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Wayne Rooney gets fitting farewell

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LONDON — Wayne Rooney‘s incredible, if not fairytale, England career had a fitting farewell.

It was, in many ways, as wonderfully subdued as the general demeanor of the all-time leading goalscorer for England and Manchester United. It oozed class in front of nearly 70,000 fans at the home of soccer.

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Winning his 120th and final cap in a one-off comeback 3-0 win against the U.S. men’s national team on Thursday, England’s fans screamed “shoooooot!” every time Rooney touched the ball after coming on in the 58th minute. Instead he tried to set up others whenever he could, but he did come close as he beat two defenders but his low shot was saved by Brad Guzan, then moments before the final whistle he threw himself at a cross he couldn’t quite get on the end of.

That would have been too perfect of a finale for a laidback lad from Liverpool.

As he disappeared down the Wembley tunnel one last time as a player, most of the fans had already gone. But Rooney applauded those that stayed and then looked on wistfully around the Wembley pitch one last time before he spoke about his farewell.

“It’s my opinion that England are in very safe hands from what I’ve seen this week,” Rooney said. “The way they are being coached is brilliant, it’s a great group of young players who have a bright future. They will go close to being the next team to bring a trophy back for England… I’ve had my time, I can sit back and watch them now.”

Again, classy. Just like the entire night was as he was welcomed onto the pitch with a guard of honor and had his kids alongside him as chants of “Rooney, Rooney” cascaded down from the stands.

To put the magnitude of his glittering career into context, Rooney’s 120 caps were more than England’s entire starting lineup combined.

Rooney, 33, made his England debut when he was 17 and up until last year he carried the hopes of soccer’s home nation on his shoulders year after year.  In truth, he made every English youngster dream that they could follow in his footsteps as a homegrown Premier League star and an England hero.

When Rooney stepped out onto the pitch in his famous number 10 jersey as a second half sub, he was handed the armband and it seemed all so familiar to see him strolling around Wembley as if he was playing in his local park.

It is clear he was more than just a player to his teammates and opponents. For an entire generation around the world, he was an example of what could be achieved when pure hard work meets incredible skill.

His goals, his guile, his drive, Rooney had everything in his early years to suggest he was the man who could end the heartbreak of 1966. England’s wait for a trophy goes on.

England’s all-time leading goalscorer will always be criticized for not leading the Three Lions to glory, but the Liverpudlian seemed to be the right man at the wrong time.

It’s intriguing to think about what would be if Rooney was born 15 years later. There’s no doubt that his cerebral brilliance, his sublime weight of pass and clever flicks would still have a place in the game today, but the pace and power of this England attacking line suggest August 2017 was the right time for him to step away from the international game.

Youngsters like Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane, Jesse Lingard and Dele Alli are tasked with trying to lead the Three Lions to silverware and as Rooney said, the no. 5 team on the planet look set to do just that.

As a team, England never hit the heights they should have with Rooney as their leader. The numerous penalty kick agonies for Rooney and the “golden generation” were backed up by his untimely injuries before big tournaments, that red card against Portugal at the 2006 World Cup and his meltdown in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup.

His relationship with England fans, the media and everyone in-between has been tumultuous over the past decade or so but Rooney has always done one thing: turn up and give his all for his country.

Look at the way Harry Kane, Gareth Southgate and the current England squad laud his ability, his quality not only as a player but as a person.

Rooney was thrust into the spotlight as a teenager and was expected to be a leader. A few hiccups off the pitch over the years suggests he just wants to be normal. That he was always a reluctant superstar who wanted to be one of the lads watching England play down the pub.

One moment sticks in my mind when summing up Rooney’s understated demeanor that was showcased fittingly in his England farewell.

Last year I attended a Football Writers’ Association tribute dinner for Rooney at the swanky Savoy hotel in London. As I walked down a corridor, Rooney was walking towards me and with his hands in the pockets of his tux. He looked more uncomfortable than a linebacker performing ballet. I simply said, “congrats on the award, mate!” Rooney replied, “thanks, mate” and smiled as he put his head down, took a deep breath and then walked back into the main ballroom at the Savoy, where 300-plus adoring fans and industry giants were waiting to hear him speak as many stood in a huge line for photos and a chat with him.

What I wanted to say, as an Englishman who remembers watching Rooney in his debut Premier League season when we were both teenagers, was, “no, thank you.” Thanks for for giving us the opportunity to watch your fantastic goals, surging runs and bulldozing of defenders for club and country. Thanks for making every young lad in England dream and somehow believe they could emulate your play in one small way or another.

