Liverpool dazzle in derby win, will Champions League dream become a reality?

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LIVERPOOL — Under the bright lights of Anfield on a cold midweek evening, you could be forgiven for thinking one of those famous European nights had once again descended on Liverpool.

After a scintillating performance from the home side against their closest rivals for the top four — and their rivals from under a mile away across Stanley Park — saw Liverpool smash four past Everton and reminded their Blue neighbors why they’ve been the top dogs on Merseyside for so long.

With their biggest derby win since 1982, Liverpool are now four points ahead of fierce rivals Everton in the hunt for Champions League soccer. And now the Reds are just six points off the top spot.

The big question on everyone’s lips is: can Liverpool, the five-time champions of Europe, qualify for the Champions League once again?

“We’ve shown all season that we are going to be in contention for a top four place,” Rodgers said. ” We know there are going to be one or two other teams fighting for it. We’ve shown a wonderful team spirit here and we’ve had various players missing at various times, but we’ve been able to structure the team that we aren’t reliant on any one player. That’s the ethos of the team.”

Despite a superb team display, Liverpool needed a catalyst to grab the game by the scruff of the neck. The man that did that has been the leader for many years, and he did it once again with ease. It was a case of cometh the hour, cometh the man.

Steven Gerrard epitomized Liverpool’s spirit and drive to succeed from his central midfield role during the 222nd Merseyside derby.

In the early stages of the match the game ebbed and flowed as both sets of fans roared on their teams with a crescendo of noise flowing down from the stands. It could have gone either way. Then Liverpool’s captain emerged to score his eighth goal in the Merseyside derby since the Premier League began.

(MORE: Liverpool 4-0 Everton – Sturridge double seals scintillating Merseyside derby win)

Gerrard rose highest in the penalty box in the 22nd minute to head home powerfully and set Liverpool on their way to a resounding win on so many levels. As Gerrard wheeled away in jubilation, his pupils narrowed and the sheer ecstasy was clear for all to see on his face. Liverpool’s captain fantastic had set his side on their way, and the hometown hero had delivered on the big stage once again.

“I think if anyone questions whether he can play that role, he has played 32 games now in the derby where he has been all-action, and obviously his influence on these games has been wonderful,” Rodgers said. “But he was equally as good tonight from that deeper position. You see his responsibility in the role, he organizes the team on the field. He scored a goal. He lead the team marvelously well and was outstanding tonight.”

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Liverpool’s captain Steven Gerrard celebrates his opening goal as Anfield erupts.

Gerrard’s powerful header sent his side into overdrive, with Philippe Coutinho, Luis Suarez, Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling inspired by their skipper’s statement strike. They ran rings around Everton’s makeshift defense, as Sturridge struck twice before half time, to take his tally to 16 for the season, and put the game out of the Toffees reach. Then Suarez scored his obligatory stunner after the interval, his 23rd of the PL campaign which beats his tally for the whole of last season, as he ran from the halfway line and calmly finished to hammer the final nail in Everton’s coffin.

When they play like this, the Reds are unstoppable.

Full of panache, swagger and purpose, on their day Liverpool showed they can beat anyone. It wasn’t as if Everton did much wrong in the opening 45 minutes, Liverpool were just that good. With tireless workrate from Gerrard and Jordan Henderson in the middle feeding tricky attackers Sterling, Suarez and Sturridge, Liverpool’s midfield obliterated Everton with a ruthless team display of high-pressing. Amongst all that, the defense held firm to preserve the shutout.

“It was a brilliant performance,” Rodgers mused. “A real good defensive organization, outstanding on the counter attack and clinical in front of goal. We scored four goals and could have had two or three more. I’m delighted for the group.”

It was just one win, which earned the home side three points. But will the significance of a big derby win have a positive impact on Liverpool for the final third of the season? Rodgers thinks so.

“All wins are important but especially against your rivals,” Rodgers said. “We are four points clear now of Everton. We know there’s still a wee way to go but psychologically it was a big, big win for us. In terms of confidence it was a big, big win for us. We have to keep our foot to the floor and keep putting in performances and keep scoring goals.”

Liverpool’s attacking quartet of Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho and Sterling are dazzling when they click but they do leave the Reds at risk on the counter attack when things break down. However, Liverpool were extremely dangerous on the counter-attack themselves as Rodgers noted in his post-game press conference. If the Reds are going to finish in the top four, they need to persevere with this ultra-attacking lineup as they will outscore most of their opponents if they’re anything close to the ruthless outfit they became vs. Everton.

(MORE: Premier League Standings)

With the Reds rampant and Everton’s confidence low — a dejected Roberto Martinez tried to put a positive spin on things after the game but a vast swathe of injuries could halt his sides brave top-four challenge — it was a terrific derby win for the Red half of Merseyside.

Towards the final whistle the famous club anthem “You’ll Never Walk Alone” was belted out by most of the 44,000 fans inside the stadium. If you closed your eyes and sensed the buzz and anticipation inside the stadium, it felt like a famous European night had arrived back at Anfield.

