Three ways the US can overcome Belgium to reach World Cup quarters

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The U.S. national teams biggest game in decades, perhaps ever, is just a few hours away.

A win against Belgium in the Round of 16 clash in Salvador would set up their first World Cup quarterfinal since 2002 and could well be the biggest win in U.S. soccer history.

[ RELATED: How will the U.S. line up vs. Belgium? ]

That being said, here are three ways the U.S. can overcome a Belgium side stacked with stars in what should be a tense and psychical encounter.

Here it goes…

Get it wide, early

If Belgium’s defense has one weakness, it is that fact that two center backs are playing as full backs. Tottenham’s Jan Vertonghen is likely to start on the left, while Ajax’s Toby Alderweireld will play on the right. Both are great defenders but lack pace and are susceptible to jumping into challenges. Whenever Vertonghen stood in at left back for Spurs in the Premier League last season, he looked unsure in possession and less at home on the left. Both he and Alderweireld are over six-foot tall and if the likes of Graham Zusi, Alejandro Bedoya or whoever starts out wide gets at them from the get-go, the U.S. could have plenty of joy on the flanks.

Lock down the midfield

The midfield has been the USA’s strongest area thus far, even if Michael Bradley’s performances haven’t lived up to his usual high standards. Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman have been two of the USA’s best players, with Beckerman sweeping up all the loose balls in front of the back four with ease (the dude might as well have a cigar in his mouth) and Jones’ high-energy approach unnerving opponents. Belgium’s midfield duo of Marouane Fellaini and Axel Witsel are both extremely physical and the U.S. will have to win that midfield battle to get things going. Fellaini will try to wander in-behind Beckerman and support Lukaku but if  Beckerman (or whoever else is in the midfield) can lock him down, then the Manchester United man could be a ghost. Also, don’t expect Jones not to pick up a yellow in this one as his tough-tackling, along with Bradley and Beckerman snapping in, is needed to disturb Belgium’s engine room.

Stop Lukaku and Hazard 

Sounds simple enough… but it certainly isn’t. On their day Romelu Lukaku and Eden Hazard can rip opponents apart. How many times did we see Lukaku take one big touch past a defender, then striding past them before smashing the ball home in the last two PL seasons? As for Hazard, his trickery, pace and guile will give Fabian Johnson and the rest of the USA’s defenders plenty of problems. You can hit these two hard in the tackle and they keep coming back for more but it is unlikely that Lukaku will have come up against specimen such as Geoff Cameron or Omar Gonzalez (or whoever partners Matt Besler at CB) and Hazard can easily get rattled. If the U.S. get in their face and upset Belgium’s star talents, this could do the trick.

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