One more for U.S. striker Jozy Altidore; his game-winner guides AZ Alkmaar to Dutch Cup glory

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For the record, Jozy Altidore’s Dutch club had already qualified for Europa League action next year, a significant achievement for a smaller club in a smaller European league.

But also for the record, it is still very, very cool that U.S. international Jozy Altidore has scored the game-winner for his team in attaining Dutch Cup glory, also a massive achievement for AZ Alkmaar.

AZ was underdog to PSV in Thursday’s final of the Dutch Cup in Rotterdam. His first half goal provided the margin as the club went on to a 2-1 win, claiming its first Dutch Cup since 1982.

So the U.S. international’s current club is bound for tournament play in the continent; the KNVB Cup winner gets a Europa League berth, although PSV already has one in pocked by virtue of its impending league finish. As for the man himself …

(MORE: Altidore unlikely to be available for early U.S. summer matches)

This was almost surely one of Altidore’s final games for the lowland’s club, where his career has taken off in ways that it did not during previous, far less productive stops at Spain’s Villarreal and England’s Hull City. AZ has one more match in league play (although there’s an outside chance the club could still finish 8th and find itself in the Eredivisie playoffs.)

Either way, Altidore is elsewhere-bound this summer. And why shouldn’t he be? With 31 goals across all competitions this year, the former New York Red Bull now has 50 goals in two years for AZ.

Don’t forget, Altidore struck twice back in late February as AZ stunned heavily favored Dutch giant Ajax in the tournament semifinal:

Altidore’s goal Thursday:

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<br /><a href=”http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xzq2me_altidore_sport&#8221; target=”_blank”>Altidore</a> <i>by <a href=”http://www.dailymotion.com/Counterpoint1&#8243; target=”_blank”>Counterpoint1</a></i>

Romain Gall rebounding after fall to Sweden’s 3rd tier

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Signed with fanfare by Columbus 18 months earlier, Romain Gall was released by the Crew in February 2016 after making just four first-team appearances in 1+ seasons. Just 21 years old, the midfielder had seen his hopes with Major League Soccer and the U.S. under-20 national team crater.

A little more than a month later, he signed with Nykopings, a third-tier team in a city of about 30,000 on Sweden’s Baltic coast, south of Stockholm. With no place to stay at first, he moved into a room in the house of the club’s chairman.

“My path was different because I went down three levels to then come back up,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t think a lot of people are willing to do that or even have the idea of doing that. And of course it wasn’t central Europe, so I can understand that it’s a path that not many players were willing to take.”

Now with Malmo, a top club in Sweden’s first tier, Gall is training with the U.S. national team in London and could make his debut in Thursday’s exhibition against England at Wembley Stadium.

“He had been off the radar a little bit and sort of re-emerged this year,” U.S. interim coach Dave Sarachan said. “He has put himself in the conversation with the minutes he’s getting and his consistent production this season. He is an intriguing player in the attacking third.”

Gall’s father, Thierry, works for Orange Communications, the former France Telecom. With wife Saida and three kids, the family kept moving back and forth between the U.S. and France until settling in Herndon, Virginia, when Romain was 7.

Romain, who was born in Paris, played with Herndon Youth Soccer and trained occasionally at D.C. United’s academy when he was 13 and 14. He moved to Real Salt Lake Arizona, an academy in Casa Grande, Arizona, when he was 15 and spent a little over a year there. Wanting to train at a higher level, he went back to France and joined Lorient’s academy in 2011 at age 16.

“My father came with me in the beginning to help me get settled, but then it was just me on my own,” he said.

Having failed to break into Lorient’s first team, he signed with the Crew in August 2014 and coach Gregg Berhalter called him “a strong addition.” He made his debut on Aug. 23 as a second-half substitute against Houston and had two more appearances, both as second-half subs.

