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Paco Alcacer making most of 2nd chance with Spain

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Close to seeing his career stagnate, Paco Alcacer is making the most of a second chance to become Spain’s top striker.

Alcacer scored twice in his first appearance for Spain in two-and-a-half years to lead a 4-1 away win at Wales in a friendly last week.

[ MORE: Salah injury update ]

On Monday, the former Barcelona player will likely feature again when Spain hosts England in Seville seeking a second win over Gareth Southgate‘s team in the incipient Nations League.

“I’m happy that I was able to help the team by doing what we strikers are supposed to, which is provide goals,” Alcacer said after Thursday’s match in Cardiff. “I just have to keep this good dynamic going.”

The 25-year-old Alcacer has been rejuvenated since leaving Barcelona on loan for Borussia Dortmund in August, a turnaround that has ended a hiatus from Spain’s national team that was in danger of becoming a permanent adios.

Previous to his two goals for Spain against Wales, Alcacer had scored seven times in a four-match scoring run for Dortmund. That streak included netting a spectacular hat trick that he completed on the last kick of the game for a 4-3 win over Augsburg.

Ironically, Alcacer’s slide toward oblivion at Barcelona began under current Spain coach Luis Enrique when he was condemned to a reserve role behind the superstar trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez in 2016-17.

Not even Neymar’s departure at the start of last season changed the situation at Camp Nou for Alcacer. Favoring other players, new coach Ernesto Valverde gave him fewer appearances than Luis Enrique.

So Alcacer decided that his best option was to leave Spain and try his luck in Germany.

And it turned out that Alcacer just needed a chance to play.

With his brace against Wales, Alcacer showed his leading quality as a striker. He is not the fastest, the strongest, nor the slickest passer; he is a pure goal scorer who excels at putting one-touch shots in-between the posts.

Against Wales, Alcacer fired a rising right-footed shot into the near corner for the lead- and his first goal with Spain since Oct. 2015. He then put the win beyond doubt by poaching a clearance in the area to make it 3-0.

“Alcacer is playing superbly because he is on a scoring streak, but overall his attitude has been marvelous,” said Luis Enrique, who called Alcacer up to fill the void left by the injured Diego Costa.

Alcacer was not supposed to need a comeback story.

Four years ago, former Spain manager Vicente del Bosque considered Alcacer, along with Alvaro Morata, as his strikers of the future. The then Valencia player led Spain in qualifying for the 2016 European championship with five goals, but when he struggled to score for his club in the run-up to the tournament Del Bosque dropped him from his squad.

Banished to the bench following his move to Barcelona from Valencia, Alcacer was also ignored by Julen Lopetegui in his two-year tenure that took Spain to last summer’s World Cup.

Circumstances, however, have put Alcacer in good position to now succeed for “La Roja.”

While competition remains fierce in the positions of midfielder and playmaker for Spain, the striker job is up for grabs.

Long gone are the days when David Villa and Fernando Torres flourished up front for the 2010 world champions, as both Costa and Morata have failed to show they can be counted on for goals.

Alcacer said that he had been preparing for this return to his best form.

“It’s about several things,” he said, “about getting on a hot streak, about self-confidence, about having playing time, and, above all, about working each day when you are not playing so you can be ready.”

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

Fernandez scores twice as Portland wins thriller in Seattle (video)

AP Photo/Ted S. Warren
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The game in 200 words (or less): Brian Fernandez has made the most of his first two-plus months in MLS, undoubtedly capped off by a star’s performance in his Timbers-Sounders rivalry debut on Sunday. The Argentine scored both of Portland’s goals in a 2-1 victory at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, all while managing to annoy anyone and everyone in Rave Green with his pest-like antics.

Fernandez’s first came after just 20 minutes. His second came barely 20 seconds after Raul Ruidiaz drew Seattle level in the second half. With the result, Portland climbs to within two points of the Western Conference’s seventh and final playoff place. Seattle, meanwhile, misses out on a chance to leapfrog LA Galaxy for second.

[ MORE: Pity proves his point as Atlanta tops DCU late (video) ]

Three moments that mattered

20′ — Fernandez slams home after Moreira smashes the crossbar — Jorge Moreira’s initial blast deserved to hit the back of the net, but he’ll surely settle for Fernandez cleaning up the mess and bagging the opener.

50′ — Ruidiaz passes into an empty net for 1-1 — Steve Clark was trying to… hmm, you know what? Not really sure.

