Young star Rubio Rubin aims to take next step with USA, dreams of Olympic glory

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MANCHESTER — After making his full debut for the U.S. national team at the age of 18, striker Rubio Rubin is being fast-tracked to success.

[ EXCLUSIVE: JPW sits down with Olympic head coach, Andi Herzog ]

Currently with the U.S. U-23 squad on a week’s training camp in England, 19-year-old Rubin has been rewarded for shining at the U-20 World Cup for the USA in June, as the predatory striker continues to impress. The FC Utrecht forward scored three times for Tab Ramos’ U-20 team as he spearheaded their run to the quarterfinals in New Zealand where they lost to eventual world champs Serbia on penalty kicks.

Reflecting on the transition from the U-20 side to the U-23 side, Rubin is eager to make a splash at the next age group after making it all the way through the U.S. residency program in Bradenton, Florida and playing at major tournaments for the U.S. along the way.

“This is my second time into camp and I’m trying to find some minutes and to prove a point. Just because it is guys from the 1993 group to whoever is old enough to play on the U-23s, I want to be on the qualifying roster and also at the Olympics in the future. As a team we want to prepare ourselves for the big qualifying tournament coming up, because it will not be easy.”

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Coming off the back of a stellar display at the U-20 World Cup, Rubin believes the goals he scored in New Zealand, plus getting first team experience in the Dutch top-flight as a teenager over the past 12 months, has helped his progression and his confidence levels.

“It gave me a lot of confidence, especially after playing first team minutes at Utrecht last season,” Rubin explained. “And although I got a lot of first team minutes, there wasn’t as many scoring opportunities as I wanted and I was creating opportunities but not finishing them off. With the World Cup, I really needed to go in there and put away my chances. When the first goal came, I was like ‘man, this is great’ and then I started to gain confidence. Being with guys I grew up with and played with throughout the entire youth national team level down at IMG, those guys definitely give you confidence and playing with people you know definitely gives you confidence. That was the great part about playing at your own age  level. It was great. We had a good run, but unfortunately we lost on PKs.”

[ MORE: Three things learned from USA’s win vs. Peru ]

Making his first start for the USMNT.
Making his first start for the USMNT.

From that group of players who starred for the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup, seven were called in by head coach Andi Herzog for this training camp ahead of the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament in October. Rubin is confident that familiarity between this talented group of youngsters will help brings success at the next age group too.

“We have 24 guys here and to have seven guys from the U-20s shows a lot about how our youth teams are doing and how much competition there is. At the end of the day its about business but also about enjoying your football. They are going to pick the best players for qualifying and for the Olympics. If a guy is better and he is younger, no matter what they are always going to take the guy that is better… right? Fortunately we have seven guys and we deserve to be here and just want to take advantage of this opportunity and go out there and prove a point.”

What about his full debut for the U.S. which came out of the blue?

Rubin smiles uncontrollably when recalling a chilly night at Craven Cottage last November when he found out the day before the high-profile friendly vs. Colombia that he would be starting up top alongside Jozy Altidore. This is how he found out, with a little help from the latter…

“I remember the day before,” Rubin smiled. “We had a training session and had one hour on the field. Jozy Altidore went to the coach, Jurgen called him over, and Jurgen told Jozy that I was going to start with Jozy up top. And I remember doing the warmup and Jozy said something to me in Spanish, ‘estoy listo’ which translates to ‘be ready.’ And I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ My emotions in that training session were already up because we were already going to see who’s going to start. Jozy just said ‘you’re starting tomorrow bro’ and from there I was like ‘damn.’

“I think I was more nervous for that training session than I was for the game. Game time came around and I wasn’t nervous at all. I was more excited and looking forward to the opportunity. Knowing that I was young and not everything was going to be perfect that day, but to keep everything as simple as possible. I tried to create opportunities and play my own game because there was a reason why I started. They aren’t going to start somebody who isn’t ready and I gained that mental aspect to myself and that confidence. I tried to do my best and I had a couple of opportunities that I should have finished, it was definitely the best moment so far of my career. It was amazing to play against James Rodriguez and guys who play top level football. It is just something you will never forget. People back home were watching and family members were crying to see that happening. It was a blessing to play in that game and start for your country. It is amazing to wear the United States’ colors.”

