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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)

Bundesliga

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)

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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)

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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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The media has mixed feelings about the James Harden trade. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

James Harden was 100-percent exactly right earlier this week when he said the Houston Rockets were "just not good enough."

How could they be? Not when their moody superstar scorer, who makes about half a million dollars per game, shows up chubby, looking like a kielbasa about to explode in the microwave. Hey, some people eat when they're unhappy, it's a defense mechanism. In Harden's case, the only defense he's exhibited this season. At least he had a good excuse for missing pre-season training camp and alienating his teammates - he was busy partying with Cinnamon and Cherish in Atlanta and Vegas without a mask. Worst of all, he went into the tank his last four games in a Rockets uniform, standing around, arms folded, scoring fewer than 20 points each time, all Rockets losses. Fans in the front row were asking him to move, he was blocking their view of players who cared about winning. James Harden sabotaged his own team, a team that offered him $50 million a year to stay. Something that crazy could only happen in professional sports these days.

There's a saying that drives the American labor movement: "a fair day's wage for a fair day's work." It's the motto of the American Federation of Labor. The National Basketball Players Association is not a member. Harden's sulking on the court, cheating the Rockets and their fans, was unforgivable.

Harden, sitting out games while somehow being on the court, forced the Rockets to trade him - and quick - to Brooklyn. The trade, when you ignore the fine print and unindicted co-conspirators Cleveland and Indiana, sent Harden to Brooklyn in exchange for Caris LeVert (immediately flipped for Victor Oladipo), Jarrett Allen, three first-round draft picks and four swapped first-rounders. It's true, when you trade a superstar, you never get back equal value. The other team wins.

If it makes Rockets fans feel any better, the media in New York already has problems with their new problem child. I should say newest problem child. Kyrie Irving plays for the Nets.

"They (the Nets) gave up everybody! There's nothing left now. I just want to cry, It's awful," weeped WFAN Radio talk host Evan Roberts. For those who don't subscribe to weekly Arbitron ratings reports, WFAN is the most powerful, top-rated sports talk station in the Apple.

"You're leading down the road of doom. Harden and Durant could be gone in a year and a half. I'm not convinced this gives them a better chance to win a title. I'm living a nightmare again. They better freaking win."

Circle March 3 on your Rockets schedule. That's when the Brooklyn Nets, with their Big 3 of Kevin Durant, James Harden and possibly Kyrie Irving visit Toyota Center. I hear talk radio salivating over the record jeers that will cascade over Harden's name, although I'm not buying it. Fans don't think like the media does. I'm thinking that Rockets fans will welcome Harden back - one night only - with cheers.

Toyota Center public address announcer Matt Thomas: "Usually when former Rockets come to town for the first time since leaving, I give them a positive introduction. It's up to the fans how to react."

James Harden spent eight seasons with the Rockets. He is a spectacular player who watched other NBA players engineer trades so they could compete for a title. Harden didn't think the Rockets were good enough, and he's right. So he wanted out. We've all been there, a job we didn't like for a company we didn't like, for a boss we didn't respect. Harden wanting to be traded is understandable. How he went about it was deplorable. He hurt his co-workers.

Houston will make Harden pay for his disrespectful departure. He has an upscale restaurant set to open here. The name of the steakhouse will be "13." Harden's business partners may want to change that number ... before the restaurant's telephone number is disconnected. There are plenty of other restaurants in Houston. Rich people who can afford steakhouse prices hold grudges.

Rockets fans searching for a silver lining say, "We got two decent players and a whole bunch of precious first-round picks" for a malcontent who would rather be anywhere (except maybe Sacramento) than Houston." Yes, a bunch of first-round picks does bode well for the future. Anywhere, except maybe Houston.

Houston's draft war room isn't the most successful operation in the NBA. Over the past decade prior to 2000, under the direction of general manager Daryl Morey, the Rockets made 16 draft picks. Not one of them is still in a Rockets uniform, many of them have sought employment outside of America, some outside of basketball. Among their first-round whiffs: Nikola Mirotic, Terrence Jones, Sam Dekker - all out of the league. Best of all, Royce White, who played three whole games in his NBA career and finished with a scoring average of 0.00 points per game.

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