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Wayne Rooney hails ‘special’ England farewell vs. U.S.

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Wayne Rooney‘s one-off return for the English national team has caused plenty of uproar but the Three Lions legend is focused on one thing: saying thanks.

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Rooney, 33, will make his 120th and final appearance for England against the U.S. men’s national team at Wembley on Thursday, in a fixture renamed the “Wayne Rooney Foundation International” as he is expected to come on as a second half sub.

A year after announcing his retirement from the international game (as England’s all-time leading goalscorer with 53 goals), Rooney has been granted an opportunity to say thanks to the England fans by current boss Gareth Southgate and the FA.

Speaking to reporters from England’s St. George’s Park training base on Tuesday, the current D.C. United striker believes this will be the perfect chance for him to say goodbye and he will wear the captains armband with pride if the opportunity arrives.

“I only knew it was going to happen a couple of weeks ago. Whether or not I would take part it was not confirmed but once we spoke with Gareth Southgate and the FA we felt it was the right game to do it and it’ll be a special moment,” Rooney said. “We both came to an understanding and we both felt the best thing was to take part. It will be my last game. My form has been good in the States and if I got called up because of that then it would be a different situation, but this will be my last game. If Harry Kane handed over the captain’s armband then great but the important thing is not wearing the armband, wearing number 10 or playing 90 minutes, it is to pull the shirt on again and that will be a special moment.”

Whatever your stance on Rooney’s return to action for England and whether or not it diminishes the value of a cap or this friendly altogether, you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve a special sendoff. Many suggest he’s blocking the pathway for young talent, while others believe it is a nice gesture from the FA to honor his legendary 13-year England career.

“Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The most important thing is, speaking to the FA, we thought it was right, and the players I’ve spoken to think it’s right,” Rooney said. “As a country we haven’t done anything like this before but I hope that in 10-15 years’ time we’re doing it for someone like Harry Kane, who could go on to get the goalscoring record.”

With his retirement coming over 12 months ago, Rooney explained that the FA have been talking to him about some sort of farewell for a while but a viable solution wasn’t found ahead of the 2018 World Cup.

“We were speaking with the FA. We had stayed in contact, we have had the idea for 12 months. We were going to do a game before the World Cup but it was not the right timing,” Rooney said. “The players were preparing for the biggest tournament in football. Personally I didn’t think it was right to get in the way of that. We both felt it was right now though.”

Reports suggest an extra 20,000 tickets have been sold for the match against the USMNT since Rooney’s return was confirmed, but it does feel like having him on the pitch to collect some sort of trophy and then maybe going on a lap of honor before the game would have been more fitting.

The fact he still plays at a high level and was in the Premier League and in England squads last season, plus had great success in his first few months at D.C. United, makes this situation a little different and a little more complex.

Yet due to England not taking this friendly with the USMNT that seriously — they play Croatia in a crucial UEFA Nations League game on Sunday — this opportunity for Rooney to say farewell has presented itself.

Rooney has shown this season, his debut campaign in Major League Soccer, that he can still score goals and impact games and who would bet against him jumping off the bench and scoring one more time for England? The odds on him to score at any time against the country where he currently plays his club soccer stand at around 21/20 with the UK bookmakers.

There is one more opportunity for Rooney to make a name for himself on home soil, but he claims he isn’t interested in scoring one last time.

“It’s not important,” Rooney said. “It’d be nice, but the main thing is to run out at Wembley one last time and have the opportunity to thank the fans for the years they’ve supported me.”

Arsenal’s Mkhitaryan to miss Europa League final

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Arsenal’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be available to play in the UEFA Europa League final against Chelsea.

The final on May 29 is being held in Baku, Azerbaijan and that country has no diplomatic relations with the country of Mkhitaryan’s birth, Armenia. Hence, Arsenal cannot guarantee the safety of their playmaker who is also the captain of the Armenian national team.

Despite the ambassador assuring Mkhitaryan will be safe, the Gunners have decided he will not be able to travel with the squad over those safety concerns.

“We are very disappointed to announce that Henrikh Mkhitaryan will not be travelling with the squad for our Uefa Europa League final against Chelsea,” the north London club said in a statement.

Due their conflict over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, tensions are high between Azerbaijan and Armenia and Mkhitaryan did not travel for Arsenal’s Europa League game against Qarabag in Azerbaijan earlier this season.

He will now not be available for the final despite being a key part of Arsenal’s run to the Europa League final, which they must win to qualify for the UEFA Champions League next season. UEFA had previously said they would help with the situation, but this is the latest problem in holding the final in Baku as only 5,000 fans of both Chelsea and Arsenal are expected in the 67,000 capacity stadium due to their being no direct flights and other issues getting to Azerbaijan.

Arsenal released the following statement on the situation regarding Mkhitaryan.

We have thoroughly explored all the options for Micki to be part of the squad but after discussing this with Micki and his family we have collectively agreed he will not be in our travelling party. We have written to Uefa expressing our deep concerns about this situation. Micki has been a key player in our run to the final so this is a big loss for us from a team perspective.

