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LA Story: Rams, Chargers to appear on ‘Hard Knocks’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — It will be lights, cameras, Los Angeles again for “Hard Knocks” but for the first time the show will feature two franchises.

With the Rams and Chargers both moving into SoFI Stadium in Inglewood this year, HBO and NFL Films announced Thursday that the show will include both teams as they attempt to bounce back from disappointing seasons. The five-week series will premiere Aug. 11.

The two wouldn’t have been selected if they had not volunteered. Teams aren’t usually eligible if they have appeared on the show during the past 10 years (the Rams did “Hard Knocks” in 2016, their first year back in LA), or appeared in the playoffs the past two years (both were in the postseason in 2018), or have a first-year coach.

The Rams join the Cincinnati Bengals (2009, ’13) and Dallas Cowboys (2002, ’07) as teams that have done “Hard Knocks” twice while the Chargers are making their first appearance. This will be the 15th season for the show, which started in 2001 with the Baltimore Ravens. HBO and NFL Films also announced Thursday that they have agreed to renew the series through 2024.

The Chargers and Rams usually hold training camp only six miles apart from each other, but that will not be the case this season with the NFL mandating that teams have to hold camp at their own facilities. The Rams, who have held camp at UC Irvine the past four seasons, will be at their home base in Thousand Oaks, about 80 miles from the Chargers’ facility in Costa Mesa.

The Rams made the Super Bowl in 2018 but missed the postseason last year with a 9-7 record. The Chargers were 5-11 in 2019, which was a seven-win decline from two years ago. Rams coach Sean McVay and Chargers coach Anthony Lynn are both going into their fourth season leading their respective teams.

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Building bubbles: Cautious 1st steps toward football season

College football is scheduled to kick off in less than three months and there are plenty of reasons to be hopeful that games will be played Labor Day weekend.

Universities across the country are taking the first cautious, detailed steps toward playing football in a pandemic, attempting to build COVID-19-free bubbles around their teams as players begin voluntary workouts.

“I think the start of the race has a lot to do with how you finish it,” Baylor athletic director Mack Rhoades said.

Thousands of athletes will be tested for COVID-19, though not all. Masks will need to be worn — most of the time. Some schools will have players pumping iron this week. Others are waiting a few more weeks.

“There’s an element of this that’s kind of like building an airplane as you fly it in that we’re learning so much more really every week,” Notre Dame football team Dr. Matt Leiszler said. “But it’s a moving target at times.”

For months, health officials including the NCAA’s chief medical officer have said widespread and efficient COVID-19 testing is pivotal to bringing back sports. Now that exists, and at many schools every player will be tested before they are permitted to enter a team facility.

Texas A&M athletic director Ross Bjork said the school has conducted just under 500 tests on coaches, staff and athletes since May 18. The Pac-12 is the only major college football conference in which all the members have agreed to test all returning athletes for COVID-19.

Athletes testing positive for the disease have already been reported at Arkansas State, Marshall and Oklahoma State and elsewhere.

Expect that list to grow, and there is no standardized protocol for testing under the most recent NCAA guidelines, which is why plans are different from school to school. Missouri initially announced it would not test all athletes for COVID-19, then said it would. Michigan State will give its athletes two PRC tests (often done with a nasal swab), with a seven-day quarantine in between, before they cause use team facilities. Tulane will be giving every football player PRC and antibody tests.

“You know, there’s nothing that says my testing is going to protect my guys any better than their screening is going to. We don’t know,” said Dr. Greg Stewart, team physician for Tulane’s athletic department. “And probably for most of the schools across the country, you know athletic departments are the canary in the coal mine.”

Defending national champion LSU is testing each athlete for coronavirus antibodies upon arrival to campus; some will also get a PCR test to check for an active infection. A positive antibody test at LSU will trigger a PCR test and a positive PCR test means that player will have to isolate for a period of time.

Shelly Mullenix, LSU senior associate athletic director and director of wellness, said some players who test positive for antibodies but negative for active infection will also be isolated depending on symptoms or risk of previous exposure. All players were prescribed a seven-day “quasi-quarantine,” Mullenix said, after receiving their antibody tests.

Having players return to campus infected is worrisome but inevitable. The protocols being put in place are designed to catch and address that. The real challenge is keeping the players from getting infected after they return.

At Notre Dame, football players will be housed in single rooms at the on-campus Morris Inn hotel. They will face temperature screens and a health questionnaire every time they want to enter a facility to work out.

Notre Dame is planning to structure workout groups by academic schedules. Other schools are using a mix of factors such as keeping friends, roommates or position groups together.

“But you also have to think about things like, do you want all of your quarterbacks with the same group?” Wake Forest athletic director John Currie said.

