National Sports Headlines from NBC Sports

Donovan to play final match for US team in Oct.

CARSON, Calif. (AP) Landon Donovan says he will make his final appearance for the U.S. national team Oct. 10 in a friendly against Ecuador.

Donovan announced the plan Tuesday.

Donovan is the top scorer in U.S. history with 57 goals and 58 assists in 156 appearances, but he wasn't chosen for his fourth World Cup roster earlier this summer by coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Earlier this month, the 32-year-old Donovan announced he will retire from the LA Galaxy after the season. The five-time MLS champion is the North American league's career goals leader.

The U.S. team will face Ecuador at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut.

Klinsmann expressed excitement about Donovan's final appearance in a post on his Twitter account.

UNC probing report of alleged hazing incident

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina is investigating a report of an alleged hazing altercation that left a walk-on receiver with a possible concussion.

"We are aware of an incident involving members of the UNC football team that took place earlier this month," team spokesman Kevin Best said in a statement Tuesday. "We take this allegation seriously and the university is conducting a thorough review."

The statement was released in response to a Yahoo Sports report which stated that the alleged hazing involved several players and resulted in redshirt freshman Jackson Boyer being injured. Yahoo Sports reported the incident occurred in Boyer's room at the hotel where the team stayed for preseason camp.

Boyer is from Chapel Hill. His father, Rob, declined to comment when reached by Yahoo Sports.

The school did not identify any players it is investigating and did not confirm it was a hazing incident. Best declined to reveal specifics of the incident in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday evening, though he said Boyer has been practicing with the team.

The No. 23 Tar Heels open their third season under Larry Fedora on Saturday night against Liberty. It marks the first time UNC has opened the season ranked in the Top 25 since 2010.

Love struck: Kevin Love pledges commitment to Cavs

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio (AP) Kevin Love's phone rang in July and LeBron James asked the All-Star forward if he wanted to play with him in Cleveland.

"I'm in," Love told James.

For the long haul.

Getting used to a new city and new team after being acquired by the Cavaliers on Saturday, Love said he's committed to winning an NBA title with the Cavaliers - however long it takes.

Love, who didn't make the playoffs during six sometimes rocky seasons with Minnesota, can opt out of his contract and become a free agent next summer. But 25-year-old Love, regarded as the game's top "spacing" forward, said he intends to stay with James and the Cavs.

"I'm committed to this team, committed long term to the end goal and that's to win championships," he said.

Cleveland is smitten with its newest superstar.

Love was introduced Tuesday by the Cavs, who acquired him in a blockbuster, three-team trade that instantly turned Cleveland, which won just 33 games last season, into an NBA championship favorite. The deal also gives the team a star-powered trio in Love, James and Kyrie Irving.

Love and James became friends two summers ago as U.S. Olympic teammates in London. It was there, while chasing a gold medal together, that James began recruiting Love, who wasn't sure what to make of the four-time league MVP's overtures.

"Sitting next to me, a locker really close to me and he would always tell me how good he thought I was," Love said. "For me I would just kind of brush it off and shake it off because I was standoffish because I didn't know him well."

James persisted and after more conversations, Love realized there could be a time when their careers could intersect again.

"I thought that one day maybe I could play with LeBron James," he said.

And now that Love is gone, the Timberwolves are left to rebuild around No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins and last year's top pick, Anthony Bennett, two young players they were able to pry from Cleveland.

Love didn't leave the Timberwolves on the best of terms. He was the face of the franchise, and Minnesota is where he developed into one of the game's top rebounders and scorers, a dual threat from inside and out. But the years of losing wore on him and it was no secret that he wanted out.

Still, Love said he'll look back on his first NBA home as a positive experience.

"The people of Minnesota were great, the fans were great, they showed up, win, lose or draw, and I really developed a lot of relationships all the way down through the organization," he said. "It was a great six years, and I enjoyed my time, and I can't say enough good things about it."

While Love was saying good things about his former team, his old boss wasn't as warm about him.

Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor isn't sure Love fits in Cleveland as well as many believe.

"I question Kevin if this is going to be the best deal for him because I think he's going to be the third player on the team," Taylor said. "I don't think he's going to get a lot of credit if they do really well. I think he'll get blame if they don't do well.

"He's around a couple guys that are awful good. I'm not saying Kevin isn't good. I think where maybe he got away with some stuff not playing defense on our team, I'm not sure that's how it's going to work in Cleveland. I would guess they're going to ask him to play more defense - and he's foul prone."

The Cavs know nothing is certain, and there's risk in bringing aboard Love. But with James, Love, Irving, guard Dion Waiters, relentless rebounder Anderson Varejao and newly signed veterans Shawn Marion, Mike Miller and James Jones, the Cavs have the makings of a championship team - this season and for many more to come.

"This is culmination of a year and a half of conversations to trade for Kevin," general manager David Griffin said. "This is a player that, quite frankly, fits us as well as any player could have."

Love will wear No. 0 for the Cavs. His No. 42, the number he wore in college and with the Timberwolves, was worn by Nate Thurmond and retired in Cleveland. He considered No. 11, his Olympic number, but that was worn by Zydrunas Ilgauskas and also hangs from the rafters at Quicken Loans Arena. So he went with 0, the number he first wore as a kid in Beaverton, Oregon.

"I thought this was a chance to start fresh," Love said, "and pick a new number that would suit me. I just decided that 0 was the right fit for me."

And so was the chance to play again with James.

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AP Sports Writer Jon Krawczynski in Minneapolis contributed to this report.

American Bellis, 15, upsets Cibulkova at US Open

NEW YORK (AP) American teen CiCi Bellis became the youngest player to win a U.S. Open match since 1996 - almost three years before she was born - when she stunned Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova.

The 15-year-old Bellis rallied from down a break in the third set for a 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 first-round victory Tuesday over the 12th-seeded Cibulkova. With an overflow crowd at a cozy side court roaring, she broke Cibulkova's serve to clinch the match.

"I never thought I'd come out like this," she said in an on-court interview.

