Lionel Messi scores two goals in 26 minutes in first action in two months

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Barcelona decided to be cautious on Sunday, withholding Lionel Messi from their 4-0 shelling of Elche. Today, three days before their table-topping clash with Atlético Madrid, the defending La Liga champions rolled out their previously injured star in Spain’s Copa del Rey, with 26 minutes of action showing the Argentine bears little rust from his near-two month layoff.

Seeing his first action since Nov. 10, Messi scored his team’s final two goals as Barcelona went on to claim a 4-0 lead after the home leg of their Round of 32 matchup with Getafe. Building on two goals from Cesc Fábregas, Messi scored in the 90th and 92nd minutes to double his team’s lead, giving Barça a commanding edge ahead of next Thursday’s second leg in Madrid.

But with the much-anticipated matchup at Atlético on Saturday, the news from this match was less about its Copa del Rey implications than what it means for La Liga. Atlético currently sit tied on points with Barcelona atop the Primera, the team’s matching 16-1-1 records meaning goal difference is the only thing separating the two sides. Barcelona’s five-goal edge, however, could be rendered meaningless should they fall at the Vicente Calderón, with the high point-rate each team’s maintained throughout the season adding increasing the stakes of Saturday’s match.

Though Messi had few chances to test his recovered thigh on Wednesday, there was little evidence of any lingering effects. Instead, Messi quickly resumed his goal-scoring ways, finding himself in the right place at the right time near the end of regulation to put a one-timed left footer inside Jordi Codina’s right post.

Two minutes later, Messi scored a goal if his own creation, blitzing through Getafe’s center backs to carrying the ball within 16 yards of goal, eventually beating Cordina with another left-footer to make it 4-0.

After the brace, questions surrounding Messi will be less about whether he can play than how long he can last. A 26-minute run in a low-impact game (Barcelona were dominating) provides little evidence he’s ready to play 90 minutes against Atlético. Gerardo Martino will have to garner that proof on the training ground.

In the meantime, we’re left wondering how much of an impact Messi will make in Saturday’s all-important clash. With Messi one hundred percent, Barcelona were held to 1-1 scoreline over 180 minutes by Atlético in the Spanish Supercopa. If Messi’s less than 100 percent, the likes of Fábregas, Alexis Sánchez, and Pedro Rodríguez will have to maintain their recent production.

USMNT: Brooks out with hip strain; World Cup qualifiers loom

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John Brooks is out of Hertha Berlin’s lineup “for the time being” after scans revealed a hip strain suffered in this weekend’s win over Wolfsburg.

That’s all Hertha has said, and that makes it hard to imagine whether American fans should be a little concerned or very concerned ahead of the USMNT’s World Cup qualifiers against Mexico, and Trinidad and Tobago in early June.

Brooks was unavailable for two weeks with an adductor strain in September, missing a month before returning to the starting lineup.

The U.S. center back pool isn’t teeming after Brooks and Geoff Cameron. Matt Besler, Tim Ream, Omar Gonzalez, and Walker Zimmerman were called up for the last World Cup qualifiers, and Gonzalez struggled but is a Bruce Arena favorite from their time in L.A.

WATCH: Snazzy Sargent goal leads U.S. U-17s past Mexico

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Josh Sargent scored a pretty goal as the United States Soccer program had another banner day against Mexico.

Nearly two months to the day after the U.S. U-20 side beat Mexico for the first time in 31 years, the U.S. U-17 topped El Tri for the first time ever. That win snapped Mexico’s 25-match unbeaten streak.

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The goal is the first of Sargent’s two goals, as the 16-year-old latched onto a long diagonal ball and used his right foot and head to move the ball into position for a strong shot.

The U.S. clinches a spot in the next round of U-17 World Cup qualifying with one match remaining in group play.

Sargent is from St. Louis and plays with Scott Gallagher-Missouri. Former Philadelphia Union coach John Hackworth coaches the U.S. U-17s.

Heads of South American soccer sent $128M in bank transfers

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SANTIAGO, Chile (AP) The leaders of South America’s soccer confederation transferred $128.6 million between 2000 and 2015 to personal accounts, suspicious accounts, or unauthorized third-party accounts, according to an audit released Wednesday by Ernst & Young.

According to the audit presented to the annual CONMEBOL congress in the Chilean capital, the confederation’s former president Nicolas Leoz transferred $26.9 million to his personal accounts. Leoz was the president for 27 years until resigning in 2013 for what he said were health reasons.

The audit also found $58 million in payments “to third parties without adequate documentation,” payments of $33.3 million to “unidentified accounts,” and $10.4 million to “suspicious third-parties.”

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“We had said that we would have four pillars, and the first two pillars were clear accounts and accountability,” said Alejandro Dominguez, the president of CONMEBOL who commissioned the audit last year. “Today we are accountable to the leaders and the whole world of football.”

Leoz, 88, is one of three ex-presidents of CONMEBOL accused on corruption charges by the United States Department of Justice. He is in Paraguay fighting extradition to the United States.

The South American body has been plagued by corruption, which was exposed two years ago during the FIFA scandal. Leoz’s two successors, Eugenio Figueredo and Juan Angel Napout, were both arrested on corruption charges.

“I’m here, I’m the manager” – Moyes will not quit Sunderland

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This has been one horrible stretch for David Moyes.

The Sunderland manager probably thought he’d been through the worst once he left Real Sociedad, where he went 12-15-15.

But he’s managed just seven wins and seven draws in 38 matches in charge of the Black Cats — an 18 percent win mark. He’s also been charged for threatening to slap a female journalist.

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And after Wednesday, Moyes has lost both of his derby matches against Middlesbrough.

Sunderland is 12 points back of safety with five matches left. The odds the Black Cats are headed for the Championship are somewhere north of 99 percent, and fans are calling for his job.

Well, he isn’t quitting. From the BBC:

“No, I’m here, I’m the manager, you take it on the chin. … I’m a football supporter, I know what it’s like. You don’t like seeing your team lose.

“There is nobody who wants to win more than me. I am used to winning, I’m not used to losing and I don’t want to get used to it either.”