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NWSL: Sam Kerr focused on leading Red Stars to title

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BRIDGEVIEW, Ill. (AP) Sam Kerr sat down on a metal bench after taking a few extra shots after practice. Chicago Red Stars coach Rory Dames poked fun at her competitive streak, and Kerr just laughed it off.

If the Aussie star is on her way out of town, it was hard to tell on a picturesque summer afternoon in suburban Chicago. While speculation abounds about where Kerr might play next season, she is focused on leading the Red Stars to the franchise’s first NWSL title.

“I want to win the NWSL. I’ve never done it, and I love Chicago,” Kerr told The Associated Press. “The NWSL’s given me so much. I think it’s made me the player who I am.”

And that’s one of the world’s most dangerous attackers, capable of creating a prime scoring opportunity for herself or one of her teammates in seconds. It’s easy to see why Chelsea might be interested in bringing her to Europe, or why she might draw lucrative offers from Lyon or Real Madrid.

What Kerr decides to do about her future could be a major test for the NWSL after it saw renewed interest in the wake of the United States’ championship in the Women’s World Cup last month. While the top Americans play in the NWSL, the loss of a foreign star like the 25-year-old Kerr would be a blow to the league as it tries to grow in the coming years.

“The best players in the world are in this league,” Dames said, “and if you want to be one of the best players in the world, you need to come into this league and prove yourself, not prove yourself in leagues where the competition is a little different or the quality of the teams in the league from top to bottom are a little different.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why Sam has really excelled, is because a lot of the other perceived top players in the world I don’t think could have the success that they’re currently having where they are in this league.”

Taking in the whole picture like a defense unfurled in front of her, Kerr seems at ease with the discussion.

“I think there’s a lot of new women’s teams coming forward, and I think it’s just fans wanting me to go to their club,” she said. “It’s new teams, new fans, which is great. That’s what happens in the men’s game. The more talk about women’s football, the better.”

Kerr, who captained the Matildas in the World Cup, splits time between Chicago and the Perth Glory in Australia’s W-League. She is the all-time leading scorer in each league, and shows no signs of slowing down.

Kerr scored her NWSL-best 13th goal Wednesday night, but the Red Stars’ five-game win streak was snapped by a 2-1 loss at Sky Blue FC. She also led the NWSL in goals in each of the previous two seasons, including a league-record 17 in 2017 when she was the NWSL MVP and Golden Boot winner during her final season with Sky Blue.

With Kerr powering the attack and Chicago fully stocked once again after the World Cup, the Red Stars are second in the NWSL standings heading into this weekend, one point back of Portland and one clear of North Carolina.

“I think she’s just so dynamic,” said defender Katie Naughton, who also plays with Kerr in Australia. “Her movement on and off the ball is just something that you don’t necessarily see in the women’s game a lot.”

Kerr was acquired by Chicago in a three-team trade on draft day in January 2018 that also featured U.S. stars Carli Lloyd and Christen Press. Midfielder Nikki Stanton, Kerr’s longtime girlfriend, also moved to the Red Stars as part of the deal.

While the couple is competitive, Kerr said they know when to leave it back on the field.

“She kind of knows when I’ve had a bad game or when she’s had a bad game, and we don’t bring it up,” Kerr said. “It’s actually better, because it’s someone, you know when you talk to your parents and they say the wrong thing and annoy you, so we kind of know what to say to each other.”

Kerr, the youngest of four siblings, grew up in an Australia rules football family. Her father, Roger, and Daniel, one of her two brothers, played professionally. Soccer “was kind of seen as a little bit of a girls’ sport compared to an AFL game,” Sam Kerr said.

Sam started focusing on soccer after she had to stop playing AFL when she was 12 because there was no women’s league for the hard-hitting sport. The women have their own league now, and Kerr has received several offers from its teams over the years.

“It would be amazing to play AFL and maybe one year I will retire there,” she said, “but yeah, I’ve just grown to love football now. … I can’t see myself back there.”

Josef Martinez scores 2 more in win, including sensational solo work

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Josef Martinez scored his 25th and 26th goals of the MLS season, and if he challenges his MLS record of 31, he may also stare down soccer royalty.

The Venezuelan striker scored two more on Wednesday in a 2-0 defeat of FC Cincinnati in Ohio to give him goals in 15-straight league contests.

He now has 76 goals in 80 MLS games, which is good.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

On the season, he’s six goals shy of matching the Major League Soccer record he set with last season’s 31 regular season goals.

According to MLSSoccer.com, he’s six games shy of tying Lionel Messi’s world record for consecutive league matches with a goal.

Even that’s a little tricky: Messi scored in 21-straight games in which he was eligible for selection, but 19-straight before missing two matches for injury. In that remarkable run of 21, he also had a run of six-straight braces.

It’s not really worth it to attempt to compare the two streaks: If Martinez gets to 21 (or even 19), it’s amazing stuff and worth celebrating on a worldwide level. Everyone has a bad game every now and again, but Martinez still finds the score sheet in ’em.

