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USWNT: Tobin Heath’s time is here with World Cup looming

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PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) Less than a year ago, Tobin Heath lamented that being injured was the “worst thing in the whole entire world.”

Now healthy, the midfielder for the Portland Thorns and the U.S. national team looks like she’s having the time of her life.

[ MORE: Tim Howard part of group that now owns 5th-tier English club ]

“I feel like it’s been nice for me to be out on the field for a while now,” she said. “I always try to get better and better and improve my game. I never feel like I’ve reached it. I’m also in a great place to find my best form here in Portland. I’m supported by amazing people, so I get the freedom to be able to grow and improve as a player because of the people around me.”

Heath and the Thorns host a National Women’s Soccer League semifinal match against the Seattle Reign on Saturday. Portland went 12-6-6 this season to capture second place in the nine-team league, behind the North Carolina Courage.

The other semifinal, between the Courage and the Chicago Red Stars, was originally scheduled for Sunday in Cary, North Carolina, but because of Hurricane Florence it was moved to Tuesday night at Portland’s Providence Park. The championship game is set for Sept. 22 in Portland.

Heath spent the better part of last year dealing with injuries, and in January she had ankle surgery. The timing of the procedure was crucial because the national team needed a healthy Heath for World Cup qualifying this fall.

[ MORE: USMNT beats Mexico on Tyler Adams’ first int’l goal ]

She came back in late April and has since regained her form as one of the top players in the world. She ranks third on the Thorns with seven goals but leads her teammates with seven assists.

“Sometimes I zone out watching what she’s doing on the field and I have to get myself back into it,” said Lindsey Horan, Heath’s teammate on both the national team and the Thorns.

Heath has also had an impact on the national team so far this year as the United States prepares for World Cup qualifying in October and the chance to defend its title next year in France.

Known for her footwork and dribbling skills, Heath was the national team’s Player of the Year and the NWSL’s MVP in 2016.

She had a goal and two assists in the U.S. team’s last game, a 4-0 exhibition victory over Chile in San Jose, California, earlier this month.

Her play drew the praise of former teammate Heather O’Reilly.

Now 30, Heath made her debut with the senior national team in 2008. She’s a three-time Olympian, earning gold medals with the team in 2008 and 2012. If the United States makes the field for the 2019 World Cup in France, it will be her third.

[ MORE: What did we learn about USMNT this international break? ]

The match against Chile was her 138th appearance with the national team. She has 21 career goals and 33 assists. Since working her way back from injury, she has three goals and four assists as well as four straight starts.

Heath has been with her club team, the Thorns, since the NWSL’s first season in 2013. Portland won the league championship in the league’s inaugural year, then again last season.

She’d like to add another.

“I always say we’re a championship team, so we’re built for these types of moments,” she said. “The season has been interesting with all its ebbs and flows and different periods we went through together. But the team is strong and we’re collected. With that, I think there’s anything we can deal with.”

Carlos Vela scored a celestial goal. We are blessed to have seen it

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Carlos Vela is making all other spectacular individual MLS seasons look run of the mill.

I mean, look at the gumption on this guy.

[ VIDEO: Rooney sent off, Kamara scores golazo ]

The Cancun-born playmaker left the San Jose Earthquakes back line on the beach with a soft shoe routine to give LAFC its third goal in a 4-0 win on Thursday

Vela, 30, now has 25 goals and 11 assists in 25 league matches for LAFC this season. He added two goals and an assist in Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup play.

But this one, yeah, this one takes the cake.

First, there’s Vela’s non-chalant dummy before picking up the pass.

Then, there’s Florian Jungwirth’s body language during and after his being cooked with a nutmeg. That’s an entire mood.

Next, Vela dribbles around the keeper and allows a slide tackler so glide past him before finishing with aplomb, the magic touch his going near post as if to say, “Can I beat this guy a second time, or do I have to use the easier route?”

