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Chapecoense set for emotional “re-cup” final vs. Atletico Nacional

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CHAPECO, Brazil (AP) It will be anything but a typical soccer cup final when Chapecoense faces Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the Recopa Sudamericana on Tuesday.

Instead, the focus will be on remembering those who died four months ago when the plane carrying Brazilian team Chapecoense crashed in the Andes on the way to the Copa Sudamericana final against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional.

Out of 77 passengers, 71 died, including 19 players, journalists, and club officials.

This time, when Chapecoense faces Atletico Nacional, gratitude will replace rivalry and solemn prayers for closure will matter more than who wins.

The South America’s Recopa annually pits the winner of the Copa Libertadores – that was Atletico Nacional – against the Copa Sudamericana champion.

After the Nov. 28 crash outside Medellin, the Copa Sudamericana title was awarded to Chapecoense at Atletico Nacional’s request.

In effect, the Recopa is a replay of the two-game final that should have happened four months ago until the disaster wiped out the Brazilian team.

A southern city of about 200,000 residents near the Argentine border, Chapeco is preparing motorcades, fireworks and videos for before, during, and after the match. Edson Erdman, an artistic director who was involved with the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, was hired and a municipal holiday was declared so every citizen can take part.

There will be celebrations in downtown Chapeco and a fan march to the Arena Conda. Special videos will also be shown on the big screen during halftime. Afterward, fireworks will go off, and in downtown Chapeco a time capsule will be set aside to be opened in 43 years. That is the present age of the Brazilian club.

As the club prepares for some closure, others in Chapeco still have a long road ahead.

Goalkeeper Jackson Follmann has yet to discover his next job after losing part of a leg in the crash. Two other surviving players – winger Alan Ruschel and defender Neto – want to get back on the field, but doctors avoid making predictions about their futures.

In a social media post last week, Neto published his last group photo taken with victims of the crash.

“I wish I had taken a picture with each one of those that left us. I wish none of this were true,” the defender said.

Players’ wives and others with ties to the victims have threatened to sue the club for financial compensation. The club says the issue will be solved in the near future.

Last week members of the Japan Football Association met with officials of the Brazilian club to offer support. Brazil great Zico offered his help.

“There is a collection of money from several J-League games, from fans and clubs,” Zico told reporters. He said Chapecoense would collect the money when it plays in Japan in August.

So far, the rebuilt team has been holding its own.

It leads the Santa Catarina state championship with 13 points after five matches. In the Copa Libertadores, it has three points from two games, just like the three other teams in Group G.

The return leg of the Recopa Sudamericana is in Medellin on May 10.

VIDEO: Accam’s slick backheel puts Chicago ahead

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For the last two years, David Accam has been, in my estimation, the best player in MLS that no one talked about.

[ MORE: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win NY derby 2-0 ]

Understandably so, of course, given the 26-year-old Ghanaian international and the Chicago Fire been rooted to the bottom of the league table for two years running. All of that has changed in 2017, though, as Accam finally has a forward (Nemanja Nikolic) who can not only put chances away, but create space and chances for his teammates, and a solid midfield base which allows him to cherry-pick counter-attacks just that little bit more.

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Entering Saturday’s game against Orlando City SC, Chicago sat second in the Eastern Conference, just four points back of Toronto FC, and Accam’s 9 goals and 5 assists (in 15 games) were a huge part of the why and the how. It didn’t take Accam long — two minutes, in fact, to put Chicago ahead of Orlando with a ridiculous backheel finish to Matt Polster’s cross.

 

Bravo fit again, but will he start Chile’s Confed Cup group finale?

Photo credit should read YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images
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MOSCOW (AP) Claudio Bravo is fit again and could start in goal against Australia at the Confederations Cup on Sunday, Chile coach Juan Antonio Pizzi said Saturday.

Bravo – who is Chile’s joint most-capped player with Alexis Sanchez – hasn’t played since April 27, when he injured his calf for Manchester City in a derby game with Manchester United.

“Claudio is fit, he’s managed to train the last couple of days just like his other teammates,” Pizzi said. “He’s ready and available to play.”

Pizzi brushed off concerns about a lack of match fitness, saying that “quite obviously we take into account that factor” but players like Bravo are “are of such good quality that it isn’t that important they haven’t played in the last couple of months.”

Stand-in Johnny Herrera played in Chile’s 2-0 group stage win over Cameroon and Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Germany.

Gary Medel was substituted with a minor injury while playing in defense for Chile against Germany. Teammate Francisco Silva said Saturday that Medel had complained of “a very small muscle contraction issue” but was now fit.

Pizzi said he will aim to tire out Australia with Chile’s trademark all-action style, even though his team struggled for energy in the latter stages against Germany.

“This energy drop we had in the second half didn’t damage us too much because the opposing team couldn’t maintain a high pace because of the demands we’d imposed on them,” Pizzi said of the Germany game.

“We’re going to try to get (the Australians) tired as well and use this to beat our opponent, and we hope this is going to translate into goals.”

USMNT’s Wood extends Hamburg contract through 2021

Photo credit: Hamburg / Twitter: @HSV
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HAMBURG, Germany (AP) American forward Bobby Wood extended his contract with Bundesliga side Hamburger SV on Saturday to 2021.

Wood, who joined Hamburg from second-tier Union Berlin, scored five goals and set up two more in 28 Bundesliga games. He had 17 goals in 31 second-division games for Union the season before.

“Not only his goals count for us, but his readiness to run and challenge,” Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt said. “Bobby is a key player for our offense and a real team player.”

Wood has eight goals in 32 appearances for the United States.

MLS Snapshot: NYCFC run rampant on Red Bulls, win 2-0

Photo credit: NYCFC
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The game in 100 words (or less): The only thing standing in the way of New York City FC avenging their infamous 7-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls with a lopsided demolition job of their own, on Saturday, was an otherworldly goalkeeping performance from Luis Robles. It was the Red Bulls shot-stopper, with his four saves on the afternoon (three of them coming in spectacular fashion), who kept Jesse Marsch’s side within touching distance for more than an hour. Jack Harrison was denied early on by Robles, but got the better of him not long later for the game’s opening goal. Heroics from Robles kept the score at 1-0 for another 32 minutes, before Ben Sweat’s (accidental?) header made it 2-0 in the 65th minute. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, managed their first shot on target in the 80th minute. That’s three wins in a row for NYCFC, who go seven points clear of their Hudson River rivals and keep Toronto FC in sight at the top of the league table, five points ahead.

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Three moments that mattered

18′ — Robles goes full-stretch to deny Harrison — David Villa’s vision and Rodney Wallace‘s hold-play created the chance for Harrison, but Luis Robles’ acrobatics denied the 20-year-old Englishman in spectacular fashion.

33′ — Harrison not to be denied this time — Sweat delivered the ball to Harrison near the top of the box, and the second-year man did everything right with what’s a really, really difficult chance to take — facing away from goal, first-time, ball traveling across the goalkeeper, upper-90 to the far post.

65′ — Sweat loops a header past Robles for 2-0 — Sweat probably didn’t mean it, but the ball hit the back of the net, and that’s all that matters. Not a bad time to score your first MLS goal, either.

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Man of the match: Luis Robles

Goalscorers: Harrison (33′), Sweat (65′)