What we learned from the United States win over Mexico

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — From Landon Donovan to Mexico’s sorely lacking belief, a few take-aways from the United States’ 2-0 win Tuesday over Mexico:

The United States still needs Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan, like so many of the U.S. men, labored a bit in the muggy Ohio evening. But he made things happen in the moments that mattered most, with a goal and assist in yet another memorable performance (personally and for the team) against Mexico.

His set piece deliveries arrive in the intended places, and that’s so huge in World Cup soccer. His element of speed changes the way defenses react. Plus, the awareness that he’s around opens up just a little more space for guys like Clint Dempsey.

“We always said Landon is an important part of our team, and the things he went through were his decisions, and we were totally fine with that,” U.S. manager Jurgen Klinsmann said. “But he also had to understand that he isn’t getting anything [for free]. He has to work his way back, to fight his way back, and that’s what he did.”

“He understands the message clearly, that nobody has a spot guaranteed. It’s all down to performance every game. … He understood that. He’s smart. He understands the moment.”

Teams bound for a World Cup need depth

When we talk about World Cup teams, too often it’s about the first 11. Then we tend to narrow the focus even more, concentrating on how the brightest stars might ride in heroically, in this case guys like Donovan, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, etc.

But World Cups, the “getting there” and the tournament itself, are about a bigger squad, and we sure saw that Tuesday. Clarence Goodson wasn’t even among the first 23 called in for these two qualifiers. And yet there he was at Crew Stadium, well-positioned, clearing everything that came near him and finding his passing feet after a couple of early, errant long balls.

Alejandro Bedoya did the hard work along the right, even if he wasn’t much of an attacking threat. Kyle Beckerman did his part on defense, making life hard on Gio Dos Santos and Mexican midfielders who wanted to take their preferred rout down the middle.

Jurgen Klinsmann is likely to use 19 or 20 guys at next year’s World Cup; it usually works out that way. He’ll need more than 11 sharpies in Brazil.

Mexico is a team seriously lacking in belief

The visitors had things in surprisingly in hand for about 20 minutes Tuesday. The United States, badly out-played in midfield, needed some strong goalkeeping from Tim Howard to keep the match level.

But when El Tri didn’t score, heads dropped. Believe drifted away like the odor from one of the smoke bombs set off in the American Outlaws section. Once they didn’t get the goal, the opportunities came at a drip. And once Eddie Johnson struck his goal, they didn’t come at all for Mexico.

The fact that the game was in Columbus, where Mexico never wins (and has yet to score) made it that much worse.

“You could see it in the body language of the Mexican players,” Kinsmann said, “Once they didn’t get a goal that they tried really hard for in the first 20-25 minutes, they got heavier and heavier. You could see that psychological load in their minds, that they started to doubt themselves. The first touch wasn’t there anymore from players who usually have a fantastic first touch.”

 

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