Countdown to Champions League Final: David Luiz, Gary Cahill on track to play Saturday

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Chelsea’s best defender’s out for Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final, his inability to control random acts of aggression earning him straight red against Barcelona. The man who’s arguably their second-best defender will also be suspended, having judged it prudent to do some scuffing of the penalty spot ahead of a second half kick.

And who knows? Branislav Ivanovic may have been right on that one. Regardless, both he and captain John Terry will miss this weekend’s Champions League final, leaving manager Roberto di Matteo thin along the back.

That’s because the team’s other central defense options also nursing knocks. David Luiz, nominally part of Chelsea’s starting XI, has been out since Apr. 15 after suffering a hamstring injury against Tottenham. Gary Cahill suffered a similar injury in the second leg in Cataluyna. That means spots one-through-our on Chelsea’s center half depth chart have either big red lines or huge question marks.

Today, things started looking up for the Blues, with reports out of Cobham having both Luiz and Cahill resuming training, though di Matteo was measured in his optimism. The duo would “try to train” with their teammates on Tuesday, and it’s still uncertain whether either will be ready come Saturday.

There’s no telling what Roberto di Matteo will do if all four are unavailable. Presumably they can’t get Alex back from Paris Saint-Germain. We could see Michael Essien paired with one of José Bosingwa or Paulo Ferreira in central defense.

The selection problems are reminiscent of 2009, if only much worse. Barcelona had to drop Yaya Touré into central defense after the eventual champions lost Dani Alves (suspension), Eric Abidal (suspension) and Rafa Marquez (injury) leading up to the final.

Pep Guardiola had the luxury of having his absences spread across the back line. He also had an uber-versatile defender with world class quality: Carles Puyol. Unfortunately for Chelsea, their two best, healthy options right now are left backs (Ashley Cole, Ryan Bertrand).

MLS SuperDraft 2018 Live Tracker

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For a few dozen players, hearing their name called up to the big stage will validate all the hard work and sacrifices they’ve made since they were children.

Starting at 11:00 a.m. when Los Angeles FC is on the clock at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, the 2018 MLS SuperDraft will be underway. Many of the top college prospects will soon find out whether they’ll be headed to the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Southeast, Southern California or anywhere in between.

[MORE: 2018 MLS Mock Draft]

This year’s draft class is loaded with attacking talent, from Generation Adidas trio Ema Twumasi (Wake Forest), Mason Toye (Indiana) and Francis Atuahene (Michigan) to Twumasi’s college teammate Jon Bakero.

But potential No. 1 overall pick is a three-time national champion, Thomas Hilliard-Arce, who could become the anchor of a backline for a decade.

Follow along below as we update the picks live as we hear them:

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Bayern signs Germany midfielder Goretzka from rival Schalke

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka on Friday on a free transfer from Bundesliga rival Schalke effective from next season.

Bayern said the 22-year-old Goretzka signed a four-year deal from July 1 through June 2022.

Schalke, which Goretzka joined in 2013 from hometown club Bochum, said the player informed the club this week of his wish to join Bayern when his contract expired.

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“We think we did everything in the last months to convince Leon to stay with us,” Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said. “In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Schalke had long been engaged in trying to get Goretzka to extend his contract, but was aware of reported interest from Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

“We’re very happy that Leon Goretzka, a German international with big potential, has decided in favor of Bayern despite big-name international competitors. This way it’s ensured that Leon Goretzka remains in the Bundesliga,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Goretzka scored 19 goals and set up 13 more in 130 appearances for Schalke.

The club had previously expressed its displeasure with Bayern making public statements about its player after Goretzka was praised by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heidel said “we don’t need to hear every day from the Munich people how good our player is.”

Goretzka has six goals in 12 games for Germany.

Pele hospitalized overnight in Brazil

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The most famous soccer player in the world had a scare last night as he was hospitalized in Brazil for “severe exhaustion.”

Pele, 77, was set to travel to London this weekend to be honored by the Football Writers Association, though it looks like that trip has now been postponed.

In the early hours of Thursday morning, Pele collapsed and was taken to a hospital in Brazil where he has undergone a series of tests which appear to point to severe exhaustion,” a FWA statement said. “He remains on fluids while doctors monitor his recovery.

“Thankfully, there is no suggestion of anything more serious than exhaustion.”

Here’s to hoping Pele makes a full recovery.

[MORE: USMNT centerback heads to Championship club]

USMNT centerback Carter-Vickers heads to Ipswich Town on loan

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Cameron Carter-Vickers has a new club to call home for the next five months or so after a rough first half of the season.

Tottenham announced Friday morning that it had loaned the U.S. Men’s National Team centerback to Championship club Ipswich Town for the rest of the season. Carter-Vickers spent the first five months of the season at fellow Championship side Sheffield United, starting 17 times though he struggled recently as Sheffield won just one game he played in during the month of December, losing three and drawing one.

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Carter-Vickers was then recalled earlier this week and now has a new home with a mid-table Championship club, with a new chance to impress. Hopefully Carter-Vickers can recover his form and continue to grow, potentially latching on to another Premier League side next year or breaking into the Tottenham first team.

There’s another interesting American tie-in to this. Carter-Vickers appears to be a short-term replacement for Ipswich Town’s Tommy Smith, who the club states is headed to join the Colorado Rapids ahead of the 2018 MLS season.