said. “Being a romantic about this building and the club, I love this place. It’s sad and I’ll miss the good nights here—the nights that are loud and we’re playing well and it’s one of those perfect storms at home. There’s nothing like that feeling.”

That, right there, is what soccer should be about. That feeling. The connection between club and community and the setting where it all happens. DCU’s social media hashtag this week has been #LastCallatRFK, and it’s a good choice. RFK was the local bar where everyone knew your name. Sunday's commemorative poster and program cover portrays a Lot 8 tailgate attended by luminaries from throughout RFK’s past, from Cruyff and Hamm to Olsen and Goff and so many other players, fans and people connected to that nexus. Most in attendance Sunday will be able to identify the majority of the faces depicted.

If American soccer has lost sight of what’s important in recent weeks, it can look toward that poster, all those faces and the modest, dingy, decaying stadium for some inspiration.

RFK Stadium's Last Call a Final Farewell to American Soccer's Common Thread

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a couple weeks of gut punches, aloof arrogance and so many expressions of faith stomped on and returned to sender, American soccer could use a bit of a pick-me-up. It needs a reminder of what the sport should be about (in part), and why it appeals almost universally. And it’ll get that reminder here Sunday afternoon, as a community says a reverential goodbye to a stadium its been eager to leave for years.

D.C. United will entertain the New York Red Bulls on Sunday in the final match of the 2017 regular season, which doubles as the host’s final appearance at crumbling, crusty RFK Stadium. After a long road trip to start 2018, United finally will have a home of its own as it moves southwest to Audi Field. There’s very little at stake in the finale, at least superficially. New York (13-12-8) is locked into sixth in the East and almost certainly will be resting players ahead of a mid-week knockout-round game. United (9-19-5), the four-time league champion that had qualified for the playoffs three straight years, will finish this season in the conference cellar. The Atlantic Cup rivalry trophy is up for grabs, but that’s of little concern for most.

Instead, it’s the intangibles that will provide meaning and motivation. There will be nostalgia, celebration, collective experience and memory—all the things soccer is about for so many people around the world. No place in the USA has more of those things than RFK, which opened in 1961 as a football and baseball venue but over time became inextricably bound to American soccer.

Every story needs a setting. If U.S. soccer has one, it’s been RFK. There isn’t a significant player or team, men’s or women’s, over the past half-century that doesn’t have an RFK connection. It’s the only American stadium that’s been home to men’s and women’s professional teams and hosted World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Women’s World Cup and Olympic matches (not to mention CONCACAF Champions Cup, MLS Cup, NASL Soccer Bowl, U.S. Open Cup finals, etc.). Johan Cruyff, Jaime Moreno and Mia Hamm called it home. FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Boca Juniors stopped by. The U.S. men’s national team has visited RFK more than any other venue, and for the U.S. women it ranks No. 2.

RFK is American soccer’s common thread. Fans who attended Dips or DCU games now can sit in the same seats with their children. Or they can watch them play—John Harkes captained both the USA and D.C. United in 1996. His son, Ian, is finishing out his rookie season with the club. This country is massive, soccer cultures are diverse and much of the game’s domestic history remains parochial, nascent or unwritten. Except at RFK. It’s all happened here.

The Redskins departed after the 1996 season and baseball returned in 2005 and then left again in ’08. By then, RFK already was long past its prime. United remained, reluctantly, losing money and falling behind its MLS peers as it searched for a new home. But the stadium never lost its character, and to DCU’s credit, it took ownership of those flaws and tried to make them a strength, whether it was the stuffed raccoons sold at the club shop or the understanding that opposing teams wanted to be there even less.

RFK’s trajectory as DCU’s fortress mirrors the trajectory of both the club and MLS.

Apart from a handful of club staffers and a couple journalists, nobody has spent more time at RFK in a professional capacity then Ben Olsen, the long-time midfielder turned head coach.

“It was authentic, early. The crowd support was very good,” he told SI.com this week while sitting in one the stadium’s abandoned baseball dugouts. “The team was great, so you knew you were in for it. You add all that up and it was just a great venue to play in.”