Look at the magician’s tricks he used for this one, including a back heel first touch and two freeze-frame cut moves. That’s not even mentioning the finish.

USWNT announces final matches of World Cup-winning year

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CHICAGO (AP) The Women’s World Cup champion U.S. team will wrap up 2019 with matches against Sweden and Costa Rica.

U.S. Soccer announced Wednesday that the U.S. will face Sweden in Columbus, Ohio, on Nov. 7 and Costa Rica in Jacksonville, Florida, on Nov. 10.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

The team is wrapping up its World Cup victory tour next month with matches against South Korea on Oct. 3 in Charlotte, North Carolina, and on Oct. 6 in Chicago.

Coach Jill Ellis is stepping down following the match in Chicago after leading the team to a pair of consecutive World Cup titles.

The United States is 15-1-2 this year and currently riding a 14-game winning streak.

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

Report: Mane to get big raise, Liverpool contract through 2025

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Liverpool’s Senegalese sensation looks set to stay at Anfield deep into his 30s.

Sadio Mane is in talks with the Reds hierarchy over a new deal that will run through 2024-25, and pay him more than $15 million per season.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

Mane, 27, currently has a deal through 2023, but surely wouldn’t mind a raise. And Liverpool will be happy to tie him down on Merseyside a bit longer.

He’s scored six times in seven matches this season, also grabbing an assist. That’s on a better pace than his 26 goals and five assists over 50 appearances in 2018/19.

Mane has 70 Premier League goals at the moment. Do you tip him to eclipse 100 while still at Anfield? 125?

Europa League preview: Man Utd, Wolves, Arsenal begin group stage

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The Europa League begins its group stage on Thursday, with the three Premier League combatants taking on clubs from Kazakhstan, Portugal and Germany.

Manchester United’s kids are gonna get some playing time when Astana visits Old Trafford on Wednesday.

Teenager Mason Greenwood and 21-year-old Axel Tuanzebe will start, and Sergio Romero will be between the sticks.

[ MORE: Champions League wrap ]

And the Manchester Evening News notes that Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes could also start at Old Trafford, meaning the veterans in the fray will be quite important.

Enter Fred, the forgotten $68 million man from Shaktar Donetsk. The 23 minutes he played last week versus Leicester City account for his lone time on the pitch this season.

Here’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:

“I’m sure we’ll see more and more of Fred. We spoke about it earlier, he’s had some great games in midfield with Scott against PSG and Arsenal, for example, and we’re just waiting for that to flourish.”

Fred had an odd record under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last season, barely in the squad when the team started hot but trusted against PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League.

Speaking of little-used midfielders, Arsenal boss Unai Emery is getting a little grief for leaving Mesut Ozil behind for the Gunners’ trip to Germany for a big match with Eintracht Frankfurt.

Ozil made his first start of the season in Arsenal’s 2-2 draw with Watford at the weekend, playing 71 minutes and departing with the club up 2-1.

So why not even bring him abroad? Rest.

“Because we are going to play another match on Sunday,” Emery said, via The London Evening Standard. “My decision is because he played and also I’m thinking tomorrow the focus and the first 11 and after that I decided who are the players who can be the best for tomorrow and also the players not and that is Sokratis and Mesut.”

Sokrastis Papastathopoulos is also out, having played a big role in the embarrassing performance at Watford.

There have been tough times for Wolves as well, who sit in the relegation zone after five matches of the Premier League season.

They’ve been quite good in Europa League, though, dispatching a pair of minnows before winning both legs against Serie A side Torino.

Why the inconsistency? It’s not fixture congestion, according to Ruben Neves:

“I don’t think fatigue has anything to do with it, Neves said, via The Birmingham Mail. “We’re all top players, we’re used to it, we’re used to playing a lot of games in quick succession. I don’t think the Europa League has (anything) to do with our position in the Premier League. Obviously, we haven’t had the start that we’ve wanted, but it’s been a beautiful journey into the Europa League. This is a historic moment for Wolves and we’re going to do our best in this competition.”

Nuno Espirito Santo‘s men are in Portugal to meet Braga, one of three tricky opponents in Besiktas and Slovan Bratislava.

Full slate

12:55 p.m. ET
CFR Cluj v. Lazio
LASK v. Rosenborg
Getafe v. Trabzonspor
PSV Eindhoven v. Sporting Lisbon
Basel v. Krasnodar
APOEL Nicosia v. Dudelange
Copenhagen v. Lugano
Standard Liege v. Vitoria SC
Qarabag v. Sevilla
Eintracht Frankfurt v. Arsenal
Rennes v. Celtic
Dynamo Kiev v. Malmo

3 p.m. ET
Wolfsburg v. Oleksandriya
Espanyol v. Ferencvaros
Rangers v. Feyenoord
Porto v. Young Boys
Slovan Bratislava v. Besiktas
Borussia Monchengladbach v. Wolfsberg
Partizan v. AZ Alkmaar
AS Roma v. Istanbul Basaksehir
Gent v. Saint-Etienne
Manchester United v. Astana
Wolves v. Braga
Ludogorets Razgrad v. CSKA Moscow