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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’s early tally gives Portugal win over Morocco

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It was far from a convincing performance, but manager Fernando Santos and Co. came away with their first win at the World Cup and now sit in the drivers’ seat in Group B.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Portugal earned a narrow 1-0 win over Morocco on Wednesday, after Cristiano Ronaldo’s early header proved to be the difference.

Santos’ group now sits atop Group B with four points, while Morocco is eliminated after losing its first two matches.

It took just four minutes for Portugal to break the deadlock, with Ronaldo once again at the center of the Portuguese attack.

The Real Madrid man brilliantly latched onto a header at the near post off of a corner kick, giving Ronaldo his fourth goal at this World Cup (seventh goal overall).

Morocco did well to insert its presence in the match following the early goal, but various chances from Medhi Benatia and Hakim Ziyech weren’t enough to break past Portugal goalkeeper Rui Patricio.

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The African side also had a legitimate appeal for a penalty kick in the first stanza, however, referee Mark Geiger opted to play on despite the Moroccan protest.

Morocco continued its pressure in the second half, and Patricio was forced to make an incredible save in the 57th minute when Younes Belhanda headed a cross towards the far corner.

Portugal will close out Group B play on June 25 against Iran, while Morocco takes on Spain

Arena says there’s no reason for Pulisic to leave Dortmund

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Christian Pulisic has been the subject of transfer talks for some time now after becoming an instant star at Borussia Dortmund, but one of the U.S. Men’s National Team’s former coaches says it might be wise for him to stay put; at least for now.

MORE: Ronaldo scores fourth goal in World Cup ]

Former USMNT boss Bruce Arena spoke about Pulisic, who has had rumors of moves to Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United surrounding him recently.

Arena cited consistent playing time as the main reason why Pulisic may want to consider holding off on a transfer for now.

“I think Christian is in a great place. Dortmund has a very good reputation for developing players.

“In his couple years there with the first team, he’s done very well. Hopefully, he can continue to do that, be consistent at the club level, and if he does that, he’s going to be a real plus for the national team program.

“Any move Christian makes in the future, it’s important he goes to a club where he plays on a regular basis. There’s no point in him leaving Dortmund and going to a club where he doesn’t get the kind of minutes he needs to continue to develop.”

Pulisic has spent three seasons at Dortmund, scoring 12 goals in all competitions during that span.

Video: Ronaldo scores fourth goal, gives Portugal early lead

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He has four goals in less than two matches, and Portugal is off to another flying start courtesy of their star forward.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Cristiano Ronaldo gave the Portuguese a 1-0 lead against Morocco in the fourth minute after brilliantly heading home a corner kick.

The Real Madrid star gave Portugal a similar spark at the beginning of their 3-3 draw against Spain in their first Group B match when Ronaldo drew, and scored a penalty kick inside of the opening three minutes.

Is there anything this man cannot do?

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.