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England squad reconnects with fans with image makeover

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VOLGOGRAD, England (AP) — Whatever happens to England at the World Cup, at least the reception facing the squad should be less brutal than it was in 2014 after its exit following the group stage.’

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For once, the players can’t be accused of hiding away, retreating behind their headphones. The hallmark of England’s preparations for Russia has been shedding the past reticence to engage with the public, a calculated move by the team leadership to reconnect with a public disaffected by years of failure at tournaments and uninspiring performances.

“They appear more relaxed. They appear more normal,” supporter Gavin Hughes said, overlooking the Volgograd Arena where England opens its World Cup campaign against Tunisia on Monday. “They appear human. They are just lads playing football at the end of the day. That’s been the problem in the past. There’s more of a togetherness.”

A defining clip of the 2010 World Cup was Wayne Rooney bellowing down the barrel of a camera after a 0-0 draw with Algeria: “Nice to see your home fans booing you, that’s what loyal support is.”

That disconnect with the public has been bridged by the 23-man squad facing the media in a 45-minute, Super Bowl-style session before leaving for Russia. The English Football Association’s approach is in a marked contrast to club duty where they are largely closeted away, save for appearances with paying broadcasters or often in controlled appearances.

[ MORE: Where to watch Monday’s games, feat. England and Belgium ]

“We’ve done a lot for the fans on social media so they can see what we are up to, which has not always been the case,” captain Harry Kane said Sunday. “It’s important while we have free time is to try to let the fans know what we are up to.”

The public is seeing a new side of the players. Not only are they more relatable but painted in a more sympathetic light, beyond the caricatures of millionaire mercenaries just chasing more money.

“That connection with the supporters is really important,” coach Gareth Southgate said. “There have been perceptions about our players for a long time … so it’s been really good for our public to see how much it means to the players to play, to see a different side of their personality.”

In a move unthinkable in years gone by, when a since-departed FA official blocked Rooney talking about his Christianity, defender Danny Rose recently opened up on his problems dealing with depression. Publicly praised by Prince William for raising awareness of health issues, Rose realizes how players can use their new platform to show their human side and inspire others.

“A lot of people messaged me to say thank you, that they know someone who is going through this or has been through that and that I’ve helped them and given them the confidence to express themselves,” Rose said. “We have a lot of down time and I’m going to think of something to help others when I get back. I’ve got time to think while I’m here and when I get back from the World Cup about how I can go forward and help people.”

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It’s not just about the players feeding a voracious traveling media pack with material. Kieran Trippier, who is also Rose’s club teammate at Tottenham, told the left back he appeared no longer burdened by a private plight in England’s last World Cup warm-up game.

“I was playing with a bit of freedom,” Rose said of the victory against Costa Rica. “I think he’s got a point.”

Southgate is credited with encouraging the warmer environment, far removed from the controlling regimes under Fabio Capello and Gary Neville, who was Roy Hodgson’s assistant for the dismal 2014 World Cup and 2016 European Championship last-16 humbling to Iceland. A bemusing, running theme in the British papers at Euro 2016 in France was the players’ refusal to divulge any details of a darts tournament. The squad has been overhauled by Southgate and it has even been playing darts with the media at the World Cup base near St. Petersburg.

Southgate has been playing his part, going to fan forums in the buildup to the tournament to recognize the commitment and cost involved watching England abroad.

“Sometimes those really good people who follow us are overlooked at the expense of some who have caused problems in the past,” Southgate said.

Ultimately, results dictate the public mood and England hasn’t won a knockout game at any tournament since 2006.

“It’s about how we perform,” Southgate said, “but there’s a bigger picture.”

Mourinho on Man United: “We are not a team”

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Manchester United drew 0-0 with the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer on Sunday and it’s safe to say Jose Mourinho didn’t seem impressed.

The stalemate at Levi’s Stadium continued Mourinho’s theme of complaining about the players he doesn’t have at his disposal as many are still on a break after the World Cup and won’t link up with United until they return to the UK ahead of the Premier League season starting on August 10.

Speaking to MUTV after the game, Mourinho had the following to say on United’s second consecutive draw after their 1-1 result against Liga MC side Club America on Thursday.

