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Cazorla overcomes odds, returns to field after 21 months

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Santi Cazorla was facing the prospect of never walking again.

Now, he’s back where he belongs.

Cazorla made his incredible return to soccer 636 days after his last match, coming off the bench in Villarreal’s first preseason match of the season, a 1-1 draw with Hercules. Between his last game and now, Cazorla had to endure eight (8!) operations on his Achillies tendon, an infection to the tendon and his leg, and nearly two years on the sidelines as he contemplated and worried if he would ever play again.

[READ: Man United draws with Club America]

After years as a top player and 77 caps for the Spanish National Team, Cazorla is thankful to just put on his shirt and boots for a game.

 “To feel like a football player is very special,” Cazorla told Villarreal’s website. “Without a doubt, I stay with the affection of the people throughout this period. The fans have given me strength and accompanied me during difficult times. “

Cazorla’s last official game was on October 19, 2016 for Arsenal in a 6-0 UEFA Champions League drubbing of Bulgarian side Ludogorets. Cazorla played the first 57 minutes of the match but just before then, he picked up a knock to his right Achilles tendon and then-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger quickly pulled him from the match.

What was thought to be just a three-week spell on the sidelines turned into a nightmare. The 33-year-old midfielder detailed to Marca in 2017 that multiple surgeries to his Achilles tendon failed to heal, and by December 2016 doctors learned his leg was infected, which is understandable considering he had an open wound for two months.

Doctors in England said that if he could walk again, “he should be satisfied,” leading Cazorla to look for a second opinion in his native Spain. Although bacteria had reportedly eaten eight centimeters of his tendon, Dr. Mikel Sanchez of Vitoria led tendon reconstruction surgery and helped Cazorla on his rehabilitation process as he learned how to walk again, slowly making his way back to the field.

It seems fitting, then, that after being removed in the 57th minute of his last game, Cazorla would enter the field once more in the 57th minute, finishing the match and building match fitness as he starts a new campaign with Villarreal.

“Sometimes I am too demanding,” Cazorla said. “I do not enjoy what I am living as I should. I have returned to training with my teammates and played a good football match. For me, that was unthinkable a little over 20 months ago. I just think about finding myself 100 percent again and being able to do what I like, which is to play football.

“My gratitude is maximum to all football fans. I have received endless signs of affection. Especially, of the fans of Villarreal CF. They have always remembered me during my stay at other clubs. I was always clear that my farewell to the Submarine was not a goodbye, but a see you later. I have never given up the possibility of returning and, now, I have that possibility. Hopefully we can enjoy and relive great moments like we did in the past.”

Lopetegui, Casemiro, Marcelo react to Super Cup loss

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Real Madrid fell apart in extra time of the UEFA Super Cup on Wednesday, losing 4-2 at the hands of cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid.

And new manager Julen Lopetegui says it was not down to desire, even considering how many trophies Real has lifted in recent seasons.

[ MORE: Austin approves MLS stadium ]

“These players have won a lot of titles but I do not think that their hunger for titles was missing tonight,” he said. “Last year in La Liga things did not go right for them. We want to get the best out of the team and start picking ourselves up after losing this title. We were all excited for this trophy.”

Losing his first serious match doesn’t bode well for Lopetegui, though his club sold Cristiano Ronaldo, didn’t start Luka Modric, and still came close on Wednesday.

Marcelo didn’t want to talk about transfers.

‘”We need to change our mindset because we have a whole season ahead of us,” he said. “I don’t make the signings. The squad looks good to me. We are united as a group. We played a good game until extra time.”

Casemiro has his coach’s back.

“Any team is bound to miss Ronaldo,” he said. “He is a great player, but he left and we cannot talk about him now, the same with Zidane. We have to talk about the coach, Lopetegui, he is doing a great job. We did good things and we must improve other aspects. The players here are trying to do our best to win titles for Real Madrid.”

Rooney bags two more, including free kick (video)

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Wazza has done it again.

The 32-year-old DC United forward scored for his MLS side against the Portland Timbers, days after producing the tackle/cross heard ’round the world (or at least England and MLS).

Rooney’s perfect run met a terrific ball from Yamil Asad and restored a deadlock between the two sides.

[ MORE: Austin approves MLS stadium ]

And this one, well, it doesn’t need much explanation (except to ask if the walls and goalkeeping in MLS are that substandard?

Report: NISA to join USL D-III in applying for USSF sanctioning

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The National Independent Soccer Association will join the USL D-III in applying for Division III sanction from United States Soccer Federation sanctioning by the Sept. 1 deadline for Fall 2019 play, according to Soc Takes.

The nascent league has been quiet since founder Peter Wilt left his post in order to run the new USL D-III side in Madison, Wisconsin.

[ MORE: Austin approves MLS stadium ]

The report says there will be as many 10 clubs, and that the league will utilize the European soccer calendar.

Where will the teams be, Soc Takes has some clues:

Soc Takes was previously provided a list of eight cities with their identities embargoed. Three of those cities were in California, while the other five were spread across the country. NISA may have “As many as 10” teams in their application. The source remains confident of a submitting a successful application.

Soccer in America is going to be a complicated follow soon, as NISA is one of at least three groups attempting to compete against the very strong MLS-USL-USL3-PDL alliance. Get your proverbial popcorn ready.

Porter: I should be “in the mix” for USMNT job after Vermes

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Caleb Porter is feeling recharged after a season away from soccer, and would be interested in the United States men’s national team job if the federation is interested in hiring him.

The Athletic’s Paul Tenorio spoke with Porter about leaving Portland, his decision to decline the Orlando City job, and the vacant USMNT.

[ MORE: Austin approves MLS stadium ]

As for his level of interest, the canny operator only put the thinnest veneer on it. Look no further than his endorsing Peter Vermes, who has signed a new Sporting KC deal since the American job opened up. From The Athletic:

“If you’re going American, Peter Vermes, for me, he is the guy that deserves the shot,” Porter says. “I believe that. That guy deserves to carry the torch of our national team. Peter Vermes, in my opinion, based on what he’s done in our league, he’s proven it as an American coach. If you don’t go with Peter Vermes, I think, based on what I’ve proven, I’m in the mix with another two or three guys who deserve consideration and I’d be open to talking.”

Porter says he doesn’t know what his next job is, though he’s assumed it will be in club soccer, and used some salty language to say there’s only job he wouldn’t take: Portland’s Cascadian rival, the Seattle Sounders.

The club that lands the MLS Cup and NCAA College Cup winner will have a fantastic and inspired coach, but let’s hope that USMNT general manager Earnie Stewart goes in a different direction. Porter may ultimately succeed in such a role, but already carries USSF baggage after failing to lead the U.S. U-23s into the Olympics before he took the Portland job.