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Ronaldo’s return boosts Portugal just in time for World Cup

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There was some hesitation, there were some tentative movements and there was a brief injury scare on Tuesday, but for the first time in over two weeks, Cristiano Ronaldo played in a competitive match on Tuesday.

In a run-up to a World Cup in which star players being ruled out due to injury have become daily headlines, Portugal welcomed back the Ballon d’Or winner in Tuesday’s 5-1 victory over Ireland at MetLife Stadium.

He started and went 65 minutes in his return from lingering issues with tendinosis around his knee and a separate, mysterious thigh injury, playing a key role in two of Portugal’s goals. Ronaldo’s return to the pitch eases what was a growing concern that he might join the laundry list of injured stars — from Colombia’s Radamel Falcao, to France’s Franck Ribery and the Netherlands’ Rafael van der Vaart — as those missing out on the World Cup, but Ronaldo looked fit on Tuesday.

But Ronaldo is healthy enough — even if not 100 percent — and so too are midfielder Raul Meirelles and defender Pepe. Both were also struggling with injuries, but Meirelles looked sharp in his 65 minutes on the pitch, and Pepe closed out the match.

“Physically, all of the players are fit to play, so there are no concerns whatsoever,” coach Paulo Bento said postgame.

Thirteen minutes into Tuesday’s match, Bento’s decision to start Ronaldo looked like it could be disastrous. The captain was tackled 35 yards from goal and went down grabbing that troublesome left knee, which had a band wrapped around it. Ronaldo shook it off, though, and continued on to create some dangerous combinations on the left wing with fullback Fábio Coentrão.

“I think it’s great for the team,” Portugal midfielder Nani, who had two assists on Tuesday, said of Ronaldo’s return. “It showed tonight – he’s good, he’s well, he can help the team. I think in the first game he will be 100 percent, too.”

The hesitance from Ronaldo was clear at times as he pulled out of some tackles and looked slower than usual on the ball. He warmed up cautiously, too, taking it easy in the small-sided game during warmups and he looked like someone who was cautious to not over-exerting himself shooting.

What was abundantly obvious, though, is that Ronaldo at any percentage of health is a major positive for Portugal, who looked flat and uninspiring against Mexico on Friday without their captain.

On Tuesday, his cheeky backheel to Coentrão led to Portugal’s second goal, and Ronaldo’s header that was initially saved was then finished by Hugo Almeida for Portugal’s third goal. One of Ronaldo’s signature free kicks smacked the post in the 19th minute, and he had several surging diagonal runs in which he cut in from the left flank to have a dangerous opportunity on goal.

But exactly how the superstar feels continues to remain a mystery. Ronaldo didn’t talk to the press after emerging from the locker room over two hours after the final whistle.

The message from his coach and teammates, though — as vague and guarded as it may be — is that Ronaldo is healthy enough to not only play, but make an impact. That’s the best news Portugal can get as they open up Group G play against heavyweights Germany on Monday.

“He had a good match. Considering he hadn’t played competitively for a few weeks, I thought he did well,” Bento said. “Players like Ronaldo are definitely important for any team they play for. It’s good for us. We are delighted.”

Sydney FC return to winning ways in A-League

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - FEBRUARY 24:  Goalkeeper Danny Vukovic of Sydney FC makes a save as Bruno Fornaroli of City competes for the ball during the round 21 A-League match between Melbourne City and Sydney FC at AAMI Park on February 24, 2017 in Melbourne, Australia.  (Photo by Scott Barbour/Getty Images)
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
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SYDNEY (AP) Bobo scored twice as Sydney FC rebounded from its first loss in the A-League to beat Melbourne City 3-1 and continue atop the table.

[ MORE: Schmeichel speaks about Ranieri sacking, state of Leicester ]

Sydney’s ambitious attempt to become the first team to end the regular season unbeaten came unstuck last week when it was beaten by Western Sydney Wanderers in a fractious local derby, repercussions of which continued through the week. Wanderers were fined $20,000 by Football Federation Australia after its fans unfurled an obscene banner targeting Sydney coach Graham Arnold.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Everton extend unbeaten run in Saturday’s PL play ]

Sydney raised itself above that controversy on Friday with a comprehensive win over Melbourne City which briefly took it 11 points clear in first place.