“We are not a team. We’re a group of players from different teams,” Mourinho said. “Some are first-team, some under-23s, some coming from loans and going on loan, some are younger, under-18s. We don’t have a team to play much better than we did but [it’s] one more training session.”

That assessment is fair enough, preseason is about practice rather than results, but these sessions are about to step up with games against AC Milan, Liverpool and Real Madrid in the next week.

Mourinho still has the likes of Juan Mata, Eric Bailly, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Ander Herrera and now Alexis Sanchez on tour after the latter sorted out a visa issue. Hardly just the U-18 team.

He’s missing Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Maraoune Fellaini, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Ashley Young, Marcus Rashford and Victor Lindelof after their deep runs at the World Cup this summer, plus David De Gea, Marcos Rojo and new signing Fred. So, he does have a point about United’s options being depleted for preseason.

But he’s known this would be the case for months and the likes of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City seems delighted to give youngsters a chance rather than focus on all of his stars who won’t return until right at the start of the PL season.

If United have a slow start to the PL campaign, I wonder what Mourinho will point to as the main reason for that…

Comedy result becomes a reality: East Fife 4, Forfar 5

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LONDON (AP) The result of a Scottish League Cup Group B match has become a case of life imitating art after Forfar Athletic beat East Fife in a penalty shootout.

It was East Fife 4, Forfar 5 – a favorite tongue-twisting fictional result of the late British comedian Eric Morecambe.

The British list and read soccer results with the home team first, followed by the away team.

The BBC has reported the result as a first in head-to-heads featuring the teams, although it wasn’t entirely as Morecambe would have liked. The match finished 1-1 before Forfar won 5-4 on penalties.

The BBC says there’d been at least one near miss in the past, with the wrong team at home when Forfar beat East Fife 5-4 in 1964.

Liga MX wrap: Xolos beats Chivas as Apertura begins

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Liga MX’s Apertura season is off and running with all 18 clubs partaking in a match this weekend.

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Club Tijuana 2-1 Chivas Guadalajara

Scoreless at the half, the weekend’s marquee match sprang to life in the final 45. Juan Martin Lucero gave TJ a 54th minute lead before Jose Van Rankin knotted it up five minutes later.

Lucero assisted Jose Rivero’s 75th minute winner, which was helped in its status when Michael Perez took a red card in the 80th.

Cruz Azul 3-0 Puebla

Elias Hernandez scored a goal and added an assist, and Milton Caraglio put one of his five shots on goal into the net. Andres Renteria also scored in the win.

Tigres 2-0 Leon

Andre-Pierre Gignac scored, and Lucas Zelarayan marked a goal and an assist in the win.

Elsewhere
Necaxa 2-1 Club America
Toluca 2-0 Morelia
Santos Laguna 2-1 Lobos BUAP
Pachuca 0-1 Monterrey
Veracruz 0-2 Pumas UNAM
Atlas 0-0 Queretaro

Report: Colorado acquires USMNT mid Acosta for Badji

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The West’s first place team is switching it up in a big way.

FC Dallas is sending Homegrown Player and USMNT midfielder Kellyn Acosta to Western foes Colorado Rapids in exchange for striker Dominique Badji, according to a report by The Dallas Morning News.

[ MORE: Pulisic rips up Liverpool ]

Acosta, 22, has 17 caps and a goal for the U.S., and is primarily a defensive midfielder. He’s also played right and left back.

He’s appeared 139 times for Dallas, scoring 13 times with nine assists, but had fallen out with head coach Oscar Pareja. He’s also struggled mightily on the field, according to WhoScored.

Badji, 25, has seven goals and three assists in 16 matches for the Rapids this season, building on an eight-goal, five-assist campaign last season.

FCD has gotten six goals out of forward Maxi Urruti, and there’s been little production from anyone else. Cristian Colman is out with an ankle injury and managed just a pair of goals in 399 minutes.

The risk of trading Acosta is mitigated by the continued speculation that he may test the waters of European soccer. Badji’s a quality player, but Colorado may’ve gotten a bargain in its push to escape the dregs of the West.