Even if he wasn’t his scene to attend fancy dinners and sit down for hours talking to the media, Rooney has grown into his ambassadorial role over the years with both England and Man United. So much so that he is now seen as a true role model to younger professionals on how to continue a relentless pursuit of perfection.

He was England’s main hope for his entire career. Now, that time has come and gone. Rooney got the farewell he deserved on Thursday against the U.S. men’s national team and after seeing him suffer and succeed for England, the fans were united in applauding a legend off the pitch one final time.

Rooney’s place in the pantheon of soccer greats is secure and the reception he received at Wembley, the home of soccer, underlined how much he has been admired. It also reflected what he always wanted: to be admired as a player who always did his best for his country.

USMNT’s Arriola likely will miss MLS season, six World Cup qualifiers

Paul Arriola
AP Photo/LM Otero
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WASHINGTON (AP) D.C. United midfielder Paul Arriola had major knee surgery Monday and likely will miss the entire Major League Soccer season and the United States’ first six qualifying matches for the 2022 World Cup

The operation was to reconstruct his right anterior cruciate ligament. The team said there was no additional cartilage damage.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The 25-year-old midfielder injured his knee Feb. 15 during D.C. United’s preseason match against Orlando in Tampa, Florida.

Arriola has been a regular starter for the U.S. national team under coach Gregg Berhalter. Arriola has five goals in 33 international appearances.

After failing to reach the 2018 World Cup, the U.S. starts qualifying for the 2022 tournament this year. The Americans have two matches each in September, October and November, then complete qualifying with two games apiece in March and September 2021.

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

State of play in CONCACAF Champions League

CONCACAF Champions League
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Four of five Major League Soccer clubs alive in the CONCACAF Champions League Round of 16 are in fine shape to reach the quarterfinals after one leg.

The fifth has a tall hill to climb.

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LAFC trails Club Leon by two and did not collect an away goal in Mexico during first leg play last week.

“It’s 2-0, but we’re going to work hard,” said LAFC attacker Latif Blessing. “We’re going to prepare ourselves to win the next game. … We did good, but we want to win. It couldn’t happen that way but we’re going to prepare next game to win this game. We need to win.”

The second leg in L.A. is one of the last two matches of the round, kicking off at 10 p.m. ET Thursday just as Seattle Sounders square off with Olimpia.

The Honduran side managed a controversial comeback in the 2-2 draw with Jordan Morris-fueled Seattle last week, but the Sounders will be happy to have those two away goals and home field.

Montreal Impact has the same situation for Deportivo Saprissa’s visit at 8 p.m. ET Wednesday, while Atlanta United scored an away goal in a draw with Motagua and hosts the visitors from Honduras’ capital at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday.

That leaves us with NYCFC, who got a Heber hat trick amongst five away goals at Costa Rican side San Carlos in a 5-3 win. The second leg begins at 6 p.m. ET Wednesday at Red Bull Arena (yes, you read that correctly).

Elsewhere, Liga MX sides don’t have it much better. Cruz Azul leads Portmore 2-1 heading back to Mexico, while Club America scored an away goal in a draw with Comunicaciones.

Finally, Tigres UANL trails 2-1 after one leg with Alianza in El Salvador.

CCL second leg schedule
all times ET

Atlanta United v. Motagua (1-1) — 8 p.m. Tuesday
Cruz Azul v. Portmore United (2-1) — 10 p.m. Tuesday
NYCFC v. San Carlos (5-3) — 6 p.m. Wednesday
Montreal Impact v. Deportivo Saprissa (2-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tigres UANL v. Alianza (1-2) — 8 p.m. Wednesday
Club America v. Comunicaciones (1-1) — 10 p.m. Wednesday
Seattle Sounders v. Olimpia (2-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday
LAFC v Leon (0-2) — 10 p.m. Thursday

Eleven to go: Ranking obstacles on Liverpool’s unbeaten path

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Liverpool has won all five of its matches since the last time we evaluated its path to an unbeaten Premier League season.

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Those matches were ranked 14th, 12th, 11th, 10th, and 4th on our first rankings of obstacles to immortality, so very little of the heavy lifting has been conducted.

Let’s get something out of the way: If Liverpool is unable to overturn their first leg deficit against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League, you can probably etch that zero in the league loss column into stone.

That said, many expect the Reds to overcome that 1-0 disadvantage from Madrid, so here’s where we slot the difficulties moving forward.

Unranked — Crystal Palace at home (March 21) and Brighton away (April 18) — Both of these dates are very easy on the eyes, but will be moved if Liverpool is alive in the FA Cup.

