U.S. Olympic soccer dreams suddenly in grave danger; serious flaws now revealing themselves

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Building an Olympic team is tricky business. Because you’re constructing a team more or less from scratch, and focusing all efforts into a very limited number of meaningful games.

By the time any major flaws have been identified, it might be too late. Because flaws proving more significant than originally believed can turn fatal, and right quick.

There’s no sugar-coating it: the United States is in a dark corner after Saturday’s surprising 2-0 loss to Canada. Caleb Porter’s team must win Monday against El Salvador to ensure passage into the critical semifinals in Kansas City.

A draw against El Salvador, a tiny nation now inspired by the massive Olympic opportunity in front of them, probably won’t be enough for the U.S. under-23s.

So, about those “flaws:”

Dynamic formations and shrewd, fluid arrangements of so much attacking talent doesn’t mean a thing, as we can see, if the old-fashioned elements of leadership and want-to come up missing. Or, perhaps, were never there in the first place. Without the benefit of meaningful matches to test these elements over the last few months well, you never really know until you know. You know?

Saturday, “urgency” went on holiday on the U.S. side. The Canadians ran and ran and poured everything they had into the night. Too many American players might be asking if they did the same Saturday.

Going into the match, you could say there was definitely still a little bolt-tightening to be done in the U.S. defense. Seeing things unravel so spectacularly against Canada, it looks now like more than that. The problems start with center back Ike Opara, who just never looks completely comfortable or very smooth back there. His timing and positioning aren’t as astute as central partner Perry Kitchen, but that’s not the least of it. Some nervous indecision near goal nearly turned disastrous as Opara almost sneaked one past Bill Hamid at the near post in the first half.  He got all turned around on a Canadian break midway through the second half, and then completely lost his mark on Canada’s second goal.

Opara can definitely can be a bother on offensive set-plays. But that’s not enough, and that spot looks like a real doozey of a U.S. problem.

The first Canadian strike was clearly on goalkeeper Bill Hamid, whose inexperience became a crusher. He was way too timid in claiming what should have been a routine ball into his six-yard box. By failing to grab the floating corner kick at its highest possible point (Goalkeeping 101) and not attacking the moment with authority, he turned a fairly benign cross into a fiasco.

Freddy Adu isn’t playing badly, really, but he’s sure not anything to shout about, either. Bottom line: he’s not doing enough. The U.S. captain (and most experienced international man) must press the game more and ask further questions of defenders in front of him. He’s quite competent in helping the Americans keep possession in the middle third. But he’s not stretching defenders the way Brek Shea did on the left (for a half Saturday, anyway). And when Adu came into the middle after the break, he was even less effective, never establishing himself as the playmaker Porter apparently asked him to be in a halftime tactical adjustment.

Speaking of that tactical adjustment: it didn’t work. Not at all. Joe Corona, Thursday’s three-goal scorer, wasn’t finding the spaces that he did against Cuba’s awful defense. And, as noted, Adu wasn’t having his best night on the right wing. So Porter removed Corona, switched Shea to the right, redeployed Adu to attacking midfielder and added Joe Gyau to the left. Result: things got worse. Only in the last, desperate 10 minutes did the Americans begin seriously threatening Canadian goal. Down by two at that point, it was too late.

Barcelona plan Cruyff tribute at club’s training center

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) One year after his death, Barcelona says it will name the future stadium at its training center after Dutch great Johan Cruyff.

The new stadium at Barcelona’s training center just outside the Catalan city will be called “Johan Cruyff Stadium” in honor of the club’s former player and coach.

Barcelona says in a statement that “the most emblematic building in the facility where future Barca players are coached is to be named after somebody who played such a central role in fostering youth talent at the club.”

Barcelona also says it will commission a “commemorative sculpture” of Cruyff, who died of lung cancer on March 24 last year at age 68. The statue will be placed at Barcelona’s main Camp Nou stadium.

Cruyff is largely credited with launching Barcelona’s era of trophy success, both as a player and a coach.

As a player, Cruyff joined Barcelona midseason in 1973 and led the middle-of-the-table team to its first national title in a decade.

He later returned as a coach and guided Barcelona to four consecutive Spanish leagues from 1991-94 and the club’s first European Cup in 1992.

“I think the tributes are very warming,” said Cruyff’s son, Jordi Cruyff. “It sort of changes the sadness that we might feel as family to lose a father, a husband and a grandfather. It changes to a certain kind of pride to understand that he left something behind.”