Anna Kournikova was also 15 when she won at the U.S. Open in 1996.

Bellis' title at the USTA Girls' 18s National Championship earned her a wild card into her first tour-level main draw. The Californian was the youngest champion of that event since Lindsay Davenport also won it at 15 in 1991.

When Tuesday's match was over, Bellis ran across the court to hug members of her cheering section. She's the youngest American to win at the U.S. Open since a 15-year-old Mary Joe Fernandez in 1986.

Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova fared far better than the last time she came to New York after winning at the All England Club. In 2011, she lost in the first round; on Tuesday, she beat Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-0.

The player Kvitova defeated in the Wimbledon final, Eugenie Bouchard, was back to her winning ways in her return to the Grand Slam stage.

The seventh-seeded Bouchard routed Olga Govortsova 6-2, 6-1. The last time she played at a major tournament, the 20-year-old made history: the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam final.

In the Wimbledon title match, though, she was swept away by Kvitova 6-3, 6-0, and things didn't go much better in her three hard-court tuneups for the U.S. Open. Bouchard won just one of her four matches, including an upset loss in her opener in her home tournament in Montreal.

But against the 117th-ranked Govortsova, she had little trouble. Govortsova, who has been ranked as high as 35th, had won just two main draw WTA matches this year.

Ana Ivanovic was feeling good about her game coming into the U.S. Open, and it showed Tuesday. The eighth-seeded Serb beat American Alison Riske 6-3, 6-0. Ivanovic has won 48 matches this year, more than anyone else on tour.

The 2008 French Open champion has struggled to get back to that level but finally seems to be inching closer. She returned to the top 10 this month for the first time in more than five years.

The 24-year-old Riske made a breakthrough at last year's U.S. Open, reaching the fourth round after an upset of Petra Kvitova. She reached a career-high ranking of No. 40 this summer.

Samantha Stosur, the 2011 U.S. Open champ, also quickly dispatched a young American, beating Lauren Davis 6-1, 6-4. The 49th-ranked Davis fell to 0-3 at her home Grand Slam event.

Svetlana Kuznetsova lost her first-round U.S. Open match for the first time since 2005, the year she was the tournament's defending champion. Kuznetsova, seeded 20th this time, was beaten 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (3) by 82nd-ranked Marina Erakovic of New Zealand.

Roger Federer and Serena Williams play the night session at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Williams faces American teen Taylor Townsend, who's making her U.S. Open debut.

John Isner, a former top American college player, beat this year's top American college player. The 13th-seeded Isner won 7-6 (5), 6-2, 7-6 (2) against Marcos Giron, who earned his first spot in a Grand Slam tournament when he won the NCAA title for UCLA in May.

Fellow American Sam Querrey improved to 3-9 in five-set matches with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Argentina's Maximo Gonzalez.

Another American, Jack Sock, retired from his match because of a right calf injury. Sock was trailing 6-4, 3-6, 6-1 to Pablo Andujar of Spain when he decided he couldn't continue.

Fourth-seeded David Ferrer beat Damir Dzumhur 6-1, 6-2, 2-6, 6-2.

Tenth-seeded Kei Nishikori of Japan cruised to a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 victory over American Wayne Odesnik, showing no apparent effects from a toe injury that hampered his preparations. The 176th-ranked Odesnik earned a wild card into the U.S. Open, his first appearance in five years. He served a yearlong ban after pleading guilty for importing human growth hormone into Australia.

Victor Estrella of the Dominican Republic earned his first Grand Slam victory at age 34, beating Igor Sijsling 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2. Estrella hadn't played in a major tournament until this year.

Redskins' Meriweather to appeal 2-game suspension

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather will appeal the two-game suspension for his latest helmet-to-helmet blow, a hit his coach called a "legitimate football play" while teammates stood up for him with much stronger words.

Coach Jay Gruden said Tuesday he hopes the team can get the NFL to revoke or reduce the sanction for the hit on Torrey Smith in Saturday's preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens. It is the sixth time Meriweather has been cited for a violation of player safety rules.

"Unfortunately, for Brandon, he's got a history of these types of events," Gruden said. "Whether or not it was significant enough to warrant a suspension is what they decided. ... He tried to lower his target, I thought. I thought it was a legitimate football play, but the NFL didn't see it that way."

Meriweather was suspended for two games last year for a pair of helmet-first hits in game against the Chicago Bears, but the penalty was reduced to one game after an appeal.

Gruden and Redskins players argue that Meriweather couldn't avoid the helmet-to-helmet contact on Smith because both players lowered their heads at about the same time on an incomplete pass over the middle.

"The stuff they ask us to do as a defender sometimes is unreal," linebacker Perry Riley said. "When you're playing the game at this speed and at this level, it goes so fast. You don't have time to break on the ball and then try to put your body in position to get a man the correct way. It's bang-bang.

"You can sit up there in the air conditioning and replay a play and slow it down as much as you want and say what he should've done, but if you're not out there going at full speed, you don't know. It's not as easy as they try to make it seem."

Second-year cornerback David Amerson said it's just the latest setback for defensive backs, on top of this year's new rules emphasis on downfield contact.

"What else do you want him to do?" Amerson said. "I love the way Meriweather plays, fast and physical, that's what football is. That's what defensive players try to get to, or live for. They're making it get to a point where it's just like, man, we got our hands tied behind our back. You can't touch receivers. You can't hit `em, now you can't touch `em. What's going to be next? We can't intercept the ball? It's getting crazy, man. It's a hard time to coming in to the league right now for a DB."

Meriweather declined to comment, shaking his head at a reporter as he walked out of the locker room. Smith said on Twitter that he doesn't think Meriweather should be suspended, but he added he might feel differently had he ended up with a concussion.

If the suspension stands, Meriweather would miss the first two regular season games. Gruden said second-year player Bacarri Rambo, who had tackling issues as a rookie, is the "first option" to start in Meriweather's spot. Rambo said he's worked on taking better angles in the open field.

"I have matured a lot," Rambo said. "I see the game a lot differently."

