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Finally fit, Yedlin fills USMNT’s longtime void at right back

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The right-back position has proven a crippling quandary for the U.S. national team ever since Steve Cherundolo’s international retirement in 2012. (Left back was — and remains — an issue long before then, but that’s a different story for a different day.)

[ MORE: 3rd? 4th? 5th? USMNT scenarios on the final day of WCQ ]

So many were asked to fill the career-long Hannover star’s boots — Eric Lichaj, Michael Orozco, Geoff Cameron, Brad Evans, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler and most recently Graham Zusi each played the position in significant stretches over the last five years — only to come up woefully short of Cherundolo’s lofty standard. The 2014 World Cup provided a perfect jumping-off point for the most promising prospect of the post-‘Dolo era: DeAndre Yedlin.

“Especially being so young and not really expecting to go [in 2014], it was a crazy feeling,” Yedlin said this week. “I can’t obviously thank Jurgen enough for putting his trust in me and bringing me into that, and that’s really what jump-started my career.”

[ MORE: Player ratings from USA 4-0 PanamaThree things we learned ]

Like those who came before him, even the dream of Yedlin becoming the instant answer fizzled out for a period before landing at Newcastle United last summer, at the age of 23, where he’d reclaim his form and fitness in the Championship. Following his failed move to Tottenham Hotspur the winter after Brazil, Yedlin spent most of the next two seasons unavailable due to injuries more often than not.

“I’ve had to grow up pretty quick, but I’m glad that I chose to make this step to kind of move away from what I’m comfortable from.”

[ MORE: Pulisic, Altidore feel “all the emotions” as WC dreams rescued ]

Now 24, and having been fit for much of the last 15 months, Yedlin is an integral piece of the Magpies’ puzzle, and returned to the USMNT in its most desperate time of need: needing wins in each of their final two 2018 World Cup qualifiers to assure their place at next summer’s tournament in Russia.

Friday night in Orlando, Fla., Yedlin reassumed the starting spot from Zusi and flourished, helping the Yanks to a vitally important 4-0 victory over Panama. He alone stood out as the star performer along a sometimes-shaky four-man backline, flashing the recovery speed and open-field marauding that earned him a move to the Premier League at the age of 21. According to Yedlin, much of what he brings to the team is an energy level that’s unmatched and confounds his teammates.

“Everybody tells me they don’t know how I have so much energy, and I think people feed off that, which is great.”

More importantly, playing under Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez has matured the mental side of Yedlin’s game immeasurably. His ability to recover serious real estate in the blink of an eye remains, but Friday’s performance was largely born out of a newfound ability to read the game around him.

“It’s a very physical league. It’s a league that if you lose focus for even a little bit of time, they can punish you,” Yedlin said. “Working with Rafa has taken my game to another level.”

That tactical growth, so perfectly exemplified by noticeable restraint and an understanding of when he can and can’t take risks, are precisely the signs that have USMNT fans counting on Yedlin to come better than good on his second trip to a World Cup.

Ronaldo explains his new chin hair at World Cup

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Now that Cristiano Ronaldo has taken to sporting a reasonable hairstyle atop his head, people are talking about the foliage on his face.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

Ronaldo, 33, drew speculation when he stroked his chin following a goal in his hat trick performance against Spain in the World Cup opener. Some said he was demonstrating defiance against Lionel Messi posing with a goat (Greatest Of All Time) in a recent photograph.

Ronaldo scored again on Wednesday, and there was seemingly little doubt his goatee was a wink to the speculators. But what did it mean, CR7? From ESPN:

“This goatee? It’s a joke I had with [Ricardo] Quaresma. “We were in the sauna [before Friday’s match against Spain] and I started to shave and I left the goatee. I said if I score tomorrow, I would leave it for the rest of the tournament. And it gave me luck.

“I scored in that game, I scored in this one, so it stays.”

Personally, I like to imagine Ronaldo starting to get as wild with his facial hair as he did his head hair.

Perhaps a beatnik style, or something like Serj Tankian from System of a Down. Get nuts, C-Ron.

Report: Southampton could sell Tadic to Ajax for $20m

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Could Southampton be selling one of its most creative forces?

Dusan Tadic, 29, is in the middle of a World Cup run with dark horse Serbia, but the Saints star is also being talked about as a purchase item for Ajax.

[ MORE: Serbia tops Costa Rica ]

The celebrated Eredivisie has traditionally been a selling club for the Premier League, but could be a $20 million buy for Ajax.

The report says director of players Marc Overmars and financial director Jeroen Slop have flown to Southampton to work out a deal.

Tadic starred for Dutch sides Groningen and Twente between 2010-14 before moving to St. Mary’s for a reported $12 million.

He’s scored 24 goals with 35 assists in 162 appearances for Saints, 21 and 30 of which came in the Premier League.

Toronto locks down USMNT backstop Bono with extension

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Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono is going to stay Toronto FC goalkeeper Alex Bono.

[ RECAP: Morocco 0-1 Portugal ]

The newly-capped USMNT backstop, 24, has been attracting interest from abroad since breaking past Clint Irwin to win the TFC job and guiding the club to multiple MLS Cup Finals.

Now general manager Tim Bezbatchenko has locked down his young goalkeeper to an undisclosed contract extension. From TorontoFC.com:

“Alex was a big part of our success last season. He set club records for wins and clean sheets and was a critical piece of our championship team,” said Toronto FC Sr. Vice-President, Soccer Operations & General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko. “Since joining the club as a first round pick in 2015, Alex’s ability to make key saves in big moments has been critical to our success.”

The Syracuse-born product of Syracuse University has made 64 appearances for the Reds.

WATCH: World Cup, Day 8 — Argentina on the edge; France aims for berth

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France, Denmark, and Croatia can clinch knockout round berths on Thursday in Russia, the last nation also holding the opportunity to help deprive the World Cup of an extended Lionel Messi run.

[ MORE: Latest 2018 World Cup news ] 

Messi’s Argentina drew Iceland in its opener, the megastar infamously missing a penalty, and will look to beat a Croatian side that looked quite good in dispatching Nigeria.

That’s the final match of the day, which begins with Denmark facing Australia and continues with a tasty match-up between France and Peru.

Below is Thursday’s schedule in full.

Click here for live and on demand coverage of the World Cup online and via the NBC Sports App.


2018 World Cup schedule – Wednesday, June 20

Group C
Denmark vs. Australia: Samara, 8 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE
France vs. Peru: Yekaterinburg, 11 a.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE

Group D
Argentina vs. Croatia: Nizhny Novgorod, 2 p.m. ET – LIVE COVERAGE