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Balance between club and country gets tricky with World Cup

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia (AP) Kendall Waston was surrounded by Vancouver Whitecaps teammates when the club’s coach, Carl Robinson, informed him he had made Costa Rica’s 23-man World Cup roster for the first time.

The applause, warm wishes and water-bottle shower that followed were a sign of respect and admiration. Waston is Vancouver’s captain, and his play with the Whitecaps is largely why he’s headed to Russia.

Of course, the moment Waston made that Costa Rican roster, his priorities changed.

Waston says the Whitecaps “treat me like a family” and “have helped me a lot,” providing the exposure and experience necessary to crack a World Cup roster. But like many other Russia-bound MLS players, the last thing he wants is to invite any needless risks that might jeopardize his participation in Russia. Keeping the club competitive and staying fit and healthy to represent your country can become a delicate balance.

While most leagues around the world cap their play in early-to-mid May, the MLS schedule marches on, and many players headed to Russia stuck with their MLS teams through the last weekend of May before joining their national teams.

“I think that each day you have to work harder to be in good standing with the club, first of all,” Seattle Sounders and Panama defender Roman Torres said through an interpreter. “Each day with the club, I am training to the fullest to obtain the triumphs that we’re trying to achieve. … It’s important to be physically fit and mentally strong as you arrive from the club to your national team.”

Torres is a prime example of how tenuous the balance can be for both players and their club teams as the World Cup nears. During pregame warmups on April 29, Torres strained his hamstring. In the days after Torres was hurt, Seattle coach Brian Schmetzer said, “it’s not good. It’s not good.”

What Schmetzer meant was the wide impact Torres’ injury had. It was significant to Seattle in the short-term and had a trickle-down effect for Panama. Torres had to sit out four games to properly rest the injury at a time Seattle could have used it’s staring defender. He spent most of May rehabbing instead of joining Panama in top form. And he’s at greater risk for aggravating the injury trying to slow down Eden Hazard or Harry Kane during the World Cup.

“It’s always challenging and it’s been challenging for us as a club because we’ve always had a lot of internationals on our roster,” Schmetzer said.

Injury is typically the primary concern, and the fallout can be significant. In Europe, England’s Alex Oxlaide-Chamberlin and France’s Laurent Koscielny were lost from World Cup consideration due to major injuries suffered late in their club seasons. A final capper to the international club season were the injuries suffered by Mohamed Salah (Egypt) and Dani Carvajal (Spain) in the UEFA Champions League final and have put their status for Russia in question.

For others who sit on the cusp of making their national teams, the consideration of injury and overall health isn’t allowed to be a factor. Give less than 100 percent effort, and performance could diminish, and selection for the World Cup might not happen.

“It’s not an easy time for the players, because that’s obviously on their minds,” said LAFC and former U.S. coach Bob Bradley.

Gustav Svensson has seemed a lock for Sweden after he played significant minutes in its World Cup qualifying playoff win over Italy. And while the thought of what lies ahead in Russia would sometimes creep into his mind during training, he did his best to push it aside when it came to games for Seattle.

“I think it’s dangerous to start thinking about that,” Svensson said. “I think it’s dangerous if you start not going into 100 percent in every challenge. I think easier to get injured if you start lacking in a little bit of some things.”

Clint Dempsey played in three World Cups for the U.S., two while playing in MLS and one while in England. He said that either way, the top concern for players this time of year is the challenge of staying in top shape.

“I couldn’t say which one is more difficult because you have a short career you want to make the most of it,” Dempsey said. “You don’t want to complain and you make the most of what your situation is whether you play domestically for club or playing in Europe. You want to be playing well because if you’re playing well for your club you’ll always get called into the national team.”

AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson contributed to this report.

AT HALF: Martial, Rashford team up for impressive opener

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Manchester United has a stylish opening goal in its quest to go a perfect 2-for-2 in Premier League play.

After quality passing in traffic ended with Marcus Rashford slipping a through ball in to both Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial, the Frenchman bolted a ball into the upper reaches of the net.

[ STREAM: Wolves – Man Utd ]

To be honest, Rui Patricio had little recourse.

The goal is Martial’s second of the season, and United is 45 minutes away from moving atop the league.

Report: Barcelona will make Neymar loan offer

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The most expensive player in the world may be going back to his old club…on loan.

According to a report by ESPNFC, Barcelona will make an official approach for Neymar on a loan with an option to buy next summer, similar to the switch Philippe Coutinho made from the Camp Nou to Bayern Munich earlier today. In fact, the report specifically states that Barcelona will look to copy Bayern’s approach of a one-year loan with a fee ($9.4 million for Coutinho’s loan) plus all wages paid, followed by an option to buy ($133 million).

