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Yedlin: USA’s goal must be to win the World Cup

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NEWCASTLE — Wearing a lively floral tracksuit in the height of winter in England’s chilly North East, DeAndre Yedlin is obviously a man who expresses himself freely.

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Yedlin, 24, had already laughed off banter from his teammates about his Dolce & Gabbana gear from Milan as he sat down to talk exclusively with Pro Soccer Talk at Newcastle United’s snowy training ground ahead of their clash with Manchester United on Sunday (Watch live, 9:15 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com) at St James’ Park.

Thousands of miles away from his hometown of Seattle and the United States of America, the U.S. national team right back admitted he is still smarting from their shocking failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

That said, when asked what the USMNT’s aim should be in the next decade, a period where he is expected to be a leader on the pitch with 49 caps already to his name, Yedlin was bullish about how the U.S. can bounce back from the biggest disappointment of all.

“For me, I want to win the World Cup. If that’s not the goal then I don’t think you should be playing,” Yedlin said. “A lot of people will say that isn’t realistic but for me, I will say ‘why?’ Why isn’t that realistic? Leicester City won the Premier League and nobody thought that could happen but it did. If that’s [winning the World Cup] not the ultimate goal then I think we should reevaluate things.”

Wow. Yedlin believes it when he says that the U.S. should be challenging for glory in Qatar in 2022 and potentially on home soil in 2026.

For a player who in the space of four years has risen from the Seattle Sounders academy to an MLS star (via two years at the University of Akron) and then on to Tottenham Hotspur before a loan spell at Sunderland in the Premier League and eventually spending the last 18 months at Newcastle, he is in a hurry to get the USMNT back on track.

Talking about the pain of the defeat at Trinidad & Tobago back in October 2017 which led to the U.S. failing to make the World Cup for the first time since 1986, Yedlin believes good can come from this and a talented young group can turn it into a positive as they focus on the 2022 World Cup.

“100 percent. I wouldn’t call it a blessing in disguise but I think now, especially the guys that have come through it, now we feel what disappointment is like, not making the World Cup,” Yedlin explained. “Now there is going to be an extra gear that is hit to make sure we make the next one but not only make it but do well in it. Nobody wants to feel this way again. It gives us extra motivation but it shouldn’t come to the point where you need to feel that. But that’s what it is and hopefully it helps us.”

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With question marks about the experienced USMNT core of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and others carrying on for the next four-year World Cup cycle, Yedlin feels like now is a good natural time for the promising young talents of Christian Pulisic, Weston McKennie, Tyler Adams et al. to be given their chance to shine for the Stars and Stripes.

“I think so and I think those guys realize it as well,” Yedlin admitted. “Every international career is going to come to an end you’re going to pass it down to the younger generation. Every career comes to that point. I think they are happy with doing that and they know we have some talented players coming in.”

Given the debates around the current U.S. Soccer Federation presidential election and plenty of questions asked about how U.S. Soccer not only develops, but finds the next crop of talented players in the future, does Yedlin, a player who came through both the MLS academy and college systems, believe there is a problem with talent identification?

“I do think players are slipping through the net,” Yedlin said. “It is a situation where we do need to reach out to some of the communities that maybe historically haven’t been as interested in soccer or some of the poorer communities because I think there are kids slipping though the net. Just like there will be in any sport or in any country. I realize it is hard because the USA is such a big country. In that same sense there are that many more kids who could be the next ones who help us reach a World Cup final. You know? I think as big as a country America is, we should start trying to become a powerhouse in this sport.”

What about his own career as he helps Newcastle battle relegation from the Premier League with 12 games to go, aided by their incredible support?

Under Rafael Benitez he’s flourished as a title winner in England’s second-tier last season and a regular in the Premier League for the Magpies this season, and he believes playing for a coach lauded for his defensive techniques has helped his game massively.

“It is based on what the coach likes and prefers but I think defensively I’ve just gotten a better understanding of when to go, when to stay, how aggressive to be and realizing what is around me,” Yedlin said after he had talked Pro Soccer Talk through, on a tactics board, when to step to engage a winger and when to drop and hold your defensive shape. “It’s the whole understanding of the game which has become better and that comes with maturity and experience.”

Jurgen Klinsmann was the man who gave Yedlin his chance with the USMNT and brought him to the 2014 World Cup amid much fanfare and then helped push him to Europe afterwards. Yedlin praised Klinsmann for “getting him to where he is today” but understood why he was fired after the poor set of results at the start of 2018 World Cup qualifying which weren’t all his fault because “the name of the game” is the coach getting fired even though he “can’t press a button and make all the players play well during a game.”