With three caps under his belt for his country, Rubin already has a strong connection to Team USA and particularly the Olympics. When asked what his favorite Olympic moment he watched while growing up in the U.S. Rubin took little time to deliberate before picking out his most memorable moment.

“Michael Phelps. When he won eight gold medals and seven of them were world records,” Rubin reminisced. “I still go back and actually last week I was watching videos of him, the video of all of his eight gold medals again. I get this feeling inside, of patriotism, when he wins the second and the seventh medal. The second medal is, I think, the relay race, and the French are talking smack before the race and then Lochte and the French guy are swimming and the commentator is saying ‘they won’t catch the French, I think USA is going to take Silver’ and then Lochte comes out of nowhere and beats him to the line. The fans go crazy and in the Summer Olympics, those moments are pretty crazy memories, especially that summer because Phelps was trying to break all the records and all the eyes were on him.”

How would Rubin fancy emulating those Olympic memories etched into his brain at Rio 2016 next summer?

“I’ve been to most tournaments with the youth teams apart from the U-17 World Cup and that’s a goal for sure,” Rubin said. “It would always be amazing to represent your country at the Olympics. There are so many memories and so much history. Hopefully as a team we can qualify first, that’s the main objective, and then hopefully as a team go to the Olympics and perform and try to win.”

Scoring the winner for USA v Colombia at the 2015 U-20 World Cup.
Scoring the winner for USA v Colombia at the 2015 U-20 World Cup.

Right here, right now, Rubin is focused on making an impression in the USA’s final warmup game before Olympic qualifying as they face Qatar on Tuesday in Bury, England. Along with making a splash for his country, pushing on for his club and becoming the next American striker to make a name for himself in the Dutch Eredivisie, following on from Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson, is also his aim. After scoring three goals in 29 appearances for Utrecht during his debut season as a professional in 2014-15, Rubin is ready to impress

“Eventually I want to come in week in, week out and try score goals and goals and goals,” Rubin said. “It takes time. As you can see with Jozy and Aron, it takes time. And also it’s about confidence as well because once you score a couple of goals, your momentum starts to go. I am just waiting for my moment to play more this year, it has been a little bit hard this year with competition because our strikers are scoring. I am still young and learning from them. Every single time I get a moment to play I want to take advantage of it and to score goals for my team and everything is going to be fine. I continue to chip away and learn from these guys and train on the things I need to work on, then hopefully, the goals come.”

What are those goals and targets for the immediate future? As you’ve probably gathered by now, it’s all about one thing for the poacher from Oregon: goals, goals and more goals.

“I want to double what I did last year,” Rubin laughed. “So that’s six goals or more. If I go more then I will be happy. Hopefully I get more playing time and then continue to score goals. Last year I scored three, so I want double this year and if I score six this year, I want 12 next year… then 24. I always want double.”

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension

Manchester United triggers Bailly contract extension
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Manchester United has picked up a two-year option on Eric Bailly‘s contract, according to Sky Sports.

The Red Devils now have the giant 25-year-old center back under wraps through the 2021/22 season.

Bailly is nearing full fitness after his latest injury setback, knee and ankle injuries costing him dozens of matches since arriving from Villarreal in 2016. He underwent knee surgery in late July.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

There’s little reason for United not to pick up the option, as Bailly could’ve left for free in the summer and the extension allows for a possible transfer fee.

That said, Bailly has been very good with healthy and in-form, especially in an exceptional debut season at Old Trafford. He has 34 caps for the Ivory Coast, and is nearing the prime age for a center back.

United visits Liverpool at 11:30 a.m. ET Sunday, and Bailly is not expected to play.

The center back may get a chance to get to know Bruno Fernandes, who is being tipped for a $77 million transfer. He likely won’t see Ashley Young, who’s arrived in Milan ahead of a transfer to Inter.

