Jermain Defoe

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1-on-1 with Vito Mannone, 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year

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Vito Mannone is one of the nice guys, so there are only good vibes in announcing that the Minnesota United goalkeeper has been named the 2019 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year after an outstanding season with the Loons.

The 31-year-old Italian was a revelation after arriving on loan from Reading in England’s Football League Championship, the latest stop in a career which has seen him play for Arsenal in the Champions League and spearhead several big seasons for Sunderland in the Premier League.

[ MORE: One-on-one with Chris Wondolowski ]

Mannone’s 73 saves from inside the box and 136 total saves were both third in MLS as was his 11 clean sheets in a season which saw the Loons claim their first MLS playoff spot in three seasons and make a run to the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup Final. He’s just the second MLS Goalkeeper of the Year to hail from outside of a CONCACAF nation.

PST had a chance to speak to Mannone for a wide-ranging conversation on not just his incredible season, but his feelings of responsibility to be a contributor to his community and the gratitude he feels to be a professional athlete. From emotionally crediting his parents to a funny story about former Arsenal teammate and current LAFC star Carlos Vela, Mannone is an absolute joy in conversation.

ProSoccerTalk: Vito, congratulations on a wonderful season. First things first, what does the award mean to you?

Vito Mannone: “I didn’t expect it in a way, but it’s an incredible feeling. You always work so hard to achieve something like this and it’s an award that rewards me, the work I put in throughout my career. It’s a special one, special moment.”

ProSoccerTalk: There are a lot of worthy on-field topics, and we’ll get to them, but I want to talk about your focus off the field. I read someone on Twitter call you “the nicest guy in football.” You clearly care about how you treat people and your purpose.

VM: “I grew up with special parents and they ingrained in me great values in general in my life. I learned everything from my dad and my mom. They were special people, not just to me but to everyone. That’s how I was raised. I always cared about other people, them first.

“The football platform gives you the chance to give back to people. Anywhere I go I try to give my best to my fans and people who support you in your job. It’s fantastic, you don’t get that in many other jobs.

We are very very lucky to have thousands of people working hard during the week to come and watch you and support you in good and bad moments. The minimum required is to give something back to them.

“Outside of football it’s something I want to do. It fills my heart but at the same time people will look at you and appreciate what you do for them. It extends in a way to connect to poor people, people with health problems. When I go out to hospitals, I always feel I’m very lucky and in a privileged situation.”

PST: It’s interesting that you mention that because for all of your accomplishments — Champions League with Arsenal, season-saving saves with Sunderland — I remember being particularly touched by something you did off the field, as Jermain Defoe and you spent time with ailing Bradley Lowery while he battled cancer, raising money and awareness.

VM: “We are very lucky and I always see myself like any of these kids, I put myself in their shoes because I was a kid full of dreams and I’m lucky that I made it but these kids or ones with problems or fighting really hard to be alive, I know a kid is full of dreams and loves football like we do. That’s why I really want to connect with them.

“Bradley was a prime example. He did so much in general for people who got to know his story. You could see this guy with a smile who would change your day, and you realize your small problems in life are nothing compared to one of these kids.”

PST: “I want to go a little deeper because I’m someone whose paid a lot of attention to the Northeast of England and, don’t get mad, but I grew up watching Newcastle. When you see something like Bradley’s story and the Sunderland connection, it makes it so much bigger than football. It brings a sense of community that extends beyond the field and our little allegiances. Did you have any role models in football who helped you find your way in the community?

VM: “My role model in life in general and in football was my dad, who unfortunately I lost when I was 16. It was a tough task to become a professional without him. He always dreamt with me and he sacrificed his life to get me where I am today and to have a nice career so far and become a professional. I would say my dad. He was my role model.

“And then there’s many good people in general in football. You always want more of these people in your life in football. You mentioned Jermain, he’s one of them, but anywhere I can go I can find people who see it the same.

“In football there is so much violence, now we see racism, we see people using football in the wrong way but I think as well as you mention these moments, these stories like Bradley or many others behind the scenes, kids who are examples, it brings football together. It makes you realize it’s not hate, it’s not violence, there’s nothing that goes above these stories.”

PST: On the field, this season… Remarkable. When a player comes to MLS and he comes with a resume like yours, you expect the player to have a decent season but I don’t know that we could’ve expected to see a goalie play as well as you did while adjusting to a new culture and country on a pretty new team. What would you say about the season?

VM: “Tremendous journey. Tremendous adventure. In general I loved every minute of it. It’s always tough when you change countries. You bring your family out in a new place. It’s never easy, not an easy job, but I had a feeling from the first chat I had with the club, I felt like it was a good project. As soon as I landed here, they treated me with respect and they showed me I was an important piece of the puzzle.

“Opening a new stadium, meeting news fans everything went really well. We started to climb and we got better and better. We molded as a team, new players, youngsters with veterans, and we had a magnificent cup run. The third year for this club in MLS. We reached the playoffs. We beat big clubs. We had an amazing season in a new stadium with special fans. Everything has been fantastic. If I go back (to Europe), I had a few objectives coming here and I successfully fulfilled all my dreams, also becoming Goalkeeper of the Year. You cannot ask for more.”

(Photo by David Kirouac/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

PST: Well, you brought it up… have you thought a lot about what’s next for you?

VM: “No, this season has just finished and I put 100 percent into it until the very last minute. We were unfortunate not to go through against Galaxy and it’s a bit of pain. But I can’t take anything away from the great season. I want to relax, sit down, see my options. I just talked to the club and it’s a good situation right now. I want to sit down with my agent, talk with my family, and see where we can go from here.”

PST: Overseas you had a number of American teammates in your career. Matt Miazga for a bit last year at Reading, Jozy Altidore at Sunderland. You’ve had plenty of career to evaluate American soccer. After a year in MLS, what’s your evaluation of soccer in America?

VM: “Until you get here, you can’t get the true feeling of what the American league is building. This league has great potential and in a few years, it will be there. Progressing really well. Incredible fans, stadiums everywhere you go. Facilities, every club I’ve been around this season has been fantastic and it’s far ahead of many many European clubs.

“What they need to get is keep going, keep building up history, and of course what I can tell you the difference is the standard of the football has been very high. I was impressed, good mix of South Americans, international from Europe, the big stars in Rooney, Ibrahimovic, Vela, my home friend Sagna, but these people want to embrace the league more and more.

“I had this impression from Europe of a retirement league, but it’s not, it’s not! It’s young players, talented players, good ones from America. Every team I faced was a challenge for me and now a days the market is changing — Almiron to Newcastle — it’s going both ways. One time it wasn’t like this. People going to England, to Italy, and coming out here too, it’s different. This will build up and get even better and better.”

PST: Who impressed you the most in MLS, both on your team and opposition?

VM: Let me think about that it’s difficult. Teammates… I’ve been really impressed with youngsters like Hassani Dotson, Chase Gasper, Mason Toye, who came into the first team and are going to be big hits for U.S. national team one day. They have got quality and are good professional, surely yes. I had very good teammates in general. Many good players around, LAFC we all know what they did. My old friend Carlos (Vela), ha, he’s been on fire.

PST: How well did you know him at Arsenal?

VM: “We spent two years as a teammates. He was a youngster too and didn’t have his best time but progressed in his career. He had one of the best years, breaking the MLS record. He’s probably going to MVP and deservedly so.”

PST: Did he get break the record against you, or tie it? That’s a real jerk move!

VM: “Actually, the one to level the record (the penultimate game of the season). We texted each other before the game. I told him don’t worry about the record. You’ll score a hat trick in the last game but zero against me. He said, no no no, one against you and three in the last game, and actually he did it! I called it, so he needs to thank me.”

PST: Thanks for being so generous with your time and congratulations again. It seems you’ve always been in the news for good reasons, like wanting to avoid relegation for the behind the scenes people at Sunderland. It feels good to see you get an award.

 

VM: “Thank you, thank you very much.”

