Staying golden: The U.S. prevail over Japan to clinch fourth Olympic gold medal

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The U.S. finally gets one back against Japan with a resounding 2-1 victory. If this indeed the end of a cycle, what a way to go out.

Wembley Stadium played host to an Olympic gold medal match between well-balanced rivals that is jam-packed with talking points. Here are five such notes:

Love her or hate her, Hope Solo’s got real substance behind all that gruff talk. Sure, Solo can be something of a rabble-rouser, but tonight the attention is squarely on her job and how well she does it. As she’s been known to say, goalkeepers don’t win games, they save them. She did just that today. That 83rd minute leap to keep out Tatsuya Tanaka’s effort on goal? Wow. That save almost certainly prevented another penalty kick shoot-out and preserves her status as the world’s best.

Carli Lloyd has silenced the doubters. The U.S.’s number 10 has been known to polarize a segment of the USWNT’s support base, but even her most fervent faultfinders have to applaud her performance today. Lloyd had what was perhaps her best game in a national team shirt yet. Her brace (just the second in Olympic final history) capped off an unstoppable performance. Lloyd set the tempo with her opening goal just a few minutes into the proceedings when she powered in Alex Morgan’s pass from short range. It was a harbinger of positive things to come. Her second effort was textbook Lloyd: a surging solo run through the center of the park topped off with a cannon blast of a shot.

Lloyd lost her once-sacred starting spot heading into the tournament. It seems that was the catalyst for such the stark turnaround in form. She’s been a robust and productive force in midfield throughout her stint in the United Kingdom. As Pia Sundhage beamed in her post-match comments, “She proved that I was wrong and that I’m not that perfect.”

Another jaw-breaking stat? Carli Lloyd has now scored every one of the USWNT’s three goals in their previous two Olympic finals.

It’s entirely appropriate to flag up (and gripe about) the blown calls. Let’s leave the U.S./Canada furor to one side for a moment. The United States were the beneficiaries of a couple major non-calls. Tobin Heath committed a blatant handball in the first half that should have led to a penalty kick. Rachel Buehler’s egregious bear hug on a Japanese attacker in the box also went unpunished. Head official Bibiana Steinhaus is arguably the most preeminent referee in the women’s game. That both she and her assistant referees missed said incidents is a tad surprising. Let the debate rage on.

Simply put, Japan are class. And that extends way beyond their eye-pleasing soccer. It’s the Nadeshiko’s grace in defeat to the non-existent remonstrations over the non-calls to the modest bows upon being substituted off. Granted, it’s probably cultural as much as it is sporting, but it’s still a pleasant sight. Let’s just hope these players have done enough to get first dibs on first class seats on the flight home. They deserve nothing less, despite the result today.

The sequel was better than the original.Let me dish out an early caveat here and say one should avoid becoming a prisoner of the moment. Still, after bearing witness to two exhilarating women’s soccer matches in four days, it’s hard not to get caught up in the moment.

Today’s match may not have featured the controversy or heart-stopping suspense that compel some to grant the U.S./Canada semifinal ‘greatest of all time’ status. And of course there was last year’s World Cup final with its steady supply of star-making performances and plot twists. But in terms of the sheer quality shown by both teams tonight, this match was special.

Possession see-sawed back and forth as both teams earnestly tried to outwit their opponents through varied means. Japan clung to their patented patient build-up play while the U.S. weren’t shy in imposing their physical advantage. Japan hardly lost their composure, even while facing a two-goal deficit. Passes weren’t hurried; reckless fouls weren’t committed; players refused to be gripped by panic. The U.S. also looked tighter and more polished than they did in the World Cup final one year ago. They were certainly more clinical, which is the ultimate difference maker.

Tremendous goalkeeping, some dandy goals (Japan’s included), and an enthused near-capacity crowd at Wembley added to the momentum of the occasion.

Make no mistake: these are the two best women’s soccer teams in the world. Today’s result just means we have a new (and familiar) number one.

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

MLS (afternoon) roundup: Historically awful MNUFC spanked again

Photo credit: New England Revolution / Twitter: @NERevolution
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The fourth (partial — playing during international breaks should be banned) MLS Saturday of 2017 is two-thirds of the way complete. A quick roundup of the day’s early games…

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverage ]

New England Revolution 5-2 Minnesota United

What else needs to be said about Minnesota at this point? What else can be said? The number of goals they’ve conceded in their first four MLS games: 5, 6, 2, and 5. While (we think) a bit of luck will eventually go their way, and they’ll curtail the goals they’re conceding (we can’t be sure anymore), Adrian Heath’s side is on pace to conceded 153 goals this season.

Anyway, New England picked up their first win of the season. The quality (and ease) of goals scored will tell you everything you need to know about Minnesota’s defending.

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

New York Red Bulls 0-0 Real Salt Lake

Five days after firing head coach Jeff Cassar, RSL returned to their inept, toothless ways in a scoreless draw away to New York. Through four games, the Claret and Cobalt have scored all of one goal, and genuinely look the league’s most lifeless side; Minnesota have at least shown signs of quality in the attacking half.

On Saturday, New York created the majority of the game’s best chances — a pair of shots from distance, masterfully saved by deputy goalkeeper Matt VanOekel — but the chance that will live in the memories of RSL fans for a lifetime came and went in agonizing fashion.

Albanian federation denounces “extremist acts” of their fans in Italy

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TIRANA, Albania (AP) Albania’s soccer federation has strongly denounced the incident that halted the World Cup Group G qualifier with Italy for nearly nine minutes on Friday.

During the match, which was won by Italy, 2-0, a group calling itself Illyrian Elite threw flares onto the pitch.

“Such totally extremist actions from the grouping Illyrian Elite have nothing to do with the excellent Albanian fans” who were distinguished in the EURO 2016 finals in France for their friendship and camaraderie in their festivities, the statement added.

The federation said an coach Gianni De Biasi also was “upset by the flares,” adding that during five years he has been in charge “I’ve seen something that’s never happened before.”