While other MLS clubs had silly names and played in ridiculous uniforms inside cavernous NFL bowls, United and RFK looked like soccer. The black kits, the country’s first large and organized supporter’s groups, the shaking stands—it was something the American game hadn't seen. It was an arena that literally bounced and breathed. The high walls and iconic, undulating roof trapped the sound. RFK represented, for a time, what the rest of the league wished it could be.

“It never compared to stadiums with all of the luxuries,” long-time U.S. and MLS player Alexi Lalas said to The Washington Post’s Steven Goff, who’s been covering DCU since day one. “But it was something authentic and organic.”

That template was improved upon several times over in other cities as DCU investors came and went, and a new stadium remained elusive. Eventually, Erick Thohir and Jason Levien took over in 2012 and found the right path. Meanwhile, Olsen and United had to figure out how to continue to make RFK work.

“As the years went on the place changed—or I should say other places changed,” Olsen said. “They started building new venues. Soccer evolved in this country over the 20 years and this place became every year, a little bit dingier. The crowd numbers would move up and down.

“I’ve passed teams when they’re coming in here and they can’t believe what a s***hole this place is,” Olsen continued. "They don’t see it every day. We’re at the point where we embrace that. That’s how the narrative has kind of changed. David Villa’s not in the mood to play because there’s cement falling in the locker room? Great! We’ll use our home advantage, whatever it may be.”

?

D.C. is 10 games below .500 this season but has a chance to finish its home schedule on even terms if it can beat New York. So it still works, to some small extent. But it’s time to go.

“We’ve been at a point, where frankly we need to get out of here,” Olsen said. “Being a romantic about this building and the club, I love this place. It’s sad and I’ll miss the good nights here—the nights that are loud and we’re playing well and it’s one of those perfect storms at home. There’s nothing like that feeling.”

That, right there, is what soccer should be about. That feeling. The connection between club and community and the setting where it all happens. DCU’s social media hashtag this week has been #LastCallatRFK, and it’s a good choice. RFK was the local bar where everyone knew your name. Sunday's commemorative poster and program cover portrays a Lot 8 tailgate attended by luminaries from throughout RFK’s past, from Cruyff and Hamm to Olsen and Goff and so many other players, fans and people connected to that nexus. Most in attendance Sunday will be able to identify the majority of the faces depicted.

If American soccer has lost sight of what’s important in recent weeks, it can look toward that poster, all those faces and the modest, dingy, decaying stadium for some inspiration.

RFK Stadium's Last Call a Final Farewell to American Soccer's Common Thread

WASHINGTON, D.C. — After a couple weeks of gut punches, aloof arrogance and so many expressions of faith stomped on and returned to sender, American soccer could use a bit of a pick-me-up. It needs a reminder of what the sport should be about (in part), and why it appeals almost universally. And it’ll get that reminder here Sunday afternoon, as a community says a reverential goodbye to a stadium its been eager to leave for years.

D.C. United will entertain the New York Red Bulls on Sunday in the final match of the 2017 regular season, which doubles as the host’s final appearance at crumbling, crusty RFK Stadium. After a long road trip to start 2018, United finally will have a home of its own as it moves southwest to Audi Field. There’s very little at stake in the finale, at least superficially. New York (13-12-8) is locked into sixth in the East and almost certainly will be resting players ahead of a mid-week knockout-round game. United (9-19-5), the four-time league champion that had qualified for the playoffs three straight years, will finish this season in the conference cellar. The Atlantic Cup rivalry trophy is up for grabs, but that’s of little concern for most.

Instead, it’s the intangibles that will provide meaning and motivation. There will be nostalgia, celebration, collective experience and memory—all the things soccer is about for so many people around the world. No place in the USA has more of those things than RFK, which opened in 1961 as a football and baseball venue but over time became inextricably bound to American soccer.

Every story needs a setting. If U.S. soccer has one, it’s been RFK. There isn’t a significant player or team, men’s or women’s, over the past half-century that doesn’t have an RFK connection. It’s the only American stadium that’s been home to men’s and women’s professional teams and hosted World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup, Women’s World Cup and Olympic matches (not to mention CONCACAF Champions Cup, MLS Cup, NASL Soccer Bowl, U.S. Open Cup finals, etc.). Johan Cruyff, Jaime Moreno and Mia Hamm called it home. FC Barcelona, AC Milan, Ajax and Boca Juniors stopped by. The U.S. men’s national team has visited RFK more than any other venue, and for the U.S. women it ranks No. 2.

