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Wood hopes to provide spark for US soccer with back better

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COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (AP) As a youngster in Hawaii, the significance of the World Cup never dawned on forward Bobby Wood. Full disclosure: He didn’t even know what it was.

He understands now.

With his balky back feeling better, Wood hopes to provide a spark for the Americans as the squad resumes the final round of World Cup qualifying. He’s been playing hurt in high-stress games with Hamburg, which wasn’t assured of Bundesliga survival until the last day of the season.

A chance for him to exhale – if for only a moment. A week after the end of his first Bundesliga season, he reported to the U.S. national team ahead of Saturday’s exhibition against Venezuela. After that: World Cup qualifiers against Trinidad and Tobago at Commerce City on June 8 and at Mexico three days later.

“It’s always good to be back here – to be back with the boys,” Wood said.

Having become a regular in the starting lineup alongside Jozy Altidore, Wood missed a pair of qualifiers in March due to his aching back, which he said is still “a little bit naggy here and there,” but calmed through treatment and exercise.

“I’m healthy,” he said.

Introduced to soccer while growing up in Hawaii, he didn’t know the importance of World Cup because, “back in the day, they didn’t show so much soccer. You didn’t have it all the time on normal TV. It was more difficult to get all that information on the island.”

Naturally, his feelings have intensified.

“I’m honored to have the chance to possibly be at the World Cup,” Wood said. “I’m going to give it my all and try and help the team get there.”

While he was sidelined, the U.S. earned a win and a draw to move into fourth place in the six-team final round of North and Central America and the Caribbean. There are six games remaining, and the top three teams qualify for next year’s tournament in Russia. The fourth-place squad will go to a playoff against Asia’s No. 5 nation.

“I was pretty confident the team would get the job done,” said Wood, who was bothered by knee injuries earlier in his career that had him considering stepping away from soccer. “I thought they did a really good job getting the result.”

Wood is one of four forwards competing for playing time, along with Altidore, Jordan Morris and Clint Dempsey, who also could be dropped into an attacking midfield role. Wood has been soaking up as much knowledge as he can from Dempsey, who is one goal from tying Landon Donovan (57) for most in U.S. national team history.

“You can learn a lot from an experienced player,” Wood said. “That’s why he’s there. I’ll try to pick off whatever he’s got for me.”

Not that long ago, the 24-year-old Wood met with U.S. coach Bruce Arena in Germany to discuss the expectations for him and the team.

“Very smooth, direct,” Wood said of their meeting. “It was good.”

Just be himself: That was essentially Arena’s message.

“He’s a little different than our other strikers. That’s a real plus,” Arena said. “The four guys we’re going to have in camp, they’re good strikers and we can certainly utilize all of them.”

Wood was off to a solid start for Hamburg and scored the game-winner against Borussia Moenchengladbach on March 12. He didn’t score in his final nine games, leaving his final totals at five goals in 28 Bundesliga matches plus four in four cup games.

His coach, Markus Gisdol, recently said Wood was playing through a knee injury that required painkillers, according to Kicker.

All the while, Hamburg was trying to remain in the first tier. It is the only club to have played every season in the top tier since the Bundesliga’s formation in 1963, and it took Luca Waldschmidt’s 88th-minute goal in a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg on May 20 to keep the streak going.

“The last 15 games were like a final for us,” Wood said. “It was very exciting but tough. I’m just happy we got through it.”

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE