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Soccer Report - Cristiano Ronaldo nets four as leagues enter international break

Cristiano Ronaldo and the Portugal National Team will face Egypt and the Netherlands as they prepare for the 2018 FIFA World Cup. Photo courtesy of Nike, Inc.

There may not be anything more exciting in soccer than international pride and that’s exactly what we are going to get over the next week as nations participate in friendlies ahead of this summer’s FIFA World Cup. Before we get to that action, let’s recap how clubs finished their domestic battles before the FIFA international break.

Here are the top stories in soccer (followed by the upcoming matches schedule):

UEFA Champions League

The last four spots in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals were booked this past week as Sevilla, Roma, Bayern Munich and Barcelona all saw out the results they needed in the second leg of their series. Sevilla upset Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United thanks to a double from Wissam Ben Yedder in a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. Roma’s 1-0 win at the Stadio Olimpico, combined with their 2-1 loss in the first leg, saw them advance over Shakhtar Donetsk on the away goals tiebreaker.

On the second day of matches, Bayern Munich won 3-1 to finish 8-1 on aggregate over Turkish side Besiktas while Lionel Messi made easy work of Chelsea to guide Barcelona to a 3-0 win at the Camp Nou. Messi’s double saw him reach 100 goals in Champions League matches - becoming only the second player to reach the centenary mark after Cristiano Ronaldo, albeit in 21 fewer matches.

After Friday’s draw, the "elite eight" matchups are: Sevilla vs. Bayern Munich; Juventus vs. Real Madrid; Liverpool vs. Manchester City; Roma vs. Barcelona.

The Champions League continues on April 3.

UEFA Europa League

The Round of 16 concluded in Europe’s secondary club competition as Atletico Madrid, RB Leipzig, Lazio, Marseille, Plzen, Arsenal, Red Bull Salzburg and CSKA Moscow are the eight clubs that remain vying for the prize money and a spot in next year’s Champions League. Among the big names crashing out are A.C. Milan, Lyon and Borussia Dortmund.

After Friday’s draw, here are the quarter-final matchups: Lazio vs. Red Bull Salzburg; Atletico Madrid vs. Sporting CP; RB Leipzig vs. Marseille; Arsenal vs. CSKA Moscow.

Premier League

Only four matches took place in the Premier League this weekend. Crystal Palace won 2-nil at Huddersfield, Bournemouth 2-1 over West Brom, Stoke City played down a man for 70 minutes and lost 2-1 at home to Everton while Liverpool trashed Watford 5-nil thanks to four goals - also known as a ‘'poker" - from Mohamed Salah. Those four goals are currently the difference between Salah (28) and Harry Kane (28) at the top of the goalscorers table.

The rest of the teams not competing in the league over the weekend were involved in FA Cup quarterfinal matches. Tottenham went on the road and demolished Swansea City behind a double from Christian Eriksen. In a pair of 2-nil wins, Manchester United defeated Brighton at Old Trafford and Southampton won at Wigan Athletic. Leicester City bowed out of the tournament losing 2-1 at home to Chelsea as Pedro’s goal proved to be the difference in extra time.

Top 5: Manchester City (81), Manchester United (65), Liverpool (63), Tottenham (61), Chelsea (56)

La Liga

Matchday 29 of La Liga saw more of the same for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia. All three were victorious this week as FC Barcelona inched closer to the title with a 2-0 win over Athletic Bilbao. Second-place Atletico Madrid lost defender Filipe Luis earlier in the week in Europa League action and missed him in a 2-1 loss at Villarreal. Meanwhile, Real Madrid gained ground on their crosstown rivals in a 6-3 win over Girona at the Bernabeu. Cristiano Ronaldo scored in the 11th, 47th, 64th, and 90+1 minutes to leap over Luis Suarez in the goalscorers standings. CR7 is now in second, trailing Lionel Messi by four goals.

Top 5: FC Barcelona (75), Atletico Madrid (64), Real Madrid (60), Valencia (59), Villarreal (47)


For the first time in weeks, Bayern Munich left a Bundesliga match without points. That’s because RB Leipzig defeated the champions 2-1 at home. The result is more of a prideful win than an impactful one as the Bavarians still hold a cushion of 17 points at the top of the table. Bayer Leverkusen was the only other top five team that lost this weekend, falling 2-nil at Cologne.

Top 5: FC Bayern Munich (66), Schalke 04 (49), Dortmund (48), Eintracht Frankfurt (45), Bayer Leverkusen (44)

Serie A

Napoli was able to gain some ground on Juventus - who played to a scoreless draw at SPAL - with a 1-0 win over Genoa. Roma picked up a 1-0 win at Crotone while Inter Milan smashed five goals past Sampdoria. Mauro Icardi also had a ‘poker’ this week in Inter’s 5-nil win. Lazio, meanwhile, drew 1-1 with Bologna. A.C. Milan defeated Chievo Verona 3-2 and are five points from fourth and a potential return to the Champions League.

