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Sargent set to be latest teenager to make USMNT debut

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) Josh Sargent’s parents will be in the stands along with a bunch of friends. Three months after his 18th birthday, the red-haired forward could be the latest teenager to debut for a transforming U.S. national team.

“It’s going very fast, to be honest, so I haven’t really had a lot of time to just process everything,” he said ahead of Monday’s exhibition against Bolivia. “It’s just one thing to next, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I like staying busy and playing soccer all the time.”

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He left St. Dominic High School in O’Fallon, Missouri, in the middle of 10th grade to join the U.S. Under-17 team’s residency camp in Bradenton, Florida. He scored five goals last spring in the CONCACAF Under-17 Championship, then was a surprise selection for the Under-20 World Cup roster and scored four goals as the U.S. reached the quarterfinals in South Korea. He agreed to sign a professional contract with Werder Bremen when he turned 18 on Feb. 20, then scored three more goals as the Americans reached the Under-17 World Cup quarterfinals in India.

Sargent joined Freddy Adu in 2007 as the only Americans to play in both FIFA youth tournaments in the same year. He was in position to become the first to play for the U-17s, U-20s and full national team in the same year but strained his right quadriceps on the first day of training ahead of November’s exhibition at Portugal.

“It’s unique,” U.S. Under-17 coach John Hackworth said. “That’s also part of the circumstance that the U.S. national team is in right now.”

Sargent’s dad, Jeff, was a defender at St. Louis Community College-Florissant Valley and Sangamon State, now the University of Illinois at Springfield. His mom, the former Liane Deetman, was a forward at SIU Edwardsville.

Josh played baseball (shortstop), basketball (point guard), football (lots of positions), ice hockey (center) and golf growing up, but excelled in soccer and joined the St. Louis Scott Gallagher Soccer Club.

“St. Louis is such a hotbed for soccer in the first place,” Sargent said. “My family, they were really supportive about letting me choose what I wanted to do, and in the end I just felt most comfortable with soccer.”

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Kevin Kalish, his coach at Scott Gallagher and now coach at Saint Louis University, said Sargent stood out for his graceful movement and mentality to score and dominate games, and for a humble demeanor.

“Even as a youth player, when he was going in and out of the national team camp, you never felt like he was big-timing you,” Kalish said.

Sporting Kansas City claimed homegrown player rights and hoped to sign Sargent, but he decided against Major League Soccer and moved to Germany in January.

“Obviously it’s really tempting wanting to play close to home, so you can be close to family and everything, but I think that would have been the easy way out,” he said. “Just wanting to stay close to home isn’t really what I want to do in my career. I want to go to a place where I can develop and become the best player I can become.”

He didn’t speak any German when he flew from St. Louis to Washington, D.C., and onto Frankfurt and then Bremen – it wasn’t offered at St. Dominic. Sargent moved into a player dormitory located adjacent to Weser-Stadion, but because he didn’t turn 18 until after the January transfer window closed, he was ineligible to play for Bremen or even its reserve team in the third division until the 2018-19 season.

“You want to play games and be able to prove to the players that you belong there, but it’s difficult when you can’t play games and show them that,” he said. “At the same time it was good to just help me settle in and get used to the guys first.”

Sargent arrived in a country that has become a key cog in the U.S. player development system. Christian Pulisic, a midfielder from Hershey, Pennsylvania, made his debut for Borussia Dortmund at 17 two years ago, scored 12 goals in 97 matches and already is the top player on the national team. Weston McKennie, a midfielder from Little Elm, Texas, made his debut for Schalke at 18 on the final day of the 2016-17 season, appeared in 25 matches this season and scored in his American debut at Portugal.

“I think Christian kind of leads the way, because he’s shown that he can be successful there. And then Weston comes in and does it,” Hackworth said. “That belief and having a player that inspires you, but also allows you to look at something tangible and say it can be done, it absolutely can be done, is so powerful.”

Several of the Americans in Germany met up at Pulisic’s place recently. The group, which includes prospects Nick Taitague, Haji Wright, Isaiah Young and Zyen Jones, provides a support system for each other.

“They’re only about an hour-and-a-half drive away, so it’s good knowing if something’s going wrong or if I’m ever really homesick or something, I can just go see these guys, and we’re all really close,” Sargent said. “It’s a good feeling.”

Dave Sarachan gave nine players debuts in his first three matches after becoming interim national team coach last fall. Sargent’s time appears to be now.

“I think he’s already shown he’s a battler and he’s physically there,” Sarachan said. “It’s like any player that goes from a level of 20 miles an hour to now jumping into 30 miles an hour and 40. How do they handle the speed and how do they handle playing up against better defenders? And so far I think Josh, even in the few days we’ve been here, has shown he’s in the mix.”

Germany: Below-par Bayern Munich still too good for the rest

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BERLIN (AP) Even a below-par Bayern Munich side was just too good for the rest.

Bayern’s record-extending seventh consecutive Bundesliga title confirmed the distance between the Bavarian powerhouse and its rivals after a season in which it failed to impress as before.

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For the first time in ten years the title race went to the last day of the season, with Niko Kovac’s side missing the chance to wrap it up a week earlier after being held to a goalless draw in Leipzig. His team wasn’t going to miss another chance as it routed Eintracht Frankfurt 5-1 to clinch a 29th German championship on Saturday.

In the end, Bayern’s 5-0 win at home over Borussia Dortmund, its closest and only challenger, on April 4 illustrated the gulf in class between the sides and effectively decided the league outcome. Bayern should have won by more after racing into a 4-0 half-time lead, but Kovac’s team eased off in the second half with Dortmund in damage-control mode.

It proved to be the title that Dortmund gave away. Lucien Favre’s side had a nine-point lead over Bayern at one stage, but buckled under the pressure of a title challenge and gave away points in games it should have won.