RFK is American soccer’s common thread. Fans who attended Dips or DCU games now can sit in the same seats with their children. Or they can watch them play—John Harkes captained both the USA and D.C. United in 1996. His son, Ian, is finishing out his rookie season with the club. This country is massive, soccer cultures are diverse and much of the game’s domestic history remains parochial, nascent or unwritten. Except at RFK. It’s all happened here.

The Redskins departed after the 1996 season and baseball returned in 2005 and then left again in ’08. By then, RFK already was long past its prime. United remained, reluctantly, losing money and falling behind its MLS peers as it searched for a new home. But the stadium never lost its character, and to DCU’s credit, it took ownership of those flaws and tried to make them a strength, whether it was the stuffed raccoons sold at the club shop or the understanding that opposing teams wanted to be there even less.

RFK’s trajectory as DCU’s fortress mirrors the trajectory of both the club and MLS.

Apart from a handful of club staffers and a couple journalists, nobody has spent more time at RFK in a professional capacity then Ben Olsen, the long-time midfielder turned head coach.

“It was authentic, early. The crowd support was very good,” he told SI.com this week while sitting in one the stadium’s abandoned baseball dugouts. “The team was great, so you knew you were in for it. You add all that up and it was just a great venue to play in.”

While other MLS clubs had silly names and played in ridiculous uniforms inside cavernous NFL bowls, United and RFK looked like soccer. The black kits, the country’s first large and organized supporter’s groups, the shaking stands—it was something the American game hadn't seen. It was an arena that literally bounced and breathed. The high walls and iconic, undulating roof trapped the sound. RFK represented, for a time, what the rest of the league wished it could be.

“It never compared to stadiums with all of the luxuries,” long-time U.S. and MLS player Alexi Lalas said to The Washington Post’s Steven Goff, who’s been covering DCU since day one. “But it was something authentic and organic.”

That template was improved upon several times over in other cities as DCU investors came and went, and a new stadium remained elusive. Eventually, Erick Thohir and Jason Levien took over in 2012 and found the right path. Meanwhile, Olsen and United had to figure out how to continue to make RFK work.

“As the years went on the place changed—or I should say other places changed,” Olsen said. “They started building new venues. Soccer evolved in this country over the 20 years and this place became every year, a little bit dingier. The crowd numbers would move up and down.

“I’ve passed teams when they’re coming in here and they can’t believe what a s***hole this place is,” Olsen continued. "They don’t see it every day. We’re at the point where we embrace that. That’s how the narrative has kind of changed. David Villa’s not in the mood to play because there’s cement falling in the locker room? Great! We’ll use our home advantage, whatever it may be.”

?

D.C. is 10 games below .500 this season but has a chance to finish its home schedule on even terms if it can beat New York. So it still works, to some small extent. But it’s time to go.

“We’ve been at a point, where frankly we need to get out of here,” Olsen said. “Being a romantic about this building and the club, I love this place. It’s sad and I’ll miss the good nights here—the nights that are loud and we’re playing well and it’s one of those perfect storms at home. There’s nothing like that feeling.”

That, right there, is what soccer should be about. That feeling. The connection between club and community and the setting where it all happens. DCU’s social media hashtag this week has been #LastCallatRFK, and it’s a good choice. RFK was the local bar where everyone knew your name. Sunday's commemorative poster and program cover portrays a Lot 8 tailgate attended by luminaries from throughout RFK’s past, from Cruyff and Hamm to Olsen and Goff and so many other players, fans and people connected to that nexus. Most in attendance Sunday will be able to identify the majority of the faces depicted.

If American soccer has lost sight of what’s important in recent weeks, it can look toward that poster, all those faces and the modest, dingy, decaying stadium for some inspiration.

