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Healthy again, Bobby Wood figures to play key role for USMNT

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WHIPPANY, N.J. (AP) Bobby Wood still refuses to say whether he was playing with an injured knee last spring.

Enjoying a breakout first season in the Bundesliga, the 24-year-old American forward missed a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March because of a back injury, then didn’t score in Hamburg’s final nine games. German media reported he had hurt a knee, and Hamburg coach Markus Gisdol said in May: “He’s trained for weeks on painkillers. He plays on painkillers.”

Wood didn’t look sharp when he returned to the U.S. national team for qualifiers in June, but scored twice in Hamburg’s opening three games of the new season.

[ MORE: Four keys for the USMNT ]

“He’s back at full speed and ready to go,” American coach Bruce Arena said Wednesday, two days before World Cup qualifying resumes with a match against Costa Rica at nearby Red Bull Arena.

Wood is among five forwards in camp, joined by Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Jordan Morris and Chris Wondolowski.

“He has more pace than me, probably covers more distance in the game,” Dempsey said. “A physical player – challenges everything. Runs down lost causes and is good in front of goal. So he’s a player that I see continue to do well for many years.”

Born in Hawaii, Wood joined 1860 Munich’s youth academy in 2007 and made his professional debut with the club in a second-division match four years later. He was loaned to second-division Erzgebirge Aue for the second half of the 2014-15 season, then signed with another second-division team, Union Berlin, in July 2015.

He scored 17 goals in 31 league games in 2015-16, earning a contract with Hamburg. He had five goals and set up two more in 28 games in his first Bundesliga season.

But he didn’t score after March 12 and was given poor ratings by German media. Asked about the knee Wednesday, Wood said: “Yeah, I guess it was a little bit of a problem” and then chuckled.

“It certainly slowed him down a little bit,” Arena said.

Wood made his national team debut in August 2013 and scored his first goal two years later, a 90th-minute strike that gave the U.S. a 2-1 exhibition win at the Netherlands. He has eight goals in 32 international appearances, starting alongside Altidore for the first two games of the hexagonal last November, a 2-1 home loss to Mexico in which he scored the American goal, and a 4-0 debacle at Costa Rica that caused the U.S. Soccer Federation to fire Jurgen Klinsmann and bring back Arena, the U.S. coach from 1998-2006.

“We’ve got to take that loss as a learning session and kind of know you can’t just go out there and play,” Wood said. “You’ve got to mentally be ready for a very tough Costa Rican team.”

[ MORE: Mahrez willing to join Barcelona ]

When qualifying resumed in June, Arena used Wood as an 83rd-minute substitute for a 2-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago and started him as the lone forward three days later in a 1-1 draw at Mexico.

Arena compliments “his pace, his quick, sharp little running behind back lines, his aggressiveness.”

“He’s a guy that you need to focus on for 90 minutes,” Arena said. “He’s very active in his movement. He’s goal dangerous.”

The U.S. has moved up in the standings since Arena took over, winning two home games and drawing twice on the road. If the Americans win at home this week and get at least a tie on Tuesday at Honduras, they would head into the round’s final games in October on track for an eighth straight World Cup appearance.

Wood and Hamburg played under pressure last May. The club has never been relegated but was in danger of the drop until a 2-1 win over Wolfsburg on the season’s final day.

After the season, Hamburg gave Wood a new contract until 2021. He scored against third-tier Osnabrueck in the German Cup, then got his team’s second goal in a 3-1 win at Cologne on Friday that gave Hamburg a 2-0 Bundesliga start. Wood isn’t looking ahead just yet to a stress-free club season.

“Doesn’t keep you in the league winning two times,” he said. “It’s only six points.”

Pep: Hart’s future uncertain, will play in preseason

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Joe Hart has returned to Manchester City after spending last season on loan at West Ham, and his future is very much up in the air as it stands.

Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola was asked about Hart’s situation at the pre-match press conference prior to City’s International Champions Cup match against Borussia Dortmund. He confirmed they are shopping the English veteran. “We’re going to try and make a solution for Joe,” Guardiola told reporters, “but if not then he is with us. He’s one of the best professionals I’ve ever seen but at this moment he is with us.”

Guardiola also confirmed that Hart would play in the preseason game against Dortmund. Starting goalkeeper Ederson is not on the roster for the US preseason tour, having returned from participation in the 2018 World Cup with Brazil, although he didn’t play as he served as Alisson’s backup.