Diego Rossi also had a goal and an assist, while Mark-Anthony Kaye continued his strong season with an assist to ex-Fiorentina prospect Joshua Perez. It’s a first MLS goal for the California-born Perez, now 21.

WATCH: Rooney sees red for forearm shiver, Kamara scores golazo

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Midweek MLS provided plenty to talk about on Wednesday, with two red cards and a golazo in one match alone.

The two main talking points from the New York Red Bulls’ 2-1 win over DC United weren’t really part of what led the victors to three points.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

How? Well, one of the world’s marquee names earned a red card via VAR and a returning star scores an absolute stunner, that’s how.

Here’s Ola Kamara’s debut marker for the Black-and-Red, adding to a record which included 49 goals in 97 matches between Columbus and the LA Galaxy before moving to the Chinese Super League for a wildly disappointing time with Shenzhen FC.

All of that is forgotten.

As for the Rooney incident, the Red Bulls already led 1-0 when DC’s star striker went forearm shiver on Cristian Casseres Jr.

It’s the second red of the season for Rooney, who is set for Derby County in January.

Amro Tarek was later sent off for the Red Bulls, who moved ahead of DC in the standings. Kaku and Daniel Royer had RBNY’s goals.

Newcastle takeover could be back on if in holiday relegation battle

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How much do Newcastle United supporters dislike their owner Mike Ashley right now?

Enough that this report is likely to condemn many to hoping their favorite club in the world is in the Bottom 3 come Christmas.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

The Chronicle’s Mark Douglas speculates that Ashley will lower his asking price for the club if it is in a relegation fight come December — something that looks certain after the Steve Bruce-led Magpies got bossed around by promoted Norwich City.

Nothing But Newcastle transcribed Douglas’ chatter from his podcast, in which he says,

“It wouldn’t surprise me if we hear more in December because there are still people sniffing around that football club and if the team are in the bottom three, there’ll be people thinking they can get a bargain out of Mike Ashley again. … He will probably more open to listening to lower offers in January and December which is what happened last December. He was basically saying ‘take it off my hands, you now have to take the risk’'”

This is notable for two reasons. First: the social experiment of wondering how many fans could see themselves rooting for their team to take a major and perilous back step just to see the back of a man they perceive is at the root of their failures (and that perception is widespread in this case).

But second, we can see if this rumor comes true because it’s difficult to imagine Newcastle as comfortably mid table by Christmas.

Fan protests and anger are nothing new, but here’s an effort to show how wobbly Ashley’s reputation is on Tyneside: Fans have taken to selling a black and white striped shirt with player name and number but no sponsor just so they can have a Newcastle jersey that doesn’t put money into Ashley’s pockets. And this is after he broke the club’s transfer record twice in one year.

If we’ve learned anything from the past few seasons, though, it’s that boycotts and anger will spur Ashley into insisting that he’s willing to sell and just conveniently enough it will be before the January transfer window. He “won’t be able to buy any players” with the takeover in play, and talks will hit a wall come late January, when they’ll loan a couple young players from Top Six sides.

Yes he spent significant money on Joelinton, Allen Saint-Maximin, and others this summer, but one decent window doesn’t make a culture. Count us amongst the skeptical, for now.

Messi back in training, could be fit for Betis

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Lionel Messi was back in full training again on Wednesday and may be fit to face Real Betis in the Spanish league on Sunday.

Messi had been training separately from the squad since injuring his right calf in the preseason.

He missed the team’s 1-0 loss to Athletic Bilbao in the league opener on Friday.

Barcelona has not said how long it expects Messi to be sidelined.

[ MORE: Europa League preview ]

Coach Ernesto Valverde is also dealing with injuries to forwards Luiz Suarez and Ousmane Dembele.

Dembele is certain to miss Sunday’s match at the Camp Nou because of a left thigh injury that should keep him out for about five weeks.

Suarez also isn’t likely to play this weekend because of a muscle injury sustained before halftime of Friday’s game in Bilbao.

Two-time defending champion Barcelona hadn’t loss a league opener in 10 seasons.

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports