First Messi, now Víctor: Barcelona set to be without starting goalkeeper for six weeks

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This is probably Víctor Valdés’s last year at Barcelona, and with the 31-year-old Spanish international seemingly improving with age, his last moments with the Blaugrana are becoming precious – a time to reflect on a 12-year, 13-major trophy run. Unfortunately, thanks to an injury incurred during Spain’s Tuesday loss in South Africa (yes, you read that right), Barça’s number one could be looking at six weeks on the sideline, the free agent-to-be having suffered a suspected torn calf.

With neither Real nor Atlético Madrid on their upcoming schedule, and given Barca’s Champions League group is under control, this is as good a time as any for Barcelona to lose there’s number one. Although Valdés has played every minute in both La Liga and Champions League, there’s nothing on the upcoming fixture list that Jose Manuel Pinto can’t handle, provided the volatile veteran stays on the field. With the Barcelona’s stiffest upcoming challenge being Villarreal on Dec. 14, Pinto should have plenty of time to shake off the rust before a visit from the Yellow Submarine.

Injury accumulation, however, is a small concern for Barcelona, the strain of seasons on seasons of overloaded schedules potentially catching up to them. Lionel Messi will be out until the new year with a reoccurrence of his hamstring problems. Left back Jordi Alba has been out since early in the season, Cristian Tello is expected to miss this weekend’s game, and Xavi Hernandez is still a doubt. Though a Barcelona squad that has more depth than the Pep Guardiola years is better equipped to deal with these absences, the threat of another season compromised by injuries is starting to rear its head. If Messi (in particular) doesn’t get healthy, there may be no additions to Barça’s trophy case this season.

But like Valdes, Messi’s expected back in January, though you wouldn’t begrudge head coach Gerardo Martino taking a red Sharpie to the Jan. 11 box on his calendar. That’s the day Barcelona makes their annual trip to the Vicente Calderon, where Atlético will pose a legitimate title threat.

With Messi and Valdés, Barcelona should be ever so slight favorites to win that match. Without either, Barça become much more vulnerable in a game that could not open the door for Atleti. It could also bring Real Madrid back into the title race.

Official (finally): Salah completes move from Roma to Liverpool

Photo credit: Liverpool FC / Twiter: @LFC
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It was the summer’s first transfer rumor-turned-real-story-turned-never-ending-saga that seemed to refuse to cross the finish line, but it’s finally come to pass: Mohamed Salah is a Liverpool player.

Salah’s move from Roma to Liverpool took so long to complete that the club’s poor social-media manager probably never wants to read the words “Announce Salah” for the rest of his/her life.

The deal will cost Liverpool something in the neighborhood of $50 million, and completes the utterly terrifying attacking quartet Jurgen Klopp can’t wait to unleash on the Premier League come August — Salah on one side, Sadio Mane opposite, Philippe Coutinho in the middle, and Roberto Firmino at striker. Salah, by the way, will take over Firmino’s no. 11 shirt, with the Brazilian switching to no. 9.

Alexis sets the record, but Germany come back for draw

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Alexis Sanchez became Chile’s all-time leading goalscorer (38) on Thursday, and La Roja inched ever closer to progression at the 2017 Confederations Cup with a 1-1 draw against Germany.

[ MORE: VAR steps in to help Aussies draw Cameroon, 1-1 ]

Sanchez moved past Marcelo Salas with his 6th-minute opener (above video) to capitalize on a poor turnover and complete a quick one-two atop Germany’s 18-yard box. Arturo Vidal put a foot in to disrupt Germany’s attempt to play out of the back, and the ball fell to Sanchez who quickly played it back to Vidal, who played Sanchez into the box for a left-footed finish inside the near post.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Chile’s lead wouldn’t quite last until halftime, though, as Lars Stindl got on the end of Jonas Hector’s cross in the 41st minute to bring the reigning World Cup champions back to level terms and all but secure their place in the next round.

With the result, Chile and Germany remain tied on top of Group B (4 points) with one game to play. Given the distance between themselves and Australia and Cameron (1 point each) in third and fourth, a draw in their final group games would be more than enough to go through to the semifinals. One-goal defeats would even do the trick.

Kenny Saief approved for one-time switch from Israel to USMNT

Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images
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Kenny Saief has been officially cleared by FIFA to make his one-time switch of international allegiance from Israel to the United States, the U.S. Soccer Federation announced on Thursday.

Saief, 23, was born in Panama City, Fla., to Druze-Israeli parents and began his youth career with Maccabi Haifa in 2005, at the age of 11. After a handful of first-team appearances for various Israeli clubs between 2010 and 2013, Saief earned a regular place in Ironi Nir Ramat HaSharon’s first team during the 2013-14 season. In the summer of 2014, he moved to Belgian side Gent, where he’s played in the UEFA Champions League and Europa League. U.S. men’s national team head coach Bruce Arena included Saief on his 40-man preliminary roster for next month’s 2017 Gold Cup.

[ MORE: Transfer rumor roundup ]

He appeared for Israeli youth national teams at just about every level, but having grown frustrated at the lack of a call-up to the senior team, Saief made it known many months ago he would consider a switch to the USMNT if the omission continued.

Saief figures to serve as something of a utility-man for the USMNT, at least from the start. He’s a left-footed midfielder who’s played extensively on both the left and right wings, and even a bit at left back. It’s the latter that should most intrigued USMNT fans, considering the dearth of options available at the position.

Geiger, Marrufo, Villarreal picked as Gold Cup referees

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MIAMI BEACH, Fla. (AP) Mark Geiger, who three years ago became the first American to referee a knockout stage match at the World Cup, is among 17 referees picked for next month’s CONCACAF Gold Cup.

Americans Jair Marrufo and Armando Villarreal also were announced Thursday for the 12-nation tournament, which runs from July 7-26 in various U.S. cities.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Geiger, who is from New Jersey, was a referee for France’s 2-0 win over Nigeria in the round of 16.

Three each were picked from Mexico (Roberto Garcia, Fernando Guerrero and Cesar Ramos) and Honduras (Melvin Matamoros, Oscar Moncada and Hector Rodriguez).

Two will come from Costa Rica: Henry Bejarano and Ricardo Montero.

Others picked for the tournament are Joel Aguilar (El Salvador), Drew Fischer (Canada), Walter Lopez (Guatemala), Yadel Martinez (Cuba), John Pitti (Panama) and Kimbell Ward (St. Kitts and Nevis).