As the small groups avoid infection they can be merged to form bigger groups.

“We think we’re going to create four pods,” Stewart said of Tulane’s plan. “We’re going to have the offense that is on campus as a pod. The defense that is on campus is a pod. Special teams that is on campus is a pod. And those that live off campus are a pod.”

While the workouts are voluntary, athletic staffers will be setting up strict schedules and moving equipment to allow for appropriate social-distancing. Masks will be required at times, though not necessarily when they work out. Bjork said Texas A&M will clean workout rooms after use, though the locker rooms at many schools will remain closed.

Southeastern Conference schools agreed to allow voluntary workouts starting Monday. The Big 12 and Pac-12 have set June 15 as their opening date. Other conferences, such as the Big Ten and Atlantic Coast Conference, are letting schools figure out what’s best for themselves. Ohio State and Iowa in the Big Ten started voluntary workouts Monday, along with Louisville in the ACC.

Oklahoma from the Big 12 is waiting until July 1, sticking with a plan it was working on before the NCAA last month cleared the way for voluntary workouts starting June 1. The Sooners didn’t see benefits in rushing but others decided the sooner the better.

“We wanted to actually go as early as we could because if we did have a problem, then you could you could actually manage it in with a lot more time,” Bjork said.

Schools hope to transition to required team activities in mid-July. A copy of the the Football Oversight Committee’s six-week plan includes a typical four-week preseason practice schedule preceded by two weeks during which teams can do up 20 hours per week of weight training, conditioning, film study, meetings and walk-throughs with coaches.

Players would not be permitted to wear helmets and pads during walk-throughs, but a ball could be used for instruction. The plan, which still needs to be approved by the Division I Council, was obtained Monday by The Associated Press and first reported by Sports Illustrated.

Of course, there is only so much schools can do to manage 18- to 22-year-old football players.

“What you worry about ism this is two hours a day, right?” Rhoades said. “And so what are student athletes, what are young men as it pertains to football, doing the other 22 hours?”

The message coaches, administrators and medical staff are trying to get across to their players is their behavior is an important as testing, screening and disinfecting. Limit the exposure to people outside the team bubble. That night out at the bar or the weekend trip to the beach could lead to an infection that sets back the whole team — or something worse.

“What we’re trying to impress upon them,” Stewart said, “is that if this season is important to you, then you have to do things different this year than you have done ever before and maybe even ever again.”

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USWNT wants soccer federation to repeal anthem policy

CHICAGO (AP) — The U.S. women’s national team wants the U.S. Soccer Federation to repeal the anthem policy it instituted after Megan Rapinoe started kneeling during the “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The U.S. women’s team also wants the federation to state publicly that the policy was wrong and issue an apology to the team’s black players and supporters.

“Further, we believe the Federation should lay out its plans on how it will now support the message and movement that it tried to silence four years ago,” the U.S. women’s team said in a statement posted on the Twitter feed of its players association Monday night.

Rapinoe took a knee during the anthem at a pair of national team matches in 2016. She said she wanted to express solidarity with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who silently took a knee during the national anthem before NFL games to raise awareness of police brutality and racial injustice.

The U.S. Soccer Federation then approved a policy in February 2017 that stated players “shall stand respectfully” during national anthems. The policy remains in place, though the unions for the men’s and women’s teams believe it doesn’t apply to their players because of their collective bargaining agreements.

Kaepernick and Rapinoe each faced sharp criticism for the protest for years. But public sentiment has changed since George Floyd’s death last month.

Floyd, a black man, died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck while Floyd was handcuffed and saying that he couldn’t breathe. His death sparked protests in Minneapolis and around the country, some of which became violent.

A lawyer for the men’s team union also called for the repeal of the policy and an apology in a statement provided to BuzzFeed News, which was the first to report on the U.S. women’s statement.

A message was left by the AP seeking comment from the federation.

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The Latest: Dortmund players fined for breaking restrictions

Borussia Dortmund players Jadon Sancho and Manuel Akanji have been fined by the German soccer league for breaking coronavirus-related restrictions to get haircuts.

The league says Sancho and Akanji “apparently violated general hygiene and infection protection standards” to have a barber visit them at home. There were no facemasks visible in photos posted on social media.

There were similar photos of Dortmund teammates Dan-Axel Zagadou and Raphäel Guerreiro with Düsseldorf-based barber Winnie Nana Karkari but they were not mentioned in the league’s statement. The Bild tabloid reported that Karkari also visited Dortmund players Axel Witsel and Thorgan Hazard last Thursday.