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

Man United signs Angel Di Maria for $99 million

MANCHESTER, England (AP) Manchester United broke the British transfer-fee record by signing Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid for 59.7 million pounds ($99 million) on Tuesday, extending a summer spending spree that was sparked by its most disappointing season in a generation.

The 26-year-old Di Maria joined on a five-year contract, taking United's spending to about 130 million pounds ($215 million) in the summer transfer window as England's most successful club seeks to revive its fortunes under new manager Louis van Gaal.

Di Maria was one of Madrid's key players last season when the Spanish team became European champion for a 10th time, but rejected the offer of a new contract during the offseason and asked to leave.

"I have thoroughly enjoyed my time in Spain and there were a lot of clubs interested in me, but United is the only club that I would have left Real Madrid for," Di Maria said. "Louis van Gaal is a fantastic coach with a proven track record of success and I am impressed by the vision and determination everyone has to get this club back to the top - where it belongs. I now just cannot wait to get started."

Di Maria's transfer fee breaks the previous British record of 50 million pounds (then $81 million), set in 2011 when Fernando Torres joined Chelsea from Liverpool. Four players - Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Suarez and James Rodriguez - have cost more than Di Maria in world football, while Zinedine Zidane moved from Juventus to Madrid for a similar fee in euro terms in 2001.

"Angel is a world-class midfielder but most importantly he is a team player," Van Gaal said. "There is no doubting his immense natural talent. He is a tremendously fast and incisive left-footed player who puts fear into the most accomplished defense.

"His dribbling skills and his ability to take on and beat opponents are a joy to watch. He is an excellent addition to the team."

The left-footed Di Maria, who can play anywhere across the midfield, will provide United with an injection of pace and technical ability in that area. Both attributes were lacking last season under David Moyes, when the team slumped to a seventh-place finish in the Premier League, and in the first two games of this season under Van Gaal.

It is also a statement by United that the club can attract one of the world's most talented players despite not being in the Champions League this season. United isn't even playing in the Europa League.

Critics say Van Gaal hasn't addressed the team's biggest weakness - a defense that lost three pillars in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra this summer and has looked vulnerable in a 2-1 home loss to Swansea and a 1-1 draw at Sunderland in the two games so far in the Dutchman's reign.

But it is the kind of marquee signing United fans have been craving. The prospect of Di Maria linking up with attacking trio Robin van Persie, Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata is an enticing one as the team bids to return to the league's top four and get back in the Champions League.

Di Maria was man of the match in last season's Champions League final against Atletico Madrid and one of Argentina's best players at the World Cup in Brazil until he hurt his thigh in the quarterfinal win over Belgium, forcing him to miss the semifinal and final.

He joined Real Madrid from Benfica in 2010, when he was an out-and-out winger. At Madrid last season, coach Carlo Ancelotti also played him as a central midfielder. Under contract until 2018 at Madrid, Di Maria faced increased competition in midfield following the signings of Rodriguez and Toni Kroos, and had been linked with a move to Paris Saint-Germain.

Left back Luke Shaw, central midfielder Ander Herrera and defender Marcos Rojo are the other players to have moved to Old Trafford this summer in deals worth around 70 million pounds.

NBA unveils new rules to make baselines safer

The NBA is expanding the area that must be clear behind the basket and cutting the number of photographers along the baseline in an effort to improve player safety.

The new regulations, calling for an extra foot of open space on both sides of the basket stanchion, were sent to teams Tuesday by league president of operations Rod Thorn and executive vice president of team marketing and business operations Amy Brooks in a memo that was obtained by The Associated Press.

Thorn says clearing the congestion behind the playing area was planned even before Indiana's Paul George broke his right leg when he crashed into the stanchion last month during a USA Basketball exhibition game.

"The conversations about this topic preceded Paul's injury by several years," Thorn said. "As a matter of fact, at our league meetings in July we informed our teams this was the direction we were going. But of course when an injury occurs like the one to Paul, it reaffirms the changes we have made and the need to continue to evaluate our policies."

The "escape lanes," the unoccupied area on either side of the stanchion to the closest photographer spot, will increase from 3 to 4 feet.

Only 20 camera positions, 10 on each baseline, will remain, down from 24 last season and 40 during the 2010-11 regular season. Each baseline can have six photo spots on one side of the basket and four on the other, and dance teams or other entertainers cannot be stationed along the baseline.

"We have been studying this issue consistently over the last four years and these are just the latest adjustments to make the baselines an even safer area for our players, our team attendants and the photographers," Thorn said. "Many of the incidents of contact between players and photographers are around the basket area, so we felt it made sense to increase the open area between the baskets and the first photographer to four feet."

Players have often been at risk of crashing into a camera when tumbling out of bounds behind the basket. The NBA experimented with limiting photography spots during last season's playoffs before deciding to make those changes permanent and mandating the bigger escape lanes.

"We will continue to examine this to ensure the safety of our players while at the same time allowing for the networks and media to properly capture images from our games," Thorn said. "We feel we have balanced those needs very well but will continue to review our processes throughout the season."

Top-seeded Djokovic coasts in US Open opener

NEW YORK (AP) Top-seeded Novak Djokovic breezed past a U.S. Open novice in the first round Monday, beating Diego Schwartzman 6-1, 6-2, 6-4 in a match that finished a few minutes before midnight.

Djokovic was never in trouble against a 22-year-old opponent from Argentina playing in his first main draw at Flushing Meadows. Djokovic's final shot hit the net, and popped over to clinch the win.

Djokovic is always popular at Arthur Ashe Stadium, and fans kept yelling out to him from the far reaches as the hour ran late.

Djokovic has made it to the U.S. Open final in each of the last four years. The 27-year-old from Serbia won the tournament in 2011.

Redskins safety Meriweather suspended 2 games

ASHBURN, Va. (AP) The NFL once again has suspended Washington Redskins safety Brandon Meriweather for his latest blow to the head of an opponent, which the league said is his sixth violation of player safety rules.

