Jozy Altidore, Abby Wambach named U.S. Soccer Athletes of the Year

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One player set a record for most consecutive games with a goal. The other became the all-time leading scorer in women’s international soccer history. On Wednesday, Jozy Altidore and Abby Wambach were rewarded for their standout 2013 campaigns with their teams’ highest honors, named Male and Female Athlete of the Year by U.S. Soccer.

For Wambach, it is the sixth time she has claimed the honor, having now won the award in three of the last four years. In 2013, the Western New York Flash star ran her international scoring record to 160 goals, passing five-time winner Mia Hamm’s FIFA record of 158 goals.

With the award, Wambach also passed Hamm to become the U.S.’s only six-time Athlete of the Year winner. From her Q&A with U.S. Soccer:

“Of course I’ve never really been competing against Mia. The kind of legacy she left behind is one that makes the people who came after want to strive to better the team and the program; those are the kind of values she wanted to teach. Hopefully, I can pass that on to the others who come behind me as well.”

Altidore, winning his honor for the first time, posted a career high eight goals for the U.S. in 2013, setting a team record by scoring in five consecutive matches between June 2 and Aug. 14. Having helped AK Alkmaar to the Dutch Cup in Holland, Altidore’s play earned the 24-year-old a move to the Premier League when he signed with Sunderland.

From his Q&A with U.S. Soccer:

“It’s a huge honor. I’m really excited. It’s nice to know people thought I had that much of an influence on the National Team.”

“I just tried to keep a routine and keep it when I was with the National Team which is difficult because it’s a whole different environment with different needs. I tried as much as possible to replicate what was working for me. Fortunately it worked out that it was a really successful year for me and the team.”

The federation also handed out awards to their youth athletes of the year, with Columbus Crew midfielder Wil Trapp and Paris Saint-Germain forward Lindsey Horan winning the male and female awards.

And for the second time, U.S. Soccer also honored a Disabled Athlete of the Year, with paralympic national team member Rene Renteria winning the award.

Here are the former winners of each honor, as distributed by U.S. Soccer:

MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
1984: Rick Davis
1985: Perry Van der Beck
1986: Paul Caligiuri
1987: Brent Goulet
1988: Peter Vermes
1989: Mike Windischmann
1990: Tab Ramos
1991: Hugo Perez
1992: Marcelo Balboa
1993: Thomas Dooley
1994: Marcelo Balboa
1995: Alexi Lalas
1996: Eric Wynalda
1997: Kasey Keller
1998: Cobi Jones
1999: Kasey Keller
2000: Chris Armas
2001: Earnie Stewart
2002: Brad Friedel
2003: Landon Donovan
2004: Landon Donovan
2005: Kasey Keller
2006: Oguchi Onyewu
2007: Clint Dempsey
2008: Tim Howard
2009: Landon Donovan
2010: Landon Donovan
2011: Clint Dempsey
2012: Clint Dempsey
2013: Jozy Altidore

FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
1985: Sharon Remer
1986: April Heinrichs
1987: Carin Jennings
1988: Joy Biefeld
1989: April Heinrichs
1990: Michelle Akers
1991: Michelle Akers
1992: Carin Gabarra
1993: Kristine Lilly
1994: Mia Hamm
1995: Mia Hamm
1996: Mia Hamm
1997: Mia Hamm
1998: Mia Hamm
1999: Michelle Akers
2000: Tiffeny Milbrett
2001: Tiffeny Milbrett
2002: Shannon MacMillan
2003: Abby Wambach
2004: Abby Wambach
2005: Kristine Lilly
2006: Kristine Lilly
2007: Abby Wambach
2008: Carli Lloyd
2009: Hope Solo
2010: Abby Wambach
2011: Abby Wambach
2012: Alex Morgan
2013: Abby Wambach