The league says “it goes without question that professional soccer players also need their hair cut” but “this must be done in accordance with the medical-organizational concept at the moment.”

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The Asian qualifying tournament for the World Cup is set to resume in October after the coronavirus pandemic forced games in March and June to be postponed.

The Asian Football Confederation says it agreed with FIFA to schedule two dates in October and two in November to complete the current groups.

The AFC says the planned schedule must comply with “government travel and medical restrictions” in the 40 countries taking part.

Twelve teams will advance to a further group stage next year.

Four Asian teams will advance directly to the World Cup in Qatar. A fifth team will enter an intercontinental playoff round.

Liverpool could win the Premier League title at home after all.

Police originally indicated they wanted Liverpool’s second game after the restart against Crystal Palace to be staged at a neutral venue because of concerns that supporters could congregate outside Anfield.

But the league now says the game on June 24 is scheduled to be at Liverpool’s home stadium.

The Merseyside derby against Everton could still be played away from Goodison Park on June 21. The league says the venue is still to be confirmed.

Liverpool leads Manchester City by two points and is two wins from ending its 30-year title drought. But Liverpool could clinch the trophy in its first game back against Everton if City loses to Arsenal on June 17.
Chelsea has been declared Women’s Super League champion after the season was stopped because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The English Football Association’s board decided to determine the final standings on a points-per-game basis. Manchester City was a point ahead of Chelsea but had played an extra game when the season was suspended in March.

Chelsea had seven games remaining.

City will still qualify for the Champions League with Chelsea. Liverpool has been relegated.

 

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Ibrahimovic, Villa pull out of MLS All-Star Game

Newly-minted Major League Soccer star Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Spain’s David Villa have both withdrawn from Wednesday’s All-Star game against Italian club Juventus, ESPN reports.

The LA  Galaxy’s Ibrahimovic withdrew from the game citig fatigue, while NYCFC’s Villa is still recovering from an injury he suffered last month. Tyler Adams of the New York Red Bulls and Darwin Quintero of Minnesota United will step in for the two  players.

Galaxy officials say Ibrahimovic needs a rest period after playing three games in the week leading up to the Juventus match. For his part, Ibrahimovic said he’s sad to miss the All-Star game but could use a much-needed break.

“I am disappointed to miss the 2018 All-Star Game against Juventus, one of my former clubs,” Ibrahimovic told the Galaxy website. “I want to thank the fans for voting me to the team. My main focus is to score goals and help the LA Galaxy to the playoffs.”

The 36-year-old Swedish striker has wasted little time in showcasing his talent, scoring three goals in LA’s 4-3 victory over Orlando on Sunday. The hat trick takes his season total to 15 goals in just 17 games with his new team and moves the Galaxy into third place in the Western Conference.

Villa, meanwhile, has played in the last three MLS All-Star games but is still hobbled by a knee in jury that’s kept him sidelined for NYCFC’s last six games.

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Joachim Low says Schweinsteiger still had much to offer Man U

Germany head coach, Joachim Low, lauded midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Schweinsteiger became another in a trend of older European league stars who have moved to Major League Soccer in the United States of America. Schweinsteiger, 32 years of age, joined the Chicago Fire in a move that was confirmed on Tuesday by his former side Manchester United. Schweinsteiger moved to Manchester United in 2015 from Bayern Munich, where his play had made him a German international team fixture. He only made 18 appearances with United, however, as he was not favored by newly hired boss, Jose Mourinho. According to Low, although Schweinsteiger made a good decision to move to the MLS, he still had a lot to offer Man U.

“I chatted to him a few weeks ago and he told me that he tried everything and gave it his all,” said Low. “And, yes, there was a glimmer of hope for him at times, he played in a few games. But it appears that he had the feeling he was no longer part of Manchester United’s plans.”

Low expressed his disappointment that the Man U run for Schweinsteiger would end with him on the bench.

“His performances in training were very, very good. I’ve also been told from others,” Low said. “The team would have wished for him to help them on the pitch. And I believe that he could have still done that. I’ve seen a few United games, and a Bastian Schweinsteiger could have helped in a central role in midfield, organising the match. But the coach made a different decision. He has given it his all, but it wasn’t enough. Thus the transfer is a certainly a good decision.”

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Jose Mourinho’s signing with Man United causes whirlwind reactions

José Mourinho signing with Manchester United has riddled European continental football headlines of late.

It has been reported that Mourinho, an eight time league champion in four different countries and a two time Champion’s League winner, has signed a pre-contract agreement with Manchester United Football Club.

One of the provisions in the contract is that if Mourinho is not appointed to lead the team by Jun. 1, 2016, United will have to pay him up to £15 million in compensation.