Barcelona prefers this approach as they have already racked up a massive transfer bill this summer, spending over $220 million on the likes of Antoine Griezmann, Frenkie de Jong, Junior Firpo, and Neto.

While there have been numerous reports of potentially creative offers for Neymar over the past few weeks that mention players included in a swap deal, the ESPNFC report specifically states no players will be included in any current or future deal for Neymar either in the terms of the loan or as part of the option to buy. While Barcelona considered this approach in the past, Paris Saint-Germain was reportedly not interested in any players Barca offered, other than Coutinho. They apparently made an official offer already, ponying up $89 million plus Coutinho and Ivan Rakitic, but that was turned down.

The ESPN report does state that Coutinho’s loan to Bayern is seen by those close to Neymar as “a huge setback” as the Brazilian’s camp saw Coutinho as the key to making the deal happen, given that Barcelona is unwilling to put up a straight cash offer this summer. Unnamed Barcelona officials are also quoted in the report as stating that a for a potential Neymar deal, “it will be complicated,” but they are hopeful of progress.

The option to buy in Barcelona’s offer has reportedly not been decided upon as of yet, although previous reports have stated that PSG is unlikely to consider an offer that does not net them back what they paid for Neymar two years ago, to the tune of $245 million.

Watch Live: Wolves v. Man United

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Manchester United travels to Monlieux to take on their boogy team as Wolverhampton Wanderers look to make it four straight without a loss against the Red Devils across all competitions (Watch live, 3:00 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com)

The last time Manchester United beat Wolves was in 2012 when they won 5-0 at Monlieux in a season that saw Wolves eventually relegated. They were winless in all three matches against Wolves last season, including two in Premier League action and one in domestic cup play. To end that drought, they’ll need to break a Wolves streak of eight consecutive top-flight matches unbeaten at home, making their midlands ground a fortress of late.

WATCH WOLVES v. MAN UNITED LIVE ONLINE HERE

To help snap the streak, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has handed winger Daniel James a full debut, coming into the side in place of Andreas Pereira as the only change from the team that topped Chelsea 4-0 to begin the season. Juan Mata stays stuck on the bench, while Jesse Lingard, Marcus Rashford, and Anthony Martial all spearhead the attack alongside James. Paul Pogba again partners with Scott McTominay in midfield to reprise a duo that was fabulous against the Blues. Alexis Sanchez remains out of the squad, although Solskjaer confirmed he is “close” to a return.

For Wolves, they deploy an unchanged side from the opening day draw with Leicester City. Diogo Jota and Raul Jimenez are back leading the lines after being rested midweek for their Europa League win over Pyunik. Nuno again deploys a 5-3-2, with wingers Johnny and Matt Doherty serving as wing-backs along the three central defenders in Connor Coady, Wily Boly, and Ryan Bennett.


LINEUPS

Wolves XI: Patricio; Doherty, Bennett, Coady, Boly, Jonny; Dendoncker, Neves, Moutinho; Jota, Jimenez.
Subs: Ruddy, Neto, Cutrone, Gibbs-White, Saiss, Vinagre, Traore.

Man United XI: De Gea; Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Maguire, Shaw, McTominay, Pogba, James, Lingard, Rashford, Martial.
Subs: Romero, Tuanzebe, Pereira, Mata, Matic, Greenwood.

Sokratis calls it “easier” to defend Liverpool than Burnley

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Arsenal has not fared well at Anfield the last few years, not at all. In fact, the Gunners haven’t shown up against the Reds at all the past two seasons, shipping 13 goals in their last four meetings with Liverpool, and 15 goals in their last four trips to Anfield.

Which made the words out of the mouth of Arsenal defender Sokratis about defending Liverpool even more surprising.

Following 2-1 win over Burnley this past weekend, Sokratis compared playing the Clarets to playing defending Champions League winners Liverpool, whom Arsenal visits this coming weekend. “It is a different game,” Sokratis said. “Maybe it is more easy, because you don’t have to fight a lot, but they also play football.”

Play football they certainly do. Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino have all scored each of the last two times the Gunners visited Anfield, resulting in 5-1 and 4-0 drubbings. So…how does that figure to “more easy?”

“If they are on good day and you are having a bad day, it is hard,” Sokratis admitted. “In the end, we know that it is difficult and we respect Liverpool a lot. But I think the best [way] is to go and play our style of game. We will see what happens.”

When asked specifically about last season’s lopsided result, Sokratis believes that was a rare occurance. “The 5-1 last season…it was not the game to take five goals – [there was] the penalty kicks, we made mistakes,” he said. “I think this year will be different, but we have to improve of course from the work we do with the coach and his staff.”

Arsenal will have to avoid the mistakes this time around if they want to find an important three points. Even a draw would be helpful in the Gunners’ quest to attain Champions League qualification for the first time in four years. Sokratis would be wise not to take the Reds lightly.