Preview: Confident United States expecting victory against Panama

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SEATTLE, Wash. – The rhetoric surrounding Jurgen Klinsmann’s time with the U.S. men’s national team has always cast the coach’s tenure as a process, one that would require the program to regroup and reset before moving forward. Two weeks ago, as Belgium was slicing through the team in a Cleveland friendly, that process appeared to be sputtering, but after wins against Germany and Jamaica, confidence is high ahead of the team’s latest challenge – Tuesday’s World Cup Qualifier against Panama.

“We need to confirm what we’ve built over the last couple of games,” was Klinsmann’s assessment as the team arrived in Seattle, site of Tuesday’s match. After their 2-1 win in Kingston, the U.S. sit second in “The Hex” – the six-team final round of CONCACAF’s World Cup qualifying tournament. With three teams advancing directly to Brazil 2014, the U.S. will take a big step to a seventh-straight World Cup with a win over Panama.

“We want to get three points on Tuesday night, badly,” Klinsmann said. “It’s a must-win. Every home game is a must-win. We know that.”

(MORE: The U.S.’s long trip, quick turnaround after Jamaica)

With the qualifying tournament just short of its half-way mark, the game’s far from a must-win, but with the well-established maxim of ‘win all your home games’ entrenched in CONCACAF lore, you wouldn’t expect a coach of one of the region’s favorites to say anything less. And while the math may not support Klinsmann’s urgency, given the progress the U.S. has made over the last two weeks, anything but full points would be a major setback. Against a team that’s never reached a World Cup, a draw could be a step back.

Panama’s chances of getting that result took were dealt a severe blow this weekend when Blas Perez was ruled out of Tuesday’s match. The veteran FC Dallas striker and Panama’s most dangerous goal-scoring threat, Perez was ruled out with gastrointestinal problems. The 32-year-old’s absence will make life easier on defenders Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, who now will focus their attentions on Luis Tejada and Rolando Blackburn.

There are, however, other points of worry in the Panamanian team. In captain Felipe Baloy, the Canaleros have a defender capable of starting for any team in the region, his physicality capable of neutralizing even an in-form Jozy Altidore. In the middle, former Philadelphia Union midfielder Gabriel Gomez has always been a force for country, even if he failed to have a significant impact in Major League Soccer. He’ll be a major focal point for Michael Bradley.

(MORE: Bradley’s importance could be tested | Without Jermaine Jones.)

Even with those talents, Panama’s challenges down to a coaching truism. If Klinsmann’s team plays to their potential – if the team that faced Jamaica and Germany boarded the charter to Seattle – the United States will win. It will probably be difficult, as most U.S. games are, and there may be moments where a Brad Evans-esque player will have to unexpectedly step up, but the U.S. is beyond doubting their capabilities to do so.

The bigger question is how many of those of those capabilities will be at Klinsmann’s disposal. Jermaine Jones, the much-maligned midfield hard man whose become one of Klinsmann’s obligatory starters, is out while recovering from a concussion. Graham Zusi, so crucial in providing service from the right for Altidore’s recent goals, was cautioned in Kingston, leaving him suspended with after accumulating too many yellow cards.

The extent to which Klinsmann’s replacements click will dictate how easy the U.S. has it against Panama. In the middle, Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron is most likely to take Jermaine Jones’s mantle, his utility man’s ability to play central defense, right back, and midfield focused in support of Bradley. In place of Zusi, the situation is more nebulous, with Eddie Johnson, Joe Corona, and Brad Davis all potentially starting against Panama.

(MORE: “Adaptability” in action, just as Klinsmann preached.)

The biggest names, however, are there. Clint Dempsey will wear the armband. Tim Howard will protect the net. Jozy Altidore will be chasing goals, while Omar Gonzalez looks to continue his ascent in defense. With nine of eleven starters returning from the Jamaica match – and with Panama missing their leading scorer – there’s little appetite to accept excuses.

If the States win, they could very well sit top of the group through five rounds, the Hex-leading Costa Ricans facing a tough task in Mexico City. Any other result, and the States will be examining at themselves instead of the standings.

(MORE: Costa Rica plan plan Mexico upset, Honduras host Jamaica)

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