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Stalingrad history a constant presence for World Cup workers

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VOLGOGRAD, Russia (AP) Sergei Kamin knows exactly what to do if his workers find a bomb from the Battle of Stalingrad.

“The first procedure is surprise. The second procedure is fear,” he jokes. Step three is to call in the specialists.

Kamin is directing construction of a stadium for next year’s World Cup in the city of Volgograd – known as Stalingrad during World War II. Four World Cup matches are set to be staged in the new stadium.

For locals, 2018 brings the World Cup but also the 75th anniversary of the end of one of the bloodiest battles in history, which left the city devastated.

The stadium’s riverbank location was a key site in one of the war’s pivotal battles, where German forces were first stopped from crossing the Volga, then gradually surrounded and beaten. The battle lasted more than five months, with more than a million casualties on the Soviet side alone, as Germany was forced onto the defensive in the East.

When the battle finally ended, the wrecked city of Stalingrad held a football match, marking the first hopes of a return to normal life.

Local team Dynamo Stalingrad beat Spartak Moscow 1-0 on May 2, 1943, in front of some of the city’s few surviving inhabitants. The Soviet state hailed the match as a symbol of its people’s resilience and grit.

“It’s a historic match. And today we have huge traditions of football here in Volgograd,” governor Andrei Bocharov says.

The effects of the war can still be felt. During construction, Kamin’s workers have found more than 200 shells and other armaments, as well as the bodies of two still-unidentified Soviet soldiers. The site was home to a Soviet command post during the battle of Stalingrad.

When munitions were found during excavation, police sealed off the area to allow specialists to work, causing a few headaches for construction bosses. Thankfully none of the shells turned out to be live, Kamin said. It’s not a problem isolated to Volgograd, either. German aerial bombs have reportedly been uncovered during work on other World Cup stadiums in Moscow and Rostov-on-Don.

Fans coming to Volgograd for the World Cup will see reminders of the city’s violent past everywhere they go. The city is packed with memorials to the dead of World War II and also the Russian Civil War, where Volgograd – then called Tsaritsyn after the Russian emperors – was a battleground between 1918 and 1920.

Towering behind the stadium is the Mamayev hill, a complex of monuments topped by an 85-meter sculpture of a woman – representing the Russian Motherland – wielding a sword.

The Volgograd stadium was designed to be partly below ground, to ensure it didn’t block views of the memorial. “It really fits in,” Kamin says.

Governor Bocharov, a former soldier who was decorated in the First Chechen War of the 1990s, says Volgograd should be a symbol of peace.

“Every millimeter of ground here has been watered with blood,” Bocharov says. “We know the price of victory and it is very high.”

A World Cup game there between Germany and Russia would be the perfect symbol, Bocharov added, though it’s all up to the draw.

MLS 3 Things: Resurgent Zardes, Toronto up, New England down

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A busy Saturday in Major League Soccer sees three interesting results bolstering the story lines of the final few months of the season.

[ MORE: Unstoppable Josef | Zlatan, too ]

1) Imagine a world with the reigning champs as your reward for finishing first.

With 14 matches to play, Toronto FC has Jozy Altidore back in the fold and has pulled to within eight points of the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot after a 2-1 win over the Chicago Fire on Saturday.

Sebastian Giovinco looks like Sebastian Giovinco in scoring another outstanding goal, just his fifth of the season, while Jonathan Osorio also scored in the win.

Before you watch Seba’s goal, picture you’ve won the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Now picture TFC as your semifinal reward.

2) New England is well and truly slumping

Brad Friedel‘s Revs are slipping after losing a third-straight league match, and New England has gained a solitary point since the calendar turned to July following a 2-0 loss at Red Bull Arena.

Fourth through ninth in the East are separated by nine points, and New England is very much in that mix now. Friedel is certainly at the most trying time of his tenure.

Second half goals from Bradley Wright-Phillips and Daniel Royer did the trick for RBNY, who have claimed 15 of the last 18 points available to them (The lone blemish is the Hudson River Derby).

The Red Bulls are now 8-1-1 at home this season, while New England is 1-4-4 away from Foxboro.

3) Gyasi Zardes’ return to form is surprising and wonderful

Columbus has its second win since May 19, and will be feeling much better about itself following a 3-2 comeback win over Orlando City which included a pair of equalizers.

One of those came in the 88th minute, as Gyasi Zardes completed his brace by converting a penalty won by new arrival Patrick Mullins.

