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.”

Arsenal want season completed ‘to maintain integrity’ of PL

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Arsenal remain in support of finishing the 2019-20 season in order to “to maintain the integrity” of the competition, despite Friday’s unanimous vote that the Premier League cannot resume at the start of May as previously hoped due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

[ MORE: UEFA threatens Belgian league with European expulsion ]

The Gunners, who currently sit ninth in the PL table with 10 games left to play (one more than the majority of clubs around them), were five points back of fifth-place Manchester United for qualification to next season’s UEFA Champions League thanks to Manchester City’s two-year European ban.

In a statement released on Friday, Arsenal reiterated their stance that the current season should be played to completion rather than called to completion at things stand or abandoned altogether.

We are in full support of the objective for all remaining domestic league and cup matches from the 2019-20 season to be played, in order to maintain the integrity of each competition.

We also fully agree with the principle that any return to action will only be with the full backing of government and when medical guidance allows.

The restart date is under constant review as the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic develops and we continue to work together with all stakeholders through this very challenging time

Premier League rivalries: The Merseyside derby

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While the Merseyside derby has been dominated by one side of late, that has not detracted from the spectacle of the most historic matchup in English top flight history.

Uninterrupted in top flight play since 1962/63, the two sides are situated less than a mile apart, with the proximity feeding an already intense matchup.

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Despite the incredibly close geographic proximity, the derby is sometimes known as the “Friendly Derby” as there are often families with split allegiances. Still, the matchup has the most red cards in Premier League history with 21, including 17 of those in the especially heated timeframe between 1997 and 2008.

Unfortunately for Everton, the rivalry has become one-sided over the past decade, with the Toffees failing to win since October of 2010. Liverpool has won 11 of the 21 games, with the other 10 ending in a draw. That has somewhat deescalated the vicious nature of the matchup, especially since Liverpool has gone on to become one of the most formidable sides in Europe over the past few years while Everton continues to challenge for a top-half place in the league.

Still, the 228 all-time matches between the clubs continues to fuel one of the great matchups in the English domestic landscape, and sooner or later this rivalry will regain its venom to bring the bite back to this matchup.

Bayern Munich signs coach Flick as permanent boss

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Bayern Munich has locked down interim head coach Hansi Flick as permanent boss, signing the 55-year-old on through the summer of 2023, the club announced on Friday.

Flick took over on an interim basis for Niko Kovac when the Croatian was let go in early November with the club fourth in the Bundesliga table. He impressed during his time as interim manager, leading the club back to the top of the table thanks in large part to a current 11-match league unbeaten run that features 10 wins and a draw.

That streak includes a 0-0 draw with then-second placed RB Leipzig that kept Bayern atop the table, plus a dominant 5-0 win over then-fifth placed Schalke. Successive 2-1 defeats to Borussia Monchengladbach and Bayer Leverkusen are the only real blemishes on his record in charge so far, coming way back in late November and early December.

“I’m looking forward to taking on the upcoming tasks along with my staff and the team,” Flick said in the official team release. “The talks with Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Oliver Kahn and Hasan Salihamidžić were very good and in a spirit of good faith. We’ve determined the direction for the upcoming years. I’m sure we can achieve a lot together.”

Flick has also kept the club’s pristine Champions League record alive this season, with wins over Red Star Belgrade, Tottenham, and Chelsea by a combined 12-1 scoreline. The 3-0 first-leg win over Chelsea in the Round of 16 has the club primed to reach the quarterfinal round should the competition eventually resume.

Speaking to Flick’s adaptability, he also kept the club rolling in the recent absence of in-form striker Robert Lewandowski, working 6-0 and 2-0 wins over Hoffenheim and Augsburg without his lead frontman who began a long absence with a broken tibia.

“Bayern are very satisfied with Hansi Flick’s work,” said Bayern’s chief executive Karl-Heinz Rummenigge in the release. “The team has had a very good development under him, plays attractive football which is reflected in results. We are the only club still competing in all three competitions.”

Sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic added, “Hansi and I know in which direction we want to develop the team. We believe that Hansi is also the right head coach for the current time.”

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Montiel to Palace or West Ham, Coutinho to depart Barcelona

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River Plate is one of many clubs that could use this coming transfer window to earn a payday after taking losses in the coronavirus shutdown, and that could come at the benefit of one Premier League club.

West Ham is apparently one of a few teams after Argentine international Gonzalo Montiel who could fetch River Plate somewhere in the vicinity of $24 million. The right-back is a River Plate youth product who established himself as a regular for the club at just 20 years old and has spent the last three seasons earning significant minutes. Now 23, Montiel is a strong passer who can create for teammates with long-range deliveries.

Argentine publication Ole mentions that Spanish side Valencia has shown interest of late, but also states that West Ham made contact in January but was turned down by River Plate and the Hammers could be suitors again once the next window arrives. Montiel was also linked with Crystal Palace by Goal back in late March, while Argentine newspaper El Intransigente linked the player with Southampton. Palace and Saints both make sense as they are both looking to replace big-name departures of late, with Crystal Palace still yet to truly replace Aaron Wan-Bissaka while Southampton has not seen much from those brought in to take over for Cedric Soares.

Barcelona is reportedly ready to lower its asking price on Philippe Coutinho, with a bid of $86 million potentially workable for the Catalan club, according to a report by the Evening Standard.

Coutinho was extremely poor in his season-and-a-half at Barcelona, and while the Brazilian playmaker had upped his game on loan at Bayern Munich before the coronavirus shutdown, the purchase price on his loan deal is a whopping $130 million, which Bayern Munich is not willing to pay.

Barcelona is desperately in need of funds to support its summer business, with Lautaro Martinez and Neymar both heavily linked with the La Liga giants. It’s highly unlikely that both will be possible to acquire given both the team’s business of late and the coronavirus shutdown causing financial strain on clubs all over the world, and a significant sale may even be needed to get one of them over the line. Coutinho provides such a possibility, but with Barcelona not exactly in a position of strength given Coutinho’s lack of recent star power and the club’s need to sell, dropping the asking price is a highly likely eventuality.

The Evening Standard report mentions that Barcelona believes the Premier League is the “most likely possibility” for a Coutinho suitor given the league’s memories of his incredible spell at Liverpool just a few years ago.

Speaking of the Premier League, Manchester United was reportedly close to securing a marquee striker last summer before eventually sticking with Marcus Rashford up front. Speaking to Italian print publication Tuttosport on Wednesday, Romelu Lukaku’s agent Federico Pastorello said that the Belgian big man almost went to Juventus on a swap deal before Manchester United backed out of the transfer negotiations due to Dybala’s high wage demand. Eventually, Lukaku departed for Inter Milan where he settled in quickly and has contributed to a furious title challenge that just lost steam before the coronavirus shutdown.

Pastorello simply responded “It’s true” when asked if Dybala had been a focal point of Manchester United negotiations, but hedged his answer with, “Romelu, however, had always hoped to go to Inter because he was impressed by the affection of the Inter fans.”