The league announced Monday that Meriweather will be suspended for the first two regular season games for his helmet-to-helmet hit on receiver Torrey Smith in the second quarter of Saturday night's preseason win over the Baltimore Ravens.

Meriweather will miss the opener against the Houston Texans on Sept. 7 and the Sept. 14 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He will not be allowed to attend team meetings or practices or appear at the team's facilities for any reason during the suspension.

The sanction was levied by Troy Vincent, a longtime NFL safety and now the league's executive vice president of football operations. The league said Vincent determined that Meriweather "delivered a forceful blow to the head and neck area of a defenseless receiver with no attempt to wrap up or make a conventional tackle."

The league said Meriweather has previously been disciplined five times for illegal hits to defenseless players. He was suspended two games last season after two helmet-first hits in a win over the Chicago Bears, but the penalty was reduced to one game after an appeal.

Meriweather's tendency to lead with his helmet - and aim for an opponent's head - has been a major point of concern since he joined the Redskins in 2012. On the play against Baltimore, he and Smith lowered their heads at roughly the same time as Smith went for a pass over the middle, but Meriweather lowered the crown of his helmet and clearly wasn't going for a hit instead of attempting a tackle. The pass was incomplete, and Meriweather was given a 15-yard penalty for a personal foul.

"I'm trying to do what the NFL asks of me," Meriweather said after the game. "After going through this offseason and working on the things that I need to work on, I get the first chance, and it seems like I failed."

Meriweather also suggested he's being held to a higher standard because of his past.

"I think they've been keeping a close eye on me for the last couple years," he said. "I'm just going to continue to work on my game and try to get lower to do the things they want me to do."

Coach Jay Gruden, speaking before the suspension was announced, said Meriweather was trying to avoid hitting Smith's helmet.

"He saw the ball and he tried to lower his target," Gruden said. "Unfortunately, as he was lowering his target, the receiver felt him and lowered his head also at the same time. It was a bang-bang play."

Meriweather can appeal the suspension. If it is upheld, the Redskins will have few options at an already thin position for the start of the regular season. Safety Phillip Thomas' status is in doubt after he reinjured his left foot, and fellow backup Bacarri Rambo has not tackled well in the open field. Ryan Clark is the other starter.

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AP NFL websites: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Joseph White on Twitter: http://twitter.com/JGWhiteAP

NFL, FIFA join forces to evaluate concussions

Medical officials from the NFL, FIFA and other sports organizations are banding together to look into better ways to identify, manage and treat concussions.

The "think tank," funded by an educational grant from the NFL, was held Sunday and Monday at league headquarters in New York. Dozens of scientific and medical personnel from football, rugby and equestrian circles participated.

Dr. Rich Ellenbogen, chairman of the NFL's head, neck and spine committee, said the various sports organizations "need to look at all variations of what is being done around the world."

"This will change the paradigm," Ellenbogen said of such cooperation among sports. "How can we accelerate the information? This can provide a unique perspective to get people back to health. There are a lot of big ideas that can come out of this that resonated with all the leagues that may have not come up if they had done it in isolation."

Among those on hand were FIFA's chief medical officer, Dr. Jiri Dvorak; Dr. Martin Raftery of the International Rugby Board; Dr. Willem Meeuwisse of the University of Calgary's sports injury prevention research center; and Dr. Paul McCrory, an associate professor at Australia's Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health.

McCrory, who works with Australian Rules Football, also emphasized the need to work collectively.

"This is an exciting development in the science of sports concussion," he said. "Working with international sports leaders not only benefits athletes in professional sports but amateur participants throughout the world."

Handling concussions was a major topic at the recently concluded World Cup in Brazil. In the wake of FIFA being criticized during the tournament for not effectively policing concussions, Dvorak insisted that the team doctor has final say over players returning to action after an apparent head injury.

He promised that FIFA would make it clear who is in charge if a player is suspected to be concussed.

"There is a controversy about overruling the decision of the team doctor," he said. "From FIFA's side, we will strengthen the position of the team doctor, as we did already in the past."

More meetings are planned, perhaps as soon as later this year. The methodology for future research must be determined, as well as which sports might have particularly strong insight into certain treatments. Funding for any initiatives must also still be decided.

Italy striker Mario Balotelli signs for Liverpool

Liverpool signed Italy striker Mario Balotelli from AC Milan for 16 million pounds ($26.5 million) on Monday, taking a calculated gamble on a headline-grabbing player known as much for his controversies as his goals.

Nineteen months after ending a 2 1/2-year spell with Manchester City to play for his boyhood club, Balotelli will return to the English Premier League as a replacement for Luis Suarez - another of world football's talented but disruptive stars.

"I'm happy to be back because I left England and it was a mistake," Balotelli said. "I wanted to go to Italy but I realized it was a mistake."

Balotelli, who has signed what Liverpool said is a "long-term deal," spent his first day with his new team watching the Reds lose 3-1 to City in a Premier League game at Etihad Stadium later Monday. He wasn't registered in time to play.

Liverpool has been looking to strengthen its strikeforce after selling Suarez to Barcelona for $130 million but left it to the last week of the transfer window to secure one of the summer's most high-profile and intriguing signings.

During his time at City, in which he won the league title, Balotelli was sent off four times, threw a dart at a youth-team player and was involved in an incident that saw fireworks explode in his bathroom. Days before news of the fireworks incident emerged, Balotelli had revealed a T-shirt under his City jersey with the question, "Why Always Me?" after scoring in the team's 6-1 win over Manchester United.

Balotelli, with his physique, technical ability and qualities as a finisher, is one of the world's best strikers and, at 24, the best times of his career could still lie ahead of him. At Milan, he scored 26 goals in 43 league matches and he is the Italian national team's top striker, scoring 13 goals in 33 games.

But with trouble always seeming to follow him, some are questioning whether Balotelli is worth the risk for Liverpool, which has fostered a strong team spirit under manager Brendan Rodgers that helped it finish second in the Premier League last season. Jose Mourinho described Balotelli as "unmanageable" during their time together at Inter Milan, which the striker left in 2010 to join City.