Melbourne Victory restored the gap to eight points when it beat defending champion Adelaide United 2-1, and Perth leapfrogged Melbourne City into third place when it dumped the Wanderers 2-0.

Bobo opened Sydney’s scoring with a penalty, but City canceled that out only a minute later.

Sydney went in front again after the break, and Bobo sealed the win, set up by a superb through ball by Milos Ninkovic which highlighted their developing combination.

Midfielder Brandon O’Neil said Sydney was determined to leave behind the contention of their derby loss.

“When it all came out, the FFA and Western Sydney had to deal with it and it did,” O’Neil said. “It brought us together and we spoke about a few things, and nothing changed for us. We want to be premier (champions).”

Melbourne Victory’s win over Adelaide kept it in touch with Sydney with seven regular season rounds remaining.

Wellington kept its faint playoff hopes alive, staying in seventh place with a 2-1 win over Brisbane.

Whitecaps acquire U.S. defender Brek Shea in deal with Orlando City

Toronto FC v Orlando City SC
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With almost a week to go until the Major League Soccer season kicks off, the Vancouver Whitecaps and Orlando City may have pulled off one of the biggest trades of offseason.

[ MORE: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018 ]

The clubs announced on Saturday that the Whitecaps have acquired U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder/defender Brek Shea in exchange for forward Giles Barnes, who is headed to Orlando City.

“We are excited to welcome Brek to our club and city,” said Whitecaps FC manager Carl Robinson. “Brek is a tall, physical, skilled player and will bring a different dimension to our attack. Brek will join the group in coming days and we anticipate he will be available for selection as early as this Thursday’s Champions League match against New York.”

Shea, 26, began his career in MLS with FC Dallas before heading to England for a brief stint with Stoke City. The U.S. defender made his way back to MLS ahead of Orlando City’s inaugural season in 2015 and started 39 matches in that span.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

Meanwhile, Barnes has scored 33 goals since joining MLS in 2012. The 28-year-old forward played with the Houston Dynamo before spending last season with the Whitecaps.

Report: MLS negotiating to bring Chicharito to U.S. in 2018

Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez, Bayer Leverkusen & Mexico
AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Major League Soccer has attracted some of the world’s biggest stars over recent years and now one of the Mexican national team’s top talents could be heading stateside very soon.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

According to ESPN FC, MLS is currently in negotiations with Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen in an attempt to lure Mexican striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to the U.S. in the summer of 2018.

Expansion side Los Angeles FC has been heavily linked with Hernandez, with the club making its entrance into MLS in 2018. Additionally, the Los Angeles Galaxy have also been said to have strong ties with Chicharito.

Hernandez, 28, is currently under contract until next summer, and MLS is reportedly seeking a move in 2018 to avoid paying a transfer fee for the El Tri forward.

ESPN FC is also reporting that Chicharito could make around $9 million annually if he does in fact join MLS.

In 2015, Orlando City and the Chicago Fire were both linked with acquiring Hernandez but the Leverkusen forward was insistent upon the fact that he play Champions League football.

PL Sunday: Spurs look to regain second against Stoke

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Although there’s only one match on Sunday’s Premier League docket, the fixture bears great weight for both clubs.

[ MORE: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

Tottenham vs. Stoke City — 8:30 a.m. ET, on NBCSN and NBCSports.com

Spurs have the chance to move back into second place at White Hart Lane as Mauricio Pochettino‘s side are firmly in a battle to finish runners’ up to Chelsea this season. Tottenham currently sit 13 points out of the top spot, however, five clubs are within four points of another in the battle for second. Danny Rose and Erik Lamela remain sidelined due to injuries but Spurs will remain the favorites in the fixture after having won their previous two league meetings.

Stoke enters Sunday having gone unbeaten in five of its last six PL matches and the Potters can enter the top 10 with a victory. Mark Hughes‘ side could be given a big lift with the potential return of Xherdan Shaqiri while Saido Berahino could be in line to earn his first start since joining Stoke. Both players could present massive upside for the Potters, who have struggled to find goals as of late. In their last four matches, Stoke have managed just three finishes, one of which came from an own goal.