Toni Kroos celebrates his early goal that helped Bayern Munich clinch the Bundesliga title on Tuesday. (Hannibal Hanschke/dpa/AP)
It's March. The Bundesliga season still has more than six weeks to go. Even so, all but one team are now fighting for second place in Germany's top flight.
Of course, that could have been said from the start of the season, but what has long been expected is now official. Bayern Munich put the finishing touches on its record 23rd Bundesliga championship (and 24th German league title) Tuesday -- the earliest the title has ever been cemented -- by clinching a first-place finish with a 3-1 road victory over Hertha Berlin (for the record, Borussia Dortmund's scoreless draw against Schalke would have been enough for Bayern to clinch the title Tuesday even with a loss).
The victory, which extends Bayern's league unbeaten run to 52 games and keeps it on track to break AC Milan's international record of 58 unbeaten in league play, was in hand early, with Toni Kroos and Mario Gotze scoring within 14 minutes. Hertha pulled one back from the penalty spot through Adrian Ramos (via Panenka, no less) in the 67th minute, but could not do enough to prevent being a footnote to Bayern's historical achievement, with Franck Ribery finishing the job in the 79th minute. U.S.-eligible defender John Brooks was on the wrong side of the loss, getting his second start for Hertha in a four-day span.
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During last season's treble winning campaign, Bayern clinched the title with six games to go under then-manager Jupp Heynckes. Plenty wondered how Pep Guardiola could possibly top what Heynckes accomplished. Well, he delivered the title earlier, with seven games remaining, to set a new record for swiftness as the club leads second-place Dortmund by 25 points with only 21 still available to earn.
Guardiola still has a German Cup and UEFA Champions League title to win before he can call the season a complete success. Bayern Munich drew Manchester United in the Champions League quarterfinals -- a team that will be missing injured forward Robin van Persie -- and faces a potential domestic cup final against Dortmund if both can get by their semifinal opponents next month.
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In the league, Bayern has been utterly dominant. The club has 25 wins in 27 games, held to draws by just Freiburg in August and Bayer Leverkusen in October, and has outscored opponents 79-13. While U.S. fans will get a glimpse of many of Bayern's stars during the World Cup when the Americans play Germany, they'll be able to get an even closer look in August, when Bayern takes on the MLS All-Stars
in Portland, Ore.