"He knows himself this is probably is last chance," Rodgers said. "Mario is someone we can improve both as a footballer and as a person."

"He has a reputation but we hope he can curb that behavior," Rodgers added after the City game. "He knows his flaws and faults and he is looking for someone to help him. There is no better club for him. Of course it is a risk."

Rodgers, however, got the best out of Suarez and current first-choice striker Daniel Sturridge, who both had turbulent pasts before arriving at Anfield. Sections of the British media have reported that Balotelli has had to agree to behavior clauses being included in his contract with Liverpool.

"I believe we have the infrastructure, culture and environment to get the best out of him and help him achieve his true potential," Rodgers said. "We are a strong group here, committed to hard work and he will benefit from being around it.

"I am looking forward to working with him and helping him learn more, improve and progress as a player."

Rodgers' attempts to bring in a striker has seen him look at France forward Loic Remy of Queens Park Rangers, whose switch to Anfield broke down at the last minute, and former Barcelona, Inter Milan and Chelsea star Samuel Eto'o. Last month, during Liverpool's tour of the United States, Rodgers was linked with a bid for Balotelli but said "I can categorically tell you that he will not be at Liverpool."

The U-turn was completed on Monday.

"This transfer represents outstanding value for the club and I think we have done a really smart piece of business here," Rodgers said. "There is no doubting Mario's ability; he is a world-class talent and someone who, for such a young age, has vast experience of playing at the very highest level."

Asked what his targets at Liverpool were, Balotelli said: "I want to take this team to the Champions League."

Zimmer names Matt Cassel as Vikings starting QB

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) Matt Cassel has seen a lot in 10 years in the NFL, including by his count seven different offensive coordinators in his last six seasons in the league.

So when Cassel re-signed with the Minnesota Vikings in the offseason and started to digest Norv Turner's new system, he knew he'd have to work harder and study longer than he ever had before to win the starting job.

Mission accomplished.

Cassel was named the starting quarterback over first-round draft pick Teddy Bridgewater on Monday for the regular season opener against the St. Louis Rams, an achievement that resonated with a player who has evolved from no-name rookie to backup sensation to embattled starter and then to a journeyman veteran scratching and clawing to get another shot.

"I've been through a lot in my career," Cassel said. "I've been through the ups, I've been through the downs. I've been through the highs and the lows. At this point nothing really surprises me in my career. Because of those (experiences), it callouses you to a few different situations that as a younger player I might not have taken it as well."

One of those situations happened last year in Minnesota, when Cassel outplayed Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman during the season, but wound up starting only six games during a miserable 5-10-1 season. The Vikings fired coach Leslie Frazier and the rest of the staff after the season, hired Mike Zimmer and Turner to turn things around and brought Cassel back to bring some stability to the position.

Cassel has been sharp while starting all three preseason games. He has completed more than 66 percent of his passes for 367 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

"Matt did not do anything to lose the job this preseason," Zimmer said. "I think he's played great. The team has a lot of confidence in him. They feel good about his veteran leadership and presence."

The Vikings traded back into the first round on draft night to get Bridgewater with the 32nd pick and have pegged him as the long-term answer for the team's unsettled quarterback spot. After an understandably up-and-down preseason opener, Bridgewater has played well in the last two games. In all three games, Bridgewater is 26 of 40 for 266 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions while getting most of his action with the backups and has impressed with his unflappable demeanor and low-key presence.

"I told Teddy this morning that I'm so happy he's here with us," Zimmer said. "I'm glad he's the guy we picked. I've loved everything that he's done. It wasn't anything that Teddy did or didn't do. Teddy will be, still in my estimation, a great player for this franchise for years to come."

Bridgewater took the news in stride, saying he was looking forward to learning from Cassel, continuing to refine his understanding of the offense while staying ready if he's needed at any point this season.

"When camp first started, I just wanted to learn as much as I could and try to get better each and every day, try not to make the same mistakes twice," Bridgewater said. "So I take my hat off to Matt. He's been playing great this preseason. I'm just going to continue to learn under him."

In his first season as a head coach, Zimmer was asked if Cassel was his starter for the entire season or if there was a chance for Bridgewater to see time at some point in his rookie year.

"We will hold the quarterback position to the exact same expectations as we do every other position. If you perform, you play. If you don't perform, then the next guy will get an opportunity at some point. And when we decide to do that, we sit down and discuss it.

"That position, just like the outside linebacker spot, we have an expectation of performance and as long as those guys perform, they play."

Notes: The Vikings announced their first round of cuts on Monday. Safety Mistral Raymond was waived/injured with a leg injury after three seasons with the team. The other cuts were: CBs Derek Cox and Robert Steeples, WRs Andy Cruse, Kamar Jordan, Ty Walker and Erik Lora, tackles Pierce Burton and Kevin Murphy, DLs Kheeston Randall, Tyler Scott and Jake Snyder, TE Kory Sperry and S Brandan Bishop. ... TE Chase Ford was activated from the physically unable to perform list.

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Tiger Woods splits with swing coach Sean Foley

PARAMUS, N.J. (AP) Tiger Woods is leaving swing coach Sean Foley after four years and no majors.

Woods said on his website Monday he will no longer work with Foley, the Canadian whom he hired when his game was at its low point following the upheaval with his marriage. The announcement came one day after another Foley pupil, Hunter Mahan, won The Barclays.

"I'd like to thank Sean for his help as my coach and for his friendship," Woods said. "Sean is one of the outstanding coaches in golf today, and I know he will continue to be successful with the players working with him."

Woods has been coping with back problems for more than a year. He had surgery March 31 to alleviate a pinched nerve, forcing him to miss two majors during his three months of recovery. He missed two cuts, withdrew from another tournament and had his worst 72-hole finish in a major after returning.

He is taking three months off in a bid to regain his full strength, and said this would be the right time to dismiss Foley. Woods is not scheduled to play again until his World Challenge in Orlando, Florida, the first week in December.

