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Healthy again, Bobby Wood figures to play key role for USMNT

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WHIPPANY, N.J. (AP) Bobby Wood still refuses to say whether he was playing with an injured knee last spring.

Enjoying a breakout first season in the Bundesliga, the 24-year-old American forward missed a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March because of a back injury, then didn’t score in Hamburg’s final nine games. German media reported he had hurt a knee, and Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol said in May: “He’s trained for weeks on painkillers. He plays on painkillers.”

Wood didn’t look sharp when he returned to the U.S. national team for qualifiers in June, but scored twice in Hamburg’s opening three games of the new season.

[ MORE: Four keys for the USMNT ]

“He’s back at full speed and ready to go,” American coach Bruce Arena said Wednesday, two days before World Cup qualifying resumes with a match against Costa Rica at nearby Red Bull Arena.

Wood is among five forwards in camp, joined by Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski.

“He has more pace than me, probably covers more distance in the game,” Dempsey said. “A physical player – challenges everything. Runs down lost causes and is good in front of goal. So he’s a player that I see continue to do well for many years.”

Born in Hawaii, Wood joined 1860 Munich’s youth academy in 2007 and made his professional debut with the club in a second-division match four years later. He was loaned to second-division Erzgebirge Aue for the second half of the 2014-15 season, then signed with another second-division team, Union Berlin, in July 2015.

He scored 17 goals in 31 league games in 2015-16, earning a contract with Hamburg. He had five goals and set up two more in 28 games in his first Bundesliga season.

But he didn’t score after March 12 and was given poor ratings by German media. Asked about the knee Wednesday, Wood said: “Yeah, I guess it was a little bit of a problem” and then chuckled.

“It certainly slowed him down a little bit,” Arena said.

Wood made his national team debut in August 2013 and scored his first goal two years later, a 90th-minute strike that gave the U.S. a 2-1 exhibition win at the Netherlands. He has eight goals in 32 international appearances, starting alongside Altidore for the first two games of the hexagonal last November, a 2-1 home loss to Mexico in which he scored the American goal, and a 4-0 debacle at Costa Rica that caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the U.S. coach from 1998-2006.

“We’ve got to take that loss as a learning session and kind of know you can’t just go out there and play,” Wood said. “You’ve got to mentally be ready for a very tough Costa Rican team.”

[ MORE: Mahrez willing to join Barcelona ]

When qualifying resumed in June, Arena used Wood as an 83rd-minute substitute for a 2-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago and started him as the lone forward three days later in a 1-1 draw at Mexico.

Arena compliments “his pace, his quick, sharp little running behind back lines, his aggressiveness.”

“He’s a guy that you need to focus on for 90 minutes,” Arena said. “He’s very active in his movement. He’s goal dangerous.”

The U.S. has moved up in the standings since Arena took over, winning two home games and drawing twice on the road. If the Americans win at home this week and get at least a tie on Tuesday at Honduras, they would head into the round’s final games in October on track for an eighth straight World Cup appearance.

Wood and Hamburg played under pressure last May. The club has never been relegated but was in danger of the drop until a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg on the season’s final day.

After the season, Hamburg gave Wood a new contract until 2021. He scored against third-tier Osnabrueck in the German Cup, then got his team’s second goal in a 3-1 win at Cologne on Friday that gave Hamburg a 2-0 Bundesliga start. Wood isn’t looking ahead just yet to a stress-free club season.

“Doesn’t keep you in the league winning two times,” he said. “It’s only six points.”

Source: MLS rejected deal that would’ve brought Ousted to LA Galaxy

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TAM has become a great discussion in Major League Soccer, allowing teams to acquire more top-caliber players, but it appears in one instance the mechanism could actually hurt a player’s chances of being re-signed.

[ MORE: LAFC close to signing third DP, Portuguese midfielder Geraldes ]

Pro Soccer Talk has learned through an MLS league source familiar with the situation that the LA Galaxy had a deal in place to acquire Vancouver Whitecaps goalkeeper David Ousted using Targeted Allocation Money (TAM), however, the league rejected that offer.

The 32-year-old took to Twitter on Friday, stating that a total of three teams offered him a contract using TAM, however, none of them were able to be executed.

It was announced back on Nov. 7 that Ousted would not return to the Whitecaps for the 2018 season, after spending nearly four-and-a-half years with the Canadian side.

Additionally, Ousted was scheduled to be one of the players eligible to be selected in Friday’s MLS Stage 1 Re-Entry Draft, but he has since been “forced to opt out.”

There are several ways a player can qualify to participate in the first stage of the Re-Entry Draft, and with Ousted having played over three MLS seasons and being over the age of 23, that previously ruled him eligible.

Under MLS’ current TAM rules and regulations, Ousted would have had to have been making at least $480,625 in 2017 in order for the veteran goalkeeper to qualify for a TAM offer.

That number is scheduled to increase for the next season, with the maximum budget charge set at $504,375 in 2018.

Ousted was only making roughly $378,933 in 2017, with a base salary of $360,000, per the MLS Players’ Union website.

In order for an MLS club to sign Ousted at this stage would require them to go above and beyond his option for next season, which as the goalkeeper states in his second tweet would be a “gamble.”

Below are the ways MLS has declared it possible for clubs to use TAM in order to sign or re-sign players.

Prince William’s dilemma: Royal Wedding clashes with FA Cup final

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The date for the Royal Wedding between Prince Harry and American actress Meghan Markle has been set and there’s a bit of a dilemma for Prince William: it’s on the same day as the 2017-18 FA Cup final on May 19, 2018.