After a stunning display which will fill Liverpool will confidence for a top four push for the rest of the campaign, next season European nights could well return.

For Rodgers’ side there’s no need to dream. If they keep doing what they do best and perform like this, Champions League soccer will be played on Merseyside next season. This derby win proves it’s now Liverpool’s fourth spot to lose.

Tammy Abraham denies switching national teams

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Fans of the England National Team may still have a chance to see Tammy Abraham don the Three Lions crest one day.

Abraham refuted reports from earlier Thursday that he was in the process of switching his national team to Nigeria from England. The 19-year-old Swansea City forward on-loan from Chelsea has played as high as the England Under-21 Men’s National Team but because of his Nigerian father, he’s eligible for the African nation.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Abraham confirmed that he had met with Nigeria Football Federation chief Amaju Pinnick after Swansea’s last game, but denied that he was looking to play for the Super Eagles.

“I have informed The FA that I remain available for selection for England,” Abraham said, via the BBC. “Contrary to reports in the media I would like to clarify that I have not agreed to switch my national team allegiance. I can confirm I met the President of the NFF after our last game against Tottenham at Wembley on Saturday given he is a friend of my father. However, any suggestion that I have made a decision to change my international representation is incorrect and wide of the mark.”

Earlier in the day, reports emerged that Pinnick said the process was underway for Abraham to switch his international allegiance.

Abraham’s apparently decision to remain with the England set-up is good news for his club Swansea City, who will get to keep him closer to Wales on a regular basis, but Abraham may be missing a chance to play senior national team soccer at a young age.

Paulinho has silenced his critics at Barcelona

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MADRID (AP) Brazil midfielder Paulinho wasn’t greeted with the warmest of welcomes when he arrived in Barcelona.

Fans made it clear they were not too thrilled to see the club spend 40 million euros ($48 million) on a defensive midfielder who was playing in the Chinese league.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule ]

They were expecting a blockbuster signing after Neymar’s departure and ended up getting a player they knew very little about.

Paulinho didn’t have any links to the club’s youth academy and his style apparently didn’t suit the team’s traditional ball-possession game.

A video of Paulinho struggling to juggle the ball during his presentation at Camp Nou Stadium didn’t help, going viral and igniting even more criticism against the player and the club.

But things have changed quickly in favor of the low-key, hard-working Brazilian.

After five Spanish league games, Paulinho has done enough to mollify the critics.

He has two goals, including a late winner against Getafe last weekend, and showed some of the prowess that led him to success in Brazil and made him an indisputable starter for his national team.

He thrived after coming off the bench in his first four matches, and eventually earned a start on Tuesday against Eibar.

“I’m happy with how things have gone for me,” Paulinho said. “I’m glad that I’m playing well, it helps me get adapted to the club. I’m playing alongside some great players and they have all been supporting me a lot.”

The 29-year-old Paulinho has added versatility to the midfield. He is solid as a defensive midfielder but also excels with attacking runs that often surprise defenders.

That’s how he scored the decisive goal in the 2-1 win against Getafe, making a run between defenders and entering the area to fire a firm shot into the far corner. His second goal was a header in a 6-1 rout of Eibar.

“He will end up being a cheap signing,” Brazil teammate and former Barcelona player Dani Alves said.

Paulinho has a lot more presence in the area than some of the team’s other midfielders, including Ivan Rakitic and even Andres Iniesta.

It was this that made Paulinho a key player in the Corinthians team that won Club World Cup in 2012. His success with the Brazilian club prompted a move in 2013 to Tottenham, where he disappointed in his two seasons before moving to Guangzhou Evergrande.

Paulinho, who signed a four-year contract with Barcelona, said he had regained his confidence while playing in China. And his good performances with Brazil also helped.

“He gives us a lot of versatility. He can help us in many different ways,” Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde said.

Barcelona’s next game is on Saturday at Girona. The Catalan club has won its first five Spanish league games and has a two-point lead over second-place Sevilla.

More AP Spanish soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/LaLiga

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Sargent, Carleton headline U.S. Under-17 World Cup squad

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Josh Sargent has decided his professional future lies in Germany. But first, he’ll be going next month to India with 20 other teammates.

Sargent headlines head coach John Hackworth’s 21-man U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team squad for the 2017 U-17 World Cup in India. The World Cup takes place from October 6-28.

Joining Sargent are Atlanta United prospects Andrew Carleton, Chris Goslin and Justin Garces as well as New York City FC Homegrown signing James Sands, who recently made his first team debut.

The squad also features a handful of players based abroad, including Philadelphia, Penn. native Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos of Benfica, Ajax’s Sergino Dest and New York native Timothy Weah, who currently plays with Paris Saint-Germain.

The U.S. was drawn in Group A with host India, Colombia and Ghana. The U.S. U-17s begin the tournament in the opening game on October 6 against India, before facing Ghana on October 9 and Colombia on October 12.

