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Former MLS player helping Spain in fight against coronavirus

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MADRID — Toni Dovale has a different routine than most Spanish soccer players during the coronavirus pandemic.

While some have been spending their time trying to stay fit or negotiating salary reductions with their clubs, Dovale is working to guarantee there are enough protective masks, gloves and medicine to help in the fight against the virus in hard-hit Spain.

The former Sporting Kansas City and Celta Vigo player who came through Barcelona’s famed youth academy has put on a white coat and is working in his family’s small pharmacy in the northwestern city of A Coruna while soccer remains on hold because of the virus.

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He had been playing in Thailand before coming to Spain for the holidays and got stuck when the outbreak started.

“I was packing my bags to go back to Asia for the new season, but the situation with the virus started to become tough,” the 30-year-old Dovale said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press this week. “I was not expecting to work now, but the only thing I could do was help. It was the right moment to come into the pharmacy and help my people.”

Spain has struggled with the coronavirus, registering more than 140,000 confirmed cases and nearly 14,000 deaths. The country has been in a tight lockdown since mid-March and the restrictions are expected to remain in place at least until the end of April. The nation’s health system has been overwhelmed and the government has been seeking any help it can get.

“I decided that the best thing I could do was to help my community, to come to the pharmacy and try to help people, to do my best so we can get back to our normal lives as soon as possible and hopefully I can go back to playing soon,” said Dovale, who has a pharmacy degree.

“With everything that is going on in our society, it was the moment for me to take a step forward,” he said. “I know there is a risk, because I’m exposed to the virus, it’s an uncomfortable situation, but I think that in the tough times it’s always the time to take a step forward and show your character.”

Dovale is one of four workers at his family’s pharmacy, and that’s including his mother, who is among the high-risk group for infection because of her age. They have been keeping social distancing among themselves and only three customers can enter the pharmacy at a time.

Dovale is a do-it-all employee, but one of his main responsibilities is to negotiate the purchase of medicine and supplies with laboratories and other providers.

“There is a shortage of many medicines. We don’t have masks, we don’t have alcohol. Gloves are not easy to find,” he said. “I try to call labs and everybody who can provide me material to help these people. It’s really painful when people come to the pharmacy asking for a mask and you cannot get this kind of stuff for them.”

Dovale said pharmacies have been crucial for people with non-coronavirus illnesses.

“We cannot forget that people can still become sick,” he said. “People still have diabetes, still have hypertension and many other problems. It’s very important that we take care of them, because the hospitals are collapsed and crowded.”

Dovale, an offensive midfielder with good playmaking and passing skills, scored four goals and had four assists in his 25 matches with Sporting Kansas City in Major League Soccer in 2014.

He started at Barcelona’s youth academy before joining Celta Vigo, where he played under current Spain coach Luis Enrique. He later also played for Spanish clubs Leganes, Rayo Vallecano and Lugo, where he played under current Barcelona coach Quique Setien.

“Great experiences,” said Dovale, who also had a stint with Bengaluru FC in India and was playing with Thai club Navy FC before the coronavirus pandemic left him stuck in Spain and led to the end of his contract.

Dovale said he feels he has four or five years of good soccer ahead of him, and he wouldn’t mind going back to Asia or the United States.

“The challenge of playing for titles and playing in international competitions is what makes me keep going forward,” he said. “In Spain, it is really difficult because only two teams can fight for titles.”

Dovale is trying to stay fit as well as he can, training in the morning at home and in a parking lot before going to the pharmacy.

He said he hoped the United States would be spared the things he has witnessed in Spain.

“My only advice is that they should take it seriously, because I never imagined that in Spain we would see that much pain. I never imagined that many people would be dying. I never imagined that so many hospitals would be absolutely collapsed. I never expected that we would be missing things like alcohol, masks and gloves,” he said.

“This situation just hit us from the back,” Dovale said. “My people, my community, are going through a lot of pain. I just pray for the people in the U.S. to stay safe. Hopefully they can stop it a little earlier than us, because for our country, for our community, it’s really painful and we will not forget about this situation, for sure.”

Some Spanish clubs decide to leave virus tests for others

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MADRID — Some soccer clubs in Spain have decided not to use the coronavirus testing kits offered to them by the Spanish league, saying there are others who need them more.

The league last week offered some 500 tests to its teams, prioritizing those that recently traveled to high-risk areas or already had players infected.

Celta Vigo said Thursday it wouldn’t use the tests because it “there are other groups in greater need” for them in Spain.

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Valladolid said it would not test its players at the moment, since none of them have shown symptoms. Team spokesman David Espinar said the tests should be prioritized for other people in the country, which is struggling to battle the pandemic.

Spain has more than 17,000 people infected with the virus. Nearly 770 people have died and more than 930 were in intensive care.

First-division club Alavés on Wednesday said it had 15 people infected – three players, seven members of its coaching staff and five other employees.

Valencia and Espanyol also were hit by the virus. Valencia said 35% of its squad and coaching staff were infected, while Espanyol said six members of its team and staff had the virus.

