England’s PFA picks van Persie as Player of the Year

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Because season-ending awards should never wait until the end of a season, the Professional Footballers’ Association announced theirs at a Sunday ceremony, naming Arsenal’s Robin van Persie their Player of the Year. He joins David Bergkamp and Ruud van Nistelrooy as fellow Netherlands internationals to have won the award, and he is the fourth Arsenal player to receive the honor (Thierry Henry, Bergkamp, Liam Brady).

We’ve known van Persie would win this award since December. With 10 assists complementing a league-leading 27 goals, the 28-year-old’s numbers are the best of his career. That he is also credited with keeping Arsenal’s heart beating after Cesc Fabregas and Sami Nasri bolted provides his peers with intangibles that support the statistical case.

Can because of that premature coronation, Wayne Rooney never had a chance to catch him. Where it’s difficult to argue Rooney isn’t the better all-around player – contributing at both ends of the park as well as being the main creative force in Manchester United’s attack – the case for van Persie always rested on the sure magnitude of goals scored. But as we sit here, with three match days left in the season, Wayne Rooney has 26 Premier League goals. Van Persie? 27.

His could be a situation where, with the distance of time, we look back and ask “Why did van Persie win that year?” Oh, yeah. Because we decided the award in December.

It’s hard to complain too much about a winner who, in the historical context of the award, is a deserving. With the Football Writers’ Association yet to given out their award, Rooney may yet claim an honor, though given that award went to Scott Parker last year, writers are even less likely to deviate from a narrative than the players were.

Young Player, Team of the Year

Was there are any point this year where you said “I’d take Kyle Walker over Sergio Agüero”? If you said yes, you’re either a member of the PFA or have looked the other way when Walker tries to trap passes from Benoit Assou-Ekotto.

The 21-year-old Tottenham right back was named PFA Young Player of the Year, beating out the likes or Agüero and United’s Danny Welbeck, City’s Joe Hart, and Spurs’ Gareth Bale.

Walker was also named to the PFA’s Team of the Year, as was van Persie:

Pos. Player Club
G Joe Hart Manchester City
LB Leighton Baines Everton
CB Vincent Kompany Manchester City
CB Fabricio Coloccini Newcastle United
RB Kyle Walker Tottenham Hotspur
M David Silva Manchester City
M Yaya Touré Manchester City
M Scott Parker Tottenham Hotspur
M Gareth Bale Tottenham Hotspur
F Robin van Persie Arsenal
F Wayne Rooney Manchester United

I suppose this is where I should pick the team apart, but since we’re talking about a body whose membership is unlikely to be sitting around dwelling any matches but their own, I’ll  offer up the names John Terry, Patrice Evra, Clint Dempsey, and Luka Modric as alternatives to some of the names listed above. Depending on how you feel about injury absences, Bacary Sagna could also be a given.

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