In the press release, U.S. Soccer said that all U.S. U-17 games will be broadcast live on FS2 and UNIVERSO.

Here’s a look at the U.S. U-17 World Cup squad.

GOALKEEPERS (3): Alex Budnik (Sockers FC; Arlington Heights, Ill.), Carlos Joaquim Dos Santos (S.L. Benfica; Philadelphia, Penn.), Justin Garces (Atlanta United FC; Miami, Fla.)

DEFENDERS (6): Sergiño Dest (Ajax; Almere-stad, Netherlands), Christopher Gloster (New York Red Bulls; Montclair, N.J.), Jaylin Lindsey (Sporting Kansas City; Charlotte, N.C.), James Sands (New York City FC; Rye, N.Y.), Tyler Shaver (New York City FC; Greenwich, Conn.), Akil Watts (Portland Timbers, Fort Wayne, Ind.)

MIDFIELDERS (6): George Acosta (North Carolina FC; Hollywood, Fla.), Taylor Booth (Real Salt Lake; Eden, Utah), Christopher Durkin (D.C. United; Glen Allen, Va.), Blaine Ferri (Solar Soccer Club; Southlake, Texas), Chris Goslin (Atlanta United FC; Locust Grove, Ga.), Indiana Vassilev (Unattached; Savannah, Ga.)

FORWARDS (6): Ayo Akinola (Toronto FC; Brampton Ont.), Andrew Carleton (Atlanta United FC; Powder Springs, Ga.), Jacobo Reyes (C.F. Monterrey; Houston, Texas), Bryan Reynolds (FC Dallas; Little Elm, Texas), Joshua Sargent (St. Louis Scott Gallagher Missouri; O’Fallon, Mo.), Tim Weah (Paris Saint-Germain F.C., Rosedale, N.Y.)

MLS at Week 29: NYCFC looks to clinch vs. Houston, Atlanta hosts Impact

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Five weeks remain in the MLS regular season, and the playoff picture in both conferences are still quite murky despite time running out ahead of the postseason.

[ MORE: Sporting KC claims its fourth U.S. Open Cup title ]

While the playoff situation in the Western Conference likely won’t be settled until the final week or two, another team in the East can lock up a spot in the postseason this weekend with a victory.

New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo

New York City FC has struggled a bit as of late with injuries and are also winless in their last two matches, but Patrick Vieira’s side has the opportunity to clinch its place in the East playoffs and potentially draw one step closer to locking up the second seed.

Vieira’s boys have scored just two goals in their last three outings (1-1-1 in that span), but the good news for NYCFC is that David Villa is expected to return to the starting XI on Saturday. MLS’ leading goalscorer has racked up an impressive 19 goals this season, and the Spaniard looks on pace to capture another MLS MVP award in 2017.

They’ll face the Dynamo in a “home” match in Hartford, Connecticut after the game was moved from Yankee Stadium due to a stadium conflict with the Yankees. The fixture still bodes well though for NYCFC, as the Dynamo boast one of the worst road records in MLS this season, at 1-9-5.


Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact

Tata Martino’s side continues to benefit from playing at their new venue, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, and Atlanta will have the opportunity to put on another show on Sunday against the Impact.

Atlanta has leapt all the way up to fourth in the Eastern Conference and could potentially go third this weekend with a victory. Over the team’s last four matches, Atlanta has scored an astounding 17 goals, putting the rest of MLS on watch over the club’s potent attack.

For the Impact, they are in desperate need of a victory after picking up three points against Toronto on Wednesday. Mauro Biello’s side is on the outside looking in with five matches remaining, and the Impact are still three points behind the New York Red Bulls for the final playoff spot in the East.


Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders

Even if the Claret and Cobalt don’t qualify for the playoffs, Mike Petke has done a really special coaching job this season in Salt Lake City. RSL holds the final playoff spot out West for the time being, and it’s no coincidence that they’ve risen in the table given their form.

Since July 4, RSL is unbeaten in nine of its 11 matches, including six victories during that span. Unfortunately for Petke and Co., they have to play the Sounders this weekend — who haven’t lost June 17 at NYCFC.

The Sounders have drawn four in a row, but their unbeaten streak has extended to an MLS-best 13 matches as of late, putting them within a point of the Western Conference lead.


Here’s a look at the full rundown of the weekend’s action around MLS.

Saturday

New York City FC vs. Houston Dynamo — 3 p.m. ET
New England Revolution vs. Toronto FC — 5 p.m. ET
D.C. United vs. San Jose Earthquakes — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. Chicago Fire — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew vs. New York Red Bulls — 7:30 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. FC Dallas — 8 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Seattle Sounders — 9:30 p.m. ET
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET

Sunday

Sporting KC vs. LA Galaxy — 2 p.m. ET
Atlanta United vs. Montreal Impact — 5 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Orlando City — 8 p.m. ET