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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.”

FA Cup: Chelsea survive trip to Hull, advance to 5th round (video)

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With their 2-1 victory away to EFL Championship side Hull City, Chelsea joined Leicester City, Sheffield United and Norwich City as Premier League sides to reach the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday.

[ FA CUP ROUNDUP: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance ]

Frank Lampard‘s side got off to a flying start courtesy of Michy Batshuayi‘s deflected finish in the 6th minute, and the Blues were well on their way to a first half of total dominance.

Hull looked more prepared for a fight after halftime, but it mattered very little after Fikayo Tomori was gifted a free header two yards off the goal line. Ross Barkley‘s free kick was well placed at the back post and there was nothing that anyone could do to stop it.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Hull pulled the game back to 2-1 in the 78th minute, and they were more than a little fortunate in how they managed to do so. Kamil Grosicki smacked a free kick with plenty of power and got the deflection of all deflections to wrong-foot Willy Caballero and find the back of the net.

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

FA Cup roundup: West Ham bounced; Sheff Utd, Norwich advance (video)

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s FA Cup fourth-round (early) action…

[ MORE: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.

West Ham United 0-1 West Bromwich Albion

West Ham were the lone Premier League side to be knocked out by a lower-division side on Saturday, as David Moyes‘ side failed to find the back of the net and were beaten 1-0 by EFL Championship leaders West Brom.

Conor Townsend scored the game’s only goal in the 9th minute, and though the Hammers controlled possession the rest of the way, they created very little in terms of scoring chances and finished the game with just three shots on target. West Brom finished the game with 10 men, but West Ham could do nothing with their 18-minute advantage following Semi Ajayi‘s second yellow card in the 72nd minute.

Millwall 0-2 Sheffield United

Sheffield United’s dream season continued with a comfortable 2-0 victory away to Championship side Millwall. Both goals came inside the final half-hour, but the Blades were unquestionably the better side even before breaking the deadlock.

That came in the 62nd minute, when Muhamed Besic placed a stunning curler inside the far post for 1-0. Not long before full-time, in the 84th, Oliver Norwood drove his effort hard and low and into the corner to make it 2-0.

Burnley 1-2 Norwich City

Norwich and Burnley were largely inseparable for the majority of Saturday’s clash at Turf Moor, save for a four-minute period early in the second half in which Norwich scored twice and booked their place in the fifth round.

Grant Hanley made it 1-0 in the 53rd and Josip Drmic added to the advantage in the 57th minute. Erik Pieters pulled Burnley back to within a goal in the 73rd, but that’s as close as the Clarets would get.

FA Cup fourth-round scoreboard

Southampton 1-1 Tottenham Hotspur — FULL RECAP
Newcastle United 0-0 Oxford United
Portsmouth 4-2 Barnsley
Coventry City 0-0 Birmingham City
Reading 1-1 Cardiff City

RB Leipzig beaten, Bundesliga title race thrown wide open

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BERLIN (AP) Eintracht Frankfurt defeated Bundesliga leader RB Leipzig 2-0 to throw the title race wide open on Saturday.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Frankfurt defender Almamy Toure scored a brilliant goal just after the break and Filip Kostic sealed the win in injury time to deal Leipzig its first defeat since a 2-1 loss at home to Freiburg in October.

Borussia Monchengladbach cut the gap at the top to two points with a 3-1 win at home over Mainz, thanks largely to goals in each half from French striker Alassane Plea.

Bayern Munich has the chance to cut the gap to one point with a win at home over Schalke in the late game.

[ FA CUP: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay ]

Borussia Dortmund is just four points off the top after its 5-1 win over Cologne on Friday.

Also Saturday, Union Berlin defeated Augsburg 2-0 at home, Hertha Berlin came from behind to win 2-1 at Wolfsburg, and Paderborn moved off the bottom with a 2-0 win at Freiburg.

FA Cup: Saints hit Spurs late to force 4th-round replay

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Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur played to a virtual stand-still for nearly 60 minutes before Jose Mourinho’s side broke through with a moment of true quality from Son Heung-min and Giovani Lo Celso, but finished right back where they started after Saints hit back late to force a replay in the fourth round of the FA Cup.

[ MORE: Report: Spurs, Inter close to deal for Christian Eriksen ]

Prior to that, Lo Celso put the ball in the back of the net and briefly thought it was he who had put Spurs ahead, but the Argentine was denied his third Spurs goal on the basis that the ball hit Son on its way through traffic, and the South Korean was in an offside position.

Spurs’ best chance of the first half chance came and went just minutes later, with Lucas Moura in disbelief and Angus Gunn the hero of the moment. Dele Alli played Lucas into open space inside the penalty area and, with the goal gaping to Gunn’s left and right, Lucas looked to place his right-footed shot inside the far post. Gunn was up to the challenge, though, and pulled off a sensational left-footed save from close range.

Seconds later, Saints had a surefire scoring chance and were denied in equally spectacular fashion. Danny Ings used his chest to control a free kick into the box and looped it goal-bound over the head of Hugo Lloris, only for Japhet Tanganga to make the last-second headed clearance in front of an open net.

[ MORE: Mourinho in favor of PL’s winter break, but says timing all wrong ]

Saints were the first to go ever so close to a goal in the second half. Michael Obafemi crossed from the right side and found Ings inside the six-yard box, where he redirected the ball ever so slightly, but not enough, to send it inches wide of Lloris’ right-hand post.

Following a spell that was all Saints to start the second half, Spurs broke the deadlock through Son in the 58th minute. Lo Celso drove through the heart of Southampton’s midfield before playing the ball to Son near the top of the 18-yard box. He took a touch to set up the shot and fired a left-footed arrow inside the far post.

The lead lasted just shy of 30 minutes, close but not quite over the finish line. With 87 minutes on the clock and a full head of steam over the preceding quarter-hour, Southampton got their hugely deserved equalizer. Sofiane Boufal arrived near the top of the box as Ings’ cut-back ball arrived and the Moroccan international hammered it home.

The two sides will meet again for their fourth-round replay in two weeks at the Tottenham Hotspur. The draw for the fifth round will be held on Monday at 2:20 p.m. ET, prior to kickoff of Bournemouth v. Arsenal.