Gareth Bale of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates scoring against Newcastle United during their English Premier League soccer match at White Hart Lane in London

Gareth Bale double lifts Tottenham over Newcastle

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Newcastle can bring in all the French stars they want, but they’re not going to find an answer to Gareth Bale in Ligue 1. In fairness, the Premier League doesn’t appear to have an antidote for the Tottenham winger, either, with the Welsh international’s two goals taking his season total to 13 as Spurs  downed Newcastle, 2-1.

Tottenham is now undefeated in league since Dec. 9, a span of 10 games. Newcastle’s loss ends a two-match winning streak highlighted by last week’s comeback victory over Chelsea.

Bale’s first was a nearly unstoppable free kick from just outside the penalty area, his dipping ball from even with Tim Krul’s left post getting up and over a late-reacting wall, leaving the Magpies’ goalkeeper no chance to prevent the opening goal. A Yoann Gouffan response equalized  in the 24th minute, but 12 minutes before time, Bale stole full points for the home side.

(MORE: Dempsey versatility on display for Spurs.)

Having switched from his customary left wing to the right, Bale cut in to claim a second ball off a long pass toward Emmanuel Adebayor. A moment of indecision between Newcastle center backs Steven Taylor and Fabricio Coloccini allowed Bale to poke a bouncing ball behind the defense, the Spurs’ winger able to use his speed to race clear of right back Mathieu Debuchy. Going in on Krul to the left of goal, Bale slid a winner just inside the near post as the keeper came out to close the angle.

The goals were two moments of elite quality in an otherwise evenly played match. Even Newcastle’s goal was more fortune than something differentiating, Gouffran’s shot from 17 yards going off Michael Dawson’s back and in.

(MORE: Chelsea back in win column.)

Though only one goal separated the sides in the scoresheet, the real difference was Bale. Were it not for a strong-handed save from Krul in the 87th minute, Bale would have blasted home a hat trick from 19 yards. A bouncing ball gave Bale a chance at an open goal in the 94th minute, but falling to his weaker right foot, he put it over the bar. A 98th minute shot from 20 yards was palmed wide.

Last week, after another star’s two-goal game, we considered which player has been the league’s best this season. Marouane Fellaini still has the most compelling argument, but like Robin van Persie and Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale has a large place in the conversation. While the two forwards have scored more often than Bale, the Spurs attacker has done so from a wider, more withdrawn position.

(MORE: Arsenal holds on at Stadium of Light.)

He may not be the league’s most prolific attacker, but at his best, he is the league’s most dangerous. And as Bale matures, we’re starting seeing his best on a regular basis.

Klinsmann blames Costa Rica loss on Mexico hangover

Jurgen Klinsmann

The United States lost their third straight match on home soil tonight, the first such losing streak since 1997.

Following an extra-time loss to Mexico on Saturday, the U.S. failed to compete in a friendly against Costa Rica, putting in another poor performance as the side continues to struggle.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s USMNT coverage ]

In his post match press conference, Jurgen Klinsmann said his team was still shaking off the loss against Mexico, and couldn’t recover in time for tonight’s game.

Yes, the United States’ match against Mexico went 120 minutes. Yes, it was a very tough game both physically and mentally. However, it’s time for Klinsmann to stop making excuses.

[ MORE: Three things we learned from the USMNT’s loss to Costa Rica ]

Of the starting XI against Costa Rica, only four started against Mexico. Of the six substitutes Klinsmann brought in today, only Bobby Wood played in the Mexico match, and for less than 25 minutes.

The problem isn’t that the U.S. lost tonight; it’s that they didn’t even show up. What Klinsmann needed to do was walk into his press conference and say, “We didn’t come to play tonight. We stunk. That can’t happen and we need to be better. It starts with me.”

[ PLAYER RATINGS: Howard’s return highlights poor performances from USMNT ]

Top teams don’t dwell on past results. Top teams rebound quickly and back up poor performances with strong performances. When a top team would have bounced back, the United States fell flat.

Clearly the argument is, well, the United States isn’t a top team. But isn’t that what Klinsmann was brought in to do? To help develop the USMNT into a top team? The least they could do is act like one, and that starts with the manager.

College Soccer Update: Tragedy strikes USC Upstate with horrible car accident

USC Upstate
USC Upstate
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No interviews today. No star players and programs. Just mourning.

USC Upstate lost four students earlier this week, two of them men’s soccer players, in an early morning car accident this weekend. A fifth was injured when the car they were driving in ran off the road, hit a tree, and caught fire.

James Campbell and Mills Sproul are the soccer players who’ve left the pitch for the final time.

[ MORE: College soccer news ]

USC Upstate’s athletic department held a candelight vigil on Monday, and honored both players with online memorials.

From Campbell’s, entitled “James Campbell Was an Intense Player Whose Competitiveness Made Those Around Him Play Harder”:

While Kyle Juell and James attended different high schools, they played club soccer together. “James was intense and passionate on the field,” Juell said. “He was the kind of aggressive player you wanted as a teammate. He was fun and warm and full of life and he cared so much about his teammates.”

From Sproul’s, entitled “Mills Sproul Put the Needs of Others Before His Own and Was Accepting of All”:

Mills’ teammate Deon Rose said that Mills was like the brother he never had.

“The first time I met him, I knew that he was special,” Rose said. “Not because he asked me if we had beaches in Canada or how Canadians survived without Chick-fil-A, but because he had an unconditional love for everyone and everything.”

Our thoughts are with the USC Upstate team, and entire community. Rest in peace.

Three stars of the week

1. University of California Santa Barbara — The Gauchos leapt from “receiving votes” to No. 14 in the nation. The Gauchos have won five-straight, all in-state, by a combined score of 13-3.

2. Joey Piatczyc, West Virginia — The midfielder leads the nation in assists with 12, one coming in Tuesday’s upset of Penn State, a match in which he also scored his first of the year. The Mountaineers shocked PSU with a 3-0 home win in Morgantown.

3. Francis Atuahene and Colin McAtee, Michigan — The Ghanaian freshman is a lightning bolt, and keeps producing goals along with the redshirt senior McAtee, who hails from San Diego. The Wolverines beat Duquesne 3-0 on Tuesday.

Other notes

— Creighton dropped two of its 24 first place votes, one each to North Carolina and Stanford, but remains the No.1 men’s team in the nation.

— Wake Forest hasn’t allowed a goal in three matches, against quality competition in NC State, South Carolina and Boston College. There were stretches in the 2-0 win over South Carolina where they looked unbeatable.

— Speaking of the Demon Deacons, they’ll face dangerous UNC on Saturday in what will be a cracker.

— Also No. 1:Florida State (Women’s D-1), Gannon (Women’s D-2), Trinity of Texas (Women’s D-3), Pfeiffer (Men’s D-2), Franklin & Marshall (Men’s D-3).