Dortmund developed an unfortunate tendency to concede late goals, and was frustrated in successive draws against Eintracht Frankfurt, Hoffenheim and lowly Nuremberg, which was relegated at the end of the season.

Bayern President Uli Hoeness had suggested in February that Bayern could “sacrifice the championship for one year” to give veteran players like Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Rafinha a worthy farewell.

“I have won more than 50 titles in my lifetime, so one or another doesn’t matter,” Hoeness said at the time.

Hoeness needn’t have worried. On Saturday, he was able to give the players a perfect sendoff, with Robben and Ribery both coming on as substitutes to score in their final Bundesliga appearances.

Beer flowed among the tears and confetti and the Bayern veterans bade their farewells and celebrated another championship – for Ribery it was a record ninth league title in 12 years at the club.

It was a happy end to a difficult season. The 36-year-old Ribery made no secret of his wish to stay at Bayern and will have heard how the 40-year-old Claudio Pizarro, who also scored Saturday, agreed a one-year extension to his contract at Werder Bremen the same day.

Kovac has had to endure ongoing speculation over his future after ambiguous comments from his superiors.

“We’ll see,” sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic said to repeated questions over Kovac’s future recently, while chairman Karl-Heinz-Rummenigge could only say he has “no problem” with Kovac.

Kovac himself said on Saturday that he was sure he would remain after receiving first-hand information from those responsible, but the lack of public endorsement from the club has done little to stop the speculation.

Even a win over Leipzig in the German Cup final next Saturday might not be enough for Kovac, who has fans’ backing but has struggled for authority at the club since Bayern went four games without a win in late September-early October.

The club lashed out at the media on Oct. 19 for “derogatory, slanderous reporting” of its poor form, while Hoeness was booed and whistled at the club’s AGM in November for the first time over sponsorship deals with Qatar, his railing against the media, and personal tirades against former players and coaches.

Amid the squabbling, Bayern has lost its aura of invincibility. The side’s meek Champions League exit to Liverpool after a 3-1 defeat at home highlighted the need to refresh the squad.

The process is already underway with World Cup winners Lucas Hernandez and Benjamin Pavard arriving from Atletico Madrid and Stuttgart, respectively, to shore up the defense. The 23-year-old Hernandez is costing a Bundesliga-record 80 million euros ($90 million) while Pavard is joining from Stuttgart for a reported 35 million ($40 million).

Bayern is also reportedly interested in Germany striker Timo Werner, while Hoeness has hinted at a host of other signings.

After strengthening in the summer, Bayern is likely to be even harder to catch for Dortmund and the rest next season.

“I know the chance was huge this season,” Dortmund captain Marco Reus said.

More AP German soccer coverage: https://apnews.com/Bundesliga and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Ciaran Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP

Bournemouth snap up $15m defender, look to Burnley GK

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Bournemouth is already busy in the transfer market.

Eddie Howe‘s men have added a $16.5 million defender from Championship outfit Bristol City and may soon swoop to buy a $19 million goalkeeper from a Premier League rival.

The latter target is reported as Nick Pope, part of a deep Burnley goalkeeping corps that includes Tom Heaton and Joe Hart.

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The former would be Lloyd Kelly, who racked up more than 2300 minutes for Bristol and is expected to represent England with the U-21 side this summer.

Primarily a left back but capable of defending centrally, Kelly has 48 first team appearances with two goals and two assists to his name.

From The Bournemouth Echo:

“I’m still young and developing as a player but at the same time I feel like this is probably the best place for me to develop those skills, especially being around a Premier League team and playing Premier League sides,” Kelly said. “I feel like it will speed up that process a bit more.”

No Champions League could lead Lacazette from Arsenal

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Alexandre Lacazette could leave Arsenal if the Gunners fail to win a place in the UEFA Champions League.

So says a report out of The London Evening Standard, which notes that Barcelona and Atletico Madrid would be interested in bringing the Frenchman to La Liga.

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Arsenal will participate in next season’s Europa League unless it beats Chelsea in this season UEL Final on May 29 in Baku.

Lacazette, 27, has 19 goals and 13 assists for Arsenal this season and struck up a tremendous partnership with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. He has not played in the Champions League since 2016-17.

Arsenal is being linked with a big attacking target, too, and is said to be intrigued with Ajax boss Marc Overmars comments that Hakim Ziyech will be allowed to leave if his $28 million release clause is met. From The Evening Standard:

“He is in focus because of his achievements in the Champions League. Many big clubs are buzzing around him, We promised Hakim that we would agree if there is a good transfer,” Overmars told the Dutch De Telegraaf newspaper.
Ziyech has played his entire career in the Dutch Eredivisie between Heerenveen, Twente, and Ajax. He has 12 goals in 23 caps for Morocco and scored five times for Ajax in the Champions League to go with 16 league goals.

Zidane bristles when asked why he didn’t use Bale

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Zinedine Zidane bristled when asked why he did not use Gareth Bale on Sunday in what could’ve been the Welsh forward’s last home match for Real Madrid.

It’s worth noting that Real had just lost 2-0 to Real Betis at the Bernabeu, and Zidane couldn’t have been in a decent mood as the wayward side finished third on the table.

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The 29-year-old Bale did not play in Real’s final three matches of the season, was blanked in the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals against Ajax, and has not scored since March. He finished the season with 14 goals and six assists in 42 appearances. From The Manchester Evening News:

“I have counted on other players in more in recent weeks, and if I had a fourth substitute today I would not have brought him on.

“I make these decisions when it is right to do so, and I must act in the best interests of the team at all times.”

Zidane would not commit to Bale being with Madrid for their preseason tour of the United States, saying “anything could happen” while insinuating that the player was part of Real’s past.