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Europa League preview: Saints, Manchester United, Roma, Nice in play

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Here’s one way the Europa League has a leg-up on the Champions League: a day full of matches.

While the chaos of the UCL sees eight games starting around the same time, Europa League will give us the entirety of our Thursday afternoons to watch our beloved sport.

Actually, even earlier if you’re tuning in for Slovan Liberec versus Qarabag at 11 a.m. EDT, but the real fireworks start to fly at 1 p.m.

[ WATCH: Pulisic nabs Champions League assist ]

That’s when Manchester United pays a visit to Feyenoord, Roma heads to Viktoria Plzen, and Athletic Bilbao tries to plant its flag at Sassuolo.

The first of those games will be watched closely, especially given Jose Mourinho’s decision to leave some key pieces behind in Manchester for the first group stage game.

A win would be big for United’s Europa hopes — remember the Europa winners get a Champions League place regardless of domestic standing — especially with Fenerbahce getting the perceived easiest road trip of the group out of the way with its 1 p.m. kickoff at Ukraine’s Zorya Luhansk.

[ MORE: Ranieri on Leicester’s Champions League debut ]

Forget league form when it comes to the Premier League’s other remaining Europa combatant (West Ham was stunned by Astra Giurgiu in the final qualifying round). Southampton has done the Europa dance already, and will want to kickstart its season with what would be an impressive-enough win over visiting Sparta Prague at 3:05 p.m. EDT.

Other big names in play at that late afternoon kickoff time include Schalke, who is off to Nice to meet Mario Balotelli, and Inter Milan, who hosts Hapoel Be’er Sheva.

Full Thursday Europa League schedule

all times EDT

Slovan Liberec at Qarabag, 11 a.m.
Genk at Rapid Wien, 1 p.m.
Fenerbahce at Zorya Luhansk, 1 p.m.
Gabala at Anderlecht, 1 p.m.
Zenit Saint-Petersburg at Maccabi Tel-Aviv, 1 p.m.
Olympiacos at Young Boys, 1 p.m.
Roma at Viktoria Plzen, 1 p.m.
Dundalk at AZ Alkmaar, 1 p.m.
Saint Etienne at Mainz, 1 p.m.
Astana at Apoel Nicosia, 1 p.m.
Austria Wien at Astra Giurgiu, 1 p.m.
Athletic Bilbao at Sassuolo, 1 p.m.
Manchester United at Feyenoord, 1 p.m.
Krasnodar at Red Bull Salzburg, 3:05 p.m.
PAOK at Fiorentina, 3:05 p.m.
Ajax at Panathinaikos, 3:05 p.m.
Steaua Bucharest at Osmanlispor, 3:05 p.m.
Hapoel Be’er Shea at Inter Milan, 3:05 p.m.
Celta Vigo at Standard Liege, 3:05 p.m.
Zurich at Villarreal, 3:05 p.m.
Gent at Braga, 3:05 p.m.
Shakhtar Donetsk at Konyapor, 3:05 p.m.
Sparta Prague at Southampton, 3:05 p.m.
Schalke at Nice, 3:05 p.m.

Man Utd set to add $20m Swans winger James

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Manchester United’s first signing of the summer will be a Welsh international forward, but not that one, presuming the clubs sort out the transfer fee.

Swansea City winger Daniel James has agreed to terms with United, according to Sky Sports.

The 21-year-old is expected to cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s men about $20 million.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

James scored five times with 10 assists for Graham Potter in all competitions this season, totaling 2800 minutes for Swans.

Only Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish was fouled more per game than James, who was taken to the turf 2.7 times per match. He mostly played on the left wing this season.

Twice-capped by Wales, James turns 22 in November. How long will it take him to make the jump from Championship star to Premier League contributor?

Martinez names Kompany in Belgium squad

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Roberto Martinez is going to suit up a manager as Belgium fights to qualify for EURO 2020.

