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Yedlin: USA’s goal must be to win the World Cup

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NEWCASTLE — Wearing a lively floral tracksuit in the height of winter in England’s chilly North East, DeAndre Yedlin is obviously a man who expresses himself freely.

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Yedlin, 24, had already laughed off banter from his teammates about his Dolce & Gabbana gear from Milan as he sat down to talk exclusively with Pro Soccer Talk at Newcastle United’s snowy training ground ahead of their clash with Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 9:15 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) at St James’ Park.

Thousands of miles away from his hometown of Seattle and the United States of America, the U.S. national team right back admitted he is still smarting from their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

That said, when asked what the USMNT’s aim should be in the next decade, a period where he is expected to be a leader on the pitch with 49 caps already to his name, Yedlin was bullish about how the U.S. can bounce back from the biggest disappointment of all.

“For me, I want to win the World Cup. If that’s not the goal then I don’t think you should be playing,” Yedlin said. “A lot of people will say that isn’t realistic but for me, I will say ‘why?’ Why isn’t that realistic? Leicester City won the Premier League and nobody thought that could happen but it did. If that’s [winning the World Cup] not the ultimate goal then I think we should reevaluate things.”

Wow. Yedlin believes it when he says that the U.S. should be challenging for glory in Qatar in 2022 and potentially on home soil in 2026.

For a player who in the space of four years has risen from the Seattle Sounders academy to an MLS star (via two years at the University of Akron) and then on to Tottenham Hotspur before a loan spell at Sunderland in the Premier League and eventually spending the last 18 months at Newcastle, he is in a hurry to get the USMNT back on track.

Talking about the pain of the defeat at Trinidad & Tobago back in October 2017 which led to the U.S. failing to make the World Cup for the first time since 1986, Yedlin believes good can come from this and a talented young group can turn it into a positive as they focus on the 2022 World Cup.

“100 percent. I wouldn’t call it a blessing in disguise but I think now, especially the guys that have come through it, now we feel what disappointment is like, not making the World Cup,” Yedlin explained. “Now there is going to be an extra gear that is hit to make sure we make the next one but not only make it but do well in it. Nobody wants to feel this way again. It gives us extra motivation but it shouldn’t come to the point where you need to feel that. But that’s what it is and hopefully it helps us.”

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

With question marks about the experienced USMNT core of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and others carrying on for the next four-year World Cup cycle, Yedlin feels like now is a good natural time for the promising young talents of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams et al. to be given their chance to shine for the Stars and Stripes.

“I think so and I think those guys realize it as well,” Yedlin admitted. “Every international career is going to come to an end you’re going to pass it down to the younger generation. Every career comes to that point. I think they are happy with doing that and they know we have some talented players coming in.”

Given the debates around the current U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election and plenty of questions asked about how U.S. Soccer not only develops, but finds the next crop of talented players in the future, does Yedlin, a player who came through both the MLS academy and college systems, believe there is a problem with talent identification?

“I do think players are slipping through the net,” Yedlin said. “It is a situation where we do need to reach out to some of the communities that maybe historically haven’t been as interested in soccer or some of the poorer communities because I think there are kids slipping though the net. Just like there will be in any sport or in any country. I realize it is hard because the USA is such a big country. In that same sense there are that many more kids who could be the next ones who help us reach a World Cup final. You know? I think as big as a country America is, we should start trying to become a powerhouse in this sport.”

What about his own career as he helps Newcastle battle relegation from the Premier League with 12 games to go, aided by their incredible support?

Under Rafael Benitez he’s flourished as a title winner in England’s second-tier last season and a regular in the Premier League for the Magpies this season, and he believes playing for a coach lauded for his defensive techniques has helped his game massively.

“It is based on what the coach likes and prefers but I think defensively I’ve just gotten a better understanding of when to go, when to stay, how aggressive to be and realizing what is around me,” Yedlin said after he had talked Pro Soccer Talk through, on a tactics board, when to step to engage a winger and when to drop and hold your defensive shape. “It’s the whole understanding of the game which has become better and that comes with maturity and experience.”

Jurgen Klinsmann was the man who gave Yedlin his chance with the USMNT and brought him to the 2014 World Cup amid much fanfare and then helped push him to Europe afterwards. Yedlin praised Klinsmann for “getting him to where he is today” but understood why he was fired after the poor set of results at the start of 2018 World Cup qualifying which weren’t all his fault because “the name of the game” is the coach getting fired even though he “can’t press a button and make all the players play well during a game.”

Yedlin revealed he hasn’t thought too much about who the next permanent USMNT coach would be, and when asked if Caleb Porter, his former coach at Akron, would be a good fit, he was positive about such an appointment.

“It’s not something I’ve thought a lot about but I’ve had Caleb [as a coach] before and I’d definitely be happy with that, but whoever it is I am sure will be a good fit,” Yedlin added.

