Jozy Altidore to captain U.S. Wednesday against Czech Republic

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Jozy Altidore is only 24 years old, but having broke into the U.S. Men’s National Team in his teens, the Sunderland striker has already accumulated 71 international appearances – the type of track record that puts him in position to claim the captaincy when the team’s regular leadership is gone. On Wednesday, with Clint Dempsey back in Seattle and Tim Howard on sabbatical, Altidore will assume that role on in Prague, when he will lead the U.S. out of the tunnel against the Czech Republic.

U.S. head coach Jurgen Klinsmann confirmed the news today from the Czech Republic, where his team will face Czechs in its first appearance since this summer’s World Cup:

[tweet https://twitter.com/JeffreyCarlisle/status/506799840723206144]

Dempsey, the team’s normal captain, was left off a team that only called in one player from Major League Soccer. While Howard would normally be the logical replacement in a Europe-heavy squad, the Everton goalkeeper recently embarked on a  year-long break from the national team. With players like Michael Bradley having move back to North America over the last year, Jurgen Klinsmann’s latest team is devoid of its normal leadership.

Altidore is the one exception. Having debuted with the team as a 17-year-old in 2007, the former New York Red Bulls, Villarreal, and AZ Alkmaar striker has become one of the team’s most tenured players. Thanks to a starting role at two World Cups, Altidore as a level of experience that belies his age. With still two more World Cup cycles left in his career, Altidore already has 23 international goals, good for sixth on the U.S. Men’s all-time list.

With Dempsey and DaMarcus Beasley left at home, Altidore is the obvious choice to assume the armband. On a team where Alejandro Bedoya is the next-most capped player (32), he may also be the only choice.

For critics, Altidore has become defined by his struggles at Sunderland, but for some players, there’s only a tenuous link between the club and international worlds. Though he continues to fight for time with the Black Cats, Altidore is an crucial part of the U.S., one whose absence was felt in Brazil.

It may only be an early cycle friendly, but Altidore’s earned this recognition. He’s the best choice to lead the Americans out in Prague.

Defoe walks out Bradley Lowery, scores in England win

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Jermain Defoe’s friendship with terminally-ill Bradley Lowery has been special to watch unfold, and the Sunderland striker brought his little buddy to Wembley today.

Then he notched a match-winner.

Lowery walked Defoe out onto the field in a replica England kit before Sunday’s World Cup qualifier against Lithuania, and then Defoe scored his 20th goal for country.

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It was his first since 2013, the last year Defoe was called up for the Three Lions.

Here’s the goal, which was followed by a second-half Jamie Vardy tally as England stayed atop Group F with a 2-0 win over Lithuania.

Two Russian soccer fans stabbed in Serbia

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) Two Russian fans have been hospitalized with serious injuries after being stabbed following a friendly soccer match between Red Star Belgrade and Lokomotiv Moscow.

Serbian Interior Minister Nebojsa Stefanovic said Sunday police were looking for the knife-wielding perpetrators who attacked a group of Lokomotiv fans in downtown Belgrade late Saturday.

Serbian media reports said the Russian fans were attacked by supporters of Red Star’s rival Partizan Belgrade.

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The match, which Red Star won 2-1, was meant to promote Serbia’s traditional friendship with Russia.

Stefanovic says “nobody should think they could hurt the Serbian-Russian friendship” with such attacks.

Serbia has seen a surge of fan violence inside and outside stadiums. In 2009, a French football fan was fatally beaten in Belgrade.

VIDEO: Gerrard’s juggle and finish leads Liverpool legends past Real Madrid

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Scoring at Anfield doesn’t get old, especially when your name is Steven Gerrard.

The English midfielder was playing in a friendly match between Liverpool and Real Madrid “legends” on Sunday, when he delivered this tasty goal (and assists to Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler, and John Aldridge).

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Gerrard redirects a cross over a lunging defender and into a place where he can lash a goal home to put the Reds up 4-0. He dedicated his Man of the Match performance to club legend Ronnie Moran, who died earlier this week.

Real’s comeback came up just short in a 4-3 final, with Fernando Morientes, Ruben de la Red, and Edwin Congo scoring for the visitors.

On a Sunday waiting for the international matches to begin, Gerrard supplies a nice highlight for the rest of us (Extended highlights free on Liverpool’s site).

Ozil bristles at talk of Arsenal selling him

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Mesut Ozil is on international break, and bristling at reports that Arsenal is going to sell him.

The midfielder’s absence from the lineup last week had plenty speculating on his future, even more than usual. His contract expires in 2018, and several reports claimed he’d join Alexis Sanchez as players destined for elsewhere.

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Ozil was not called up by Germany, and has missed four of his last nine Premier League matches. Three of those were for illness, and he missed last week’s loss to West Brom with a hamstring injury.

From Metro:

“And you think Wenger tells the journalist before he tells me? Then I know him differently,” Ozil told German outlet Welt.

“I have a contract until 2018 in London and I feel very comfortable there. We’ll talk soon and then make a decision.”

Metro notes that Ozil also said he wants to win the Champions League, something that can only happen with Arsenal remaining in the Top Four. We suppose you could make snarky inferences from his “comfortable in London” phrasing, but we’ll leave it there.