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Doping ban for Peru captain threatens World Cup dream vs NZ

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Wellington, New Zealand (AP) Since arriving in New Zealand for their World Cup playoff, Peru’s players have responded cautiously and patiently to the same question. Not about who might play on Saturday, but who will not.

Paolo Guerrero, Peru’s captain and leading scorer, is missing while provisionally suspended for failing a doping test following the World Cup qualifier against Argentina.

The absence of striker Guerrero is the biggest setback Peru faces as it attempts through home-and-away playoff matches against New Zealand to qualify for the World Cup for the first time in 35 years.

There are also the formidable obstacles of travel, time zones and climate which make the match against No. 122nd-ranked New Zealand more difficult than it might have been for 10th-ranked Peru.

Peru’s players have tried techniques of sleep deprivation to quickly acclimatize to a new time zone and have padded themselves lavishly against New Zealand’s strong winds and cool temperatures.

But Guerrero’s absence has been the recurring theme. He scored six times in South American qualifiers and led his team to fifth place. Peru’s football association will challenge his suspension with the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland and, if successful, will have him for the return leg in Lima on Nov. 16.

For now, the South Americans have done their best to treat persistent questions about their captain with respect but indifference.

Edison Flores, whose partnership with Andre Carrillo is one of the team’s strengths, is hopeful the Guerrero-size gap will be filled by a player he is not naming.

“It will be someone who has all our confidence and characteristics similar to those of Paolo,” Flores said. “We just have to wait for him to adapt to the work so that he does it in the best way.”

New Zealand coach Anthony Hudson has said Guerrero is “irreplaceable,” taking a neat opportunity to highlight Peru’s problem.

“I don’t really think they have anyone that is a physical presence like him and who can play the type of game they like to play with him in the team,” Hudson said.

But he makes a concession.

“Attacking midfielders, the two who sit in behind whoever plays up front … they’re all quality players. Where people say (Peru goes) direct to Guerrero, they actually play a lot through (Christian) Cueva and Flores and (Yoshimar) Yotun. They’ve got some very good players through the middle.”

Flores, based in Denmark, is one of those players and part of a new generation.

The older generation is represented by 36-year-old New Zealand striker Shane Smeltz and 33-year old Peru forward Jefferson Farfan, both in their last World Cup cycles. Smeltz played for New Zealand at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa but Farfan has never had that experience, which adds urgency to his personal quest in Saturday’s match.

Smeltz knows the opportunity to play in football’s showpiece will never come again for him.

“It certainly adds to the occasion, I think, knowing that this is definitely or probably my last,” Smeltz said. “It would certainly be a fairytale to get to another World Cup.

“I think it’s just as exciting, the pressure, the intensity, as it was the first time.”

Neither Farfan nor Smeltz have fully realized their youthful potential. Smeltz has played 58 games for New Zealand without matching his young promise and Farfan, whose talent was first recognized at 14, first played for Peru at 19. Now at Lokomotiv Moscow and after 75 caps, the inconsistent Farfan remains a contentious figure in Peru.

But his greatest endorsement may have come from the absent Guerrero, who said come the World Cup playoffs “Farfan will be playing. He is needed in the team.”

More AP World Cup coverage: http://www.apnews.com/tag/WorldCup

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 and 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.