Report: Bruno Fernandes to Manchester United after Lisbon Derby

Manchester United lands Bruno Fernandes
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Bruno Fernandes may get his move.

The 25-year-old Sporting Lisbon midfielder wants a move to Manchester United, and Sky Sports is reporting that the two clubs are close to agreeing on a fee.

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The move will cost $56 million and could escalate to $77 million with incentives, and that it could happen as soon as the end of Friday’s derby between Sporting and Benfica.

From Sky Sports:

Part of the negotiations over a deal for Fernandes included Manchester United not wanting him to play in Friday’s game but the player and Sporting insist that he was going to play in order to say a proper goodbye to the club and the supporters.

United will be crossing its fingers over Fernandes’ health during the 4:15 p.m. ET kickoff is Lisbon.

Sporting is already 12 points off the Champions League places, and 16 off Benfica’s title pace.

Fernandes has been red hot for Sporting, notching 15 goals and 13 assists in 25 appearances, including five and three in five Europa League outings.

He scored 32 times with 18 assists in 2018/19, and could take United’s Top Four push to a whole new level.

Liverpool’s Klopp rips AFCON move, says FIFA needs to step in but won’t

Liverpool's Klopp rips AFCON move
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Jurgen Klopp is furious about Cameroon moving the Africa Cup of Nations to January 2021, something that would hinder the Reds’ likely title defense.

(No, Klopp is not counting his title chickens before they hatch, even if it’s a foregone conclusion).

Cameroon moved the tournament from summer to winter due to its climate, which seems like a decision that could’ve been made ages ago. The nation had hosting rights stripped away for the 2019 tournament, but will host in 2021.

[ MORE: Premier League schedule ]

The Reds could be without Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Naby Keita for the better part of a month should Senegal, Guinea, and Egypt all qualify for the tournament. Joel Matip could be there with hosts Cameroon if the federation is successful in convincing him to return to the international fold.

Klopp went on a lengthy and mostly understandable diatribe against the move. We write mostly because there’s something lost in translation regarding the import of the tournament.

He’s upset at how it will tax his squad and how he keeps the players happy if he needs to add players just to deal with one month of the schedule.

“Do we really want to open this book? I couldn’t respect Africa Cup of Nations more than I do, I like it, I’ve watched it a lot. Difficult circumstances a lot of times,” Klopp said, via The Liverpool Echo. “It is another tournament, there are too many of them. Other thing is it doesn’t help African players. We won’t sell Naby, Mo or Sadio because of it but if we bring someone in, it affects the decision. Normal process. We have to think about that. Players aren’t asked. … FIFA, who should [step in] doesn’t look like being involved. It’s a strange situation. If we want lesser games they will say take less money. I will say, I am ready to do so. Yes.”

He continued.

“For us it’s a catastrophe, If we say (a player) can’t go, he’s suspended. How can the club who pay his salary not decide. If he’s injured and we say he cannot play for us, we have to send him to Africa so they can have a look. We don’t have any say. We just plan the route. These are all things that should not be like this. I speak about it now and no one will listen. The moaner from Liverpool again. It’s a complete waste of time. As long as nothing changes, I will keep saying it. It’s about the players, not me.”

Manchester City (Riyad Mahrez), Arsenal (Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang), and Leicester City (Wilfried Ndidi) are among the many clubs who could lose stars for a month.

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards

Premier League tells referees to view replays for red cards
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LONDON (AP) The Premier League has advised its referees to use sideline monitors to make a final ruling on red card decisions.

Through 22 rounds of the first Premier League season with video review, referees have not gone over to the screens at any point to watch replays after being told to use them sparingly. Instead, referees have been relying on feedback from the video assistant referee in a London control room.

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But officials were reminded at a meeting of Premier League referees this week that they should go over to what is known as the “referee review area” when VAR suggests upgrading a yellow card to a red or downgrading a red to a yellow.

It has been a more familiar sight at games in other European competitions, like the Champions League, to see referees watching replays in the stadium.

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