The former #1 England goalkeeper, Hart has struggled mightily in recent seasons. He last played a full Premier League season back in 2015/16, starting 35 games for Manchester City. However, he lost his place the following year and was loaned to Italian top flight club Torino. He had mixed success during his one year in Italy and was loaned out to West Ham last campaign with Ederson and Claudio Bravo entrenched at his parent club. Hart only made it half the season before losing his starting spot for the Hammers, replaced by Adrian. That saw him lose not just starting job with the England national team but his place in the squad, forcing Gareth Southgate to take a trio of inexperienced goalkeepers to the World Cup, leading to the emergence of Jordan Pickford.

West Ham returned Hart to Manchester City at the end of the season, and here he sits in limbo again. Hart has just one more year left on his contract, but according to the Manchester Evening News, wants to leave this season on a permanent deal anyway.

Tomorrow, Hart will get the opportunity – albeit a small one – to showcase himself to potential suitors. If he gets another chance to play in the ICC (Manchester City plays Liverpool and Bayern Munich before heading home to England), he will have another opportunity to plead his case.

Report: Leicester to pluck Danny Ward from Liverpool

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With the announcement of Alisson’s signing on Thursday, Liverpool has spent over $200 million this summer, but it seems they’ve already begun to trim the squad and even out the net spend by a bit.

According to the Liverpool Echo, the Reds have agreed to sell 25-year-old goalkeeper Danny Ward to Leicester City, with the clubs agreeing to a $16.2 million fee. The report also states the deal includes a 20% sell-on fee, meaning Liverpool will receive 20% of any transfer fee Leicester City receives for Ward during the life of his next contract.

[ MORE: Alisson signs for Liverpool ]

Ward has spent the last six seasons with Liverpool after signing from small non-league club Wrexham in 2012 as a 19-year-old. However, he has played more games for the Welsh international team (4) than he has for Liverpool (3). Previously stuck behind Simon Mignolet and Loris Karius, the arrival of Alisson meant the club needed to make room.

Leicester City already has Kasper Schmeichel firmly entrenched between the sticks. However, especially after a stellar 2018 World Cup with Denmark where he was considered among the top choices for the Golden Glove award, Schmeichel is a wanted man and 31 years old and a contract with three more years remaining, Schmeichel’s time at King Power Stadium could be limited.

The addition of Ward at the very least would allow Schmeichel some time off. The Dane was stretched thin last season as not just the Premier League starter but also used in a few cup games with only Eldin Jakupovic behind him. Now, it’s realistic that Ward could receive time in Cup competitions, leaving Schmeichel to rest up for league games.

Reports: Conte to sue Chelsea over how firing was handled

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According to reports in Italy, and backed up by those in England, Antonio Conte is planning to sue Chelsea over the way the club handled his exit this summer.

Chelsea is reportedly planning to pay Conte the rest of his salary in full, but the reports state that the Italian is unhappy how long it took the club to confirm his exit, leaving him unable to secure a job commiserate with his experience level for this coming season.

The 48-year-old is set to receive nearly $12 million as compensation for the final year of his now-terminated contract, but is looking for additional damages given the timing of his departure. Despite the writing clearly on the wall, Conte had weeks of silence from the club, before being pulled back to London to begin pre-season training with the squad for just four days before he was then let go.

Upon his release, Conte released a relatively benign statement thanking the club, the fans, the staff, and the players, but notably did not thank the board or owner Roman Abramovich.

Things between Chelsea and Conte have been testy for some time now. It was reported earlier last month – before Conte was officially let go – that Chelsea was planning to withhold payment of Conte’s remaining salary and sue the Italian for costing the club money for former striker Diego Costa. Costa told the media he received a text message from Conte while on international duty last summer that he was no longer wanted at the club. If true, the club could have argued that Conte botched the situation and cost the club a significant amount of money. However, it seems the club has – for now – decided not to pursue the lawsuit, with reports stating that Conte is set to receive his salary in full.

WATCH: Jurgen Klopp crashes Alisson’s first Liverpool interview

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Jurgen Klopp has had quite the summer, and it’s just become even better.

Liverpool officially acquired Brazilian goalkeeper Alisson for a world-record transfer fee, and with the former Roma netminder filling his first obligations in Red, things didn’t go exactly as the club’s media staff had planned. While sitting down for his first interview with the club staff to be used in the official release, Jurgen Klopp couldn’t resist crashing the party to say hello.

[ MORE: Alisson to Liverpool official ]

The language barrier made things a bit awkward, as did the rolling cameras, but it’s pretty clear both sides are quite happy with the recent developments, with smiles all around. Take a look:

Klopp asked if Alisson was in the middle of his post-World Cup vacation, which he confirmed as true, but smartly followed up with “But now I am working.”

We’re sure they’ll catch up on a more complete basis privately later, but it was pretty cool to see their first interaction caught on camera.