 

MLS Goalkeepers of the Year
1996 – Mark Dodd (Dallas Burn)
1997 – Brad Friedel (Columbus Crew)
1998 – Zach Thornton (Chicago Fire)
1999 – Kevin Hartman (LA Galaxy)
2000 – Tony Meloa (Kansas City Wizards)
2001 – Tim Howard (NY-NJ MetroStars)
2002 – Joe Cannon (San Jose Earthquakes)
2003 – Pat Onstad (San Jose Earthquakes)
2004 – Joe Cannon (Colorado Rapids)
2005 – Pat Onstad San Jose Earthquakes)
2006 – Troy Perkins (DC United)
2007 – Brad Guzan (Chivas USA)
2008 – Jon Busch (Chicago Fire)
2009 – Zach Thornton (Chivas USA)
2010 – Donovan Ricketts (LA Galaxy)
2011 – Kasey Keller (Seattle Sounders)
2012 – Jimmy Nielsen (Sporting KC)
2013 – Donovan RIcketts (Portland Timbers)
2014 – Bill Hamid (DC United)
2015 – Luis Robles (New York Red Bulls)
2016 – Andre Blake (Philadelphia Union)
2017 – Tim Melia (Sporting KC)
2018 – Zack Steffen (Columbus Crew)
2019 – Vito Mannone (Minnesota United)

Bournemouth’s Defoe inks 18-month loan deal with Rangers

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Could Jermain Defoe swing the Scottish Premiership title race to the side of the Glasgow Rangers?

Bournemouth announced the veteran striker’s loan on Sunday after weeks of speculation, and manager Steven Gerrard is thrilled to bring the fellow and former English national team striker to the Ibrox Stadium.

[ REPORT: Mourinho turns down job ]

The 36-year-old hasn’t scored in 254 minutes this season, only 21 of which came in the Premier League. He scored four times last season after bagging 30 combined PL goals for Sunderland in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 seasons.

Defoe last place in a league similar to Scotland when he joined Toronto FC in 2014, scoring 11 times in 19 matches for the Reds. Provided he’s not totally lost his game, it could be possible he puts up a similar strike rate for Gerrard’s men.

The majority of Defoe’s 57 caps came during Gerrard’s time with England, so there’s going to be a solid bond there, and his leadership should further help 22-year-old Alfredo Morales find consistency.

Transfer gossip: $91m for Arsenal target; Chelsea man in Pulisic swap?

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English youngsters? After signing Jadon Sancho, Borussia Dortmund wants all of them.

Well, not quite, but Goal is reporting that BVB asked for Callum Hudson-Odoi while discussing the potential transfer of Christian Pulisic to Chelsea.

[ MORE: Pogba thankful for Mourinho ]

The report says that Chelsea wasn’t moved by the idea and is hoping to sign Hudson-Odoi to a new deal, but the idea of losing him for nothing could become scarier as January moves nearer.

Bayern Munich is also interested in the player, who turned 18 in November and has a goal and an assist in the Europa League amongst nine senior appearances for Chelsea.

Lille winger Nicolas Pepe is going to cost at least $91 million, according to director Luis Campos, a bit more than the $56 million Arsenal was reportedly ready to spend on the 23-year-old.

The right winger has 12 goals and seven assists in 18 Ligue 1 matches this season, and has scored against Paris Saint-Germain, Lyon, and Marseille. He also has three goals in 10 caps for the Ivory Coast.

Celtic boss Brendan Rodgers is reportedly reaching back to his Premier League days in a bid to improve his strike force.

The Hoops may chase either Jermain Defoe or Andy Carroll in a move which would sure to take the fight for an eighth-straight Scottish championship.

Celtic has a one-point lead on Rangers and a three-point lead on Aberdeen, having played one less game. The club is also the highest-scoring team in the league, but with all due respect: either, when healthy, would light up the scoreboard in Scotland.

EFL Cup: Bournemouth hosts Norwich, Forest visits Burton

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The League Cup returns to action this week, with 16 teams remaining, including 10 Premier League sides left in the pool. Half the matches are scheduled take place over the next two days, with two of those happening on Tuesday.