YOUNG MALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
1998: Josh Wolff
1999: Ben Olsen
2000: Landon Donovan
2001: DaMarcus Beasley
2002: Bobby Convey
2003: Freddy Adu
2004: Eddie Johnson
2005: Benny Feilhaber
2006: Jozy Altidore
2007: Michael Bradley
2008: Sacha Kljestan
2009: Luis Gil
2010: Gale Agbossoumonde
2011: Brek Shea
2012: Rubio Rubin
2013: Wil Trapp

YOUNG FEMALE ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
1998: Cindy Parlow
1999: Lorrie Fair
2000: Aly Wagner
2001: Aleisha Cramer
2002: Lindsay Tarpley
2003: Cat Reddick
2004: Heather O’Reilly
2005: Lori Chalupny
2006: Danesha Adams
2007: Lauren Cheney
2008: Kristie Mewis
2009: Tobin Heath
2010: Bianca Henninger
2011: Sydney Leroux
2012: Julie Johnston
2013: Lindsey Horan

DISABLED ATHLETE OF THE YEAR
2012: Felicia Schroeder
2013: Rene Renteria

Sanchez: “I’d like to stay in London… but with a team that wins”

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Alexis Sanchez may have some explaining to do when he arrives back at Arsenal…

[ MORE: Sanchez, Ozil to stay?

The Chilean forward starred for Chile on international duty, scoring and grabbing an assist in their 3-1 win over Venezuela to get their World Cup qualifying campaign back on track.

He also spoke to Chilean media outlet Publimetro and is quoted as saying the following about his future as he has just 15 months left on his current contract at Arsenal.

“I am happy in London and hope to finish my contract there,” Sanchez said. “I’d like to stay in the city but with a team that is winning things, that has a winning mentality. I’m 28 years old, I still have a lot of years ahead of me. I am a player who looks after himself.”

With Chelsea linked heavily with a move for Sanchez this week, those comments will fuel the fire further that Arsenal’s leading scorer could cross England’s capital this summer and the Gunners could lose yet another top talent to a direct Premier League rival (see: Van Persie, Robin. Cole, Ashley and Nasri, Samir).

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Arsene Wenger responded to Sanchez’s reported comments in a light-hearted manner as he revealed that he believes both Sanchez and Mesut Ozil, who also has just 15 months to run on his current deal too, want to stay at Arsenal.

“In a positive way, there’s only one team in London, so he’s happy,” Wenger smiled. “He wants to win the championship, that’s what everybody wants. You have to be cautious when they give interviews in their home country. The interpretation is not always correct.”

“I have not a lot to add. I think he’s happy here. We have not extended his contract, I hope he will stay at the club. It happened before when we had to sell our best players. But that’s not the case any more. He has one and half years contract. I don’t think it is an immediate concern for Arsenal.”

So, Sanchez’s comments may have been lost in translation a little but it is intriguing to decipher what he’s saying as this whole game of cat and mouse plays out. Wenger has said that contract talks regarding Ozil and Sanchez will not happen until the season is over and that means the duo will have just one year left on their deals when they sit down to discuss a huge raise.

With Arsenal also having another eight players out of contract in 2018 there could be a huge rebuild on the way at the Emirates with or without Wenger. There’s no doubting Sanchez is the best player Arsenal have with Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and Juventus all linked with him and the fact he’s won one FA Cup in his three previous seasons with the Gunners obviously isn’t enough success for a player who seems to have an insatiable hunger for success.

If Sanchez does leave then that could be the signal for several other stars to move on too.

Mourinho gives update on Ibrahimovic, Neymar

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Jose Mourinho cut to the chase when asked about two superstars.

[ MORE: Ozil, Sanchez to stay at Arsenal? ]

Ahead of Manchester United’s clash with West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on CNBC and online via NBCSports.com) Mourinho has been talking about a potential $217 million move for Barcelona’s Neymar this summer, plus the future of Zlatan Ibrahimovic as United’s top goalscorer revealed on Wednesday he’s in talks about extending his contract for another season. 

First up, speaking to ESPN Brazil Mourinho responded to reports claiming he had been in touch with Barcelona and Neymar’s representatives about a move for the Brazil superstar.