La Liga: VAR saves Barcelona, Atletico defense breached again

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Lionel Messi has saved Barcelona’s bacon on plenty of occasions throughout his illustrious career, and while officially today he’s once again led the club to three points with his 81st minute penalty to earn a 1-0 victory over Real Sociedad, VAR was the true hidden hero.

Replay caught Robin Le Normand miss with a headed clearance in the box, instead the ball just catching him in the shoulder, and the referee in the booth called for a penalty. Messi dispatched the spot-kick to earn the win and doom La Real to a harsh result. Still, Barcelona completely dominated the match ripping of 13 shots with six on target to Real Sociedad’s just one shot on frame.

Real Madrid loanee Martin Odegaard was kept relatively in check by Barcelona’s midfield while Sergio Busquets and Frenkie de Jong were calming forces throughout for the home side. The three points sends Barcelona top of the La Liga table, with Real Madrid a chance to reclaim the lead tomorrow at Real Betis.

Meanwhile, Atletico Madrid was held to a third draw in its last four league games with a 2-2 home result against Sevilla, with the defense breached for the fourth straight match. Luuk De Jong put Sevilla up at the Wanda Metripolitano 19 minutes in after a miserable challenge from Stefan Savic saw the Dutchman’s first touch put him through. A penalty from Alvaro Morata brought Atletico back level past the half-hour mark, and they went in front just four minutes later through Joao Felix after Koke stole the ball in midfield and did all the hard work on the break.

Still, it wasn’t enough as Lucas Ocampos struck from the penalty spot just before halftime and the second half was goalless to see Atletico fall a full 13 points back of the La Liga leaders, potentially 14 back if Real Madrid wins tomorrow. Currently, that’s just good enough for fifth as Atletico Madrid sits outside the Champions League places. Sevilla, meanwhile, sits in third on 47 points, 11 back of the leader.

Elsewhere, Real Madrid youngster Takefusa Kubo gave Mallorca a 2-1 win over Eibar. The 18-year-old’s 78th minute goal proved the winner as he beat two defenders at the top of the box and delivered a low effort off the inside of the left post. The win was enormous for Mallorca who rose to 18th, still in a relegation position but only based on goal differential. Eibar sits in 16th just two points ahead of the drop.

Getafe and Celta Vigo played to a scoreless draw at Coliseum Alfonso Perez as the hosts ripped off 16 shots to Celta Vigo’s three but could not find the back of the net. Jamie Mata missed the biggest chance for Getafe just past the half-hour mark as he fired over from a central spot just outside the six-yard box. Getafe midfielder Mauro Arambarri was sent off for a second yellow card with eight minutes to go as the hosts looked for a winner, making the late push even more difficult. The draw is a disappointing result for fourth-placed Getafe who could have used the opportunity to pull away from Atletico Madrid after their draw against Sevilla. For Celta Vigo, the point is enormous amidst a relegation battle, sitting in 17th now two points above the drop.

La Liga roundup: Celta spoil Hazard’s return in Real Madrid draw

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Real Madrid’s draw against relegation-battling Celta Vigo highlights La Liga’s Sunday action.

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Real Madrid 2-2 Celta Vigo 

Celta’s Santi Mina scored in 85th minute to give a depleted Celta Vigo a precious point at the Santiago Bernabeu, spoiling Eden Hazard‘s return to Real Madrid’s lineup after a notable absence.

Madrid’s eighth draw of the season moves champions Barcelona just one point behind Zinedine Zidane’s side.

Returning from ankle injury that kept his out of action for three months, Hazard returned to the pitch in fine style, leading all players on the field in chances created with three and earning a penalty that Sergio Ramos converted to put Real Madrid ahead.

Hazard – and all of his flair – left the field in the 70th minute, granting Vinicius Junior the final 20 minutes of the match.

Ramos’ sixth goal of the season builded on Toni Kroos’ left-footed strike early in the latter half of the match. Real Madrid, more or less, were cruising against Celta, who had a goal to their name following Fyodor Smolov’s early opener.

Celta, who had arrived in Madrid in 18th place and had lost their last seven at the host’s home, were destined to do the unthinkable. Denis Suarez and Mina – both utilized as substitutes – paired up for the equalizer with five minutes to go, spoiling Hazard’s return.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Sevilla 2-2 Espanyol

Leganes 0-0 Real Betis 

Athletic Bilbao 0-1 Osasuna

Hazard back in Real Madrid squad after long injury layoff

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MADRID (AP) Eden Hazard has returned to Real Madrid’s squad after being sidelined since November with an ankle injury.

Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane on Saturday included the Belgium forward in his squad ahead of Sunday’s Spanish league match against Celta Vigo at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium.

Hazard hasn’t played since injuring his ankle on Nov. 26 in a match against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League. He had been practicing with the rest of the team for the last two weeks but was yet to be included in the squad.

“We know what Hazard can add to the team,” Zidane said. “It was time to get him back.”

Madrid enters Sunday’s game tied on points with Barcelona, which edged Getafe 2-1 on Saturday.

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