Bournemouth looks for its third League Cup quarterfinals berth in the last five years as the Cherries host Championship side Norwich City at Vitality Stadium. Reports suggest that Jermain Defoe could be one of many fringe Cherries playerse to appear in the side. Defoe has made just three Premier League appearances this season so far, but with Joshua King suffering from an ankle problem, the 36-year-old is expected to enter the fray.

While Bournemouth has seen recent success in the League Cup, Norwich has not. A win would give the Canaries their first appearance this deep in the tournament since 2012/13, and only their second quarterfinals appearance in the last 22 years. Sitting fourth in the Championship table, Norwich has had a fantastic start to the season thus far under manager Daniel Farke. Since falling to Leeds United in late August, Norwich has rattled off nine wins in 12 matches across all competitions, with just one loss in that span.

Also in action on Tuesday is Nottingham Forest visiting League One side Burton Albion. This match could be a wild one, given that Forest’s results have been all over the map of late. They have three wins, three draws, and a loss in the club’s last seven matches, even finishing a man down in two of the three victories.

Burton was relegated from the Championship last season and sit 16th in the League One standings this season through 15 matches, but the hosts will have extra motivation knowing that this is the first time Burton Albion has ever reached the Fourth Round of the League Cup. They knocked off Premier League side Burnley 3-1 in the last round just to reach this point.

Leicester City’s match against Southampton was postponed following the death of owner Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha in a helicopter crash on Saturday.

Burnley 1-2 Bournemouth: Substitute Wilson grabs late winner

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Burnley, so defensively sound all season long, slipped up – literally – at the death of the campaign as they lost a lead and fell to Bournemouth 2-1 at Turf Moor. Kevin Long slipped, allowing substitute Callum Wilson to score in second-half stoppage time, giving a great Burnley season a sour finish.

The best early chance fell to Bournemouth as they worked a shot for Lys Mousset in the 22nd minute, but Burnley keeper Nick Pope was best to it, sprawling to his right to keep out the low effort.

Despite slight possessional domination for the visitors through the opening 45 minutes, it was Burnley who picked out more shots, and they grabbed the opener six minutes before halftime on a sloppy strike. A cross from the left baseline looped in from Stephen Ward, and it fell to Chris Wood in all kinds of space on the penalty spot. The Burnley striker popped his shot and it deflected hard off Tyrone Mings to wrong-foot goalkeeper Asmir Begovic and the shot bounded in for the game’s first goal.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Bournemouth started the second half brightly, and had a header by Steve Cook go just wide moments after the break. Their initial spell was stymied by the solid Burnley defense, but the visitors would find an equalizer with 16 minutes to go on a rare mistake at the back by the hosts.

Jermain Defoe came off the bench and immediately had a solid effort, sliding to meet a cross at point-blank range, but Pope was there to impressively parry the effort. However, the home side couldn’t get the ball clear, and Bournemouth latched back onto possession, eventually finding Josh King who delivered a looping shot that tucked inside the top-right corner with no chance for Pope to make another stop.

[ MORE: Final Premier League standings ]

Burnley had one more chance to grab the three points on 87 minutes, but Jack Cork‘s ball in for Sam Vokes was just inches too far, and Begovic could collect easily. Down the other end, Bournemouth had one more chance as well, as substitute Callum Wilson fired low to the left corner, but his shot skittered agonizingly wide.

It seemed wrapped up as the four minutes of stoppage time ticked down, but the Cherries had one more moment to savor at the end of the season as Bournemouth broke. Burnley defender Kevin Long slipped on the ball, and coughed it up to Defoe, and on the two-on-one, Defoe slipped in Wilson for the tap-in with a minute remaining in stoppage time.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

The three points for Bournemouth moves them into a 12th-placed finish, holding off West Ham behind them with 44 points. Burnley will end the year in seventh, five points above Everton with 54 on the year, a fantastic finish despite the late hiccup.