One of just three Americans playing regularly in the Premier League (Danny Williams of Huddersfield and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City being the others) Yedlin isn’t looking too far ahead and revealed he is a serial short term goal-setter.

“I have to make a list of a bunch of different things. There is not one thing. I make a lot of lists,” Yedlin smiled. “Every three months I reevaluate my goals and see how I did. They are short term targets and build season to season.”

His ultimate goal to win the World Cup during his time with the USA is a lofty one, and at least four years off, but Yedlin, like his tracksuit, is bold and aims to be a leading light in the USMNT’s shot at redemption.

2018 MLS SuperDraft club-by-club needs

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Six MLS teams have three picks between Friday’s first and second rounds of the SuperDraft, while two teams — Portland and Philadelphia — aren’t scheduled to select anyone at all.

[ MORE: USL granted second tier status ]

Atlanta United
Picks: 14, 36
Needs: They’ve signed a number of defenders this offseason, but wouldn’t be surprised to see them take someone to do the dirty work — at back or center defensive mid.

Chicago Fire
Picks: 15, 38
Needs: A youngster behind Bastian Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty in the center of the park. Maybe Joao Moutinho from Akron, though he shouldn’t drop this far.

Colorado
Picks: 25, 27
Needs: Attacker — The club has a number of good defenders and new coach Anthony Hudson has brought a few in, too. Forward or attack-minded midfielder seems the player here.

Columbus
Picks: 21, 32, 44
Needs: Attacking talent — Justin Meram wants out, Federico Higuain is quite the veteran, and Ola Kamara may be wanted by La Liga clubs. Trading up may be the call.

DC United
Picks: 3
Needs: FW, CAM — An electric attacker is atop DC’s wish list, and there are a few in this draft, but DC will also like the idea of trading down to scoop a couple picks. Thought of them when I saw this Tweet;

FC Dallas
Picks: 11, 29, 34
Needs: Anywhere — FCD’s academy has been so productive that the club can take massive home run swings and be happy just hitting on one.

Houston Dynamo
Picks: 20, 43
Needs: Defender — There’s an outside shot for a midfielder or goalkeeper here, but with Erick Torres, Romell Quioto, and Alberth Elis, it’s fair to assume attacker isn’t the desired outcome.

LAFC
Picks: 1, 24
Needs: Everywhere (It’s their first year, after all). Selecting first overall, LA would do well do deal for more picks, though it’s probably hard for Bob Bradley to overlook center back Tomas Hilliard-Arce of Stanford as a center back for a decade.

LA Galaxy
Picks: 2, 40
Needs: CB, ST –An out-and-out big body center forward is a good idea, especially with no guarantees that Gyasi Zardes comes back from the form wilderness.

Minnesota United
Picks: 5, 28, 41
Needs: Center back, full back, defensive mid — The Loons are pretty set at forward and playmaking midfielder, and have Alex Kapp as a young backup to Bobby Shuttleworth between the sticks. Anywhere else is possible.
Would love to land: Joao Moutinho, Akron

Montreal Impact
Picks: 4, 7, 37
Needs: Expect the Impact to take a swing at an attacker with one of their first two picks, and go best available player with the other.

New England Revolution
Picks: 8, 9
Needs: Center midfield — Whether a box-to-box CDM or an heir to Lee Nguyen, New England needs presence in the middle of the park.

Nguyen (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

New York City FC
Picks: 19, 42
Needs: Defender — Finding functional, U.S. born backs is always a good idea. When your parent club keeps finding you legitimate elite attacking prospects, there’s every reason to choose backs.

New York Red Bulls
Picks: 16, 31, 39
Needs: Forward — RBNY has produced Homegrown talent everywhere, but it’d be interesting to see them find someone to develop behind Bradley Wright-Phillips.

Orlando City
Picks: 6
Needs: Anywhere but midfield — With Sacha Kljestan, Josue Coleman, Yoshimar Yotun, and a number of X-factors, it seems more likely Orlando looks to find a defender or forward.

Philadelphia Union
Picks: None
Needs: Assuming they find some picks, defenders and a developmental center forward could be the play.

Portland Timbers
Picks: None
Needs: Could go anywhere given the shift in manager, but a winger seems possible.

Real Salt Lake
Picks: 10, 33
Needs: Center midfield, goalkeeper — An heir apparent to Kyle Beckerman and Nick RImando seems appropriate here.

San Jose Earthquakes
Picks: 12, 30, 35
Needs: Who knows who Mikael Stahre wants, and really the Quakes seem halfway decent all over the park. A young, shifty forward would be the play if available.

Seattle Sounders
Picks: 22, 45
Needs: Forward — Don’t really need anyone, but Clint Dempsey‘s getting a bit older. Jordan Morris isn’t and Will Bruin’s here, too, so any position is possible.