9. Newcastle away, time TBD May 17 — We’re now calling this the easiest date left. Klopp’s men aren’t going to lose an unbeaten season at the altar just because Steve Bruce bunkers down. St. James’ Park is a hassle, but

8. Watford away, 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday Klopp probably feels like he’s already playing with house money in the FA Cup, so there’s no reason to think he’ll hand any priority at all to the following FA Cup meeting with Chelsea.

7. Bournemouth home, 7:30 a.m. ET March 7 Situated between Chelsea in the FA Cup and the home UCL second leg versus Atleti, it’s not easy…  but the Cherries have given us less reason to believe they’ll threaten the Reds than any other team besides Newcastle.

6. Aston Villa home, 11:30 a.m. ET April 12Dean Smith‘s desperate Villans will have Villa Park rocking before Liverpool’s possible UCL quarterfinals 2nd leg days later.

5. Burnley home, 7:30 a.m. ET April 25 — Taking place just before a possible UCL quarterfinal first leg, Burnley will try to trouble the Reds in a similar manner to West Ham.

4. Chelsea home, time TBD May 9 — Both the Blues and Reds could be coming off UCL semifinal second legs. Don’t forget that Chelsea took the Reds to the wire in the UEFA Super Cup despite it being very early in Frank Lampard‘s tenure.

3. Arsenal away, time TBD May 2 — Both sides may be days away from needing a result to qualify for the UCL or UEL final.

2. Everton away, 4 p.m. ET March 16 — This may as well be the only match left on the Toffees’ docket that matters more than another, as Carlo Ancelotti and his men know the message they could send regarding the building up of Everton.

Not only that, but Everton has nothing else left to circle, no other competitions, nothing.

1. Man City away, 11:30 a.m. ET April 5 — Taking place 3-4 days before the UEFA Champions League quarterfinals and on the heels of an international break, it’s the lone date on the calendar that Liverpool won’t be heavy favorites to win.

Champions League: Chelsea, Napoli aim to slow Lewandowski, Messi

UEFA Champions League preview
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Four of the most dangerous attacks in Europe begin their UEFA Champions League Round of 16 ties on Tuesday.

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For Chelsea that means trying to find a way to limit the damage of away goals when Bayern Munich visits Stamford Bridge.

Of course, that means trying to slow lethal Robert Lewandowski. The 31-year-old Polish striker has scored 38 times in 32 appearances this season.

Here’s Frank Lampard, via Football.London:

Form of his life means something special with Lewandowski because of how well he’s been consistently in Europe for the last, how many years, I don’t know,” Lampard said. “Everything about him, from a distance, from afar, is just top class. Having the opportunity to watch a lot of Bayern in build-up to this game, that shines through. Of course, he’s going to be a huge threat. He’s not the only threat but he is a spearhead.”

Lampard points to the Blues work without the ball and away from it that will determine whether they can limit Lewandowski and Bayern.

“We traveled to Ajax and had a fantastic game off the ball,” he said. “We’ve had games like that this year in the league as well. But the levels have to go up.”

The Blues won’t have Christian Pulisic, Callum Hudson-Odoi, and N’Golo Kante, while Ruben Loftus-Cheek is finally available after a long injury absence. Pedro may play.

[ MORE: JPW’s score predictions ]

Tuesday’s other first leg sees Napoli hosting Barcelona, which means Gennaro Gattuso trying to find a way to cool down Lionel Messi.

The world’s top player scored four goals at the weekend and had six assists in his three previous La Liga outings.

Another player who’s helped Barcelona reclaim the league lead will be critical to controlling the midfield against Napoli, and that’s Frenkie de Jong.

The 22-year-old has had fits and starts at Barca, especially this month. He admits that he’s had an odd time adjusting to Messi, the teammate, though it hasn’t been part of the problem. From FCBarcelona.com:

“When I began training with him it was strange, because when I was 12, still in secondary school, I used to watch a lot of football. He was already the best in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or back then, so I was a fan, or whatever you want to call it.”

Napoli boss Gattuso was a bit more effusive when addressing Messi, via Football.Espana:

“I have read whether to make a cage or not, but we need the collective game to combat someone like him, and it is not just him,” Gattuso said. “He is the best in the world, for how he has lived his entire career. He is always perfect, never a misplaced word, he is an example for everyone. He does things that I only see on the PlayStation. He has an incredible quality and for years he has been the best of all-time.”

Both matches kick off at 3 p.m. ET Tuesday.