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Goal in friendly could help put Neymar back on track

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MADRID (AP) A meaningless goal is still a goal, especially for someone who really needs a boost.

Neymar had been enduring his worst scoring drought since arriving in Barcelona, but he got one in his team’s 5-3 friendly win over Al Ahli in Qatar on Tuesday.

That could be just the spur he needs.

[ MORE: Zlatan set for rest after Saturday ]

In Sunday’s Spanish league game against Espanyol, Neymar will be trying to score his first goal in an official match since he signed a three-year contract extension with Barcelona almost two months ago.

Neymar’s last goal for the Catalan club came in the 4-0 win over Manchester City in the group stage of the Champions League on Oct. 19, two days before the new contract was signed to keep the Brazil striker in Barcelona until June 2021.

Neymar failed to find the net in the eight matches since then, the longest scoreless streak in his four seasons in Spain.

In his debut season in 2013-14, Neymar went six consecutive games without scoring a goal two separate occasions. He never went more than four games without a goal the following season, and in 2015-16 he didn’t score in five games in a row late in the season.

Although Neymar hasn’t been playing poorly, his missed chances have attracted attention. None more than the one in the 68th minute of the “clasico” against Real Madrid at Camp Nou a few weeks ago, when he had an open shot from close range to give Barcelona a 2-0 lead but sent his strike over the crossbar. Madrid scored an equalizer in the 90th.

Neymar’s missed opportunity might have cost Barcelona the game, but it also kept him from showing his support for Brazilian club Chapecoense, whose players and delegation members died in a plane crash in Colombia.

[ MORE: Gundogan out for season ]

“If I had scored I would have shown a Chapecoense jersey,” Neymar said. “It’s what I could have done at that moment to show my support to the relative of those who died.”

It’s been a sub-par season for Neymar compared to a year ago, when he scored 14 goals in his first 17 games. He ended with 31 goals and made the short list for the best player of the year award, finishing behind Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the voting.

The 24-year-old Neymar has only six goals after 17 games this season. He did not make FIFA’s shortlist this time, and finished fifth in the Ballon d’Or award announced Monday.

Neymar started the season with Barcelona later than usual because he played for Brazil at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, leading the hosts to their first soccer gold medal.

He didn’t play the last two games for Barcelona because of suspensions – against Osasuna in the Spanish league and Borussia Moenchengladbach in the Champions League. The coinciding yellow-card suspensions led to some criticism in Spanish media as they gave Neymar extended time off, although he had to spend time undergoing physiotherapy for a minor muscle ailment.

Another Barcelona striker who could benefit from the friendly in Qatar is Paco Alcacer, who finally scored his first goal since being signed by the Catalan club this season. He hadn’t scored in 11 games and many fans had already been criticizing him.

Barcelona is six points behind Spanish league leader Madrid, which is off this weekend because it’s in Japan for the Club World Cup.

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

France veteran Malouda loses appeal in Gold Cup case

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) Former France winger Florent Malouda has lost his appeal against being ruled ineligible to play for French Guiana at the 2017 Gold Cup.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says its judges dismissed Malouda’s appeal against North American soccer body CONCACAF.

French Guiana fielded Malouda in a 0-0 draw against Honduras last July despite being told he was not eligible. CONCACAF awarded a 3-0 win to Honduras and suspended Malouda.

The Gold Cup uses FIFA eligibility rules which bar players from transferring allegiance after playing a competitive game for one country.

Malouda played 80 times for France including a 2006 World Cup final loss against Italy.

The French Guiana soccer federation hoped Malouda, now aged 37, could play in the Gold Cup because it is not a FIFA member.

Report: Bobby Wood unlikely to come to MLS this summer

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A U.S. Men’s National Team forward will probably have to wait a bit longer to come to Major League Soccer if that is the path that he chooses.

Reports have recently surfaced linking Bobby Wood to MLS at the conclusion of the Bundesliga season, however, MLSSoccer.com is reporting that a move for the American likely won’t come in 2018.

Wood, who remains under contract for three more seasons at Hamburg, is currently fighting relegation in Germany with his club side.

Hamburg currently sits 17th in the German top flight, eight points buried in the relegation zone with four matches remaining.

The MLSSoccer.com report suggests that MLS clubs aren’t willing to compensate Wood at the current rate of his contract in Germany.

Currently, Wood is making “several million dollars” per season, and even if Hamburg is relegated in 2017/18 Wood’s contract wouldn’t decrease to a number that clubs are comfortable paying.

If Wood was to join MLS, he would be considered a Discovery signing as he is not currently on the MLS player allocation list. The Washington Post previously reported that an MLS club has Wood included on their Discovery list, although the team’s identity isn’t known.

Report: Fellaini eyes MLS, China after shooting down Man United terms

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Marouane Fellaini‘s time in Manchester looks to be numbered, and a move abroad could have the Belgian in line for one last payday during his career.

The Manchester United midfielder has rejected multiple offers to stay on at Old Trafford ahead of his contract expiring this summer, which would allow Fellaini to pursue other opportunities come June.

Fellaini is being linked to moves to Major League Soccer and the Chinese Super League, as the veteran aims to secure a sizable contract upon leaving the Red Devils after over five-and-a-half years with the club.

The Daily Mail is also reporting that Fellaini would be open to hearing options that could keep him in the Premier League, although it is unclear if there is any serious interest from English sides at this time.

Since the arrivals of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic, Fellaini has struggled to find playing time under manager Jose Mourinho.

This season, the Belgium international has appeared in just 14 PL matches and 19 in all competitions. Fellaini has scored four goals in that span.

Chicago Fire venue to be renamed SeatGeek Stadium

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The Chicago Fire won’t be moving into a new stadium 2019, however, their venue will have a new name donned on the side of it.

For years, the Eastern Conference side has played its home matches at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois, but starting next season the Fire’s home turf will be called SeatGeek Stadium as part of a rebrand.

SeatGeek is one of the largest online after-market ticket distributors, and was created back in 2009.

Toyota Park will undergo its transformation at the conclusion of the 2018 MLS season.

The venue is also home to the NWSL’s Chicago Red Stars.