“It’s speculation. I always try to be objective and pragmatic with clubs and to ask them what they can give me. To ask for Neymar is absurd. A club like Barcelona cannot and will not lose Neymar,” Mourinho said. “Although Lionel Messi is still a young player with years ahead of him, he’s almost 30, and Neymar will be the great player of Barcelona post-Messi. So much that I think it is like trying to break into a safe – impossible.”

In a separate interview with Sky Sports, Mourinho revealed he will put no pressure on Ibrahimovic to stay at United for another season and will support him no matter what.

“I am just calm and waiting for the decision,” Mourinho said. “If the decision is for him to stay and he is happy with that, we are delighted with that. If his decision is to leave and try to find a different challenge, I will be also happy for him. He is [a big part of our success this season] but the human being is more important than the player and the team. If his decision is to leave and try to be happy with his family and have a different reality, so be it.”

What should we make of all this? It’s just Mourinho being Mourinho.

He’s not getting people’s hopes up about Neymar arriving at Old Trafford but if there’s a slither of a chance that could happen, you can bet your bottom dollar Mourinho will try to push it through. Neymar’s incredible release clause of $217 million would have to be met with the biggest wages on the planet (he only signed a new five-year deal at Barca in October) and although United could afford that will Barca really let him leave the Nou Camp after grooming him to be Messi’s successor?

As for Ibrahimovic, the 35-year-old Swedish striker has scored 26 goals in 41 appearances for United this season and although his deal runs out this summer he has a clause which can trigger an extra year. Reports suggest he has an offer from the LA Galaxy waiting for him but if Ibra leads United to the UEFA Champions League next season can you really see him not having one last crack at winning major titles in the Premier League and Europe? Probs not.

Wenger says Ozil, Sanchez want to stay at Arsenal

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Arsene Wenger has being discussing the situation regarding Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil at Arsenal.

[ MORE: Sanchez to Chelsea? ]

Speaking to the media ahead of Arsenal’s clash with Manchester City on Sunday (Watch live, 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com) at the Emirates Stadium, Wenger is hopeful his star duo will both remain with the Gunners beyond this summer.

Both Sanchez and Ozil are contracted to Arsenal until the summer of 2018 but are yet to agree a new deal and talks will not begin until the end of the current season.

Wenger isn’t too concerned despite Sanchez being linked with plenty of the biggest clubs on the planet.

“I personally believe both of them want to stay. I hope the club will find an agreement with them,” Wenger said.

Asked about his own future, Wenger had no update about reports suggesting he was about to sign a new two-year contract extension. That was despite saying before the international break that he would reveal his decision soon.

“It’s a subject that at the moment it is not sorted completely out,” Wenger said. “I’m very clear in my mind. Do I stay two months or two years? My commitment will be exactly the same all the time. It does not influence my attitude.”

So, Wenger is standing firm and did not want to get into any details regarding his own future as his current deal runs out in the summer.

However, the fact he said it is “not sorted completely out” suggests that talks are ongoing and that would also seem to point towards Wenger staying on after 20 years in charge.

There’s no doubt that this situation rumbling on has impacted Wenger’s team in recent weeks as Arsenal crashed out of the UEFA Champions League 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich and have also lost four of their last five Premier League games.

Bagging a big win this weekend against City would significantly boost Arsenal’s hopes of finishing in the top four but perhaps everyone connected with Arsenal is more eager to have Wenger’s future sorted and then everything else will slot into place.

If the 2018 World Cup started today…

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Another international break has passed, with fortunes rising and falling in most of FIFA’s confederations (Africa took a break during the break, having staged AFCON in January).

[ MORE: All World Cup qualifying news ]

Brazil joined hosts Russia as nations to have qualified for the 2018 World Cup, and 30 spots remain. Let’s take the opportunity to project the field for Russia.

In October, we took the projected qualifiers and simulated all the way down to the World Cup final. Germany beat Brazil. Let’s go again. Who will “win” it this time?