Mourinho was most recently the coach of Chelsea Football Club, where he won the league once but was released in December, 2016 from his contract.

Mourinho has shown great respect for the current coach of Manchester United, Louis van Gaal, but has expressed interest in coaching the team. He has also been linked with Spanish super team, Real Madrid Club de Fútbol, but has been reported as expressing a preference for Manchester United.

A source from Gestifute, a company owned by the agent of Mourinho, has confirmed the deal between the 53 year old manager and Man United.

“If United do not sign the final contract [with Mourinho] before 1 May, they must pay £5m; if by 1 June he’s still not signed, they shall pay another £10m,” read the report by El País. “May is the key, because it’s the month in which the vast majority of the signings of players are closed and the plans formed.”

El País also reported that the cause for the provision was that many senior figures at Old Trafford are unsure that Mourinho is the right man to take the reins from van Gaal.

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Three at the fore as FIFA presidential election begins

Voting for a new FIFA President has begun Feb. 26, 2016 with three candidates in serious contention for the position.

The election comes as a result of the ban of former president, Sepp Blatter, whose regime was fraught with accusations of corruption and money mismanagement, and who was brought up on international charges.

Afghanistan was the first to vote and all votes of the first round should be counted as of afternoon, Friday.

There are three at the fore in this race, with South African businessman, Tokyo Sewale, dropping out and Frenchman, Jerome Champagne, being hampered by his association with the aforementioned Blatter.

Gianni Infantino, UEFA General Secretary, runs on a campaign of inclusion, suggesting that over 40 nations be eligible and considered to host the world cup.

Infantino switched between English, French, Spanish, and Italian in his address to the voters, promoting the idea of spreading the FIFA money to all federations; more than just leadership.

Sheikh Salman bin Ibrahim al-Khalifa, Bahraini FIFA Vice President, totally disagrees with Infantino, citing the recent Sepp Blatter financial troubles FIFA has undergone.

“We have to act responsibly … I am not ready to mortgage the future of FIFA for election purposes,” reacted the Bahraini royal to the Infantino-suggested “spreading” of the money.

Sheikh Salman claims that he is the most fiscally prepared to run FIFA. As FIFA Vice President, he is the front-runner to win the election.

Prince Ali Bin Hussein is possibly the antithesis to Sepp Blatter. He was the Vice President to Blatter but ran against him in the presidential election in 2015.

Now Prince Ali runs on a platform of love for the sport, global inclusion and leadership, and absolute integrity and visibility.

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Lionel Messi causes uproar with trick penalty kick

Love him or hate him, Lionel Messi is universally regarded as one of the most influential footballers of his generation. According to a report from USA Today, Messi recently attracted global attention when he pulled off a trick penalty kick with teammate Luis Suarez in the last round of the Spanish League.

Messi’s trick shot took place on Sunday. Instead of going for the goal himself, the Barcelona veteran rolled the ball to the side as Suarez rushed in to score the goal.

Celta Vigo’s goalkeeper could never predict the move, which resulted in an easy point for Barcelona. While Messi fans thought the play was impossibly clever, more impartial observers questioned whether or not the trick kick was something to celebrate.

According to Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta, “I don’t think it was disrespectful. It’s unusual, but it can be done that way. We have always respected our rivals and the players we play against. I don’t think there should be a debate about this.”

The play, while seemingly unfair, is perfectly legal in the league’s rulebook. It was first done by Johan Cruyff of Ajax in 1982, and Messi fans say that Sunday’s play was a tribute to the pioneer.

A similar situation unfolded in an Arsenal – Manchester City game in 2005, but Arsenal player Robert Pires failed to get the ball to teammate Thierry Henry in time for a goal. The play has a high risk of failure, but when carried out properly, apparently drives people insane.

Messi passed on a chance to score his 300th goal in the Spanish League by passing the ball to Suarez.

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Abby Wambach bids farewell in final game with USWNT

It will be the last game for U.S. Women’s National Team legend Abby Wambach.

Wambach will be the captain for one final time during an exhibition game against China at the Superdome in New Orleans, according to a New York Times report.

Wamback can be given a lot of credit for giving the USWNT a lot of attention, and she has been one of the household names for the team’s rise to dominance, including its latest World Cup victory earlier this year.

Over the course of her 254 appearances, she has notched 184 goals, an international record for both women and men. She has played in four World Cups and won an Olympic gold medal twice. Three years ago, she was FIFA World Player of the Year.

About 29,000 tickets have been sold as of Tuesday night for those who want to see the final game of Wambach. Hundreds of family and friends from her hometown of Rochester will be on hand, as well as people from her alma mater, the University of Florida, which won a national championship thanks to her.