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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

LIVE – Everton kick off Europa League campaign

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Wayne Rooney will play his first competitive game for Everton in 13 years.

[ LIVE: Europa League scores

That storyline will dominate Everton’s return to Europe as they kick off their 2017-18 UEFA Europa League campaign in front of a packed house at Goodison Park on Thursday.

The Toffees welcome Slovakian side MFK Ruzomberok for the first leg of the third qualifying round as they aim to make it back to the group stage for the first time since 2014-15.

Click on the link above to follow not only Everton’s game but all of the Europa League qualifiers going on across Europe this afternoon with the likes of AC Milan, Fenerbache, PSV, Marseille and Athletic Bilbao all in action.

If Ronald Koeman‘s side successfully navigate their way past Ruzomberok then they will be in the play-off round which is the final hurdle before the group stage.

Bob Bradley named first-ever LAFC head coach

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Bob Bradley is heading back to Major League Soccer and will be the first-ever head coach of Los Angeles Football Club.

LAFC announced Thursday that Bradley, 59, would take charge of the new MLS club for their inaugural season in 2018.

The former Chicago Fire, New York MetroStars, Chivas USA, U.S. national team, Egyptian national team, Stabaek, Le Havre and Swansea City head coach is back Stateside for the first time since 2011 when departed his job with the USMNT.

Bradley won the 2007 Gold Cup, took the U.S. to the 2009 Confederations Cup final and reached the 2010 World Cup Round of 16 while in charge of the USMNT.

LAFC announced the news in an unconventional manner with the video below as Bradley is back in the game after leaving Premier League side Swansea City in December 2016 as he became the first-ever American to coach in the PL.

MLS’ newest team is already pushing ahead with its 22,000 capacity soccer-specific stadium in downtown LA with construction underway on their swanky new home.

The club also boast a huge number of high-profile owners including Mia Hamm, Magic Johnson, Will Ferrell, Vincent Tan and many others with entrepreneur Peter Guber the executive chairman.

Barcelona praise Man United; Mourinho lauds Pogba

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Barcelona beat Manchester United 1-0 in their International Champions Cup clash at FedEx Field on Wednesday and the Spanish giants were quick to praise Jose Mourinho’s side after the narrow victory.

[ VIDEO: Man City hammer Real Madrid

New Barca boss Ernesto Valverde certainly has his hands full in his first few weeks in charge at the Nou Camp as Neymar’s future is the main topic of conversation around the Catalan club.

That said, after the win (which came via a goal from, you guessed it, Neymar) Valverde had plenty of kinds words to say about United and the job Mourinho is doing at Old Trafford.

“Obviously it hasn’t been well lately, but I mean they won the Europa League. This year they are going to be in the Champions League. Their presence by itself is impressive. They impress. I think they are going to be a really hard team to beat,” Valverde said. “For me, they are contenders to win and they are going to be hard to beat in the Premier League and the Champions League. I wouldn’t want to face them in the Champions League.’

Mourinho was asked about the situations regarding the top talent in world soccer and the huge transfer fees, and he picked out that moment to praise the current most-expensive player in the world Paul Pogba.

“(Lionel) Messi and Neymar, there is only one; there is not two,” Mourinho said. “(Luis) Suarez, (Andres) Iniesta, (Gerard) Pique, (Cristiano) Ronaldo, (Gareth) Bale, (Luka) Modric, Toni Kroos; there is only one so they can only play for one club, not for two clubs. We can’t have them, they belong to the clubs. But I have to say that Paul Pogba showed the level… he showed he belongs to that level.”

This is certainly a big year for Pogba after his up and down start to life back at Old Trafford in 2016-17.

Sure, he he hadn’t plenty of pressure on his shoulders with the huge price tag, his emoji spinning around the pitch and much more, but he helped drag United through the season and achieve their main aim of getting back to the Champions League.

After a strong preseason Stateside where the won four games and lost a tight encounter to Barcelona, it appears Mourinho has things moving in the right direction.

Whether or not United will challenge for the PL title and Champions League this season remains to be seen but you can’t argue that Romelu Lukaku and Victor Lindelof aren’t huge additions and if Mourinho can add one or two more he will have the required balance to made the Red Devils a formidable unit.

LA Galaxy fire Onalfo, hire Sigi Schmid

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Sigi Schmid is back in the game.

On Thursday LA Galaxy announced that Curt Onalfo had been relieved of his duties “effective immediately” and that Schmid had been hired.

The former UCLA, Columbus Crew and Seattle Sounders coach is back for his second-stint with the Galaxy — he previously coached the Galaxy from 1999-2004 — as the man with more wins than any other boss in MLS history is tasked with saving LA’s season.

Schmid has won two MLS Cups, a record five U.S. Open Cups and three MLS Supporters’ Shield over his illustrious career.

LA Galaxy President Chris Klein explained the decision to bring in the experienced coach after Onalfo’s promotion form LA Galaxy II failed to work out with the MLS giants currently languishing in ninth spot in the Western Conference.

“After a great deal of evaluation and careful consideration, we believe that Sigi Schmid is the best person to coach our team for the remainder of this season and into the future,” Klein said. “Sigi is one of the most experienced coaches in the history of soccer in the United States and he is an extremely successful manager that has proven himself to be a winner within Major League Soccer. Sigi has been one of the best coaches the history of our league and we have full confidence in him to lead our team moving forward. Our goal remains to win trophies and be the best club in North America and we believe that Sigi gives us the best opportunity to achieve this. Curt Onalfo has been a loyal servant to the Galaxy and Galaxy II for a number of seasons and we wish him well.”

From the start Onalfo was on a hiding to nothing with Bruce Arena departing for the U.S. national team last season and Onalfo tasked with an almighty rebuild following his great work with bringing through youngsters at LA Galaxy II.

Schmid knows the league inside out and his main aim will be to rally a talented group of Galaxy players to one of their famed second half of the season surges as they search for another MLS Cup to add to their record haul of five.

With LA in ninth spot in the West they are only three points off the bottom of the standings but are also just five points from the final playoff spot.

For so long Schmid plotted LA’s downfall as head coach of the Seattle Sounders from 2009-16, but now he’s back in LA and as fate would have it his first game back in charge of the Galaxy is against… the Sounders this Saturday at StubHub Center.