Klopp on injured Saido Mane Senegal call up

Jurgen Klopp dismisses claims Saido Mane will be fit for Senegal's crucial world cup qualifying games in November due to hamstring injury

Klopp on injured Saido Mane Senegal call up

Jurgen Klopp dismisses claims Saido Mane will be fit for Senegal's crucial world cup qualifying games in November due to hamstring injury

Klopp on injured Saido Mane Senegal call up

Jurgen Klopp dismisses claims Saido Mane will be fit for Senegal's crucial world cup qualifying games in November due to hamstring injury

Klopp on injured Saido Mane Senegal call up

Jurgen Klopp dismisses claims Saido Mane will be fit for Senegal's crucial world cup qualifying games in November due to hamstring injury

Ange Postecoglou insists his focus is solely on the World Cup qualifying playoff with Honduras.

AUSTRALIAN SOCCEROOS TRAINING

Ange Postecoglou insists his focus is solely on the World Cup qualifying playoff with Honduras

Denmark cancels World Cup qualifier against Sweden

The Danish national women's soccer team huddle together before training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen Wednesday Oct. 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. (Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

Denmark cancels World Cup qualifier against Sweden

Dutch national soccer team member Pernille Harder passes journalists before training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen on Wednesday Oct 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden.(Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

Denmark cancels World Cup qualifier against Sweden

Danish national women's soccer team member Nadia Nadim after training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen on Wednesday Oct 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. (Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

Dutch national soccer team member Pernille Harder passes journalists before training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen on Wednesday Oct 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden.(Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

Dutch national soccer team member Pernille Harder passes journalists before training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen on Wednesday Oct 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden.(Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

The Danish national women's soccer team huddle together before training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen Wednesday Oct. 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. (Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

The Danish national women's soccer team huddle together before training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen Wednesday Oct. 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. (Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

Danish national women's soccer team member Nadia Nadim after training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen on Wednesday Oct 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. (Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

Danish national women's soccer team member Nadia Nadim after training in Dragor, outside Copenhagen on Wednesday Oct 18 2017. A pay dispute involving the Danish women's national team has forced the country's soccer federation to cancel the upcoming Friday World Cup qualifying match against Sweden. (Finn Frandsen/AP via ritzau)

Watch Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign as told by a Super Mario level

No, really.

Watch Northern Ireland’s World Cup qualifying campaign as told by a Super Mario level

No, really.

U.S. Soccer Holds Surplus of Between $130-$140 Million

Much has been made of the current financial surplus of U.S. Soccer, which has been reported to be around $100 million following the success of the 2016 Copa America Centenario. But a source with direct knowledge of the situation says the actual number on the surplus is significantly higher: Between $130 million and $140 million.

While a significant portion of that surplus needs to be kept in reserve, U.S. Soccer has yet to decide on what to spend the rest of that money. Board discussions have centered on capital investments in infrastructure, youth development and new uses of technology to identify talent. But everyone has their own idea on what they think the surplus should go toward.

In May, SI.com reported that part of the surplus was being earmarked for a project called the "Innovate to Grow Fund," which would stimulate growth among membership at all levels, from the grassroots and up. U.S. Soccer was also engaged in talks over building a national training center with the surplus funds.

Steve Gans Receives Required Nominations to Run for U.S. Soccer President

For the first time since 1998, U.S. Soccer will have a contested presidential election. SI.com has learned that Boston lawyer Steve Gans has received the required three letters of nomination that he needs to be an official candidate in the February election.

It’s expected that the incumbent, Sunil Gulati, will run for his fourth term despite the U.S. men’s World Cup qualifying failure. Gulati refused to confirm he would run again in addressing reporters last week, but he did concede that he had reached out to constituents about endorsing him or nominating him in recent weeks. In a blow to democracy, the last four U.S. Soccer presidential elections have had only one candidate. But that will not be the case this time around.

Peru's players celebrate after playing Colombia to a 1-1 draw during a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Colombia in Lima, Peru, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Martin Mejia)

Honduras' Alberth Elis (17) celebrates after his team Honduras' Romell Quioto scored against Mexico, during a World Cup qualifying soccer match in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Moises Castillo)

Syria's goal keeper Ibriham Alma, second left, is unable to stop the header from Australia's Tim Cahill, second right, from scoring during their Soccer World Cup qualifying match in Sydney, Australia, Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2017. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifications - North, Central America & Caribbean - Trinidad and Tobago v United States

USA's Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley hug during their World Cup qualifying match against Trinidad & Tobago. REUTERS/Andrea de Silva

Soccer Football - 2018 World Cup Qualifications - North, Central America & Caribbean - Trinidad and Tobago v United States