Yedlin revealed he hasn’t thought too much about who the next permanent USMNT coach would be, and when asked if Caleb Porter, his former coach at Akron, would be a good fit, he was positive about such an appointment.

“It’s not something I’ve thought a lot about but I’ve had Caleb [as a coach] before and I’d definitely be happy with that, but whoever it is I am sure will be a good fit,” Yedlin added.

One of just three Americans playing regularly in the Premier League (Danny Williams of Huddersfield and Geoff Cameron of Stoke City being the others) Yedlin isn’t looking too far ahead and revealed he is a serial short term goal-setter.

“I have to make a list of a bunch of different things. There is not one thing. I make a lot of lists,” Yedlin smiled. “Every three months I reevaluate my goals and see how I did. They are short term targets and build season to season.”

His ultimate goal to win the World Cup during his time with the USA is a lofty one, and at least four years off, but Yedlin, like his tracksuit, is bold and aims to be a leading light in the USMNT’s shot at redemption.

FOLLOW LIVE, Gold Cup: USMNT closes out group v. Panama

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It’s a fully-changed starting XI for the U.S. Men’s National Team as it closes out the group stage against Panama at Children’s Mercy Park in Kansas City, Kansas.

Omar Gonzalez and Matt Miazga start together in the backline, Jozy Altidore returns to the starting lineup up top, and Jordan Morris and Jonathan Lewis feature on the wings alongside Altidore. Ten of the 11 players now ply their trade in MLS, including the Gonzalez, who recently moved to Toronto FC.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT takes on Panama in Kansas City]

Hit the link above to follow along for the next two hours, and check back on PST for a full recap and in-depth analysis after the final whistle.

Must-See Goal: Wayne Rooney v. Orlando City

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I’m going to go out on a limb and say it. Wayne Rooney just scored the most amazing goal in Audi Field’s young history.

In the 10th minute of D.C. United’s match against Orlando City SC on Wednesday evening, Rooney noticed Orlando’s Brian Rowe straying way off his line. And so, with an audacious but accurate attempt, Rooney let fly from 65 yards and SCORED. Just check this goal out below.

[FOLLOW LIVE: USMNT v. Panama]

Rooney took advantage of a crazy bounce and with his literal first touch, unleashed a thunderbolt that Rowe couldn’t catch up to. It automatically becomes one of the top contenders for the MLS Goal of the Year, and should make it on every top ten countdown this evening and tomorrow.

Benfica: Atletico Madrid make $143 million bid for Felix

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The legend of Joao Felix appears to have reached full market value potential.

The 19-year-old Portuguese striker is coming off a breakout year for Benfica, and now the Portuguese giants have received an impressive $143 million offer from Atletico Madrid for Felix. The club confirmed the offer in a statement on its website, stating it was analyzing the deal. Felix has a $136.5 million release clause in his contract, but it appears the additional $7 million is in processing costs.

[READ: Kroos wants to retire at Real Madrid]

Felix was outstanding at Benfica last year, scoring 15 goals with seven assists in 26 league games and three goals and one assist in five Europa League game. Felix has already made his international debut for Portugal.

If confirmed, Felix would become the fifth-most expensive transfer in world history, and the second-most expensive transfer for a teenager behind Kylian Mbappe.

AFCON: Nigeria 1st team through to round of 16 at African Cup, joined by host Egypt

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CAIRO (AP) Former champion Nigeria became the first team to reach the last 16 at the African Cup of Nations after defender Kenneth Omeruo‘s second-half goal delivered a 1-0 win over Guinea on Wednesday.

The Nigerians were unimpressive in the first half in Alexandria but lifted their game in the second. Alex Iwobi‘s rasping shot was pushed away by Guinea goalkeeper Ibrahim Kone and Ahmed Musa almost set up Odion Ighalo on a counterattack.

The former Chelsea defender Omeruo did what the forwards had not been able to do when he beat Kone with a glancing header at the near post off Moses Simon’s corner in the 73rd minute.

Nigeria, which won the title in 2013, has two wins from two games in Group B. It beat Burundi 1-0 in its first match and now needs a draw from its last fixture against Madagascar to finish top and stay in Alexandria for the last 16.

There was more good news for Nigeria when Samuel Kalu came on as a substitute near the end. The midfield player collapsed at a training session the day before the first game, suffering from dehydration, and was hospitalized.

Coach Gernot Rohr rested captain John Obi Mikel against Guinea.

Elsewhere, Egypt also confirmed a place in the knockout stages with a 2-0 win over the Democratic Republic of Congo. Ahmad Elmohamady and Mohamed Salah each scored in the first half to lead the Pharoahs to victory, the hosts second-straight win in the competition.

In the other match of the day, Uganda tied Zimbabwe, 1-1.