Analyzing the U.S. draw for the London Olympic tournament

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The draw for the women’s soccer tournament at the 2012 Summer Olympics was conducted early Tuesday. Here’s the complete field:

Group A

  • Great Britain
  • New Zealand
  • Cameroon
  • Brazil

Group B

  • USA
  • France
  • Colombia
  • North Korea

Group C

  • Japan
  • Canada
  • Sweden
  • South Africa

Now for what it means:

Charting new territory: The United States plays its first two group matches against France and Colombia in Glasgow at famed Hampden Park. They will then round out the group stage in Manchester at Old Trafford.  But for the USWNT, the British Isles is still a land that is relatively unknown. The team staged a pre-World Cup training camp in Scotland last spring, but has never played a competitive match in the country. The side played its first ever match on British soil last year against England and earned a disappointing 2-1 loss. Pia Sundhage’s team will hope for a better result this time.

Familiar opponents…to a point: The U.S. faced each group opponent at various stages in the World Cup last summer, collecting wins against all three. Still, this will mark the first time the team has faced any of its group foes in the Olympics. If past results are anything to go by, the U.S. should fare well in group play for the 2012 Women’s Olympic Tournament. The USWNT has never lost to any of its Group B competitors. The combined record against all three teams stands at 17-0-2 with 51 goals scored and 10 conceded.

Also, it also wouldn’t be a proper international tournament without a USWNT/North Korea group stage duel. The two sides have been drawn together in the same group in the last four Women’s World Cups. Don’t you love it when tradition is upheld?

Can’t snooze on Les Bleues: One gets the sense the U.S.’s commanding 12-0-1 all-time record against France will hold little significance when the two face off in Group B’s opening match. France are undeniably the rising stars of international women’s soccer. Bruno Bini’s stylish side captured hearts at the World Cup last summer before falling to the U.S. in the semi-finals. France played the most progressive soccer of the tournament and were awarded with an automatic Olympic berth by virtue of their fourth-place finish. Victory in the annual Cyprus Cup last month suggests Les Bleues’ sizzling form hasn’t cooled down. The U.S. were famously downed by Norway in their first match of the 2008 Olympics and later went on to win the tournament. Will a similar scenario pan out this time?

New faces in the crowd: This is probably the thousandth bullet point on the “signs international women’s soccer is growing” list. In previous Olympic tournaments, berths for the CONMEBOL and CAF regions were generally limited to one, if any at all. The 2012 Olympics will see two berths for each federation and thus, the tournament debuts of three countries. Group B’s Colombia made their first appearance in the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup last summer and will use this as another opportunity to nurture its young squad. Nigeria has been Africa’s only representative in the women’s tournament. Up to now, at least. South Africa and Cameroon each narrowly missed out on World Cup qualification in late 2010, but will now have the chance to compete for Olympic glory.

Grand stage for a new generation: This tournament could be a swan song of sorts for several USWNT stalwarts entering the twilights of their careers. The Olympics has been a proving ground for emerging talents eager to earn their keeps. Lauren Cheney, Amy Rodriguez, and Tobin Heath were in their very early 20’s when they each got their respective first tastes of major tournament soccer at the 2008 Olympics. Each has since developed at different rates, but all remain integral parts of the senior fold. Alex Morgan, 22, and Sydney Leroux, 21, will likely lead the USWNT’s front line for the foreseeable future. 23 year-old attacker-turned-defender Kelley O’Hara has seemingly overcome the learning curve and had two very serviceable performances in the Kirin Cup Challenge earlier this month. 24 year-old Whitney Engen is in line to inherit a starting job in the backline once a vacancy arises. A slender 20-player roster will make competition for roster spots particularly fierce. For many of these players, the future is now.

The end of an era?: In early 2008 Pia Sundhage inherited a Women’s National Team program in transition and slight disarray. The USWNT had been eliminated from the 2007 Women’s World Cup in humiliating fashion complete with a 4-0 meltdown versus Brazil, that goalkeeper controversy, and the dismissal of head coach Greg Ryan. Nine months later, Sundhage galvanized the squad to its third Olympic gold medal. The thrilling extra time victory over arch rivals Brazil led to a contract extension. Sundhage’s contract reportedly runs through this summer’s Olympics.  The former Swedish international hasn’t been bashful about her ambitions to return to her native country. Another gold medal will undoubtedly cement Sundhage’s legacy as one of the most successful, effective coaches in the program’s history. Talk about going out on top.

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