He does not have a coach and said there was no timetable to hire one.

"My time spent with Tiger is one of the highlights of my career so far, and I am appreciative of the many experiences we shared together," Foley said in a statement posted on Woods' website.

Foley was the third coach Woods hired as a professional.

Woods began working with Butch Harmon as a teenager, and they changed his swing twice. The biggest overhaul was after Woods won the Masters by 12 shots. Many believe the new swing produced Woods' most dominant golf, though he also was in his early 20s and had not had serious issues with his knee. Woods won eight majors while with Harmon, including seven in 11 attempts and an unprecedented sweep of them in 2000-01. They parted in 2003.

Woods went to Hank Haney and produced another memorable stretch with an entirely different swing. In a two-year period covering 34 tournaments, Woods won 18 times (including four majors) and was runner-up six times. That ended with the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, right before his fourth and most invasive knee surgery.

That was his 14th major, and Woods has not won another since. He remains four short of the record held by Jack Nicklaus.

Haney announced in May he was leaving Woods, although those close to Woods felt a split was imminent. Woods went through most of 2010 without a coach until hooking up with Foley for the first time at the PGA Championship in 2010 at Whistling Straits.

Woods won three times on the PGA Tour in 2012, and then delivered a five-win season in 2013 when he returned to No. 1. But he rarely challenged in the majors, some of that because of injury.

He missed two majors in 2011 while letting leg injuries fully heal. Woods had a share of the 36-hole lead in the U.S. Open and PGA Championship in 2012, but he was not a factor on Sunday. He was two shots off the lead going into the final round of the 2013 British Open and fell back quickly.

He missed two more majors this year because of injury.

Foley, who first worked with Stephen Ames, has Mahan and former U.S. Open champion Justin Rose among his clients.

"It was a lifelong ambition of mine to teach the best player of all time in our sport," Foley said. "I am both grateful for the things we had the opportunity to learn from one another, as well as the enduring friendship we have built. I have nothing but respect and admiration for him."

Ledecky leaves her mark in Australia

GOLD COAST, Australia (AP) The long, deep breaths were a sign: Elation, satisfaction, relief. And just a touch of exhaustion.

Katie Ledecky had just wiped almost six seconds off her own world record in the 1,500-meter freestyle to win her fifth gold medal of the Pan Pacific championships, rounding off a phenomenal season of competition.

She now owns the world records in the 400- - she lowered her own mark at that distance the previous night - the 800- and the 1,500-meter freestyle events and is the world champion in all three.

And she's still in high school.

Before the Pan Pacific championships, the bulk of the attention focused on the return to international competition of Michael Phelps, the most decorated swimmer of all time. Ledecky's performances made sure Phelps had to share the spotlight.

Phelps, who won eight Olympic gold medals at the 2008 Beijing Games and retired after lifting his tally to 18 golds by the end of the London Games in 2012, was frequently asked about his 17-year-old teammate.

"She's a stud. It's unbelievable," Phelps said of Ledecky after she lowered her record in the 400, describing her reaction to all the fuss over her times as "so nonchalant."

"Watching her swim is remarkable," he said. "She throws it on the line - she's very talented, she works hard, and it shows."

Ledecky enjoys swimming the 1,500, but it's not an Olympic event for women so it's not a big part of her longer-term plans beyond the world championships next year. She likes the challenge of it. Her reaction to winning the 200, 400 and 800 freestyle golds were fairly subdued and self-effacing.

Although she said it was "kind of cool" to be the first to set a world record at the Gold Coast Aquatic Centre's new outdoor pool, she said she also loved playing a role in a winning 4x200 freestyle relay for the Americans.

All of her records came in some pretty difficult weather conditions - steady rain and a cold wind off the nearby Pacific Ocean during most of the sessions. It was a final, and uncharacteristic, blast of the last few weeks of the southern hemisphere winter in this part of Australia.

After completing the 30 laps in 15 minutes, 28.36 seconds - her third world record in 15 days - she really let her emotions show, slapping the water in delight after an intense final lap when she pushed harder and harder to the wall.

"That was probably one of my most painful races," Ledecky said. "But it paid off in the end. I figured pretty early on in the race that I was on world-record pace. I wasn't sure about the middle if I fell off too much, because it did really hurt. I was pretty sure I had it, but breaking it by six seconds was pretty surprising."

It was the third time in 13 months she's set the mark in the 1,500, and the second within three months since her 15:34.23 in June.

"The 1,500 is not a huge priority of mine because it's not an Olympic event - (but) it's certainly one of my favorite events," she said. "It was the last day of the meet - last time I broke it, it was the first day of the meet - so pretty different."

Now, for a change, the 2012 Olympic 800-meter champion will get a well-earned break from competition before training picks up again for the 2015 world championships.

Pettine, Browns preparing for life without Gordon

CLEVELAND (AP) While Josh Gordon waits to hear from the NFL, the Cleveland Browns think they have an idea about what is going to happen.

Coach Mike Pettine said Sunday that Gordon did not play in the Browns' previous exhibition game because the team is preparing to be without the All-Pro wide receiver for at least part of the season.

Gordon is waiting to hear from the NFL regarding his appeal of a possible yearlong suspension for again violating the league's substance-abuse program. He has been practicing and playing for weeks amid uncertainty about his career.

"Knowing that the decision is looming - that we're fairly certain that were not going to have him for a minimum of some part of the year - we wanted to make sure that we were getting repetitions with the guys that are going to be out there early," Pettine said.

The 23-year-old Gordon set the club's single-season franchise record with an NFL-best 1,646 yards receiving last year despite being suspended for the first two games. The breakout performance included one dazzling four-game stretch where had 36 receptions for 774 yards and five touchdowns.

But he has struggled in his preparations for this year, dropping passes during practices and preseason games. He hasn't spoken to reporters for months, and Pettine said his uncertain future is weighing on him.

An unspecified injury also contributed to Gordon being held out for Saturday night's 33-14 loss to St. Louis, Pettine said.

