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More a player-coach these days, Christie Pearce having fun

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For Christie Pearce, retirement looks an awful lot like she’s still working.

Pearce, who was known for much of her playing career as Christie Rampone but recently went back to using her maiden name on her jersey, formally retired from the U.S. national team earlier this year.

The 41-year-old defender didn’t walk away from the game entirely. She’s still grinding it out for the National Women’s Soccer League’s Sky Blue.

“My game’s a lot more mental than it is physical. Obviously, I still have my speed and I can run down players,” she said. “But I’m having fun. That’s the best part of it. I had my international career, I’m so grateful for that. But now I get to play with some younger players that give me energy, and I give back.”

As the most veteran player in the women’s pro league, Pearce is eying an eventual transition from player to coach. Sky Blue is a good place to start. The team is full of young talent, including Raquel Rodriguez, last season’s NWSL Rookie of the Year, and dynamic 23-year-old Australian forward Sam Kerr.

But Pearce’s main role is guiding and anchoring a backline that includes Kayla Mills, the fourth overall pick in the league draft earlier this year, and Mandy Freeman, the 10th pick. Both played at USC, which won last year’s NCAA College Cup championship game.

Sky Blue also plays a rookie at goalkeeper: Kailen Sheridan out of Clemson.

Those youngsters are starting to have a real impact for New Jersey. The team is coming off a 3-1 road victory over the Portland Thorns, which popped Sky Blue into third place in the league standings behind the North Carolina Courage and the Chicago Red Stars. Last year, Sky Blue finished seventh among the NWSL’s 10 teams.

“We have very, very gifted young players that have so much potential and that are so fun to work with. Especially myself, being in the back, with a lot of young players,” she said. “Mandy and Kayla are amazing and they get better each and every game. People are starting to figure them out. It’s hard to break down. We have a great unit from the forwards all the way to the back, but our young rookies are doing really well.”

Pearce’s international career spanned two decades, and during her time she played under six national team coaches.

She won three Olympic gold medals and two World Cups. She played on the 1999 World Cup team that won the title at the Rose Bowl then was on the roster for the 2015 World Cup in Canada, joining fellow veteran Abby Wambach in receiving the championship trophy after a 5-2 victory in the final against Japan.

Pearce earned 311 caps, second-most in international history behind former teammate Kristine Lilly.

A New Jersey native, Pearce also played for Sky Blue in the Women’s Professional Soccer League. Pearce was a player-coach in 2009, leading the Sky Blue to the inaugural WPS championship. That league folded following the 2011 season.

When she was honored by the national team at a SheBelieves Cup match against England in March, she was purposely vague about returning to Sky Blue following her international team retirement. She wanted to make sure she could still do it.

“I figured if I went through preseason, I’d make the decision after that, realizing, `OK, can I get through this?”‘ she said.

In the end, the young players were a big reason she came back. And the mother of two has been able to hold her own, despite being twice as old as half of the backline.

“I think the unity among this team is incredible. It’s really special,” she said. “You don’t really see as many people working for each other as a team so early in the season, especially when you have so many new players.”

Van Persie moves back to hometown club Feyenoord

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Former Arsenal and Manchester United striker Robin Van Persie has signed with his boyhood club Feyenoord after being released from his contract at Fenerbahce, the Dutch club confirmed.

The 34-year-old has only made two league appearances this season due to a knee injury, and since returning to full health in early December, he has been left out of the squad. Van Persie’s switch is a free transfer after his Turkish club allowed him to terminate his contract. It was reported back in November that the Dutchman was no longer wanted at Fenerbahce and that they would let him rot on the bench if he did not find a way out himself.

[ MORE: Friday Transfer Rumor Roundup ]

“Nothing stands in the way of a return of the 102-cap international to De Kuip,” Feyenoord wrote in an official statement, “now that he has come to an agreement with his current club Fenerbahce about the dissolution of his contract. The club and the player have reached an agreement regarding personal terms and related details for the move.”

A Rotterdam native, van Persie began his career in Feyenoord’s youth academy and made his first club appearance off the bench in a February, 2001 Eredivisie match against Roda JC. His first professional start, a KNVB-Bekker match against AGOVV Apeldoorn, saw him score an incredible five goals in a 6-1 win. Van Persie would go on to score 21 goals in 76 matches across all competitions for the club before moving to Arsenal in the summer of 2004, where he would spend the next eight seasons, arriving just after the Invincibles season and leaving in 2012 after 131 goals for the Gunners.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Chelsea still pursuing Roma duo, and more

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Chelsea is looking to make a big transfer splash as it searches for potential replacements for Michy Batshuayi and David Luiz.

According to multiple reports, Chelsea is attempting a double signing from AS Roma, forward Edin Dzeko and midfielder Emerson Palmieri. The Brazilian left-back is rated by Roma at $30.5 million but he could join Chelsea on loan. However the interest in Dzeko is much newer, and it’s unclear whether Roma would allow Dzeko to leave, especially in the middle of the season.

[READ: MLS SuperDraft 2018 Live Tracker]

With Roma preparing to face Inter Milan this weekend, talks between the two clubs have been put on hold until next week.

Dzeko’s agent confirmed that Conte is interested in the Bosnia and Herzegovina international but stated Dzeko’s desire is to remain at Roma.

After failing to beat out Sergio Aguero in the starting lineup for Manchester City, it would be interesting to see Dzeko give the Premier League another go, although he’d likely play second-fiddle again, this time to Alvaro Morata.

Here are some more transfer rumors from around Europe and the Premier League:

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MLS SuperDraft 2018 Live Tracker

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For a few dozen players, hearing their name called up to the big stage will validate all the hard work and sacrifices they’ve made since they were children.

Starting at 11:00 a.m. when Los Angeles FC is on the clock at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, the 2018 MLS SuperDraft will be underway. Many of the top college prospects will soon find out whether they’ll be headed to the Pacific Northwest, New England, the Southeast, Southern California or anywhere in between.

[MORE: 2018 MLS Mock Draft]

This year’s draft class is loaded with attacking talent, from Generation Adidas trio Ema Twumasi (Wake Forest), Mason Toye (Indiana) and Francis Atuahene (Michigan) to Twumasi’s college teammate Jon Bakero.

But potential No. 1 overall pick is a three-time national champion, Thomas Hilliard-Arce, who could become the anchor of a backline for a decade.

Follow along below as we update the picks live as we hear them:

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Bayern signs Germany midfielder Goretzka from rival Schalke

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MUNICH (AP) Bayern Munich signed Germany midfielder Leon Goretzka on Friday on a free transfer from Bundesliga rival Schalke effective from next season.

Bayern said the 22-year-old Goretzka signed a four-year deal from July 1 through June 2022.

Schalke, which Goretzka joined in 2013 from hometown club Bochum, said the player informed the club this week of his wish to join Bayern when his contract expired.

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“We think we did everything in the last months to convince Leon to stay with us,” Schalke sporting director Christian Heidel said. “In the end, it wasn’t enough.”

Schalke had long been engaged in trying to get Goretzka to extend his contract, but was aware of reported interest from Bayern, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Juventus and Liverpool.

“We’re very happy that Leon Goretzka, a German international with big potential, has decided in favor of Bayern despite big-name international competitors. This way it’s ensured that Leon Goretzka remains in the Bundesliga,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said.

Goretzka scored 19 goals and set up 13 more in 130 appearances for Schalke.

The club had previously expressed its displeasure with Bayern making public statements about its player after Goretzka was praised by sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic and coach Jupp Heynckes.

Heidel said “we don’t need to hear every day from the Munich people how good our player is.”

Goretzka has six goals in 12 games for Germany.