U.S. vs. Mexico Man of the Match: Eddie Johnson

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After a memorable match like tonight where a number of players put in such tremendous shifts, selecting a Man of the Match can be a bit troublesome.

For example, how can someone argue that Tim Howard doesn’t deserve the recognition?

The U.S. goalkeeper proved his worth tonight in a big way. Entering the pitch with his typical chrome-dome and a beard that would make James Harden proud, Howard exuded confidence.

From the early corner-kicks, to Giovani Dos Santos’ menacing runs, to the long-range efforts of Christian ‘El Chaco’ Giménez, Howard had every angle covered. The Everton netminder’s save of the night came in the 43rd minute when Dos Santos slipped behind Kyle Beckerman and Jermaine Jones and stabbed a vicious shot towards the top corner. With a cat-like leap, Howard sprung left and sucked in the shot with both gloves, preventing the rebound.

But as good as Howard was, who could deny Omar Gonzalez the MOTM award?

Tonight we witnessed the coming-of-age story that was Gonzalez morphing from a boy with talent into a center-back worthy of international recognition. From the opening whistle he bossed the U.S. defense with thoughtful organization and intelligent positioning.

Dos Santos may have been active but Gonzo had him in his back pocket. Utilizing his robust 6’5″ frame, the center-back forced Gio off the ball on numerous occasions leaving the diminutive playmaker with nothing to do but foul. Gonzo’s best sequence of the night came in the 18th minute where his sliding interception ruined Dos Santos’ through-ball to Javier Hernandez. The play continued, however, with Omar then popping up and blocking Gio’s shot before Giménez forced a fine save by Howard.

And yet, incredibly, other guys were equally as impressive as Howard and Gonzo.

Alejandro Bedoya was a nightmare for El Tri, especially Andres Guardado. Landon Donovan overcame what had to be one of the gnarliest forms of pink-eye ever seen to put in a shift that screamed one word: desire. Heck, one could even argue that Jurgen Klinsmann, for all the depth and belief he has provided the Stars & Stripes, deserved the recognition.

But for me, tonight was all about Eddie Johnson.

One of the biggest narratives going into the match was whether the U.S. had the depth to defeat Mexico, and more specifically, whether the U.S. attack could inflict danger without Jozy Altidore.

Eddie Johnson more than answered that question in the affirmative. He caused problems for Mexico’s defense right away, working his way into channels where the U.S. midfield could work off him. In the 22nd minute he found one of these pockets on top of Mexico’s box and provided a cheeky back heel that sprung Clint Dempsey free only for his shot to be blocked.

Nine minutes later, it was Johnson’s trump card – his athleticism – that frustrated El Tri as he skied over the defense and unleashed a thunderous header that was right at Jose de Jesus Corona. The effort was a sign of things to come, however, as Johnson sensed Mexico’s timidity in the air and latched on to Donovan’s 49th minute corner to pound home the opening goal.

Johnson’s goal celebration at the corner flag was emphatic and justifiably so – he was a man on a mission. And tonight, he arrived in a very big way.

Brazil, baby! Brazil!

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