QUALIFICATION

We’ll again use actual qualification, as flawed and early as it is in some confederations, to be predict our combatants.

Asia (7 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia
PLAYOFF: Uzbekistan vs. Australia

PROJECTION: While Uzbekistan has been better in terms of overall form, Australia’s experience boosts it into a match-up with the USMNT.

Africa (2 of 6 qualifiers played)
IN: DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt

CONCACAF (4 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama
PLAYOFF: United States

(AP Photo/Arnulfo Franco)

South America (14 of 18 qualifiers played)
IN: Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Chile
PLAYOFF: Argentina

Oceania (4 of 6 qualifiers played)
PLAYOFF: New Zealand vs. Tahiti

UEFA (5 of 10 qualifiers played)
IN: France, Switzerland, Germany, Serbia, Poland, England, Spain, Belgium, Croatia
UEFA PLAYOFFS: Sweden, Portugal, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Slovakia, Italy, Greece, Iceland

SIMULATED PLAYOFFS (random draw):
Sweden vs. Iceland — Sweden wins
Portugal vs. Republic of Ireland — Portugal wins
Northern Ireland vs. Slovakia — Slovakia wins
Italy vs. Greece — Italy wins

Intercontinental playoffs:

Australia vs. United States — USMNT wins
Argentina vs. New Zealand — Argentina wins


FIELD (FIFA Rankings)

  1. Russia (hosts, 60)
  2. Argentina (1)
  3. Brazil (2)
  4. Germany (3)
  5. Chile (4)
  6. Belgium (5)
  7. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

    France (6)

  8. Colombia (7)
  9. Portugal (8)
  10. Uruguay (9)
  11. Spain (10)
  12. Switzerland (11)
  13. Poland (12)
  14. England (13)
  15. Italy (15)
  16. Croatia (16)
  17. Mexico (17)
  18. Costa Rica (19)
  19. Egypt (20)
  20. Slovakia (25)
  21. USA (30)
  22. Iran (33)
  23. Burkina Faso (36)
  24.  (Photo by Richard Huggard/Gallo Images/Getty Images)

    DR Congo (38)

  25. South Korea (40)
  26. Nigeria (41)
  27. Sweden (45)
  28. Ivory Coast (47)
  29. Japan (51)
  30. Serbia (52)
  31. Panama (53)
  32. Saudi Arabia (57)

THE POTS

The 10 European qualifiers mean two will have to join Pot 2. Our random selections were… Croatia and Spain.

Pot 1 (seeds): Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, Chile, Belgium, France, Colombia, Brazil

Pot 2 (CAF, CONMEBOL, UEFA): DR Congo, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso, Egypt, Uruguay, Croatia, Spain

Pot 3 (AFC & CONCACAF): Iran, South Korea, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Costa Rica, Panama, USMNT

Pot 4: (UEFA): Sweden, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Serbia, Poland, England, Portugal


THE DRAW

Group A: Russia, DR Congo, Saudi Arabia, Sweden
Group B: Chile, Croatia, Mexico, Portugal
Group C: Brazil, Nigeria, Panama, Switzerland
Group D: Germany, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Poland
Group E: Argentina, Spain, Japan, Slovakia
Group F: France, Ivory Coast, South Korea, Italy
Group G: Belgium, Uruguay, USMNT, England
Group H: Colombia, Egypt, Iran, Serbia

So… should we play it out? We’ll try to throw in some upsets and not just go with the chalk.

Round of 16
Mexico (B2) def. Russia (A1)
Brazil (C1) def. Poland (D2)
Spain (E1) def. Italy (F2)
Belgium (G1) def. Egypt (H2)
Portugal (B1) def. DR Congo (A2)
Germany (D1) def. Nigeria (C2)
France (F1) def. Argentina (G2)
Colombia (H1) def. England (G2)

Quarterfinals
Brazil def. Mexico
Spain def. Belgium
Germany def. Portugal
France def. Colombia

Semifinals
Brazil def. Spain
France def. Germany

Final
Brazil def. France