We’re also very sad that a player will miss out on a major European final in circumstances such as this, as it is something that comes along very rarely in a footballer’s career. Micki will continue to be part of our preparations until we depart for Baku at the weekend.

Mkhitaryan responded by saying “it hurts a lot” to miss the final, but added that “we had to take the tough decision for me not to travel with the squad.”

Bologna draws 3-3 at Lazio to secure Serie A safety

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ROME (AP) Bologna secured Serie A football for another season after drawing at Lazio 3-3 in a thriller on Monday.

Bologna moved four points clear of the relegation zone with one match remaining.

Lazio was still celebrating winning the Italian Cup midweek and Joaquin Correa fired the capital side in front in the 13th minute.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

However, two goals in the space of a minute from Andrea Poli and Mattia Destro saw Bologna take the lead early in the second half.

Bastos curled in a stunning effort to level for Lazio in the 59th but Riccardo Orsolini restored Bologna’s lead shortly after.

Substitute Sergej Milinkovic-Savic secured a draw for Lazio with a sensational free kick 10 minutes from time.

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

Choosing a USMNT XI for the Gold Cup

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Noting that most positions on the international stage are up for grabs based on form, there are special opportunities on the wing, right back, and center back when it comes to the USMNT at the Gold Cup this summer.

That’s because of two related things, one fact and one close to it:

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

  1. DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks are missing from the lineup due to injury. Brooks is easily the Yanks’ No. 1 center back, and Yedlin is a right back when Tyler Adams is unavailable and good enough that Gregg Berhalter tries to shoehorn him in at right wing when Adams is manning that spot.
  2. Mexico’s the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament with more in-form club players in Europe than the U.S., including would-be Premier League Best XI forward Raul Jimenez of Wolves. And who’s going to have to deal with Raul? You guessed it, the big American center backs.

Presuming Berhalter is still wed to Adams as the part-fullback, part distributing midfielder role, that has our lineup for important Gold Cup matches with few sure things.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — XXXXX — XXXXX — XXXXX

McKennie — Bradley

XXXXX — Pulisic — XXXXX

Altidore

Now you may not like that I’ve assumed Bradley and Altidore’s places here, but there’s little doubt both are still quite capable against CONCACAF competition and also have the experience in this exact competition and against Mexico. Surely both are motivated for a bit of redemption as well.

Friendlies against Jamaica and Venezuela will give Berhalter a chance to try out players like Tyler Boyd, Marlon Fossey, and Miles Robinson should they impress amongst a 40-player field (although the Jamaica match on June 5 in Washington, D.C. is a day before the final rosters are due for the Gold Cup).

Now what we are trying to solve here is who is the best bet to help the Yanks win the dang thing.

Defenders: Aaron Long, Matt Miazga, and Tim Ream are the favorites to start at the two center back spots and left back, but Daniel Lovitz will try to push Ream after a rough season at Fulham. Both Walker Zimmerman and Omar Gonzalez are in good form, and you can bet Berhalter will give Cameron Carter-Vickers a chance to earn some time. A flat back four role gives Antonee Robinson hope in place of Ream, and if Adams moves into the midfield, Nick Lima did alright in his right back role in January.

Midfielders/Wingers: The spots around Pulisic should be filled by those who can keep the width of the field but also serve somewhat as enforcers for the No. 10. Sebastian Lletget gives them a good shot on one side, and Paul Arriola provides a similar spot. While Joe Gyau, Josh Sargent, Duane Holmes, and Djordje Mihailovic can hope to challenge, the MLS vets with experience outside the country are good bets to get the gigs.

Zack Steffen (if healthy)

Adams — Miazga — Long — Ream

McKennie — Bradley

Arriola — Pulisic — Lletget

Altidore

Does that get the job done against Mexico? Probably not, but it’ll give Tata Martino’s men a hassle.

Report: Man City could use Gabriel Jesus to get Rodri

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At the root of this report is a question to which we don’t know the answer: How highly does Pep Guardiola rate Gabriel Jesus?

A report from Spanish outlet AS says Guardiola could use his young striker to lure Atletico Madrid into a swap deal, landing Manchester City their stirring defensive midfielder Rodri.

[ MORE: Players to watch at U-20 World Cup ]

Rodri is a nearly year older than 22-year-old Jesus, and is more instrumental to his current club. One of Atletico Madrid’s top talents, his $78 million release clause is an obvious route for City.

If Guardiola doesn’t see Jesus as a huge part of the club’s future, however, the manager may be able to go nearly like-for-like money-wise.

Jesus scored nearly every other game for City in all competitions, nabbing 21 goals in 47 matches, and has 13 goals in 27 caps for Brazil. Those are good numbers, especially with still-electric Sergio Aguero turning 31 this summer.

At his relatively tender age, Jesus has appeared 100 times for Man City and his 45 goals are made more impressive by less than 5600 total minutes in those matches.

Giving up on him to complete his midfield is a tough one. We think it’s more likely Guardiola pays the release clause… unless the manager simply doesn’t rate the player.