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Croatia coach Dalic traveled hard path to World Cup final

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MOSCOW (AP) — In a coaching journey across Croatia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, Zlatko Dalic’s belief in his own abilities never dimmed.

[ MORE: Southgate “the backbone of this team; the man’s a gentleman” ]

“I used to say, ‘Give me a Barcelona or a Real Madrid and I will win titles,’” Dalic recalled Thursday.

Such jobs no longer seem so far out of reach, especially if Dalic collects the biggest prize in soccer on Sunday. Croatia will win the World Cup for the first time if Dalic’s team can get the better of France and coach Didier Deschamps.

Receiving trophies is nothing new for Deschamps. As a player, the midfielder won titles at clubs in France, Italy and England, as well as the 1998 World Cup and 2000 European Championship with France. As a coach, he led France to the Euro 2016 final, losing to Portugal.

But the 51-year-old Dalic had a largely unremarkable playing career before switching to coaching in his native Croatia.

[ MORE: Mourinho: England needs to keep coaches for next World Cup ]

“In my life I have always taken the harder path, had to fight for everything myself,” Dalic said through a translator at Luzhniki Stadium. “I started at the bottom of the ladder.”

The climb required a leap into the unknown with a move to the Middle East in 2010.

“I did not want to stay in Croatia and be a middling coach and to live off handouts,” Dalic said. “I went abroad whenever it was possible to find a job.”

Dalic eventually landed at Al-Hilal, where he won the Saudi Crown Prince Cup, and then reached the Asian Champions League final with Al-Ain.

“We cannot sneeze at that. These are major competitions,” Dalic said. “This brought me huge experience … and I built a name for myself. This was a hard path but I believed in myself. When Croatia called, I never had any doubts.”

[ TRANSFER RUMORS: Malcom to Spurs, Bale to Man Utd “advanced” ]

The call that ended Dalic’s nomadic seven-year journey came last year, when Croatia had a game remaining to salvage qualification.

“He is very dedicated to football,” Croatian federation president Davor Suker said, “and we gave him the chance.”

Dalic led Croatia into the World Cup playoffs, where it beat Ukraine over two matches. Now he has taken his country further than ever before in a major soccer competition, eclipsing Suker’s semifinalists in 1998.

Brand Dalic is growing after Croatia came from behind to beat England 2-1 in the semifinal in Moscow on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Deschamps: EURO heartbreak drives France to World Cup final ]

“The coach has created a special atmosphere,” said Croatia defender Dejan Lovren, who plays for Liverpool. “He knows exactly how to interact with players and does it in a unique way.”

Dalic also relished interacting with the media on Thursday in the stadium where Croatia plays its biggest-ever game on Sunday. The highly ambitious coach used his moment in the spotlight to advertise his credentials.

“Nothing was given to me on a plate, unlike some managers in Europe who can be given jobs to manage a big club because of their names as players,” Dalic said.

ICC 2018: Dortmund tops Man City in Mahrez debut

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A relatively young squad took the pitch for Manchester City on Friday night, but Pep Guardiola‘s newest signing made his first appearance at Soldier Field in Chicago.

Borussia Dortmund topped Man City, 1-0, in the first match of the 2018 International Champions Cup — a game that saw Algeria international Riyad Mahrez debut for the Citizens after joining from Leicester City.

It was the Germans that capitalized on one of the game’s few opportunities, which came from the penalty spot just before the half-hour mark when U.S. Men’s National team star Christian Pulisic drew the foul inside the Man City area.

Mario Gotze stepped up and buried the spot kick in the 28th minutes, ensuring Dortmund would earn the tournament’s first victory.

Guardiola removed Mahrez after 73 minutes, while first-team regular Leroy Sane made a brief appearance in the final quarter hour for the Citizens.

For Dortmund, Pulisic was one of the few regulars to start the match for the German giants, however, the 19-year-old was one of 10 substitutions made by new manager Luicen Favre at halftime.

Report: Whitecaps teen Davies nears Bayern Munich transfer

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The Vancouver Whitecaps stated on Friday that their teenage star Alphonso Davies might not be available for their clash over the weekend with Cascadia rivals Seattle Sounders, and now we may have a better scope of why.

[ MORE: LAFC cleared after Timbers drop U.S. Open Cup appeal ]

The Athletic is reporting that Bundesliga giant Bayern Munich is close to completing a $12 million transfer for Davies, which could increase “with add-ons and clauses contingent on performance.”

Davies, 17, turned professional in 2016 after signing a Homegrown contract with the Whitecaps, and his near-immediate stardom has risen to the point where the Canada international has become a significant talking point across Major League Soccer.

The young attacker is enjoying a strong season thus far for Carl Robinson’s side, with three goals and eight assists, while also being selected to the MLS All-Star team that will take on Juventus on August 1.

Although Davies’ absence from the squad at training on Friday wasn’t explained by the club, his time in Vancouver could be coming to an end as Bayern and several other big European sides chase the promising teen.

The Athletic’s report also suggests that various Premier League clubs have expressed interest in Davies, however, obtaining a work permit could be an issue for the player.

