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With no World Cup for USMNT, Altidore shifts focus

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For Jozy Altidore, this was supposed to be the time when the United States was preparing for this summer’s World Cup. That changed early in October when the Americans got bounced from the tournament.

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The stunning failure shifted Altidore’s focus.

He spent the beginning of 2018 in Grand Cayman, where his foundation is bringing soccer to kids in a region hit by hurricanes last fall. Soon, he’ll start the new season with defending MLS Cup champion Toronto FC.

As for this summer? Altidore will watch a few of the matches in Russia on television. The 28-year-old forward isn’t stewing in the loss, he’s looking with hope to the future.

“Of course I’ll obviously be disappointed not to be there, but at the end of the day, man, we’re blessed to do what we do,” he said.

Apart from the national team loss, Altidore is coming off one of the better years of his career. He scored 18 goals with the Reds and another four with the U.S. national team. Toronto FC won the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record before sweeping through the playoffs and defeating Seattle 2-0 for the league title. Altidore scored in the final and earned MLS Cup MVP honors.

The victory was a bit of revenge for a loss to the Sounders for the MLS Cup the previous season, but Altidore said Toronto’s motivation was part of a season-long journey he took with his teammates and coach Greg Vanney.

“I think more than anything we understood how close we were and how it hurt that we had come up short that season,” he said. “The focus for us was to do what we did that last year and if we got to the last game, obviously make sure we got the W and make the most of our chances.”

Altidore celebrates his goal against the Seattle Sounders during the MLS Cup Final (Mark Blinch/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto teammate and fellow national team player, Michael Bradley, echoed the sentiment after the title match.

“When push comes to shove, you want to step into the biggest moments with people that you would do anything for, that you love, that you believe in, that you trust, that you know have your back,” Bradley said.

But it wasn’t all smooth. Altidore got into a confrontation with New York Red Bulls captain Sacha Kljestan in a tunnel at BMO Field during the conference semifinals. Altidore and Kljestan were handed red cards in the aftermath.

Altidore sat out Toronto’s next game, while Kljestan was suspended an additional game and won’t be able to play the first two games of the upcoming season. Kljestan, who was also fined, was traded in the offseason from the Red Bulls to Orlando.

Altidore and Bradley were also jeered – sometimes with profane and personal attacks – by opposing fans over the U.S. team’s qualifying performance.

“Look, all that stuff I think would have been magnified had we not achieved our objective,” Altidore said. “But we did, and we did it in such a convincing manner.”

Following the 2-1 U.S. loss in Couva, Trinidad, that cost the national team a spot in the World Cup, coach Bruce Arena stepped down and U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said he would not run for another term.

Interim U.S. coach Dave Sarachan called 30 players into January training camp in advance of an exhibition game against Bosnia and Herzegovina on Jan. 28 in Carson, California. Altidore and many of the team’s veterans were not invited.

The camp roster includes 15 players who have never played in a match for the senior national team. The most experienced was LA Galaxy midfielder Gyasi Zardes, who is 26. Twenty-one of the players are 24 and younger.

Altidore, who has 41 goals in 110 appearances with the national team, understands that developing young talent is important heading into the next World Cup quadrennial. “We have to do a better job of identifying new talent, for sure,” he said, suggesting that missing out on the past two Olympics – where under-23 teams compete – has hurt development efforts.

For now, Altidore is pouring his energy into charitable endeavors.

Altidore, whose parents are from Haiti, launched his foundation in 2011 following the devastating earthquake that hit the country the year before. The foundation built a well to provide water to a town of more than 400 in Haiti, along with other rebuilding efforts. In 2016, he paid to bring the Copa America matches to television in the country.

The latest effort in the Cayman Islands focuses on getting youth involved in soccer.

“I think the whole region, the Caribbean has a lot of talent and has a lot of kids who want to become players. And I think it helps to see and identify with players who have played in different leagues from around the world,” he said. “If I’m able to be one of those guys that can start that whole thing, it’s a great opportunity and honor for me.”

