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Bradley: “Dream became obsession” in pursuit of MLS Cup

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2017 was, to put it lightly and intentionally avoid re-litigating the multitude of failures put forth by the U.S. national team, a turbulent year for Toronto FC and USMNT captain Michael Bradley.

[ RECAP: TFC finally beat Frei and get their hands on MLS Cup ]

The was, of course, the national team’s failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup — we’re acknowledging it, but not delving any deeper right now — which has surely consumed his mind for the majority of the last two months, but before Oct. 10 came 10 full months of remembering and brooding over TFC’s 2016 MLS Cup defeat at the hands of the Seattle Sounders.

On Saturday, the Bradley-led Reds avenged last year’s heartbreak in storybook fashion — lifting MLS Cup after beating those same Sounders right back at the scene of last year’s torment, the friendly but raucous confines of BMO Field.

Not long after the final whistle, when approached for a television interview, Bradley was as thoughtful and introspective as ever. Never one to hide his emotions or conceal his true thoughts, the 30-year-old offered up the confession that what was once a dream — to lift MLS Cup in Toronto — had indeed become an obsession following last year’s loss.

“This has been the dream for four years, since the day I got here. For the last year, the dream has become an obsession. For this group of guys to work every single day, having to remember last year, to get back here and to play that game, in this atmosphere, with that on the line, it’s unbelievable.”

Long before Bradley began the move that would set up the eventual game-winning goal, scored by Jozy Altidore in the 67th minute (WATCH HERE), the groundwork was laid by TFC head coach Greg Vanney, who moved away from the tried and true three-man backline that had served the Reds so well all season — a regular-season points record — and opted for the 4-4-2 with a diamond in midfield. Deployed at the base of the diamond, with Jonathan Osorio and Marco Delgado as the shuttlers ahead of him, Bradley turned in a man-of-the-match performance that’ll go down as one of the all-time great showings in MLS history.

Nothing will ease the pain of missing out on the World Cup — especially not once next summer rolls around and 32 other nations converge on Russia — but the 2017 story of Bradley and TFC, one of redemption and steadfast persistence, is a clear indicator that in trying times, MB90 responds like few others and he remains a necessary figure to lead the USMNT revolution in the coming months and years, as it’s reconfigured from top to bottom with an eye toward 2022.

Reports: Alli unlikely to play in England’s second Group G match

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The Three Lions may not have taken all good news away from the team’s 2-1 win over Tunisia in their World Cup opener.

[ MORE: Russia races past Egypt, likely en route to next round ]

Several reports are suggesting that England will likely be without Tottenham playmaker Dele Alli in their second Group G match against Panama on Sunday.

Alli was forced out of England’s opener with a thigh strain, which gave manager Gareth Southgate the decision to put in Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.

There isn’t a timetable for the 22-year-old’s return to the pitch, but his absence will definitely present a major question for Southgate heading into the rest of group play.

Without Alli in the starting XI, it’ll likely be between Loftus-Cheek and Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard to fill the role where Alli normally sits.

In the case of Lingard, who started against Tunisia, the England boss would have to bring in another starter if Southgate opts to have the Red Devils attacker sit in as the number 10.

Report: Newcastle activates $12m release clause of ex-Arsenal youth

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Reports out of Turkey say Newcastle United have finally struck the transfer market for a new No. 10.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Aksam reports that Rafa Benitez got the Magpies hierarchy to activate a near $12 million release clause for Besiktas midfielder Oguzhan Ozyakup.

The 25-year-old was part of Arsenal’s youth set-up until 2012, making two League Cup appearances in 2011-12 before moving to Besiktas.

Dutch-born Ozyakup is 35-times capped with a goal for Turkey, twice captaining the Crescent-Stars.

Ozyakup lost playing time to Talisca this season, and registered just four assists in 24 appearances. In 219 appearances for Besiktas, he’s posted 27 goals with 50 assists.

Like the move for Newcastle?

Lukaku pens inspiring post on hard-scrabble upbringing

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Manchester United and Belgium striker Romelu Lukaku has an inspiring and emotional post in The Players’ Tribune which tugs at the heart strings and explains his competitive fire.

[ MORE: West Ham adds Diop ]

Lukaku talks about how his family’s poverty caused him to become a fierce competitor in the hopes of meeting his dreams head-on and providing for his family.

The Belgian, 25, scored twice in his side’s 3-0 World Cup-opening win over Panama earlier this week, and is now far removed from his youth, but he tells his story as if it lives fresh in his mind.

From The Players’ Tribune:

There were even times when my mum had to “borrow” bread from the bakery down the street. The bakers knew me and my little brother, so they’d let her take a loaf of bread on Monday and pay them back on Friday.

Lukaku also talks about racism in football, his debut for Anderlecht, and that aforementioned competitive drive. It’s 100 percent worth the read.

West Ham signs club record center back from Toulouse

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West Ham has reportedly set a club record with its latest signing under new manager Manuel Pellegrini.

Issa Diop is the player, the 21-year-old Toulouse captain and center back costing the Irons around $29 million.

[ MORE: Arsenal signs Leno ]

Diop scored three goals with an assist and eight yellow cards in 31 Ligue 1 matches this season, giving the young defender 95 apps, six goals, three assists, and 23 yellows since debuting with the senior team at 18.

Capped by France at every level below the senior team, Diop’s 2.2 interceptions per game ranked sixth in Ligue 1.

Toulose finished 18th in Ligue 1, but won its promotion/relegation playoff to stay in the French top flight.

From WHUFC.com:

“I am very happy to sign for such a historic, English club, and I hope to show my best here. I am a very ambitious player and West Ham is a very ambitious club, as we’ve seen with the appointment of the new coach. I hope to help the team win lots of games and make the fans happy.”