The following January, Gall scored five goals for the U.S. at the CONCACAF Under-20 Championship, including a hat trick against Aruba and two versus Jamaica, tying Mexico’s Hirving Lozano for the tournament lead. He played alongside several of the players who have become part of the rebuilding U.S. national team in the past year, including Zack Steffen, Cameron Carter-Vickers, Matt Miazga and Paul Arriola.

But Gall was dropped that May from the roster for the Under-20 World Cup in New Zealand. He hadn’t gotten into a match with the Crew all season and had been slowed by a knee injury.

“It hurt at the time,” he said, unable to recall exactly what U-20 coach Tab Ramos told him.

He made just one appearance with the Crew in 2015, in a U.S. Open Cup match that June, and played 12 games on loan with the Austin Aztex of the third-tier United Soccer League. And then he was cut by the Crew and made the move to Sweden.

“I wanted to go back to Europe,” he said. “At the time, that was the only option that was presented to me. It was a tough decision. I knew that if I had to go there, I had to focus completely and move up as quickly as possible, because it was the third division in Sweden.”

He scored nine goals in 24 league games with Nykopings, then moved to first-tier Sundsvall and had nine more in 37 league matches over 1+ seasons. He transferred to defending champion Malmo, scored six goals in 13 league games and got to play in Champions League qualifying and the Europa League group stage.

“It’s nice to see him blossom in Sweden,” Miazga said. “Romain’s a very technical and skillful player. He has a lot of creativity.”

Berhalter, his old Crew coach, is the favorite to take over the U.S. national team. He has a chance to earn playing time in next year’s CONCACAF Gold Cup and in World Cup qualifying.

“It’s been a grind, really tough,” Gall said. “But now it’s paying off.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Fulham fire Jokanovic, hire Ranieri as new manager

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Bottom of the Premier League table and leaking goals galore, something had to change at Fulham.

It was the manager.

Slavisa Jokanovic became the first Premier League manager fired in the 2018-19 season and the Cottagers sprung quite a surprise by hiring former Chelsea and Leicester City boss Claudio Ranieri as his replacement. In a strange coincidence, Jokanovic was actually Ranieri’s first signing as Chelsea manager back in 2000.

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Ranieri last coached in England with Leicester as he led them to an incredible Premier League title win in his only full season in charge in 2015-16.

The following season he was fired in February 2017 with the Foxes in danger of being dragged into a relegation battle, and since then Ranieri coached at Nantes in France for the 2017-18 Ligue 1 campaign.

Ranieri, who coached Fulham’s west London rivals Chelsea in 2003-05, has been without a job for the past few months, but the well-traveled manager — formerly of AS Monaco, Roma, Inter Milan, Juventus and Greece among many others — is now back in the thick of things as he aims to lead American-owned club out of relegation trouble.

Speaking about his arrival at Fulham, the lovable Italian coach is eager to work with his squad over the international break to plan for his first game in charge against Southampton on Nov. 24.

“It is an honor to accept Mr. Khan’s invitation and opportunity to lead Fulham, a fantastic club with tradition and history,” Ranieri said. “The objective at Fulham should never be to merely survive in the Premier League. We must at all times be a difficult opponent and should expect to succeed. This Fulham squad has exceptional talent that is contrary to its position in the table. I know this team is very capable of better performances, which we will work on straight away as we prepare for Southampton at the Cottage.”

Fulham went on to say that Tony Khan, Vice Chairman and Director of Football Operations, “considered and spoke with a number of potential candidates within the past week” and that Ranieri was the “mutual and obvious choice.”

The club added that Tony Khan “will continue to oversee first team player recruitment and contractual agreements” and Ranieri will work closely with him on that.

What does Ranieri have to sort out at Fulham? In short, a lot.

Jokanovic led Fulham to promotion via the playoffs last season (after they reached the playoffs the season before too) and over the summer the club spent big, splashing out over $130 million on new players as Khan aimed to solidify the club in the Premier League.