"As the game went on and there was the opportunity for him to get in there, with just the minor injury that he had, he wasn't loose," Pettine said. "I consulted with (wide receivers) coach (Mike) McDaniel and at that point we just didn't feel comfortable putting him in. It wasn't anything from a punishment standpoint or anything like that. It was just common sense."

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Bradford out for season with ACL tear

ST. LOUIS (AP) Jeff Fisher shared the bad news with Sam Bradford on Sunday morning.

By the time the St. Louis Rams coach began his day-after news conference, he'd had several hours to digest the impact of an injury that puts the team's once-rosy outlook in serious doubt, and to give a vote of confidence to journeyman backup Shaun Hill.

After announcing Bradford's season-ending torn ACL in his left knee for the second time in nine months, Fisher said speculation about a trade was premature.

At the least, they'll likely wait to see who hits the market in the first round of cuts on Tuesday when rosters must be at 75 players.

"It makes no sense to jump and react right now and try to fill the hole at whatever cost," Fisher said. "We're going to take our time and evaluate this.

"There's going to be some quarterbacks that are released and there may or may not be some quarterbacks out there that have trade value."

Fisher confirmed the extent of the injury first reported by ESPN and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He said no timetable had been set for surgery.

"We lost Sam for the year," Fisher said. "The news was devastating to him."

The coach quickly added that everyone at Rams Park must quickly become accustomed to the 34-year-old Hill running the offense.

"We're going to move forward, we're not going to change anything," Fisher said. "We have to move on and Shaun's the guy."

In all, five starters were hurt in the first half against the Browns Saturday night. Fisher called it a "nightmare."

Cornerback Trumaine Johnson was carted off with a knee injury and three others - guard Rodger Saffold and defensive tackles Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers - left with ankle injuries.

Johnson will be out 4-6 weeks with an MCL tear, but Fisher said Saffold, Langford and Brockers could play if needed in the preseason finale Thursday at Miami.

Bradford was injured in the first quarter of Saturday night's 33-14 preseason victory at Cleveland. He was hit on his left side by Browns defensive end Armonty Bryant as he threw a pass, and hopped briefly on his right leg before dropping to the ground.

Fisher said the injury was a "one in 100" rarity.

"The knee was locked and something has to give," Fisher said. "Unfortunately, the ACL gave."

Bradford, the first overall pick of the 2010 draft, missed the last nine games last season after getting injured at Carolina. The Rams also have rookie Garrett Gilbert and Austin Davis on the roster.

Hill strolled through the auditorium to a meeting as Fisher walked to the podium and Davis also made an appearance during the news conference.

"Shaun's our guy," Fisher said. "I brought him here."

The Rams shifted to a ground-heavy offense after Bradford was injured last year and Kellen Clemens inherited the job. They were 3-4 with Bradford and 4-5 with Clemens.

Unlike Bradford, Clemens was a bit of a scrambler. Hill is more in the Bradford mold of a drop-back passer.

After the game, Fisher thought Bradford might have hyperextended the knee and was "very optimistic." Bradford walked off the field, and then walked to the locker room after the injury.

Wide receiver Brian Quick said he was assured by the quarterback that he was "OK."

"It is a tremendous loss for them," Browns coach Mike Pettine said. "We knew that it didn't look like much when it happened, but I just think it was a good amount of weight that got put on it. It's such an unfortunate thing."

Pettine said there "certainly wasn't any intent" by Bryant to hurt Bradford.

Bradford had 14 touchdown passes and four interceptions last season. The Rams then upgraded their offensive line by drafting guard-tackle Greg Robinson No. 2 overall.

Bradford played in two preseason games and was 4 for 9 for 77 yards against the Browns.

The 34-year-old Hill has thrown only 16 passes the past three seasons as the backup in Detroit. He made 10 starts in 2010 for the Lions in place of injured Matthew Stafford and beat the Rams for Detroit's first win after a 0-4 start.

"He makes good decisions, he's mobile and just understands defense," Fisher said. "He's very reliable."

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Panthers QB Newton has hairline rib fracture

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Quarterback Cam Newton will miss the Carolina Panthers' final preseason game after an MRI on Sunday revealed a hairline fracture in his ribs.

Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Newton will be evaluated at the end of the week, but expects the two-time Pro Bowl quarterback will be ready for Carolina's Sept. 7 regular season opener against Tampa Bay.

"I do" expect he'll play, Rivera said. "But he has to get past the soreness. Then we will see how he starts to progress."

Newton did not speak with reporters, but walked gingerly to and from the practice field.

"He's pretty sore and he's hurting right now," Rivera said. "It is of concern."

Newton was hit after scrambling from the pocket in Carolina's preseason game Friday night against New England.

The injury came one day after Rivera talked about Newton needing to get down and slide and avoid hits in the open field. Newton was wearing a flak jacket at the time, but was hit in a small opening where there isn't any protection.

"That was the only crease in between the protection and, wouldn't you know it, that's the one spot he got it," Rivera said.

Newton has never missed a regular-season start in his three seasons with the Panthers.

Newton has run for 2,032 yards and 28 touchdowns in three seasons.

"We expect him to get past the soreness the next few days and be able to do a lot more," Rivera said.

Rivera said the injury to Newton likely means the Panthers will reconsider whether to keep three quarterbacks on the roster.

He said the injury increases Joe Webb's chances of making the team as the No. 3 quarterback behind Newton and primary backup Derek Anderson.

In other injury news, middle linebacker Luke Kuechly wore a small cast on his right hand after suffering a sprained thumb, but did go through drills Sunday. Starting left tackle Byron Bell was held out with an illness, but veteran safety Roman Harper returned to practice for the first time since the start of training camp. Harper has been bothered by a turf toe injury.

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US OPEN 2014: Serena chasing major title No. 18

NEW YORK (AP) Serena Williams stopped hiding from history and started making more of it.

Up until a couple of years ago, she practically plugged her ears at any mention of records or firsts. Now she says it out loud: Coming into the U.S. Open, her next goal is matching two tennis greats for the second-most major titles in the Open era with 18.

