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At halftime: Dempsey’s early opener has U.S. in front of Ghana — FOLLOW LIVE

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Story of the half: The fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history puts the U.S. in front, allowing them to play the first 45 minutes on their terms. Ghana goes 24 minutes without a shot and reach intermission drawing only one save from Tim Howard, leaving head coach Kwesi Appiah in search of second half solutions. Performing exactly as they would have draw it up, the U.S. takes a 1-0 win into halftime in Natal, Brazil.

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Goals:

1′ – That Ghana defense that was supposed to be so mistake-prone? Twenty-nine seconds in, bingo. After a throw-in along the left, Clint Dempsey’s given a chance to go one-on-one against John Boye. After cutting inside of the Ghanaian central defender, Dempsey’s left-footed finish finds the lower right-hand corner, giving the U.S. its earliest goal in World Cup history.

Other key moments:

19′ – As Ghana gets too narrow, Fabian Johnson gets forward on the right, where he’s fed a ball just outside the Ghana penalty area. Hesitating so he can assess the play, the U.S. right back plays a ball behind the Ghana line, allowing Jozy Altidore to turn on a shot from nine yards out. Only a block in front of Adam Kwarasey keeps the U.S. from doubling its lead.

21′ – Altidore’s hamstring goes. Chasing a long ball down the left from Michael Bradley, the U.S. number nine pulls up, grabs his left hamstring, and falls to the ground. There’s no doubt about it – he’s done. Twenty-one minutes into the tournament, Altidore’s World Cup may be done.

30′ – Surging forward from his defensive midfield position, Mohammed Raibu gets his elbow high during an aerial challenge at the edge of the U.S. penalty area. As Kyle Beckerman recovers on the ground, Jonas Eriksson goes to his pocket. The yellow card means Ghana’s midfield stopper will have to be careful.

32′ – Ghana generates its first good chance. Cutting from left-to-right across the top of the penalty area, Asamoah Gyan gets around Bradley to nail a shot toward Tim Howard’s lower-left corner. A diving stop sees the U.S. number one steer the shot wide.

33′ – The last thing the U.S. needs after seeing Altidore go down? An injury to its other starting forward, but when Jonathan Mensah’s left leg gets high during an aerial challenge, Dempsey’s left with a bloodied nose. After two minutes on the ground, Dempsey leaves to get treatment on the sidelines, alleviating concerns the U.S. would have to burn another sub.

45+5′ – Ghana finally gets another chance, but a ball played in from the right by Christian Atsu sees André Ayew scuff a shot from 12 yards out. Geoff Cameron easily clears moments before the halftime whistle.

Also of note: Toward the end of the half, Matt Belser was shown periodically grabbing his right hamstring, leaving the U.S. with another major injury concern.

Lineups:

Ghana: Kwarasey; Opare, Mensah, Boye, Asamoah; Rabiu, Atsu, Muntari, J. Ayew; Gyan, A. Ayew

United States: Howard, Johnson, Cameron, Besler, Beasley, Beckerman, Jones, Bradley, Bedoya, Dempsey, Altidore (Johannsson 23′)

Key players:

  • Aron Johannsson, United States – Ghana’s going to keep controlling possession, meaning the U.S. needs somebody to run down those Bradley long balls. That wasn’t supposed to be the 23-year-old, but in place of Altidore, Johannsson will have to step up.
  • DaMarcus Beasley, United States – Leaning to the right when attacking, Ghana has been intent on testing Beasley’s flank. So far, so good, partially because Appiah has opted for speed (Christian Atsu) against the 32-year-old American. That’s a game Beasley can play. If Appiah moves Jordan Ayew to the right, Beasley may have a more difficult challenge.
  • Asamoah Gyan, Ghana – The U.S. has managed to stay very compact through the middle, with Geoff Cameron and Besler creating a consistent two-on-one for Gyan. With Jermaine Jones and Beckerman helping Beasley on the left, there isn’t much to be had if the Ghanaian captain goes wide. Whether he gets help (from André Ayew, perhaps) or not, Gyan may have to overcome the odds to pull his team even.
  • Mohammed Rabiu, Ghana – More and more, the United States is playing on the counter, something that’s likely to continue in the second half. As the first line of defense against the U.S.’s transition, can the yellow-carded anchor make it to 90 minutes without having to put his team down a man?

Questions for the second half:

  • Does Ghana have another idea? It’s not only that the Black Stars were second best in everything but ball retention. They were never dangerous. With the U.S. scoring early, the Americans were able to leverage their set up and force Ghana to do something special. With Tim Howard doing such a good job deciding when to bolt off his line, Kwesi Appiah needs to implement Plan B at halftime.
  • Will fitness matter? It’s not the temperature, which is only 79 degrees (Fahrenheit). It’s the humidity: 74 percent. Which team is in better shape? Which one expends less energy performing its regular tasks? Which one will adjust to a final 10, 15 minutes that will leave them empty at the final whistle?

