One week into the 2016-17 Champions League, and this much is very clear:
There is nothing more mesmerizing in soccer right now than Lionel Messi and Neymar teaming up for Barcelona when they are at their best, which they certainly were during Tuesday’s 7-0 drubbing of Celtic. Messi, the Argentine maestro, scored his record sixth Champions League hat trick — the 40th three-goal game of his career.
His vision, nifty footwork, clever passes and exquisite finishes were a joy to see. The same could be said for Brazilian star Neymar, who last month elevated his already heady stature to national hero after scoring the winning penalty kick in the Olympic gold-medal win over Germany in Rio’s Maracana Stadium. On Tuesday, Neymar scored a goal and had four beautiful assists.
As if their spectacular play wasn’t enough to make them stand out on the Camp Nou field, Messi and Neymar are both sporting bleached blond hairdos. The new hair color seems to be a trend. Rafinha also went blond, as did Liverpool’s Alberto Moreno and Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey.
The third member of Barcelona’s “MSN,” as they are nicknamed, is Uruguayan Luis Suarez, who added two goals against Celtic. That normally would be enough to earn plenty of attention, but not when Messi and Neymar are sublime. Plus, he kept his hair dark.
“They are very special players,” Celtic coach Brendan Rodgers told reporters after the match. “I had the great fortune to work with one of them and Luis [Suarez] was at his top level. It’s a front three that can occupy as many players as you want.
“We had five in the back line but their movement, speed and touch can make it very difficult for you. They are world-class players and showed it.”
▪ American teen shines for Borussia Dortmund: Christian Pulisic turns 18 on Sunday, and what a birthday week it has been for the American phenom. On Wednesday, he was not only the youngest player in a Champions League game when he started for German club Borussia Dortmund in a lopsided 6-0 win against Legia Warsaw.
He also became the youngest Dortmund player ever to play in a Champions League match.
Pulisic was all over the field, giving the Legia players fits. He recorded an assist on a perfectly-placed left-footed cross.
There are rumors English Premier League teams are salivating over him and plan to woo him next summer.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard certainly is a fan. After Pulisic started for the U.S. in a 4-0 win over Trinidad and Tobago, Howard said: “It’s always hard when you have kids who are supremely talented, because you don’t want to put the weight of the world on their shoulders. I don’t know what it’s like to have that much confidence at that age. It’s incredible. It reminds me a little of the other guy who used to wear No. 10 (Landon Donovan.).”
Whether Pulisic will live up to Donovan’s lofty numbers remains to be seen. But it sure will be fun watching him try.
▪ O’Reilly retires: Heather O’Reilly had a fun sendoff into retirement, as the U.S. women’s national team cruised to a 9-0 win over Thailand on Thursday night in Columbus, Ohio. She scored a goal and had an assist. Carli Lloyd had three goals and four assists. Alex Morgan scored two goals and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris recorded a shutout.
Team USA is in Atlanta on Sunday to play the Netherlands at the Georgia Dome (7 p.m., FS1).
▪ Miami FC on a roll: Who would have imagined when this season began that league rookie Miami FC would be in second place in mid-September? That’s exactly where the nascent NASL team found itself after Wednesday night’s 1-0 home win over the Carolina RailHawks.
A crowd of nearly 7,000 — impressive for a mid-week match — showed up at FIU Stadium to see surging Miami FC, which is on a six-game unbeaten streak.
Dario Cvitanich, last week’s league Player of the Week, came off the bench in the 76th minute and scored the winning goal a minute later.
“I am very happy with the result but there is still work to be done,” coach Alessandro Nesta said. “We need energy and all of our guys fit, so now our focus is to recover.”
Up next is Puerto Rico FC at FIU Stadium on Friday night. The game is being billed as Puerto Rican Night. Famous Puerto Rican boxer Miguel Cotto will sign autographs before the match, and singer Elvis “Suavemente” Crespo will perform a concert after. Tailgating begins at 5:30 p.m. outside Gate 5.
MLS: East — Toronto (46), NYC and NY (44), Philadelphia (41), Montreal (38). West — Dallas (51), L.A. (47), Colorado (46), Real Salt Lake (44), Kansas City (39).
NASL: Cosmos (30), Miami FC (25), Edmonton (25), Indy (21), Minnesota (20).
English Premier League: Manchester City (15), Everton (13), Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool (10).
La Liga: FC Barcelona, Real Madrid and Las Palmas (9), Atletico Madrid and Sevilla (8).
Sunday: Manchester United vs. Watford (7 a.m. CNBC), Tottenham vs. Sunderland (11:30 a.m., NBCSN), Inter vs. Juventus (noon, BeIN Sport).