Why does that matter?

William has been the president of the English Football Association for the last 10 years and he, along with other members of the Royal Family, usually attend the showpiece final at Wembley and hand out the trophy to the winning team.

Not this time.

With the date confirmed on Friday for the Royal Wedding takes place at Windsor Castle on May 19, specific times have yet been announced for the ceremony. Could that mean a late dash from the wedding to hand out the trophy at Wembley for Prince William? If his beloved Aston Villa make the final, maybe it’s not out of the question…

In a statement to the BBC, the FA had the following to say about the “fixture clash” in May:

“Everyone at The FA is delighted for HRH Prince Harry and Megan Markle with the announcement of their wedding at Windsor Castle next year. Saturday May 19 promises to be a wonderful day with a special royal occasion followed by English football’s showpiece event, the Emirates FA Cup final at Wembley Stadium. With millions coming together to watch both events at home and around the world, it will be a day to celebrate.”

The life of a royal isn’t all fun and games…

Guardiola eyes January deals after winning Manager of Month

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Scary news: Manchester City are looking to improve in the January transfer window.

Pep Guardiola confirmed on Friday that Premier League leaders Man City will look to buy a new central defender in January.

City, currently on a record-breaking 15-game winning run and sitting 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League table, have Nicolas Otamendi, Vincent Kompany, Eliaquim Mangala and John Stones as their center backs, but both Stones and Kompany have been out injured recently.

Speaking to the media ahead of City’s clash with Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via NBCSports.com), Guardiola revealed he is keen to add defensive reinforcements.

“We speak about (January signings) with the club and Txiki Begiristain (the club’s director of football),” Guardiola said. “We have just three guys in central defense. We don’t want to sign someone for a few months. We want to sign them for years and we have to make sure it’s the right guy.”

Who could come in?

Virgil Van Dijk and Jonny Evans were both linked with moves to Man City in the summer and it is an area of the pitch City clearly want to add in. Southampton have said that van Dijk will not be leaving this season but if a massive offer arrives in January then it may be tough for the struggling Saints to turn it down this time after VVD wanted to push through a move to Liverpool in the summer.

As for Evans, he is playing week in, week out at West Brom but his future remains far from clear with Arsenal and Man City both looking to add the former Manchester United center back in the summer.

Aside from transfer talk, Guardiola was also named the Premier League Manager of the Month for November earlier on Friday, with the Spaniard winning the award for the third-straight month.

Only Antonio Conte had achieved that feat in PL history before but City’s boss isn’t getting ahead of himself as many have already handed his team the 2017-18 Premier League title.

“Tomorrow is an important game. Spurs are so tough. Last season and this season. Nothing is going to change – we are not going to win the Premier League tomorrow, we are not going to lose it either,” Guardiola said. “It’s important to play better, that is the most important thing. The record will always stay there until one day it is broken. I am happy not with the results but the way we play. Statistics are good but I have the feeling we can be much, much better.”

Gulp. City being better than they already are? That is a scary thought…

Mourinho: Eric Bailly out; United may look to buy in January

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Jose Mourinho has revealed that Eric Bailly requires ankle surgery and will be out for up to three months for Manchester United.

The Ivorian center back has been missing since early November after suffering the injury on international duty.

Bailly, 23, hasn’t recovered as quickly as United would have liked and his injury is more serious than originally thought.

“He [Bailly] goes to surgery, the decision is made,” Mourinho told MUTV. “I don’t say (he’s out) for the rest of the season but it’s for the next two or three months.”

United have plenty of options at center back with Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo all around, but all three have been out with injuries during this season. That said, Bailly is by far United’s most consistent and reliable defender and having him out until February or March is a big blow for Mourinho.

As for the January transfer market, Mourinho may not go and buy a replacement for Bailly but he did hint at perhaps doing some business in the January even though he isn’t the biggest fan of the mid-season window.

“Not a big defender of the January market,” Mourinho said. “There are players and situations you have the chance to do and you shouldn’t lose them. I don’t like January market just to buy.”

United have been linked with a January move for Antoine Griezmann but Mourinho refused to comment on speculation linking the French international with a move to Old Trafford.

Griezmann looked set to move in the summer with United, Barcelona and PSG all interested in signing the striker, but with his manager at Atleti, Diego Simeone, saying that he will now be able to leave Atletico if the right offer comes in, surely United will be looking at bolstering their attack if the right deal can be done.

Buying in January, especially for a player of Griezmann’s caliber, usually comes at a premium but what if he has a great summer with France at the 2018 World Cup? His transfer value would surely rocket then.

With the Red Devils 11 points behind Premier League leaders Manchester City, they will need something special to claw back points in the second half off the campaign. Griezmann’s arrival would make everyone sit up and take notice, even if United don’t exactly need to boost their attacking talent.

Simply put: if a player of Griezmann’s caliber becomes available, as it appears is the case, you need to pull out all of the stops to try and sign him.

Henrikh Mkhitaryan‘s future at United appears to be over, so maybe if they can move the Armenian playmaker on and free up some cash to bring in Griezmann (a good friend of Paul Pogba) then a deal can be done. With Atleti not qualifying for the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League, it appears the Spanish club are willing to let Griezmann leave after he handled the summer of transfer speculation admirably and remained with the La Liga outfit during their transfer embargo and move to a new stadium.