Sporting KC
Picks: 13, 18
Needs: Like TFC and Vancouver below, KC can take the best players available.

Toronto FC
Picks: 23, 46
Needs: Maybe wingback depth or a Michael Bradley or Jozy Altidore understudy? Best available player is the call here.

Vancouver Whitecaps
Picks: 17, 26
Needs: Another team that can go best available player, though wide midfielders or backs seem a decent shout.

Landon Donovan is back; What it can mean to Leon, USA

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Saying “I don’t believe in walls,” United States men’s national team legend Landon Donovan came out of retirement (again) this weekend to join Club Leon in Mexico.

Donovan, 35, scored one goal in nine matches during his first comeback bid with the LA Galaxy in 2016, and was an MLS Best XI member as recently as 2014.

There’s little to no risk for Donovan, who’s not the sort of character who’d care about public perception, anyway. Again, he’s a legend whose name is on the MLS MVP trophy (which does seem an honor that could’ve waited given recent news). And the potential rewards are high, but there is a question of why.

[ MORE: Martino, Wynalda USSF alliance?!? ]

We imagine that this past season had to have Donovan frothing for several reasons. Clearly there’s political impetus given his aforementioned “walls” line, but there’s likely so much more to it.

Donovan was mentioned as a potential candidate to run for the vacant United States Soccer Federation presidency, and the American legend was steamed when his Yanks failed to qualify for the World Cup.

He’s also watched Clint Dempsey join him atop the USMNT goal scoring charts, his Galaxy struggle for the first time in ages, and a number of longtime friends — Bob Bradley, Tim Howard — return to MLS (Pure speculation but maybe, just maybe, Donovan will use Leon as a buffer before another MLS stint with LAFC? He has, after all, played for both of the Cali Clasico rivals).

And the Swansea City advisor now has two sons who can enjoy ‘Dad’ back on the playing field. For Leon, the decision is easy, as there’s more depth in salary south of the border and the American is going to sell enough jerseys and garner enough buzz to justify the move before considering his potential to do special things on the field.

Donovan will be teammates with USMNT-capped backstop William Yarbrough on Los Panzas Verde, as well as longtime Houston Dynamo attacker Giles Barnes and Mexican national teamer Luis Montes.

Largely, though, it’s likely Donovan just missed playing the game at a high level, and will welcome a new challenge. He’ll also give us a bit of a measuring stick for the gap between MLS and Liga MX, although that’s fraught with analytical challenges.

Liga MX is the fourth domestic top flight for Donovan.

Christian Pulisic named USMNT Player of the Year

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Christian Pulisic was by far the best player for the U.S. men’s national team in 2017 and he was duly awarded on Thursday.

[ MORE: Pulisic speaks to JPW

Pulisic was named the 2017 Male Soccer Player of the Year by U.S. Soccer, with the 19-year-old becoming the youngest-ever player to win the award.

He beats Landon Donovan’s record who was the previous youngest at 21 years of age when he won the award in 2003.

Pulisic won 94 percent of the vote, with Michael Bradley, Jordan Morris, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore the other nominees. In 2017 he won nine caps for the USMNT, scoring six goals and adding four assists as the teenager became the main attacking talent.

The Borussia Dortmund playmaker was delighted to receive the accolade.

“It really is a big honor and I just want to thank everyone who voted for me to win U.S. Male Player of the Year,” Pulisic said. “It’s something that I never could have imagined to be here in this position. I’m thankful for everyone who supported me and I’m excited for the future.”

With the USMNT failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup, the first time they had failed to make a World Cup tournament since 1986, many had called for no U.S. player to receive the award in 2017.

However, Pulisic was truly deserving of the accolade as he tried his best to drag the USMNT to Russia next summer.

MLS Cup preview: Revenge for Toronto? Repeat for Seattle?

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After another grueling regular season and two-year-month postseason, the 2017 MLS season will end just as it predecessor, the 2016 campaign, did: with Toronto FC hosting the Seattle Sounders at BMO Field.

[ MORE: USMNT to serve as France’s final pre-2018World Cup foe ]

Saturday’s MLS Cup final (4 p.m. ET) features two sides which were widely considered the “best” in their respective conferences on the whole of a 34-game regular season and ensuing playoffs run. As it’s a rematch of last year’s final, two very distinct narratives have prevailed: will it be a final for revenge, or a repeat?

Road to revenge

Squad

For TFC, the quest to reach — and ultimately, host — back-to-back MLS Cup finals began with keeping together the core of the most expensive team in MLS history, and then adding another Best XI-caliber star to the bunch. That’s the $18.5-million trio of Sebastian Giovinco ($7.1 million per year), Michael Bradley ($6.5 million) and Jozy Altidore ($4.9), before adding Victor Vazquez (8 goals, 16 assists — a goal or assist ever 99.25 minutes he played this year), a silky smooth no. 10 who opened up a whole new world of possibilities for the Reds this season, for the bargain steal highway-robbery price of $700,000.

