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Christian Pulisic clears coronavirus protocol ahead of USMNT’s first World Cup qualifiers

USMNT star Christian Pulisic cleared COVID protocols ahead of the United States' first qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup.Jack Dempsey/Associated Press

United States men’s soccer star Christian Pulisic cleared coronavirus protocol and participated in national team workouts Monday, three days before the Americans’ World Cup qualifying opener in El Salvador. It remains unclear, however, whether he will play in the first match. The Chelsea attacker, who was vaccinated, tested positive about two weeks ago and, per British guidelines, remained in isolation at least 10 days in London. He was allowed to travel over the weekend, flying commercial via Washington with several English-based US teammates. Last week, US coach Gregg Berhalter said several hurdles stood in the way of Pulisic joining the squad on time. The question now, US team officials said Monday, is Pulisic’s fitness level after being sidelined for about two weeks and missing two Chelsea matches. His most recent appearance came in the Premier League opener Aug. 14 against Crystal Palace. “Everyone handles it differently,” Berhalter said last week about the impact of the coronavirus. “Everyone responds to it differently. Everyone recovers from it differently.” Players and staff will be tested regularly throughout the 12-day camp. The Americans on Thursday will begin a 14-game qualifying schedule spanning seven months in San Salvador, then host Canada in Nashville on Sunday and visit Honduras on Sept. 8. Berhalter said last week that, even if Pulisic arrived on time, the staff would have to determine in which match he would make his first appearance. With three games over seven days, Berhalter is planning to utilize depth and adjust starting lineups each game.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

No. 3 Clemson rolls out revamped offense vs No. 5 Georgia in opener

Clemson’s revamped offense will will get an early test when the third-ranked Tigers open the season Saturday night against No. 5 Georgia. “We’re going to know real quick what we’re made of,” Tigers guard Will Putnam said. It’s the first time Clemson has started the season against a ranked opponent since these same teams met in the first game of 2014, a 45-21 win by the Bulldogs that was highlighted by the college debut of heralded Clemson freshman quarterback Deshaun Watson. Watson would go on to help the Tigers to two Atlantic Coast Conference titles and the 2016 national championship. Clemson’s offense will have new starters at quarterback and tailback with the loss of ACC players of the year in Trevor Lawrence (who won the honor in 2020) and Travis Etienne (who won in 2018 and 2019). The Tigers are counting on talented sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei to seamlessly fill in for Lawrence, the No. 1 overall NFL draft pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. Things are less settled at running back where Clemson might call on a group of eager players to take over for Etienne, who left as the ACC’s all-time leader with 4,952 yards and 78 total touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Tony Elliott is unsure if Lyn-J Dixon, Etienne’s prime backup the past three seasons, would get the opening call in the backfield against Georgia. “We’re trying to figure that out,” Elliott said.

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NHL

Connor McDavid’s NHL MVP defense begins with defensive improvement

Connor McDavid is eyeing an even better season in 2021-22.JASON FRANSON/Associated Press

Connor McDavid did not take much time off after he and the Edmonton Oilers were swept out of the playoffs in the first round. The unanimous NHL MVP returned to the ice in July and worked hard to improve his defensive game with an eye on building off a 105-point season in just 56 games. McDavid’s preparations take another step this week, skating with more than a dozen other players at the annual BioSteel pro hockey camp, and becoming a better all-around player is his focus. “This is one of those weeks where guys are really trying to ramp it up and dial in their details, and I’m no different,” McDavid said. “I’m trying to keep the details where they need to be, and that way when it comes camp it’s not just a light switch.” McDavid is widely considered the best player in the world but at 24 he said he feels he is just entering his prime. Last season he put up 21 more points than the next-closest player — teammate Leon Draisaitl — and had the best faceoff percentage of his career, yet there’s still room to improve. After another early playoff exit, the 2015 No. 1 pick said he thinks the the root of a deeper run is better play without the puck and in his own end. It’s not easy to practice in summer skates that are more like shinny than postseason hockey, but McDavid has taken it upon himself to try. “It’s lots of battle drills, lots of little 1-on-1 things, scrimmage stuff -- just trying to stop on pucks, get into some battles and really focus on that,” he said. “For me that’s always kind of where the defensive game slips is when I’m not dialed into those details and stopping on pucks and supporting guys and doing all that.”

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Predators sign Eeli Tolvanen to three-year, $4.35 million deal

Eeli Tolvanen had 22 points last season with Nashville.Mark Humphrey/Associated Press

The Nashville Predators have signed forward Eeli Tolvanen to a three-year, $4.35 million deal. General manager David Poile announced the deal. Tolvanen, 22, just finished his first full NHL season. He scored 22 points in 40 games, and his 11 goals ranked fourth on the Predators as the most by a Nashville rookie since Filip Forsberg had 26 in 2014-15. The 5-foot-10, 191-pound forward also had six power-play goals, tied for the second-most among Nashville rookies all-time. His six-game point streak between March 21 and 30 tied for the second-longest among those rookies.

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