Transfer rumors: Willian, Alderweireld to Manchester United

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The transfer rumor mill is picking up steam this Monday, including some persistent whispers regarding two Premier League players with possible futures at Old Trafford.

Both of these make a lot of sense.

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A day after Nemanja Matic stressed the need for experienced players at United, two good fits hit the rumor mill (again).

Matic’s old Chelsea pal Willian has interest from United if he seeks a way out of London — which seems likely — where he’s said to be ready to go if Antonio Conte remains as manager.

Then there’s Toby Alderweireld, whose been very strong at Southampton and Tottenham Hotspur but reportedly fallen out with current Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino.

During a rut, the Tottenham manager claimed that Alderweireld was held out of Spurs’ lineup due to the form of the players in front of him.

Also from Sky, we’ll leave this quote from PSG chairman Nasser Al-Khelaifi on the idea of possibly selling Kylian Mbappe.

Al-Khelaifi told Canal+: “You want me to give you a number? More than €1bn! Yes, I said one billion! And even if you gave me a billion, I wouldn’t sell him.”

Pogba: Mourinho “made me progress in leadership”

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Paul Pogba says “we are never sure of anything but contractually, it’s sure” that he’ll remain at Manchester United.

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement from United’s most expensive transfer purchase, as many have linked him with a move away from Old Trafford.

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He also said he’s not worried about his relationship with United boss Jose Mourinho, and pointed out that his problems and growth in Manchester are a natural part of a player’s progression. From Sky Sports:

“There were times where I wasn’t playing, I was on the bench. There was a lot of talk, people thought it wasn’t working out,” Pogba added.

“But a coach and a player don’t have to be best friends, we don’t have to go to restaurants together. I had a few little problems too… football is sometimes all about the mental side. He put me on the bench and I gave my response on the pitch. I always give everything I’ve got.

“He made me progress in leadership. I had the armband with Mourinho, it was the first time in a club, it’s important for me, it makes me grow to be also a leader in the France team.”

In a candid talk, the 25-year-old Pogba was asked about Paris Saint-Germain and told French television that he’d be open to representing the club in the future despite the fact that his parents are Marseille supporters.

Moore takes hold of West Brom’s promotion bid

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Darren Moore‘s spell as West Brom caretaker manager couldn’t quite pull off a miraculous run to Premier League safety, but the promise it contained has helped him to the first chance at earning promotion back to the top flight.

West Bromwich Albion announced Moore as its new manager on Monday, with the boss promising his Baggies would play attractive football while also being a side “that’s willing to fight and scrap for every ball.”

[ MORE: No World Cup for Chelsea trio ]

Moore is also happy to carry a flame for minority coaches — called BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) — in England.

“If it does inspire others, I would be extremely proud,” he said. “I don’t just speak on behalf of BAME coaches but the young, aspiring British coaches across the board.”

Moore, 44, only lost one of his six PL matches as WBA boss, winning three times and inspiring many to wonder what would’ve happened had the Baggies’ pulled the plug on Alan Pardew — and Tony Pulis before him — earlier.

A center back in his playing career, Moore spent 18 seasons between a number of clubs including West Brom, Derby County, and Doncaster Rovers. He won promotion as a player twice with West Brom, and again with Derby.

Belgium goes to World Cup without Nainggolan

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BRUSSELS (AP) Belgium left midfielder Radja Nainggolan out of its World Cup squad despite a standout season with Champions League semifinalist Roma.

Belgium coach Roberto Martinez has long had a difficult relationship with the stormy midfielder. But after being called up for a warm-up game in March against Saudi Arabia, expectations had been that he would be on the 28-man roster announced Monday.

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On top of the troubled relationship, Nainggolan was also the victim of the unparalleled wealth of talent the small nation has produced over the past few years.

Thibaut Courtois, Vincent Kompany, Kevin De Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Romelu Lukaku were all named in the squad, which will be cut to 23 before the World Cup.