USA's Christian Pulisic and Michael Bradley hug during their World Cup qualifying match against Trinidad & Tobago. REUTERS/Andrea de Silva

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

Reyna on U.S. soccer: 'We're far too arrogant, far too obnoxious'

The former USMNT captain sounded off on what he sees as serious problems with American soccer in the wake of the recent World Cup qualifying disaster

UCL LIVE: Liverpool Routs Maribor; Man City Leads Napoli; Madrid, Spurs Level

The Champions League group stage hits its halfway point for half of the teams in the field on Tuesday, with Matchday 3 kicking off with a few scintillating matchups.

Real Madrid hosts Tottenham in a clash of Group H leaders, while Manchester City welcomes Napoli to the Etihad, where two of Europe's most prolific attacks will go head-to-head.

Elsewhere, Besiktas will look to continue its impressive run in the competition at Monaco, while Christian Pulisic aims to rebound from the USA's World Cup qualifying disappointment in Borussia Dortmund's match in Cyprus, where the Bundesliga power seeks its first points in the group at APOEL.

Here is the full slate for today's matches (all begin at 2:45 p.m. ET):

Spartak Moscow vs. Sevilla

Maribor vs. Liverpool

Manchester City vs. Napoli

Feyenoord vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

Monaco vs. Besiktas

RB Leipzig vs. Porto

Real Madrid vs. Tottenham

APOEL vs. Borussia Dortmund

Stay tuned here for live updates and highlights of goals and key plays (refresh for most recent updates).

LIVERPOOL SUPPLIES THE EXCLAMATION POINT

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Trent Alexander-Arnold put the finishing touches on Liverpool's thrashing of Maribor, scoring the Reds' sixth and seventh of the day to make it 7-0 in Slovenia. The result, coupled with Spartak Moscow's result vs. Sevilla, will shoot Liverpool to the top of the group.

NAPOLI PULLS ONE BACK

Given the gift of a second penalty, Napoli happily took advantage, with Amadou Diawara beating Ederson from the spot to make it 2-1 at the Etihad in the 73rd minute.

APOEL STUNS DORTMUND–FOR A MOMENT

Dortmund figured it'd get back on track in the Champions League at lowly APOEL, but the Cypriot side has other ideas. Mickael Pote's goal just after the hour mark put Dortmund stunningly behind 1-0 and in need of a change in fortune–and fast. That came from its captain, as Sokratis Papastathopoulos finished off a pass from Mario Gotze five minutes later to make it 1-1.

SPARTAK PULLS AWAY

Spartak Moscow took another lead on Sevilla after conceding the equalizer, with Lorenzo Melgarejo scoring the go-ahead goal off Quincy Promes's assist in the 58th minute. It extended that lead to 3-1 soon after, with Denis Glushakov doing the honors and coming up with the vital insurance goal.

Luiz Adriano netted the fourth in the 74th minute, making it 4-1 and adding to the Russian champions' statement, which comes on the heels of drawing Liverpool on Matchday 2.

LLORIS ROBS BENZEMA

?Real Madrid looked like it would take a 2-1 lead in the second half, with Karim Benzema having a point-blank chance, but Hugo Lloris came to the rescue, with a full-extension kick save on the goal line. Just tremendous.

BESIKTAS TAKES ITS FIRST LEAD

Cenk Tosun scored his second of the day, giving Besiktas a 2-1 lead in the 54th minute at Monaco and putting the Turkish club in line for its third win in as many matches.

BERNARD SENDS SHAKHTAR AHEAD

?Bernard scored for a second time in response to Feyenoord's opener, giving Shakhtar Donetsk its first lead of the day, a 2-1 advantage.

FIRMINO MAKES IT HIGH FIVE FOR LIVERPOOL

Three points are going Liverpool's way. Roberto Firmino struck for his second of the day with a glancing header, making it 5-0 at Maribor.

RONALDO PK BRINGS REAL MADRID LEVEL

Serge Aurier gifted Real Madrid an opportunity to equalize after fouling Toni Kroos with a rash challenge, and Cristiano Ronaldo obliged, beating Hugo Lloris from the spot just minutes before halftime to make it 1-1 in Madrid.