LAFC cleared after Timbers withdraw U.S. Open Cup appeal

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U.S. Soccer has cleared Los Angeles FC of any wrongdoing in Wednesday’s U.S. Open Cup quarterfinals win over the Portland Timbers, after the latter dropped their appeal against the expansion MLS franchise.

[ MORE: MLS preview — TFC, Sounders running out of time ]

The Timbers had lodged a claim following the 3-2 LAFC win regarding the number of international players to suit up for Bob Bradley‘s squad.

Under the laws of the Open Cup, teams are allowed up to five international players in an 18-man gameday roster — a total that LAFC exceeded due to misleading information provided by U.S. Soccer and MLS.

Mark-Anthony Kaye, a Canada international, was ruled eligible to play by the competition, despite not meeting the requirements set forth by the Open Cup of an American player.

Kaye does not currently hold a green card.

The 23-year-old appeared in the match, making him the sixth international to suit up for Bradley’s squad, and theoretically could have cost LAFC a spot in the next round if the Timbers had stuck with their protest.

Kaye was listed as a domestic player on the matchday roster for LAFC, though, after general manager John Thorrington consulted with the USSF regarding the player’s status.

The USSF released the following statement on Friday night, declaring that the Timbers “gracefully” withdrew their appeal despite miscommunication between LAFC, MLS and U.S. Soccer.

“After a thorough review of the Portland Timbers’ official protest, it has been determined that the inclusion of additional foreign players was a result of a good faith misunderstanding among the U.S. Soccer, Major League Soccer and Los Angeles Football Club. Each organization involved has agreed to determine an improved process to ensure this will not happen again. In recognition of this fact, the Timbers have gracefully withdrawn their protest.”

LAFC will now either take on the Chicago Fire, Houston Dynamo or Philadelphia Union in the semifinal stage of the competition, with a draw expected to be held in the coming days.

MLS preview: TFC, Seattle running out of time; Rooney vs. ATL

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Week 21 of the 2018 MLS season features 10 games on Saturday (nine) and Sunday (one). Here’s a few key storylines to keep an eye on…

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Jozy’s back, but is it too late?

It’s been nearly three months since Jozy Altidore last appeared for Toronto FC, and not much has changed with regard to the Reds’ place in the standings: they at south of the playoff line then (after going all-in on the CONCACAF Champions League), and they remain there ahead of Saturday’s trip to Chicago. Greg Vanney’s defending champions currently sit 11 points back of sixth place with 15 games left to play.

As for Altidore, he was hugely important in TFC’s run to the CCL final, but it would be a massive oversimplification to say his absence has been the only — or main, even — cause for struggles this season. In fact, it’s been injuries up and down the entire squad (every center back on the roster, multiple midfielders and playmakers, as well as Altidore). Finally, after months of walking wounded, nearly everyone is back and available for selection. TFC’s charge up the stands begins, presumably, soon.

Rooney makes DCU better, but by how much?

As I opined following his D.C. United debut last weekend, Wayne Rooney was quite good during the opening 32 minutes of his MLS career. That was against the Vancouver Whitecaps, one of the slowest playing teams in the entire league, though. On Saturday, Rooney and Co., will come up against something not so dissimilar to European quality and competition in Atlanta United.

There’s the level on competition to consider as Rooney continues on in his MLS journey, but also this: against Vancouver, there was very little flash or attempt at end product from Rooney, which was fine considering he quickly and smartly facilitated play and opened the field up for others to make and score the goals. The questions are: for how long is he happy to be a simple cog in the machine, and are United getting their money’s worth if that’s Rooney’s regular contribution?

What about Seattle?

Just like Toronto, the Seattle Sounders currently find themselves 11 points back of sixth place (though they do have one more game still to play). Just like Toronto, injuries have completely ruined the Sounders’ 2018 season. Just like Toronto, they have been to back-to-back MLS Cups, and won one. Just like Toronto, they can’t really miss the playoffs, can they?

Now, though, Raul Ruidiaz has been added for some much-needed firepower up top (the Peruvian is a back-to-back Golden Boot winner in Liga MX), Gustav Svensson is back from the World Cup, and Nicolas Lodeiro has shown signs of coming out of his slumber in recent weeks. Just like Toronto, Brian Schmetzer’s men have no choice but to begin their playoff chase on Saturday, when Vancouver comes to town.

Full weekend schedule

Atlanta United vs. D.C. United — 3:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Vancouver Whitecaps — 4 p.m. ET
Chicago Fire vs. Toronto FC — 7 p.m. ET
Philadelphia Union vs. LA Galaxy — 7 p.m. ET
New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution — 7 p.m. ET
Columbus Crew SC vs. Orlando City SC — 7:30 p.m. ET
Houston Dynamo vs. FC Dallas — 9 p.m. ET
Real Salt Lake vs. Colorado Rapids — 10 p.m. ET
Portland Timbers vs. Montreal Impact — 11 p.m. ET
Minnesota United vs. Los Angeles FC — 7 p.m. ET (Sunday)