Argentine star Messi leaves Honduras match with back injury

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 08:  (L-R) Jose Juan Vazquez #23 of Mexico and Lionel Messi #10 of Argentina during a international friendly at AT&T Stadium on September 8, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images
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BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) Argentine soccer superstar Lionel Messi left the field with a back injury in the second half of a 1-0 victory over Honduras in a friendly Friday night.

The Argentine team captain and Barcelona star was hit on an apparently inconsequential play and immediately went to the locker room. He was replaced at the 62-minute mark by Sevilla midfielder Ever Banega and never returned to the field.

“Messi suffered a trauma to the left side of his lower back and rib cage,” the Argentine Football (Soccer) Association said in a statement, adding that doctors were looking at the injury.

[ MORE: Hull City snares last PL spot for 2016-17 ]

Messi is not a player who leaves the field with minor injuries like he did Friday at San Juan’s Bicentenario stadium.

“I would not dare to venture a diagnosis,” said a concerned Argentine manager, Gerardo Martino.

Gonzalo Higuain, who scored for Argentina, said it “was an important win and here’s hoping that what happened to Leo is nothing.”

Messi was scheduled to fly to Spain to resolve a tax issue and then rejoin the team in Santa Clara, California.

Hull City secures PL position next season

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 28: Ross Wallace of Sheffield Wednesday make a break during Sky Bet Championship Play Off Final match between Hull City and Sheffield Wednesday at Wembley Stadium on May 28, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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Mohamed Diame was the hero on the day for Hull City, as the Tigers gain promotion to the Premier League next season.

The Senegalese attacker sent Sheffield Wednesday packing on Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium after hitting a scorching long-distance effort past goalkeeper Kieren Westwood in the second half.

After an initial back-and-forth spell of chances over the opening half hour-plus, Sheffield was drastically taken out of the match as Hull began to gain their composure on the ball.

Hull City will join Championship winners Burnley and Middlesbrough in the Premier League in 2016-17 after being promoted. Relegated clubs Newcastle, Norwich City and Aston Villa will take their place in England’s second flight.

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UCL FOLLOW LIVE: Lineups as Atleti, Real duel in finale

Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, right, fights for the ball with Atletico Madrid's Tiago Mendes during a Spanish La Liga soccer match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon stadium in Madrid, Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. The match ended in a 1-1 draw. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
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After their devastating defeat two seasons ago, Atletico Madrid looks for revenge and their first UEFA Champions League title on Saturday against Real Madrid.

Milan will be the site for the action, as Zinedine Zidane and Real are seeking their 11th title in the competition and have the opportunity to knock Atleti out in the title match for the second time in three seasons.

To follow live, click here.

LINEUPS

Real Madrid: Navas, Marcelo, Ramos, Pepe, Carvajal, Casemiro, Kroos, Modric, Ronaldo, Bale, Benzema Subs: Casilla, James, Nacho, Lucas Vasquez, Jese, Isco, Danilo

Atletico Madrid: Oblak; Filipe Luis, Godin, Savic, Juanfran; Gabi, Fernandez, Koke, Saul Niguez; Griezmann, Torres. Subs: Moya, Tiago, Correa, Hernandez, Thomas, Ferreira-Carrasco, Gimenez.

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Atlanta United actively pursuing Mexican duo Guardado, Vela

ATLANTA, GA - JULY 07:  (L-R) Former professional soccer player Carlos Bocanegra, MLS Atlanta owner Arthur Blank, rapper Ludacris, Commissioner of MLS Don Garber, and former professional soccer player Darren Eales attend the MLS Atlanta Launch Event at SOHO on July 7, 2015 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for MLS Atlanta)
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With Atlanta United FC set to make their MLS debut in 2017, the club is reportedly set to make a major splash with one or possibly two Mexican stars.

[ MORE: Agent: Zlatan Ibrahimovic may not join Man United ]

ESPN FC‘s John Sutcliffe reported from the team’s future home, Mercedes-Benz Stadium, on Friday, saying that the team is targeting both Andres Guardado and Carlos Vela.

[ MORE: Edgar Castillo to replace Timmy Chandler for USMNT ]

Guardado, who currently plays for PSV Eindhoven, has long been a staple of the El Tri midfield, making 124 appearances for the Mexican national team.

While Vela wasn’t included in Mexico’s Copa America Centenario roster, the Real Sociedad striker has every bit of talent you’d want from a future Designated Player, which is likely what either Guardado or Vela would be.

Atlanta currently has three players on their roster. Greek goalkeeper Alexandros Tabakis, Junior Burgos and Jeffery Otoo currently round out the squad.

The potential addition(s) of an Andres Guardado or Carlos Vela would prove to be not only big for Atlanta but for MLS as a whole, more so with Vela though. MLS’ growth over recent years has brought young DPs like Sebastian Giovinco and Giovani Dos Santos to Toronto FC and the LA Galaxy, respectively.

Another league addition who is in the prime of their career will only continue to build the league’s reputation, and immediately put Atlanta on the map next season.

Follow @MattReedFutbol