The Crew won late via a rare Wil Trapp goal — the USMNT midfielder has just two in 161 matches — but let’s focus on Zardes.

Zardes’ 13th goal of the season continues an amazing turnaround under striker whisperer Gregg Berhalter. It’s Zardes’ second double-digit season, and his first since 2014. He is firmly in frame for another USMNT look, this time as a center forward, but first there’s plenty to like about the big man.

Surging Galaxy ride Ibrahimovic magic to 3-1 win (video)

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic is a man on fire, and the LA Galaxy are rounding into form.

The Galaxy overcame an early deficit in Chester to clobber the Philadelphia Union 3-1 on Saturday behind a goal and an assist from their world-class striker.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

Romain Alessandrini had two assists, while Michael Ciani and Ola Kamara also scored for LA. CJ Sapong scored for Philly, assisted by Borek Dockal.

Unbeaten-in-seven LA moves into fourth in the West with the win, while Philadelphia remains three points back of sixth in the East.

Ibrahimovic has now scored in six of his last seven matches, and has 12 goals an two assists in 21 matches overall.

Let’s start with the assist, which we must’ve seen two dozen times when the big Swede was with Paris Saint-Germain.

Ibrahimovic takes a difficult pass out of the air with absurd touch, then waits for the right time to send an impeccable through ball into the path of Kamara.

As for the goal, you almost feel for Mark McKenzie.

The Union’s Homegrown defender has to choose between Alessandrini darting into his box and allowing Ibrahimovic a lick of space.

He gives it, understandably, then rushes to close down Ibrahimovic.

It wasn’t fast enough. Boom.

Americans on both sides, Weah scores as PSG fall to Bayern (video)

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Two hopes of the USMNT’s future — one more immediate than the other — squared off in the International Champions Cup on Saturday.

Paris Saint-Germain teenager Timothy Weah, 18, went 90 minutes and scored his side’s only goal in the 3-1 loss in Austria.

[ MORE: Neymar on diving ]

On the other side of the field was 62nd minute substitute Chris Richards, far less known to the American supporter.

Richards is on loan from FC Dallas, where he’s a Homegrown Player. The 18-year-old center back is going to play for Bayern’s U-19 side following a successful trial in April.

Both Bayern and PSG were without key pieces, as Weah went up against a decent Bayern back line of Juan Bernat, Javi Martinez, Josip Stanisic, and Rafinha.

Arjen Robben, Sandro Wagner, and Franck Ribery were the biggest names in Bayern’s XI, while David Alaba, Kingsley Coman, and Serge Gnabry came off the bench.

For PSG, Gianluigi Buffon started as did Adrien Rabiot.

Weah’s goal is below, and here’s what he had to say about it:

“It’s an amazing feeling and getting a well-done job. Me scoring goals, I was really happy to get my first goal for PSG and first goal in this competition. We’re going to Singapore with our head on our shoulders. We’re going to be really humble and keep playing.”

Klopp talks Pulisic, Liverpool’s spending

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Jurgen Klopp admits he’d love to work with Christian Pulisic again, but isn’t going to butt his nose into Borussia Dortmund’s business.

Speaking ahead of Liverpool’s International Champions Cup match against BVB, Klopp was asked about his interest in the American teenager.

[ MORE: Josef Martinez bags 3 more ]

Klopp was quick to point out that Pulisic is under contract to Dortmund and not for sale, as much as he’s aware.

From The Liverpool Echo:

“He had not his best season last year but he was still a decisive player but it’s important in that age group that there’s no rush. He still has 14 or 15 years to play in his career and that’s good and he wants to be the best Pulisic he can be. For this, there is still space for development.

“If – at one point – he will join us, I don’t know. I like him, it’s not that that could be the problem, but we respect contracts still and there’s no market I know about at the moment. We did our business and Dortmund are doing theirs. All good.”

Also all good? Klopp’s evolution on spending after blasting other Premier League clubs for big money buys in the past.

Klopp said he would quit football if transfer fees like Paul Pogba‘s became the norm. Well, they have, and no club has spent as much money as the Reds this summer.

“That’s the problem these days, hey? Whatever b.s. you say, nobody will forget it. On the other side, it’s still kind of true. I couldn’t have imagined since then that the world would change like it has. Two years ago £100million was a crazy number. Since then the world has changed completely.”

He said he’s going to do whatever it takes to make Liverpool successful, and Klopp now has the world’s most expensive goalkeeper and most expensive defender in his squad.