Not so injured: U.S. captain Clint Dempsey makes Seattle’s starting lineup in Portland

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PORTLAND, Ore. — We all should have known this was coming, but the issues might be worth a new thought or two, now that thought-to-be injured United States Men’s National Team captain Clint Dempsey is playing below me at JELD-WEN Field. Was he really injured at all? Or does this just shed more like on Jurgen Klinsmann’s approach to this week’s irrelevant (but supposedly still very important) World Cup Qualifiers?

Every other healthy national team regular was called into this week’s camp for games in Kansas City and Panama City. If you could play, you were showing up. Landon Donovan’s ankle injury? Jermaine Jones’s knee? They weren’t enough to keep those veterans out of Friday’s starting lineup, let alone prevent a call up. But the team’s captain? He’s in Seattle’s starting XI 48 hours later.

It’s hard to get too worked up about such things, considering the U.S. had locked up World Cup qualification long before kicking off against Jamaica at Sporting Park. But if you’re Peter Vermes, how do you feel knowing Matt Besler and Graham Zusi were taken from your squad ahead of Wednesday’s draw in Houston? Or how should Bruce Arena feel if he finds out Landon Donovan’s ankle’s worse after 45 minutes in Kansas City? Why does Dempsey get to help his team while Besler, Zusi, and Donovan don’t get to help theirs?

That’s not to say Seattle hasn’t been hurt by U.S. call ups. Both Eddie Johnson and Brad Evans are valuable parts of Sigi Schmid’s team. But Seattle is still getting a benefit other teams are not. The question is: Why?

Odds are there is no ‘why.’ The specifics of Dempsey’s situation probably serve as a reminder: We can’t read too much into any single set of circumstances. Dempsey’s healthy may have meant a different decision-making process than Donovan’s or Jones’s.

For Dempsey, continuity may have been the overriding factor. Rather than call up a player that hadn’t fully settled at club level, Klinsmann may have elected to let his captain play out the season with Seattle: get into a rhythm; get healthy; get better. Perhaps those were the circumstances that distinguished the Dempsey decision from Donovan’s.

And perhaps it was always the case that Donovan was going to return to LA after one game. Maybe Seattle’s not getting a benefit that LA won’t receive on Wednesday against Montréal.

It does, however, shed some light on Jurgen Klinsmann’s approach to this week’s qualifiers. In the run-up to the roster announcement, the U.S. coach said the team owed it to themselves to put their best foot forward. When a full team minus the injured Dempsey and Michael Bradley (also injured) was recalled, it looked like the U.S. coach was as good as his word. The United States would go all-out against Jamaica and Panama – to the extent they could.

But now, with Dempsey playing in Portland, Donovan on his way back to Los Angeles, and Tim Howard flying back to Liverpool, those words don’t look so reliable. Now, they seem like a healthy amount of coach-speak from somebody who’s usually a relative straight-shooter.

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

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The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Man United

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Manchester United travels to Monlieux to take on their boogy team as Wolverhampton Wanderers look to make it four straight without a loss against the Red Devils across all competitions (Watch live, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The last time Manchester United beat Wolves was in 2012 when they won 5-0 at Monlieux in a season that saw Wolves eventually relegated. They were winless in all three matches against Wolves last season, including two in Premier League action and one in domestic cup play. To end that drought, they’ll need to break a Wolves streak of eight consecutive top-flight matches unbeaten at home, making their midlands ground a fortress of late.

WATCH WOLVES v. MAN UNITED LIVE ONLINE HERE

To help snap the streak, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has handed winger Daniel James a full debut, coming into the side in place of Andreas Pereira as the only change from the team that topped Chelsea 4-0 to begin the season. Juan Mata stays stuck on the bench, while Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial all spearhead the attack alongside James. Paul Pogba again partners with Scott McTominay in midfield to reprise a duo that was fabulous against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez remains out of the squad, although Solskjaer confirmed he is “close” to a return.

For Wolves, they deploy an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Leicester City. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are back leading the lines after being rested midweek for their Europa League win over Pyunik. Nuno again deploys a 5-3-2, with wingers Johnny and Matt Doherty serving as wing-backs along the three central defenders in Connor Coady, Wily Boly, and Ryan Bennett.


LINEUPS

Wolves XI: Patricio; Doherty, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho; Jota, Jimenez.
Subs: Ruddy, Neto, Cutrone, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Vinagre, Traore.

Man United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Mata, Matic, Greenwood.

Sokratis calls it “easier” to defend Liverpool than Burnley

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Arsenal has not fared well at Anfield the last few years, not at all. In fact, the Gunners haven’t shown up against the Reds at all the past two seasons, shipping 13 goals in their last four meetings with Liverpool, and 15 goals in their last four trips to Anfield.

Which made the words out of the mouth of Arsenal defender Sokratis about defending Liverpool even more surprising.

Following 2-1 win over Burnley this past weekend, Sokratis compared playing the Clarets to playing defending Champions League winners Liverpool, whom Arsenal visits this coming weekend. “It is a different game,” Sokratis said. “Maybe it is more easy, because you don’t have to fight a lot, but they also play football.”

Play football they certainly do. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have all scored each of the last two times the Gunners visited Anfield, resulting in 5-1 and 4-0 drubbings. So…how does that figure to “more easy?”

“If they are on good day and you are having a bad day, it is hard,” Sokratis admitted. “In the end, we know that it is difficult and we respect Liverpool a lot. But I think the best [way] is to go and play our style of game. We will see what happens.”

When asked specifically about last season’s lopsided result, Sokratis believes that was a rare occurance. “The 5-1 last season…it was not the game to take five goals – [there was] the penalty kicks, we made mistakes,” he said. “I think this year will be different, but we have to improve of course from the work we do with the coach and his staff.”

Arsenal will have to avoid the mistakes this time around if they want to find an important three points. Even a draw would be helpful in the Gunners’ quest to attain Champions League qualification for the first time in four years. Sokratis would be wise not to take the Reds lightly.