Okay, okay, that manager is Anderlecht player-manager Vincent Kompany, mere days removed from sealing a domestic treble for Manchester City.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Kompany, 33, has been called up by Belgium for the first time since November. He has 87 caps with four goals for the Red Devils, and perhaps the nickname will be a little less awkward now that he’s not a member of the Premier League’s “noisy neighbors.”

Here’s what Martinez had to say about Kompany’s inclusion.

“In modern football it is not easy to combine the job of player and coach,” Martinez added. “In England they have a tradition of that but less and less because the job of coach has become enormously demanding. We must give him time. We will support him in everything he does.”

Belgium is in a qualifying group with Russia, Cyprus, Scotland, Kazakhstan, and San Marino, and should waltz into the tournament.

USMNT dates to host Cuba, Canada revealed

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MIAMI (AP) The United States will host Cuba on Oct. 11 and Canada on Nov. 15 in the first CONCACAF Nations League.

CONCACAF said Tuesday that the Americans, seeded in Group A, will play at Canada on Oct. 15 and at Cuba on Nov. 19.

Sites have not been determined.

Other Nations League groups are:

B – Bermuda, Mexico, Panama

C – Martinique, Honduras, Trinidad and Tobago

D – Costa Rica, Curacao, Haiti

The top team in each League A group advances to the semifinals in March, and the last-place team is relegated to League B.

The U.S. intends to play exhibitions on the September FIFA dates for national teams.

More AP soccer: and

Five players Man United should sign

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Manchester United need a massive rebuild this summer.

Everybody knows it.

Their manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward have both spoken publicly about their desire to strengthen the squad, with Solskjaer aiming to bring in young, hungry players to the club. Something drastic has to change.

But which five players should United make their top targets this summer as they aim to push their way back into the top four of the Premier League?

Even though United have been through struggles in recent seasons, the allure of playing for one of the most popular clubs on the planet and dragging them back to the top of the game will attract plenty of players. So too will the fact that United’s finances allows them to pay top dollar.

Here’s a look at five players they have to sign this summer to complete the dramatic rebuild they need.

Joao Felix (Benfica, release clause of $133 million)
The 19-year-old attacking midfielder will provide goals and assists and he has shone in Portugal. The last time United were off the pace a little in the PL, they plucked a bright young talent from Portugal called Cristiano Ronaldo. That worked out pretty well. Felix may never reach Ronaldo’s heights, but the fact Man City and Real Madrid want to sign him says it all.

Toby Alderweireld (Tottenham, release clause of $32 million)
Doesn’t really fit into the “young and hungry” category, but the Belgian defender would add a steadying influence to United’s defense. At 30 years old Alderweireld is set for one big final pay day in his career and that is why he has such a small release clause in his contract after Spurs had to trigger a one-year extension. His displays for Spurs over the past few years have been consistency excellent.

Harry Maguire (Leicester, valued at $100 million)
At 26 years old Maguire is still to enter his prime. That is wild considering how well he has played for Leicester and England over the past two seasons. He almost joined United last summer but decided to stay at Leicester, and another great season has soon his value rise by $25 million. Maguire and Alderweireld at center back would be a great partnership, but it is likely only one of them will arrive. Maguire is more expensive but would be a long-term purchase.

Declan Rice (West Ham, valued at $60 million)
His meteoric rise has seen him become a star for West Ham and make his England debut. Shows so much poise in the holding midfield role and if Rice, still just 20 years old, arrived then it could help Paul Pogba out as he will win the ball back and feed the Frenchman in good areas. West Ham will reluctantly sell, and Rice should be a top priority to shield United’s shaky defense.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka (Crystal Palace, valued at $60 million)
Ashley Young has been handed a one-year extension and Antonio Valencia is leaving, so United are looking a little weak at right back. Wan-Bissaka, 21, has been sublime for Crystal Palace and is a solid defender as well as adding an attacking presence. Palace will be reluctant to sell both AWB and Wilfried Zaha in the same summer, which could be an issue. Right back is an area where United need to strengthen. Now.