Things didn’t go as planned over the opening months of the season with Fulham’s defense the leakiest in the PL and Jokanovic chopping and changing his team, especially his defense, most weeks. Over recent weeks Khan backed Jokanovic to turn things around, but they’ve acted swiftly with Fulham at risk of being cut adrift at the bottom of the table.

Ranieri will first do what he does best, make Fulham difficult to beat, but there’s no denying that his defensive philosophy is totally different to the free-flowing play Jokanovic preferred.

That attractive, attacking style of play led to the recruitment of most of the current squad under Khan and Jokanovic, so asking them to play in a solid 4-4-2 and to take no risks at the back will be a total culture shift for Fulham’s players.

This will be very interesting, and Ranieri will face his two former clubs in his first three games in charge. After hosting Saints, Fulham head to Chelsea for a west London derby on Dec. 2, then host Leicester on Dec. 5.

Fulham have acted quicker than they did in 2013-14 when they were last in the Premier League and were ultimately relegated after having Martin Jol in charge until December, then ene Meulensteen and Felix Magath were in charge later that season.

West Ham playmaker Arnautovic admits he’s playing hurt

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West Ham playmaker Marko Arnautovic is in his second season with the Hammers, and while leading West Ham with five goals on the season, he’s definitely not 100%. Still, his team needs him – both club and country – and so he’ll keep suiting up even through the pain.

Arnautovic, on international duty with Austria, admitted to hometown media that he needs regular medical treatment to stay on the pitch this season.

“I can not say if I’ll get an injection on Thursday,” Arnautovic said. “In my knee, fluid accumulates again and again. Of course, there are people who say they should rest themselves and do nothing for a week, but it’s just difficult.”

Arnautovic would not elaborate on the type of injection he is receiving, but it’s likely a steroid or other anti-inflammatory injection to keep the swelling in his knee to a minimum. He also may be having his knee drained, a painful process that involves physically removing fluid buildup through a syringe.

The 29-year-old was originally injured in a 3-1 win over Everton in mid-September, the club’s first win of the season. He was withdrawn from that match in the 64th minute after scoring a goal and assisting another, and missed the subsequent Premier League match against Chelsea. He returned to play 83 minutes against Manchester United the next time out, and has missed only one match since, playing the full 90 minutes in the other three.

To keep his knee as healthy as possible, Arnautovic told Sky Sports earlier last month that he was avoiding training too much. “The knee is not the best but I am fit and I can play,” Arnautovic said. “I’m not training a lot at West Ham to try and my knee calm.”

“After a game I need some rest for about two or three days. By the middle of the week I am training normally with the team, training in full. And on the weekend I can play, that is the most important thing. Obviously you can’t do anything on this bone bruise.”

Report: Jadon Sancho to start for England vs United States

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Jadon Sancho and Christian Pulisic are teenage teammates for Borussia Dortmund, a shining light for the growing generation of young internationals. Now, they will face each other on the field as international opponents on Friday as the United States and England clash at Wembley.

According to a report by Sky Sports, Sancho is set for his full international debut as Gareth Southgate will include Sancho in his starting lineup. It will be Sancho’s second cap after earning his first against Croatia in October.

That means it’s likely that the two will both be included from the opening whistle, as Pulisic is as guaranteed a starter as they come on the United States, barring injury.

Sancho has been white hot at the club level this season, scoring four goals and assisting five while earning a starting role with his form. One of his main teammates affected with diminished minutes as a result of Sancho’s form is Pulisic, who has not started in any of the last five Bundesliga matches and has just 64 minutes in that span.

Pulisic started against Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on October 24, and eventually saw Sancho replace him in the 79th minute, with the young English international scoring in the 4-0 win. The two then started opposite each other against Atletico in the reverse fixture a week ago in a 2-0 loss.

Sancho will get the opportunity to prove his worth with a critical match against Croatia is on the horizon, as England has the chance to secure a spot in the Nations League semi-finals with a win. This will come alongside Wayne Rooney, who will be included in the squad and get the opportunity to play in a farewell match. Sancho was just two years old when Rooney made his England debut.