Top 5: Juventus (75), Napoli (73), Roma (59), Inter Milan (55), Lazio (54)

Ligue 1

Dani Alves and Angel Di Maria both scored to lead PSG over Nice but the match of the week was the Choc des Olympiques between the two Olympic sides. Lyon was the victor over Marseille with a 90th minute goal from Memphis Depay. Second-place Monaco picked up a 2-1 win over Lille and Rennes won 2-nil at Bordeaux to cap off sides in the top five.

Top 5: Paris Saint-Germain (83), Monaco (66), Marseille (59), Lyon (57), Rennes (45)


CONCACAF Champions League

The ‘final four’ clubs vying for the CONCACAF crown were decided last week. New York Red Bulls were successful in closing out their series at home against Liga MX side Club Tijuana, 5-1 on aggregate. Toronto FC was another MLS team that was victorious over a Liga MX side, advancing on away goals after tying the series 4-4 on aggregate. Club America won their match in Panama 3-1 and 7-1 on aggregate. In the last series, Seattle’s injuries and 1-0 lead were too much to overcome on Mexican soil as they were eliminated by Guadalajara 3-1 on aggregate.

The semifinals: New York Red Bulls vs. Guadalajara; Club América vs. Toronto FC.

Major League Soccer

Alberth Elis made something out of nothing to create two goals for the Houston Dynamo in the span of 93 seconds - scoring the first and assisting on the second - in the first half against D.C. United. The Dynamo defense could not, however, keep the lead and the team ended up giving up a goal during the final stages of the match that ended in a 2-2 draw. The match was played in a small stadium in Maryland due to D.C. United’s new home, Audi Field, still under construction until July.

Around other results from week three, Montreal defeated Toronto, 1-0, in front of 26,005 at the Stade Olympique. Minnesota, New York City FC, Atlanta, Kansas City, Salt Lake and Dallas also picked up three points - all of them home wins. This week serves as a bye due to the international break, giving teams a few extra days of practice.

East Top 6: NYCFC (9), Columbus Crew SC (7), Atlanta United (6), Philadelphia Union (4), NY Red Bulls (3), Montreal Impact (3)

West Top 6: LAFC (6), Minnesota United (6), Sporting KC (6), Vancouver Whitecaps FC (6), Houston Dynamo (4), FC Dallas (4)

Liga MX

Santos Laguna remains the head of the league, picking up another three points this week in a 1-0 win at Puebla. Monterrey got right with a 3-1 win over Queretaro, a rematch of a cup round of 16 the week before. Toluca and America met in a match between what were the second and third seeded teams in the table. Toluca won the heated affair in Mexico City were even the head coaches got physical, one almost chokeslaming the other, resulting in both eventually being ejected. Veracruz defeated Atlas, 3-1 which resulted in the latter firing their head coach on Monday. The other results this weekend were draws.

Among the results this weekend, Guadalajara and Tigres played to a scoreless draw. The two will face off for the second consecutive week on Saturday at BBVA Compass Stadium (5 p.m. kickoff, TICKETS). Glenn Davis will be giving away tickets on Soccer Matters, Wednesday 7-9 p.m. on ESPN 97.5 FM.

Top 5: Santos Laguna (26), Toluca (24), Tigres (22), Club America (21), Monarcas (20)


National Women's Soccer League

In Women's soccer, the 6th season of professional women's soccer will kick off on Saturday. No other league has lasted as long as the NWSL and the league will feature a weekly match on Lifetime for the second straight year. The Houston Dash will play at home on Sunday as they kick off life under new Head Coach Vera Pauw. They’ll have to find results early without Kealia Ohai, the club’s all-time leading scorer, as she continues to recover from an ACL tear. All matches are available live on go90.com and the go90 app. [Link to Dash tickets]

Upcoming matches (All Times CT):

Friday, Mar. 23:

2:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Portugal vs. Egypt (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Germany vs. Spain (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Scotland vs. Costa Rica (ESPN3)

2:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Germany vs. Spain (ESPN3)

3 p.m. - [International Friendly] France vs. Colombia (ESPN3/ESPN Deportes)

9 p.m. - [International Friendly] Mexico vs. Iceland (FS1/UniMás/Univision Deportes)

Saturday, Mar. 24:

2:30 p.m. - [NWSL] North Carolina Courage vs. Portland Thorns (Lifetime)

Sunday, Mar. 25:

4 p.m. - [NWSL] Houston Dash vs. Chicago Red Stars (go90)

Monday, Mar. 26:

1:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Portugal vs. Netherlands (ESPN3)

Tuesday, Mar. 27:

10:45 a.m. - [International Friendly] Russia vs. France (ESPN3/ESPN Deportes)

1:00 p.m. - [International Friendly] Egypt vs. Greece (ESPN3)

1:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Belgium vs. Saudi Arabia (ESPN3)

1:45 p.m. - [International Friendly] Germany vs. Brazil (ESPN3)

2:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Spain vs. Argentina (ESPN3/ESPN Deportes)

6:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] USA vs. Paraguay (FS1/UniMás/Univision Deportes)

8:30 p.m. - [International Friendly] Mexico vs. Croatia (FS1/UniMás/Univision Deportes)

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Here's what the data tells us about Bregman. Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Alex Bregman had a rough season in 2020 by his standards. He slashed .242/.350/.451 in 42 regular season games. His regular season included a trip to the 10-day IL for a hamstring strain he suffered in mid-August. His surface-level struggles continued in the postseason, where he slashed .220/.316/.300 in 13 games. However, that postseason sample size does include a tough luck game against the Tampa Bay Rays where he went 0-for-5 with five hard hit balls.

All-in-all, 2020 felt like a lost season for Bregman. He never really got going. He got off to a slow start, but he's always been a slow starter. Once he started to pick it up, he strained his hamstring, and he played poorly after returning from the hamstring strain. Then, he started to turn his batted ball quality around in the playoffs, but he hit into a lot of tough luck outs.

Hard Hit % - 33.6%

Barrel % - 3.9%

K% - 14.4%

BB% - 13.3%

Chase % - 18.1%

Bregman comes from the Michael Brantley school of hitters. He has elite plate discipline and elite bat-to-ball skills. This makes Bregman a fairly consistent hitter. That may sound odd considering his 2020 "struggles" but even an extended period of poor performance for him resulted in a .801 OPS and a 122 wRC+. If his valleys are still 22% better than the league average hitter, then that's a pretty reliable producer.

There aren't any alarming trends in Bregman's statistics. Yes, his K% was slightly up, his BB% is slightly down, but it isn't a massive difference in either category. His Chase % was up, but again, 18.1% is elite discipline. The biggest drop was in his Hard Hit%, where he fell from 38% to 33.6%. Even so, his average exit velocity only dropped .4 MPH, so there's not really a catastrophic trend here.

His .254 BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) was low, but he's never put up really high BABIP numbers. In fact, his BABIP has gotten worse every year of his career, from .317 to .311 to .289 to .281 to .254. While his BABIP will likely spike back up next year, it isn't enough to be the difference between the 2019 and 2020 versions of himself. His xBA and xSLG weren't out of whack either. His .256 xBA isn't much better than his .240 AVG, and his .400 xSLG is actually worse than his .451 SLG.

Bregman is as forthcoming with his hitting mechanics, approach, and mental cues as any big leaguer out there. Here is what he had to say about his swing this year. This was a Zoom press conference with the media following the Astros game on September 25th against the Rangers.

Bregman says he wants to hit balls in the air to the pull side and on a line to the opposite field, but in reality, he was hitting flares to the opposite field and hitting them on the ground to the pull side.

The data mostly backs up that claim. In 2019, on balls hit to the pull side, Bregman had an average exit velocity of 90.7 MPH at an average launch angle of 16°, a 40% Hard Hit %, and a 16% HR%. Since Bregman has elite bat-to-ball skills, most of those metrics didn't change. In 2020, his average exit velocity was 90.6, essentially the same as 2019. His Hard Hit % was 42%, a touch better than in 2019. However, his average launch angle dipped from 16° to 11°, which contributed to his HR% dropping all the way to 9%. Bregman hit 47% of his pull side swings on the ground. In 2019, that number was 40%. He absolutely had less production to the pull side in 2020.

The data gets a little hazier going the opposite way when comparing 2019 to 2020, as Bregman actually performed slightly better to the opposite field in 2020 than 2019, but he also only had 20 batted balls to the opposite field all season. Considering the small sample size, it isn't worth diving too deep into the data.

He's right that most of the balls he hit that way were flares. He had an average exit velocity of 83.4 MPH with an average launch angle of 32°, but that's about the same as what he did in 2019. A lot of the statistical drop off comes from balls that were backspun rockets to the pull side in 2019 becoming top spinners or roll overs in 2020.

Bregman also performed horribly against breaking balls in 2020. He batted .150 with a .250 SLG against them in 2020. He had an 84 MPH Average Exit Velocity against them and whiffed 26.5% of the time against them.

It was a far cry from 2019, when he hit .265 with a .588 SLG, 87 MPH average exit velo, and whiffed 18% of the time.

Those numbers lend credence to his statement on his mechanics. It's tough for a hitter to have adjustability against breaking balls if he's blowing out his front side and pulling off of the baseball.

Bregman will spend the offseason working on these mechanical fixes and getting back to the hitter he used to be. If he's consistently hitting the ball in the air to the pull side next year, and he's performing better against breaking balls, then he should be right back in the mix for AL MVP.

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