Season

If you’re looking for a story of adversity and perseverance en route to proving an entire world full of naysayers wrong, please immediately begin looking elsewhere. Far and away the worst stretch of TFC’s 2017 season came from the outset: just one win from their first five games, but an unbeaten start nonetheless. Game no. 6 saw TFC lose for the first time this year, but was quickly followed by six straight wins and not another defeat until June had begun.

The Gold Cup cost them a handful of points, as Bradley and Altidore were with the U.S. national team, both in mind and body for much of the early summer. An 11-game unbeaten run from early July to mid-September solidified their place as the Supporters’ Shield winners-elect, and put them in a position to set a new regular-season points record, which they did on the final of the season.

The playoff run

Playing at home, or going on the road — none of it made much difference to TFC in the regular season (though, they lost just once at BMO Field). A 2-1 win away to the New York Red Bulls all but secured progression into the Eastern Conference finals, which they pushed to the limits with a 1-0 defeat in the second leg. Thanks to the away goals, though, they marched on as the rest of the East’s favorites — New York City FC and Atlanta United — fell in the wake of of Columbus Crew SC, whom TFC would battle ever so tightly for 180 minutes in the East finals. After a 0-0 draw in the first leg in Columbus, it was Altidore who bagged the only goal of the tie with only 30 minutes remaining before a trip to extra-time.

Favorites for revenge?

It would be unwise to look past TFC — for all of the above reasons, and for the fact that despite losing last year’s final, they completely dominated the game from beginning to end. Seattle failed to register a single shot on target over 120 minutes. It’s a hugely different side they’ll line up against on Saturday — as we’ll outline in just a moment — but they’ve already done everything necessary, with the exception of beating an indomitable Stefan Frei, to lift the Cup.

Road to repeat

Squad

For Seattle, the biggest roster moves of 2017 came with far less fanfare — and a fair bit less money. First things first, the one that came from within: head coach Brian Schmetzer — whether by design or as a result of circumstances — turned the keys over to 22-year-old midfielder Cristian Roldan. Osvaldo Alonso played the third-fewest games (26) of his MLS career, including none of the last three during the regular season and none of Seattle’s four playoff games thus far. He has been ruled out for Saturday’s final, and that will do a great deal for Seattle’s continuity. When paired with Gustav Svensson, a steal of a signing ($170,000) still getting call-ups to the Swedish national team, Seattle have one of the best, most functional double-pivots in the league.

The other impact signing of 2017: Kelvin Leerdam ($455,000), a 27-year-old Dutch right back, was correctly identified as the perfect puzzle piece missing in Seattle. Following his arrival in mid-July, Seattle lost just two of their final 15 games (Leerdam started the final 14) as they climbed the Western Conference standings and finished second.

Season

As it turns out, Schmetzer knew exactly what he was doing back in March, April and May, when the Sounders had won just two of their first 11 games and looked legitimately lost and spiraling out of control — to the outside world. In reality, Schmetzer had two very important early-season objectives: 1) experiment with different combinations — particularly figuring out where/how to use Clint Dempsey upon his return from an irregular heartbeat that cost him the entire 2016 MLS Cup run; and, 2) maintaining a slow boil for a largely veteran team which was afforded just over a full month of downtime last winter.

Warmer weather arrived, and so did a familiar run of red-hot results: following those early-season struggles, Seattle lost just four of their final 23 games between mid-May and the end of October.

The playoff run

TFC head coach Greg Vanney made a few pointed remarks concerning the level of competition — or, lack thereof — which Seattle has faced thus far in the playoffs, and it’s tough to invalidate anything he said without taking away from a dominant run by the Rave Green. The Vancouver Whitecaps had become a shell of their best, former selves by season’s end; they fell easily in the Western Conference semifinals, 2-0. The Houston Dynamo, whom Seattle throttled to the tune of 5-0 in the East finals, finished neither with 11 men and played a combined 85 minutes with a man disadvantage.

Favorites for a repeat?

Seattle aren’t favorites, per se, but here’s the case for a repeat: they’re probably a better overall team than they were exactly 12 months ago. Here’s the flip side to that, though, and what could ultimately prove to be their downfall: while the floor has risen considerably, so has the ceiling, due to a less than stellar season from Nicolas Lodeiro, last year’s unquestioned difference maker, and a defense which is inevitably another year older and slower. From an entertainment perspective, the best thing that can happen on Saturday is an early TFC goal, forcing Seattle to chase an equalizer and opening the game up with at least an hour to play.