SALAH MAKES IT FOUR

Mohamed Salah, fresh off becoming Egypt's hero in World Cup qualifying, boosted his own stock with his second goal of the day, as both he and Roberto Firmino converged on a cross at the far post before the former tapped home to give Liverpool a 4-0 lead over Maribor.

EDERSON SAVES MERTENS'S PK

Ederson bailed out his teammate, Kyle Walker, saving a penalty kick from Dries Mertens after the England fullback committed the foul. The save preserved Man City's 2-0 lead.

GOALS GALORE IN LEIPZIG

RB Leipzig scored twice in quick succession to seemingly pull away from Porto, but Ivan Marcano pulled one back just before halftime, and the two sides went into the locker room with the hosts leading 3-2. The match also featured this sensational show of skill from Jean-Kevin Augustin.

MONACO, BESIKTAS GO BLOW FOR BLOW

Monaco is looking to give Besiktas its first setback of the competition, and was on its way after Radamel Falcao's opener at the half-hour mark. But the in-form Cenk Tosun answered four minutes later on a wonderful header, making it 1-1.

VARANE OWN GOAL GIVES SPURS LEAD

All eyes were on Harry Kane at the Bernabeu, where it's speculated that Real Madrid will make a massive offer for the Tottenham star, and he made an impact in the 28th minute. Serge Aurier crossed for Kane, whose run prompted Raphael Varane to inadvertently direct the ball into his own goal to give Spurs a 1-0 lead in the Spanish capital.

Real Madrid had wasted an earlier chance, after Cristiano Ronaldo's header clanged off the post and Karim Benzema pulled the rebound wide of an empty net.

SEVILLA RECOVERS AFTER EARLY CONCESSION

It's never easy going on the road, but Sevilla, which entered the day atop Group E, expected a simpler match at Spartak Moscow. It went down early as Quincy Promes scored in the 18th minute, but Simon Kjaer responded in the 30th off the corner kick to make it 1-1.

SALAH MAKES IT THREE

It certainly appears to be Liverpool's day. After setting up Roberto Firmino for the opener, Mohamed Salah makes it 3-0 for Liverpool–with Firmino returning the favor–within 20 minutes at Maribor.

RB LEIPZIG, PORTO EXCHANGE EARLY GOALS

Willi Orban scored in the eighth minute for host RB Leipzig, but Vincent Aboubakar answered 10 minutes later off a throw-in sequence, bringing Porto level at 1-1 in their anticipated Group G clash.

MAN CITY CAN'T BE STOPPED

Gabriel Jesus made it 2-0, finishing off a sensational ball from Kevin De Bruyne to double the Manchester City advantage over Napoli at the 13-minute mark.

COUTINHO DOUBLES THE LIVERPOOL LEAD

It's been all Liverpool in Slovenia, where Philippe Coutinho doubled the advantage for Jurgen Klopp's side, scoring for a fourth straight game.

STERLING SCORES FIRST VS. NAPOLI

Manchester City's sizzling form continued early vs. Napoli at the Etihad, where Raheem Sterling pounced on a blocked shot to score the opener for the Premier League side.

FEYENOORD HOLDS RARE ADVANTAGE, GIVES IT UP

?Dutch champion Feyenoord has had a brutal start to the competition, losing its first two games to Man City and Napoli, but it got off to a good start against Shakhtar Donetsk, with Steven Berghuis scoring in the seventh minute. That didn't last all that long, though, with Bernard equalizing in the 24th minute.

FIRMINO GIVES LIVERPOOL EARLY LEAD

Roberto Firmino wasted no time, finishing off an early cross from Mohamed Salah on the counterattack to give Liverpool a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute.

Here are the lineups for today's games:

Spartak Moscow vs. Sevilla

?

Maribor vs. Liverpool

Manchester City vs. Napoli

?

Feyenoord vs. Shakhtar Donetsk

?

Monaco vs. Besiktas

?

RB Leipzig vs. Porto

?

Real Madrid vs. Tottenham

?

APOEL vs. Borussia Dortmund

?

Matchday 3 concludes on Wednesday, with Chelsea-Roma highlighting the slate. PSG is also in action, at Anderlecht, while Jose Mourinho returns to Portugal as Manchester United meets Benfica.

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