"Obviously just getting closer to tying with Chris (Evert) and Martina (Navratilova)," she said.

Then she added: "But been doing that all year and still hasn't happened. Not going to stress out about it anymore."

Williams has been stuck on 17 since winning the U.S. Open a year ago. When she started working with coach Patrick Mouratoglou in mid-2012, he urged her to embrace the record chase. Williams went on to capture four of the next six Grand Slam titles, an Olympic gold medal and two straight WTA Championships in a scintillating 16-month run.

But in the first three major tournaments of 2014, she didn't even make the quarterfinals. Her last appearance on the Grand Slam stage took a bizarre turn when an out-of-sorts Williams pulled out of a Wimbledon doubles match, blaming a viral illness.

Evert, for one, figured she'd be looking up at Williams by now. Or that maybe Williams would be chasing Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22 major titles.

Evert won her 18th and final major title at 31, the same age Williams was when she played at Flushing Meadows in 2013. Motivation gets harder with time because of the mental fatigue season after season.

"You just are not as fresh," Evert said. "Some days you just don't want to get out of bed."

For all that, Williams still has to rate as the heavy favorite at Flushing Meadows when the year's last major tournament starts Monday. She's seeking to join Evert as the only women to win three straight titles here in the Open era, which began in 1968.

Williams is seeded No. 1 in New York for just the third time, a surprisingly low number for someone who has been the world's top-ranked player for 204 weeks in her career. The two previous times, she won the championship.

Williams' five titles in 2014 are the most on the WTA tour; nobody else has more than three. Over the last seven Grand Slam events, the five titles not won by Williams went to five different players, and two of them won't be at Flushing Meadows: the retired Marion Bartoli and the injured Li Na.

Five-time major champ Maria Sharapova makes by far the best case to fill the void, but she hasn't looked that sharp since winning her second French Open title in June.

Petra Kvitova is coming off her victory at Wimbledon, but she's always struggled at Flushing Meadows - never even reaching the quarterfinals. After her first Wimbledon title in 2011, she promptly lost in the first round at the U.S. Open.

And Victoria Azarenka, the runner-up to Williams the last two years, has been stymied by injuries all season.

This state of affairs isn't too uncommon on the women's side in recent years. What's unusual is that the men's draw looks a bit similar. With Rafael Nadal unable to defend his title because of a wrist injury, the top players come in uncharacteristically shaky.

After winning Wimbledon and getting married, top-seeded Novak Djokovic was, in his own words, "emotionally a little bit flat" in losing early in two hard-court tournaments.

"I was a bit slow, I have to say, to get into the competition mode," Djokovic said. "It was a very unique five, six weeks that I had with the wedding and winning Wimbledon and getting back to No. 1 in the world. I couldn't ask for more. I was extremely fulfilled and happy with where I am in my life."

Meanwhile, Andy Murray has yet to rediscover his championship form after back surgery. Perhaps this is 33-year-old Roger Federer's last, best chance to win another major title.

For more than two years, he's been stuck on No. 17 - a number Williams is also all too familiar with.

Logano edged Keselowski for first win at Bristol

BRISTOL, Tenn. (AP) Joey Logano surged past Matt Kenseth with 44 laps to go and won for the first time in his career at Bristol Motor Speedway, foiling Kenseth's gambling attempt to secure a spot in NASCAR's playoffs.

Logano became the fifth driver this season to win three times, joining the Hendrick Motorsports trio of Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and teammate Brad Keselowski, who finished second.

"It's awesome," Logano said in Victory Lane. "I've never won more than one race in a season, and now I've won three."

Kenseth elected to stay on the track when most of the field pitted after a caution flag with 67 laps to go, picking track position over new tires. But once the green flag flew again, Logano and then Keselowski proved the choice faulty.

Orioles 3B Machado to have season-ending surgery

CHICAGO (AP) Baltimore third baseman Manny Machado has decided to have season-ending surgery on his ailing right knee, leaving the Orioles without one of their best players as they try for their first division title in 17 years.

Machado hurt himself on an awkward swing against the New York Yankees on Aug. 11, crumpling to the ground in the batter's box. He tried rest in an effort to return to the AL East-leading Orioles this year, but he said the knee just isn't getting better.

"There's nothing else we can do," Machado said before Baltimore's 7-2 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. "Only thing is going in there and fixing it up. It's just something it didn't get any better at all."

The 22-year-old Machado, who was selected by Baltimore with the third overall pick in the 2010 draft, was an All-Star and won a Gold Glove last year in his first full season in the majors. He played in every game before he sustained a similar injury to his other knee and missed the final week of the season.

He got his left knee fixed last October in California, and he likely will return to Dr. Neal ElAttrache in the next week or so for the procedure on his right knee. The previous operation included an arthroscopy and open reconstruction of the medial patellar femoral ligament.

"Ideally, you'd like players to be healthy for the whole season and Manny hadn't been able to get through the first two full campaigns," said Dan Duquette, the vice president of baseball operations for the Orioles. "So hopefully these surgeries will address the issue so that when he comes back he will be able to see it through the whole season."

Machado did not play in a regular-season game this year until May 1. He hit .278 with 12 home runs and 32 RBIs in 82 games.

It's a difficult blow for the Orioles, who are in prime position for their first division title since 1997. They lead New York by seven games after the Yankees beat the White Sox 5-3 in Saturday.

"I don't get into that `Woe is me, the Earth is shaking and the sky is falling,' you can't get into that mentality," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said. "We played 50 games without him."

Slugger Chris Davis got the start at third on Saturday. Jonathan Schoop and Ryan Flaherty also have played the position this year for Baltimore.

Duquette did not rule out bringing in someone to help make up for Machado's absence, but acknowledged that the pool of available players was thin and indicated he believes the best options are currently on the roster.

"The thing about the team and on behalf of the Orioles, we've been able to field a very competitive team this year in spite of our injuries," Duquette said. "And our team has been competitive because players step up."

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Jay Cohen can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/jcohenap

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