Career rebirth specialist Frankie Hejduk retires

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Few players enjoy more career rebirths than Frankie Hejduk, who retired officially today from the game he played professionally for 16 years. Along the way the laid-back, longtime U.S. international played in two World Cups and missed one more, in 2006, due to injury.

Career rebirth No. 1: Some time in the late 1990s, he got serious about soccer, converting himself from California surfer dude getting it done on high VO2 max and athletic ability to a guy more dedicated to his craft. Without the metamorphosis, Hejduk may have been on a fast track to the ordinary.

Career rebirth No. 2: He fell out of favor at Germany’s Bayer Leverkusen and transferred to St. Gallen in Switzerland in 2002 – a move that signaled things definitely going in the wrong direction. So Hejduk booked it back to MLS, signing with Columbus in March of 2003. It spurred something more out of the tireless defender, who had an All-Star campaign and eventually spent eight seasons in Ohio.

Career rebirth No. 3: Injuries kept Hejduk out of the 2006 World Cup and limited his time for the Crew. He was 32 by summer of 2006 and could have begun downshifting. Instead, he got healthy and contributed mightily as Columbus built a strong side around Guillermo Barros Schelotto and claimed the 2008 MLS Cup.

Career rebirth No. 4: He was 34 when he directed a header into goal in that MLS championship victory under Sigi Schmid. Now would be the time to begin downshifting, right? Well, here’s what the U.S. Soccer site says about the big role Hejduk played in 2008 and 2009. As he help shore up a weak spot in the national team pool at fullback:

2009: Marked his 14th year with the U.S. Men’s National Team by making four appearances, all starts, and grabbing one goal and one assist … Lent his veteran wherewithal to three final round World Cup qualifiers in 2009, including the 2-0 win against Mexico on Feb. 11, the 2-2 draw with El Salvador on March 28, and the 3-0 demolition of Trinidad & Tobago on April 1 … Scored the equalizing goal in the 2-2 draw with El Salvador, his seventh career goal and second in World Cup qualifying … Also added an assist in the same game, setting up Jozy Altidore …

You could even say he had a fifth rebirth in 2011. Released from Columbus, Hejduk ended up providing veteran cover for the Galaxy. He played in just six matches but was there in the end when Los Angeles claimed its 2011 championship.

Conte praises Hazard’s style, wouldn’t want him to be “more selfish”

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Antonio Conte made two bold decisions on Saturday afternoon as his Chelsea side prepared to take on Tottenham in their FA Cup semifinal.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu shines with Saints as he prepares for Chelsea return ]

The Italian manager has been known for his innovation and risk-taking in the past, but many were critical of the 47-year-old when his team sheet came out ahead of the match.

Conte left key attacking duo Eden Hazard and Diego Costa on the bench, allowing out-of-favor striker Michy Batshuayi and Pedro to get the starting nod.

Although Hazard nor Costa saw the field for the opening hour, the former made his presence known when he was summoned by Conte in the second half.

Often times Hazard has been known as a facilitator, someone that can pick apart defenses with his tremendous foot skills and clever passing. But the Belgian international has also shown his capabilities of scoring on a regular basis as well, which has prompted great interest from other giant clubs around Europe.

When Conte was asked about Hazard and if his attacker should be more selfish, the Italian gave an emphatic “NO” as his response.

“No, no, no, absolutely not,” Conte said. “I don’t think that a player like Messi is a selfish player. The first target for every great champion is to play for the team and to put your talent into the team. If you do this, the team [increases] your talent.

“The best players in the world don’t exist without a team. For me, it’s sad to listen to this, that a player must ‘be more selfish’ to reach the top level. That’s very sad. It’s not my idea of football and I will never understand this. Never, never. In my team, I don’t want selfish players.

“I prefer to lose a game than to have a selfish player. For me, I don’t want this and I can’t accept this. I don’t want my club to buy me a selfish player one day. Never. No.”

Newcastle joins Brighton in promotion to Premier League

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Two sides have now booked their trips to England’s top flight after Newcastle United rattled off its 27th win of the season.

[ MORE: Oriol Romeu — The perfectly poised destroyer ]

The Magpies earned a decisive 4-1 victory over Preston North End on Monday afternoon at St. James’ Park as the second-place side ensured its finish inside the top two in the English Championship.

Newcastle joins already-promoted club Brighton & Hove Albion, who currently sit atop the Championship on 92 points.

Ayoze Perez paced the hosts with goals on both sides of halftime, while Christian Atsu and Matt Ritchie also converted for Newcastle.

U.S. Men’s National Team defender DeAndre Yedlin was on the bench for the Magpies but didn’t feature in Monday’s match.

The third and final team to be promoted from the Championship will be decided by the league’s annual promotion playoff, which is held at the end of the season and contested by four sides that finish third through sixth position.

As it stands, Reading, Sheffield Wednesday, Huddersfield Town and Fulham occupy the four playoff positions.

Marseille making Olivier Giroud top transfer target this summer

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Marseille did well to bring in one star this season but could the French side have another trick up its sleeve this summer?

Sky Sports is reporting that the Ligue 1 club is preparing to sign Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud over the summer and the sixth-place side is “willing to pay up to £20m (roughly $25 million).

Marseille made a splash this season when the club re-signed Dimitri Payet, who was playing with Premier League side West Ham at the time.

The team does boast several quality attacking options such as Payet and Bafetimbi Gomis, but Giroud could serve as an ideal target man in the Marseille attack.

Prior to joining the Gunners in 2012, Giroud starred for Montpellier and with a potential link-up in the attack with a creator like Payet, it could present a dangerous attacking threat to the rest of Ligue 1.

Giroud, 30, has scored 95 goals in all competitions since arriving in London with Arsenal.

Report: Chicharito talks heating up with Los Angeles FC

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We’ve seen MLS teams make major splashes in the past, and one of next year’s newcomers could be a really big draw if they can manage to seal the deal on a Mexican international.

[ MORE: Schweinsteiger shares thoughts on MLS and more in interview ]

According to Metro New York, Los Angeles FC is continuing its talks with Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez about a potential deal that would prove massive in terms of MLS spending.

While LAFC won’t debut in MLS until 2018, the club could potentially make the Mexico striker the highest-paid player in league history with an average salary of roughly $10 million.

The 28-year-old Hernandez currently plays in Germany with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen, where he’s plied his trade since joining the club during the 2015/16 season.

Additionally, the former Manchester United man has dominated the international scene for El Tri, scoring 46 goals in 90 appearances for the CONCACAF nation.