MLS Snapshot: Defense optional — Crew SC outlast Timbers, 3-2

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The game in 100 words (or less): As far as teams who get out in the open field and score the lion’s share of their goals on the counter-attacking, there aren’t many MLS teams better than Columbus Crew SC and the Portland Timbers. The two sides met Saturday night at MAPFRE Stadium, site of their MLS Cup 2015 clash, and lived up to their reputations. Of the five goals scored, two were notched on flat-out counters and two more came to pass through quick transitional movements. Portland (9 points) dropped their first points of the season, falling 3-2 to goals scored by Justin Meram, Ola Kamara and Niko Hansen, while Crew SC have back-to-back wins and find themselves level on points (7) with the New York Red Bulls with each side having played four games.

[ MORE: Saturday’s MLS (afternoon) roundup ]

Three Four Five moments that mattered

4′ — Asprilla opens the scoring early on — 2017 Crew SC defending, same as 2016 Crew SC defending.

11′ — Meram fires home the rebound for 1-1 — One of Portland’s biggest weaknesses last season was their set-piece defending. Looks like not much has changed.

19′ — Higuain feeds Kamara for a 2-1 lead — The question mark that Portland will eventually have to answer is this: How much, if at all, have they improved defensively in the open field? Based on this Crew SC counter-attack, the answer might be “not much.”

45+3′ — Adi recovers to make it 2-2 — Everything Adi does these days (even the bad things, like this first touch) ends up being good.

84′ — Hansen cleans up at the back post for 3-2 — Jake Gleeson made a spectacular reaction save to deny Kamara his second goal of the game, but the rookie, making his MLS debut, was in the right place at the right time.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Wil Trapp

Goalscorers: Asprilla (4′), Meram (11′), Kamara (19′), Adi (45+3′), Hansen (84′)

Andorra’s 11-year, 58-game losing streak is over

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BARCELONA, Spain (AP) Rarely has a scoreless stalemate in front of the home fans tasted so sweet.

But 11 years of nothing but losing will do that to a team.

Andorra’s 0-0 draw with fellow minnow Faroe Islands in World Cup qualifying on Saturday ended its run of 58 competitive defeats.

It was the first point in qualifying for the Pyrenees mountain principality, population 80,000, since a scoreless draw with Finland in 2005.

Faroe Islands finished with 10 men after Joan Edmundsson was booked a second time with 15 minutes to play.

World Cup qualifiers: Dutch disaster persists; Greece hold Belgium

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s World Cup qualifying fixtures, as Groups A, B and H hit the halfway point in Europe…

[ MORE: USA 6-0 Honduras | Three things we learned | Player ratings ]

Bulgaria 2-0 Netherlands

Spas Delev scored both Bulgarian goals (5th and 20th minutes) to secure all three points and send Danny Blind’s Netherlands side (7 points) into fourth place in Group A, six points back of leaders France and three back of second-place (qualifying playoffs) Sweden.

17-year-old Matthijs de Ligt was handed his international debut for the Dutch; he was ultimately at fault for both of Delev’s goals; he was subbed off at halftime (as was Georginio Wijnaldum).

Luxembourg 1-3 France

Olivier Giroud scored twice (28th and 77th minutes) for France, and Antoine Griezmann added the other (37th minute – penalty kick), as Les Bleus maintained their three-point lead in Group A. Kylian Mbappe, Monaco’s 18-year-old rising star, made his international debut in the 78th minute, when he replaced Dimitri Payet.

Portugal 3-0 Hungary

Cristiano Ronaldo bagged the 69th and 70th goals of his international career (36th and 65th minutes), as Portugal (12 points) kept pace with an unbeaten Switzerland side (15 points) which managed a 1-0 victory over Latvia to keep their 100-percent record intact. Andre Silva scored the opener (32nd minute) for Portugal, the 21-year-old Porto striker’s fifth goal in six international appearances.

Belgium 1-1 Greece

Romelu Lukaku‘s 89th-minute rescued a point for Group H leaders Belgium (13 points), but it did little to mask an otherwise uninspiring performance from Roberto Martinez’s side. Kostas Mitroglu put Greece ahead in the first minute of the second half, but Panagiotis Tachtsidis saw his second yellow of the game in the 65th minute, and that was the start of Greece’s unraveling. The draw was just enough to keep Greece (11 points) in second, ahead of Bosnia-Herzegovina, whose 5-0 thrashing of Gibraltar moved them to 10 points with a superior goal differential.

Elsewhere in UEFA’s World Cup qualifying

Group A

Sweden 4-0 Belarus

Group B

Switzerland 1-0 Latvia
Andorra 0-0 Faroe Islands

Group H

Bosnia-Herzegovina 5-0 Gibraltar
Cyprus 0-0 Estonia