Two elements missing in Omar Gonzalez contract talk

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The obvious talking points on Omar Gonzalez’s new Designated Player deal last week were, well, obvious.

It’s always right to stamp “Big News” on top of the print when a U.S. man is made a DP. There have been just three previously.

And it does my heart good to see MLS arrive at a place where defenders are valued thusly; it says good things about how long-term results are gaining ground on short-term marketing maneuvers when these important DP decisions are made.

But there are two elements that perhaps have not generated sufficient talk, both revolving around player choices and how staying in / returning to MLS could impact their ongoing development or performance.

Yes, Omar Gonzalez needs to be in Europe at some point to be the best possible Omar Gonzalez he can be. So there was some disappointment when the big center back signed on for another three-year Galaxy hitch. But before judging the U.S. center back too harshly, consider two things.

(Well, actually consider that we really need to stop pretending like these guys owe us something; they all have a right to play wherever they want … it’s not their problem if we are disappointed that they aren’t representing the Red, White and Blue of soccer in England or Italy or wherever. But that’s beside the point here …)

First, this does not necessarily mean Gonzalez (pictured, in the center of the bunch) is staying in Los Angeles for three years. What the Galaxy has done by offering a salary commensurate with the wages he would earn abroad is to secure his rights for three years. Los Angeles stood to forfeit somewhere north of $5 million by not signing Gonzalez, leaving him available on a free transfer at season’s end.

How silly would that have been? AEG brass may as well drive up and down the 405 flipping $100 bills out the window if they just want to throw money away.

Assuming good health, Gonzalez will surely fetch what Geoff Cameron did a year ago and then some; Cameron moved from Houston to Stoke 13 months ago for just under $3 million.

Second, nothing is more important to a soccer player than a World Cup. Right now, Gonzalez is well positioned for a spot on Jurgen Klinsmann’s roster next summer in Brazil. He may be slipping a wee bit in the order, as Matt Besler keeps up his good work and John Brooks crowds the field of central defensive competitors. Still, Gonzalez would be a roster lock if Klinsmann had to choose today.

The deal killers would be an injury, obviously, or if Gonzalez gets himself into a bad club situation. Say he went to Stoke City (a lot of that going around for Americans, you know) but could not break up the Ryan Shawcross / Robert Huth stranglehold on the two center back spots?

(MORE: Has Omar Gonzalez slipped a bit lately?)

If he sits on the bench all spring, the best possible likely outcome would be losing the U.S. starting spot while still making the roster. Again, that’s probably the best possible outcome.

If he stays in MLS he has a great chance of holding that starting spot. Then, if the man has a good World Cup, he’ll be 25 years old and in an outlandishly great position to make a move into Europe.

When you think about it that way, another go-round in MLS starts to look and feel like the right choice. Maybe not forever, but quite possibly for the time being.

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