51′ — Fernandez answers right back and it’s 2-1 — It was the deftest of touches, but it’s all that was required seconds after Portland conceded down the other end of the field.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Brian Fernandez

Goalscorers: Fernandez (20′, 51′), Ruidiaz (50′)

Red Bulls escape Orlando with three points (video)

AP Photo/John Raoux
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The game in 200 words (or less): The New York Red Bulls needed a little help from the woodwork to escape Orlando with a victory on Sunday, and they got it — not once, not twice, but three times in the second half. After scoring the game’s only goal just past the half-hour mark, Luis Robles and Co., held on for dear life as Orlando City SC attacked with wave after wave of pressure. Robles made four saves, while the posts and crossbar made three more for him. Brian White scored the goal, assisted by Kaku, his seventh of the season. The victory sees the Red Bulls climb past New York City FC for fourth place in the Eastern Conference, now just a point back of D.C. United in third and two back of Atlanta United in second.

[ MORE: Pity proves his point as Atlanta tops DCU late (video) ]

Three moments that mattered

32′ — White finishes Kaku’s curling ball — Brian Rowe is unlucky not to make the save, but it would have been a grave crime against brilliance for this ball from Kaku not to result in a goal.

60′ — Ascues hits the crossbar — Woodwork.

77′ — Kljestan smashes the post — Woodwork again. The follow-up accidentally hits Robles as he’s lying on the ground.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Luis Robles/posts and crossbar

Goalscorers: White (32′)

Sevilla score late winner to beat Liverpool in Fenway friendly

AP Photo/Mary Schwalm
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BOSTON (AP) Alejandro Pozo scored in the 90th minute on an assist from Munir El Haddadi to give hard-fighting Sevilla a victory over crowd favorite Liverpool at Fenway Park on Sunday in a game that was friendly in name only.

The Spanish side finished with 10 players after Gnagnon Joris violently kicked the legs out from under Liverpool midfielder Yasser Larouci in the 76th minute; he crashed to the turf, remained down for several minutes and was taken off on a stretcher.

Despite temperatures in the mid-90s, nearly the entire 37,000-seat ballpark was full for the friendly, with most of them dressed in red to support Liverpool. The Champions League winners and the Boston Red Sox, who make their home at Fenway, are both owned by groups led by financier John Henry.

The field was laid out from the third-base side to right field, with the home team bullpen removed to make room. The teams had their benches in front of the iconic Green Monster, the 37-foot wall in left field. Much of the baseball diamond itself was covered with sod; the pitcher’s mound was sawed apart and shoveled off after the Red Sox finished their homestand on Sunday.

After the U.S. national anthem, the fans serenaded the Reds with the traditional “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

To deal with the heat, the game was stopped once each half to give the players a chance to hydrate; the Fenway grounds crew also came out with hoses to wet down the infield, and sprinklers took care of the outfield.

The fans didn’t get to see many of their favorites, with Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane and Roberto Firmino all resting from international tournaments, along with goalkeeper Alisson. With Liverpool’s top four goalkeepers unavailable, Andy Longergan, who spent the last season at Middlesbrough, got the start in goal.

Liverpool dominated early, but it was Sevilla that scored first when a ball deflected in the penalty area to Nolito, who made it 1-0 in the 37th minute. Divock Origi tied it in the 44th minute when a header deflected to him at the post and he buried it.

The players on the field – at least those in Sevilla’s white kits – didn’t seem to be persuaded that the game was only an exhibition. A tough tackle in the 12th minute resulted in a foul on Ever Banega, and it was upgraded to a yellow card when he slammed the ball into the ground in protest.

Liverpool midfielder Harry Wilson left just before the half after apparently getting poked in the eye. But that was nothing compared to the straight red card given to Joris. He seemed to be the only person in the stadium who disagreed with the call, arguing with the referee while Larouci was attended to.

The teams substituted liberally at halftime, with every Liverpool player except Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced by a substitute. Four Sevilla players stayed in to start the second half.

Red-hot Revs beat FC Cincy, make it 10 games unbeaten (video)

AP Photo/Steven Senne
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The game in 200 words (or less): Statistically speaking, no other team even comes close to rivaling the New England Revolution as the hottest team in MLS. With a 2-0 road victory over expansion side FC Cincinnati on Sunday, Bruce Arena’s side hasn’t lost in 10 games (nine of which have been played since he was named head coach) and now sits above the playoff cut line in the Eastern Conference. At present, two points separate them and fourth-place New York City FC. Carles Gil has been a revelation as a new signing last winter, and Arena has gotten so much more out of the rest of the remaining roster than Brad Friedel did during his 15 months in charge. Gil scored what turned out to be the early winner on Sunday, followed by an insurance goal (set up by Gil) from Antonio Delamea early in the second half. It was as routine as a road victory can be in MLS, which is as much of an indictment of Cincinnati as it is a compliment to the Revs.

[ MORE: Pity proves his point as Atlanta tops DCU late (video) ]

Two moments that mattered

9′ — Gil cleans up a mess and makes it 1-0 — Sometimes, if not most of the time, Cincinnati defends exactly how you would expect an expansion team to defend.

55′ — Delamea heads home for 2-0 — Headed goals don’t come much easier, or less contested, than this one.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Carles Gil

Goalscorers: Gil (9′), Delamea (55′)