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England ‘building belief’ not only for World Cup, but for long-term success

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Gareth Southgate is presently performing a complex balancing act: he’s simultaneously attempting to guide England into Sunday’s World Cup final, while being forced to stave off rising — and potentially crippling — expectations for his young squad, but also using his side’s trip to Wednesday’s semifinal as a motivational point for various iterations of the national team.

[ MORE: France edge past Belgium to reach World Cup final ]

Such is the task the manager must meet head on when the Three Lions suddenly — but expectedly — become one of the feel-good stories and most endearing sides at a major tournament. It’s an identity and mentality that Southgate and Co., have been working to forge over a number of years and tournaments at various youth levels — quotes from the Guardian:

“I’ve been involved in all the plans really, right through the age groups. To have seen our younger teams have success they have has been hugely rewarding.

“We know our academies at club level are producing really good players, technically good players. We made a lot of changes with the national teams that helped us be successful. We believe we have to continue doing that, to constantly evolve and improve. With this team, it’s the same. The experiences of the last few weeks, the milestones they’ve hit, will be a great reference point moving forward. The more big games we’re involved in, the more pressure situations they’re involved in and emerge from successful, the more belief it will build.

“We have a core group of young players in this squad we believe will take us forward, and others coming through the age-group teams with good experiences who have belief they can win, but also expectations that we should be in quarterfinals, semifinals and finals more regularly. That’s what we wanted to do with our younger teams. All of that work is great but you really have to achieve at senior level in the end for that to be fulfilled. And we have a great opportunity now to get to a World Cup final.”

As for what he expects from the Three Lions beyond this World Cup, Southgate firmly believes that “this team is nowhere near the level they’re going to be capable of”:

“Sometimes you have to go through difficult times as a team, and failures, to learn and to improve. There were a lot of young players involved in the team two years ago who suffered a huge disappointment, and we could have ignored that and tried to be positive and look to the future. But we felt it was important to learn from it, unpack it a bit, and find out why we’d gone so long without winning a knockout game.

“We’ve been fortunate the FA has backed us financially to bring in a lot of staff, experts in lots of fields: physical, medical, coaching, to offer good support for the players. We’ve planned really well, and learned as much as we can. We’re starting to see through the age groups some success because of that, but it’s an ongoing process. This team is nowhere near the level they’re going to be capable of, partly because of their age, but also because they’ll have more big-match experiences over the next few years. We are excited about the future, but we want to make the most of this opportunity as well.”

PSG signs American defender Alana Cook from Stanford

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PARIS (AP) Paris Saint-Germain’s women’s team has signed American defender Alana Cook from Stanford University.

The 21-year-old Cook, who was born in Worcester, Massachusetts, has signed until June 2022. She was named the Pac-12 defensive player of the year this season for her performances with Stanford and has represented the U.S. at Under-20 level.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

She played 93 games and scored five goals for Stanford.

PSG’s women’s team is second in the French first division and sits two points behind five-time European champion Lyon after 15 rounds.

Cook says “I really wanted to play in a European club and to play against the best teams in the world.”

More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/apf-Soccer and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

MLS notes: Zimmerman spurns Europe, Vazquez sold, DC youngster in remission

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Let’s sweep up some good, somewhat-expected, and wonderful news from around Major League Soccer.

DC United defender and Maryland product Chris Odoi-Atsem announced that he is in remission after a fight with Stage Two Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Odoi-Atsem was expected to undergo four months of chemotherapy, and the announcement comes just under three months into the journey.

At 23, Odoi-Atsem hopes to rejoin the team after his final round of chemo later this month. He was the 12th overall draft pick in 2017.

Another defender is extending his stay in Los Angeles.

USMNT center back Walker Zimmerman was a huge part of LAFC’s success as an expansion club following his arrival from FC Dallas, and was reportedly ready to test the waters of European soccer with interest from the Premier League, Ligue 1, and the Bundesliga.

But Bob Bradley pushed the right buttons and LAFC will have its 25-year-old mainstay back in the fold via a Targeted Allocation Money contract running through the 2022 season.

Finally, one of the key pieces to Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS Cup triumph is on his way out of Ontario.

Victor Vazquez is going to be sold to an unnamed Qatari club, pending a physical according to TSN’s Kristian Jack.

The 32-year-old scored posted 18 goals and 15 primary assists for TFC.

Transfer rumor roundup: Pellegrini to Man Utd? Dabbur wants Liverpool

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As Arsenal might be losing its head of recruitment, other Premier League movers and shakers are looking to bring big names to the Top Four fight.

If Northern Ireland is the hub for transfer movement, January is going to be a wild ride for one of the Premier League’s flagship clubs.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

The Belfast Telegraph is reporting that Manchester United is pursuing young Roma midfielder Lorenzo Pellegrini in addition to the whispers linking the club to former Liverpool wizard Philippe Coutinho.

Pellegrini, 22, has two goals and six assists for Roma this season, having become a regular call-up for Italy. He reportedly has a $35 million release clause in his contract, though he is cup-tied in the Champions League (Roma next faces Porto).

His 2.6 key passes per game lead Roma and only AC Milan’s Suso and Atalanta’s Alejandro Gomez average more across Serie A. Pellegrini is second on Roma in crosses with 1.5.

How does $115 million sound for an elite 27-year-old defender? That’s what Napoli would reportedly accept from Real Madrid to bring Kalidou Koulibaly west to Spain.

The report, which also links Real with interest in Roma’s Kostas Manolas and Porto’s Eder Miliato, says United remains interested in the player despite the exit of admirer Jose Mourinho.

Anything more than $97 million, the fee Liverpool paid for Virgil Van Dijk, would break the world transfer record for a defender.

Meanwhile, Israeli striker Munas Dabbur is angling to bring his 20-goal season to Anfield.

Reports that Dabbur has turned down a move to Valencia in the hopes of joining Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane, and Roberto Firmino at Liverpool.

The Red Bull Salzburg striker has scored half of his 20 goals in the Champions League and Europa League, and has 11 Israel caps.

The cost for Dabbur is said to be $28 million, but is there any guarantee Dabbur can produce at a level that would demand playing time. Divock Origi has three goals in six matches and can hardly get time for the Reds, and Daniel Sturridge has only found 576 minutes in the first half of the season.

Arsenal to reportedly lose head of recruitment Mislintat

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The man expected to usher in an era of exciting new young talent at Arsenal may be leaving the club after less than 14 months.

Arsenal head of recruitment Sven Mislintat, 46, has been hailed as the man who discovered Christian Pulisic and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang while at Borussia Dortmund.

[ MORE: Atlanta signs Watford teen ]

Well-connected reporter Raphael Honigstein says Mislintat is frustrated by a change in recruitment policy since Ivan Gazidis left the Emirates Stadium. Gazidis hired Mislintat to use analytics and stats to find diamonds, whereas new head of football Raul Sanllehi prefers to work his own network for players.

Mislintat is considered the key to bringing in Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, as well as clear connections like former BVB center back Sokratis Papastathopolous.

His departure would be a shot across the bow of an organization which enjoyed stability under Gazidis and Arsene Wenger for years.