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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.”

[ MORE: Latest USMNT news

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.

Serie A: Atalanta, Inter snatch UCL places on wild final day

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A roundup of all of Sunday’s final-day action in Italy’s top flight…

[ MORE: Chelsea, Real Madrid remain $38 million apart on Eden Hazard deal ]

Sampdoria (9th) 2-0 Juventus (1st)

With their eighth straight scudetto long since clinched, Juve slumped their way to the season’s finish line without a win in their final five games (three draws), including Sunday’s 2-0 loss away to Sampdoria. It was 0-0 for 83 minute, until Gregoire Defrel (84th) and Gianluca Caprari (91st) bagged late goals for the victory.

Atalanta (3rd) 3-1 Sassuolo (11th)

Atalanta completed their fairytale season and finished third in a hugely dramatic, chaotic way befitting their rapid rise to Champions League relevance. They finished 17th and avoided relegation by three points in 2015.

First, they fell behind when Domenico Berardi scored in the 19th minute. They were level by the 35 minute, thanks to Duvan Zapata’s equalizer. Then, things got weird.

Berardi was sent off during a massive skirmish between the two sides while leaving the field for halftime. With the score 1-1, and both Inter Milan and AC Milan ahead after 51 minutes, Atalanta were headed for a fifth-place finish.

Alejandro Gomez put Atalanta ahead three minutes later, though, and Mario Pasalic doubled the advantage in the 65th.

Inter Milan (4th) 2-1 Empoli (18th – relegated)

At that 51-minute mark, Keita Balde’s opening goal put Inter ahead of Empoli, but the visitors equalized in the 76th, briefly dropping them to fifth.

That lasted all of five minutes, as Radja Nainggolan put Luciano Spaletti’s side back in front, where they would finish the season. The top-four finished the day exactly as it began — Atalanta in 3rd and Inter Milan in 4th, each on 69 points.

SPAL (13th) 2-3 AC Milan (5th)

For those five glorious minutes, AC Milan were headed back to the Champions League for the first time since 2014, and were set to do so at the expense of their local rivals.

Finishing fourth, but behind Inter, would have been fine, but finishing fourth and ahead of Inter would have been a dreamland outcome. Alas, it’s a fifth-place finish on 68 points and another season in the Europa League for the Rossoneri.

Elsewhere in Serie A

Bologna (10th) 3-2 Napoli (2nd – Saturday)
Frosinone (19th – relegated) 0-0 Chievo (20th – relegated – Saturday)
Roma (6th) 2-1 Parma (14th)
Torino (7th) 3-1 Lazio (8th)
Cagliari (15th) 1-2 Udinese (12th)
Fiorentina (16th) 0-0 Genoa (17th)

Chelsea’s Kante to miss Europa League final with new injury

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N'Golo Kante is set to miss Chelsea’s Europa League final showdown with Arsenal on Wednesday after suffering a knee injury during a training session this weekend.

[ MORE: Chelsea, Real Madrid remain $38 million apart on Eden Hazard deal ]

Kante missed Chelsea’s two most recent fixtures — their Premier League finale and the second leg of the UEL semifinals — due to a hamstring injury suffered on May 5, but was on course to be fit and available from the start when the London giants meet in Baku, Azerbaijan. Now, though, the Frenchman’s latest injury has all but ruled him out with one final piece of silverware on the line.

According to a report from the Guardian, the injury occurred when the 2018 World Cup winner made a challenge to win the ball during Saturday’s training session. He left the field in “clear discomfort” and will undergo the requisite examinations to determine the severity of the injury.

[ MORE: USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video) ]

In the unfortunate event that Kante’s injury turns out to be serious and keeps him out of action into the start of next season, the Blues would find themselves in a world of trouble. The club’s season-long transfer ban would prevent them from signing even a single replacement for one of the Premier League’s most influential figures.

Antonio Rudiger (knee), Callum Hudson-Odoi (achilles) and Ruben Loftus-Cheek (achilles) will also miss out on Wednesday’s final due to long-term injuries.

Transfer rumor roundup: Chukwuese to Liverpool, Gomes to West Ham

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As fallout begins from Barcelona’s losses in the UEFA Champions League semifinals and Copa del Rey Final, players are being linked with moves away from the Camp Nou.

Andre Gomes, 25, already spent a year away from Barca, playing around 2000 minutes on loan to Everton this season.

[ MORE: USWNT wins final World Cup tune-up ]

The Times says that Everton would like to keep the player, but West Ham has made a $22 million bid for the EURO 2016 winner.

Meanwhile, Metro says that Xherdan Shaqiri could be one-and-done at Liverpool, making room for another Reds’ buy.

Samuel Chukwuese is the name, and the 20-year-old Nigerian plies his trade at Villarreal.

The Yellow Submarine flirted with relegation this season, taxed by the Europa League, and Chukwuese was a bright spot. He scored seven goals and added three assists in 38 matches across all competitions.

USWNT wins final match before World Cup (video)

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Tobin Heath, Mallory Pugh, and Christen Press all scored and then United States women’s national team was rarely threatened in a 3-0 win that stands as the final tune-up for the World Cup in France.

The U.S. will meet Thailand, Nigeria, and Chile in Group F play beginning on June 11.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The match was barely 10 minutes old when Heath took advantage of terrible miscommunication between Mexican goalkeeper Cecilia Santiago and Rebeca Bernal.

There was still work to do when Heath got the ball, finding the angle to make it 1-0.

Carli Lloyd nearly slid a ball home after dribbling Santiago in the 48th minute, but was defied by a goal line clearance.

The second goal came when Lloyd dribbled toward the near post from a tight angle, sliding a pass to Pugh for a 2-0 lead.

Press completed the scoring with a classy finish in the final minutes.