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Protect Pulisic, please! Yanks bemoan fouls, lack of cards

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) After watching Christian Pulisic repeatedly get hacked down and then removed early for his safety during the United States’ crucial 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Panama, American former goalkeeper Kasey Keller predicted top European clubs may refuse to release players to national teams unless referees in CONCACAF better protect stars.

[ MORE: USMNT routs Panama to boost WC dreams in a big way ]

“We’re not going to let you play in these kind of games with referees and federations that are going to let you get hit like this, because we’re not going to put that investment in a player that then we’re going to lose for stretches,” the ESPN analyst envisioned them saying. “It would be a huge loss, not only for the U.S., but for everybody.”

Pulisic, the 19-year-old Borussia Dortmund midfielder from Hershey, Pennsylvania, has emerged as the top American player. He helped the U.S. move into position to qualify for its eighth straight World Cup on Tuesday at Trinidad and Tobago. Pulisic made his national team debut in March 2016 and already has eight goals in 19 international appearances, including six in World Cup qualifying.

He scored the go-ahead goal in the eighth minute on Friday, then crossed to Jozy Altidore for the goal that doubled the lead in the 19th. Pulisic was kicked in the back of the left calf by Michael Murillo in the 48th minute, earning the defender a yellow card. Down for a minute and needing treatment from head athletic trainer Jim Hashimoto, Pulisic limped when he re-entered the match after a 2-plus-minute absence.

Pulisic was upended by Anibal Godoy’s slide tackle from behind into his right leg in the 51st. Ahead by three goals, U.S. coach Bruce Arena replaced Pulisic with Dax McCarty in the 57th.

“He’s been getting beat up in these games in CONCACAF, and that’s the way it is. It doesn’t look like anything is going to change,” Arena said. “He took a few shots and we thought it was smart to get him off the field.”

[ MORE: Player ratingsThree things we learned ]

Former U.S. defender Alexi Lalas, now a Fox commentator, said violent play in qualifiers would dwindle if video assistant referees were used. Some leagues have adopted the technology this year.

“If that had happened in an MLS game or I guess now in a Bundesliga game or a Serie A game, there would be guys who would have been gone earlier,” Lalas said. “If he’s not to a certain extent protected, as all players should be, then it’s just a matter of time before somebody gets him when he’s not prepared or not looking.”

Pulisic was given a standing ovation by the crowd as he walked off and greeted by Arena with a handshake and an endearing arm around the shoulder. He doesn’t face those type of tackles with that frequency in Germany. He was fouled repeatedly during the March qualifier in Panama City.

“Panama is a physical team, so it’s always tough playing against them,” Pulisic said. “Yeah, got kicked a few times tonight, but I’ll be fine. I’ll be fine.”

Pulisic has been dubbed “Wonder Boy” by Lalas and current American goalkeeper Tim Howard. Opposing defenses in qualifiers this year have focused on disrupting him.

“He knows it’s coming,” right back DeAndre Yedlin said. “Teams are going to target him, and he’s experienced enough to know that he needs to protect himself, and what sort of tackles to go into and what not. And as you can see, it didn’t faze him. He had a goal and an assist and was a great player for our team.”

Arena faults FIFA’s regulations in which a player earns a one-game suspension for two yellow cards at any point in qualifying, which stretches 16 games over nearly two years for teams in the final round in the North and Central American and Caribbean region.

“It’s the stupidest. I don’t understand it. I’m just happy I haven’t been around this stuff for a lot of years. I’d lose my mind,” said Arena, who returned as U.S. coach in November after a decade at the club level. “The referees aren’t giving out yellow cards, too, because they realize that players will be suspended the next game, so we never know what kind of mentality the referee is going to be.”

Manchester United draws Club America 1-1 on Mata goal

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Manchester United began Jose Mourinho’s “very bad” preseason with a drab 1-1 draw against Liga MX side Club America.

Juan Mata hit the post in the opening 20 minutes and later scored the equalizer in the 78th minute after Ander Herrera‘s header rebounded off the crossbar and right into the Spaniard’s lap. Mata then put his shot through the goalkeeper’s legs and in for the only goal for the Red Devils.

With many players receiving extra rest after participating in the 2018 World Cup, Manchester United is utilizing a bit-part roster for much of the preseason which includes five matches in the United States. Regulars Mata, Herrera, Eric Bailly, Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, and Antonio Valencia were all included in the starting lineup, but they were joined by a smattering of relative unknowns.

35-year-old journeyman goalkeeper Lee Grant played the first 45 minutes between the sticks, replaced in the second half by 22-year-old Joel Peirera. 22-year-old midfielder Andreas Pereira played the full 90 minutes in midfield, while 21-year-old winger Demetri Mitchell saw his name listed among the starters along with Scott McTominay, who suffered a nasty looking head injury late in the match on an overhead kick attempt.

16-year-old Mason Greenwood got a few minutes towards the end, with Mourinho hoping to get a quick look at the club’s U-18 leading scorer. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Alex Tuanzebe also both came off the bench to participate, as did 18-year-old former Feyenoord youth product Tahith Chong who was impressive during his second-half appearance.

While Manchester United held a slight majority in possession, Club America out-shot the Premier League giants 15-10, however the Liga MX side could only manage to put four of those on target.

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.