Los Angeles Soccer: 2012 London Olympics

U.S. aims to close gap on Mexico, the world

August, 16, 2012

Kyle BeckermanMarcos Delgado/Clasos.com/LatinContent/Getty ImagesKyle Beckerman of the U.S. team celebrates a goal during a friendly soccer match between Mexico and USA on Tuesday. The U.S. won 1-0.

MEXICO CITY -- The United States hopes its historic victory at Estadio Azteca is a precursor of sorts, but nobody is mistaking it as a shift in the balance within the region's primary rivalry. The gap separating the Americans from Mexico remains intact, and the only questions concern how great is the chasm and what must be done to bridge it.

Mexico's focus on youth development has created a golden generation of players and could signal El Tri's arrival among the truly elite in international soccer. Last weekend's gold-medal triumph at the London Olympics, with their under-23 team, follows successes by the U-17s (World Cup titles in 2005 and 2011) and the U-20s (third place at last year's World Cup), and the impact on the full national team -- the one that could, for real, be competing for the spoils in Brazil in two years -- has been profound.

Mexico's destruction of the U.S. at last year's CONCACAF Gold Cup final at the Rose Bowl, built on the sublime talent of Giovani Dos Santos, Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez and Andres Guardado, was product of Mexico's reaction to the Americans' dominance in the series for nearly a decade from 2000.

Now the U.S. must respond in kind.

“I think Mexico deserves a big compliment,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in advance of the Yanks' 1-0 victory in Wednesday's friendly. “What they've done the last three or four years is tremendous. They’ve identified a way they want to play, and everybody dedicates themselves to that style of play. ...

“There is a gap. It would be foolish not to recognize that.”

The U.S. went 10-2-2, with both losses at Azteca and one of the victories from the 2002 World Cup, over a span of about 8½ years. That dominance, star forward/midfielder Landon Donovan notes, was while “we had a group of us together for five, six, seven, eight years, and they were kind of in flux.” The roles shifted: The U.S. team is now in transition under Klinsmann.

He took charge a year ago after that Gold Cup defeat and is working toward creating a system and a style that will emphasize attacking soccer, a necessity for success in a landscape that has been altered by Spain's success the past five years. He's also altering the makeup of an aging squad, especially at the back. The Americans' great youngsters aren't so young anymore; Donovan is 30.

Mexico's most important figures aren't yet in their primes. Chicharito is 24, Giovani 23. Defender Hector Moreno is 24. Guardado, a relative veteran, is 25. More than a dozen more first-team pool players are younger than 25.

The U.S. also has a promising young contingent -- Jozy Altidore and Brek Shea are 22, Terrence Boyd 21, Danny Williams 23 and Fabian Johnson 24 -- and several others under 25 who might or might not pan out as international players.

“It's hard to quantify a gap,” Donovan said. “We're kind of a little more in flux now, but the hope is that in two years we've closed that gap and we're [like Mexico] a well-oiled machine.”

The 2014 World Cup is the Americans' chief focus, but the real view is longer. Whatever success the U.S. has enjoyed has been about belief and power, not technical and tactical acumen, although there have been great improvement in both areas since the 1994 World Cup changed everything. Klinsmann, a legendary German striker who has called Orange County home for more than a decade, is looking to alter the foundation of how the U.S. plays, and that requires a philosophical shift.

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Pearce on Beckham: I know how much it meant to him

July, 3, 2012

Stuart Pearce is convinced he's made the correct decision in not including David Beckham on Great Britain's 18-man roster for the London Olympics, but that doesn't mean he has no empathy for the Galaxy star.

And there's a chance, indeed slim, that Beckham could feature after all.

“I've got a vast amount of respect for David and what he has done in bringing the Olympics to these shores,” Pearce told media Monday, when he officially announced his roster. “I have to be comfortable that I've made decisions on footballing grounds alone. Not on personality, or who I like as individuals. This is the strongest squad that's available to me to select. ...

“I feel very sorry for David. I know how much it meant to him. I do understand that.”

Beckham, who played a pivotal role in bringing the Olympics to his hometown and served in an ambassadorial role for the organizing committee, had been expected to be one of three over-23 players on the unified Great Britain roster, but Pearce opted for Liverpool's Craig Bellamy, Manchester United's Ryan Giggs and Manchester City's Micah Richards instead.

Beckham broke the news with a statement last week that he was “very disappointed” to miss out on the Olympics, “but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. And like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold.”

Said Pearce: “There's no doubt David had a burning ambition to be part of this -- he said it many times before. The other 18 players had the same burning ambition, the three overage players especially -- they have been absolutely desperate to be part of this.”

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GALAXY: Pearce chose GB team on form

July, 2, 2012
Stuart Pearce on Monday officially unveiled Great Britain's 18-man Olympic roster, and, sure enough, David Beckham wasn't on the list. The over-23 players, as reported last week, are Liverpool's Craig Bellamy, Manchester United's Ryan Giggs and Manchester City's Micah Richards.

Beckham's omission was all about form, Pearce said.

“Form plays a big part, and I don't think there is a manager around who picks on sentiment,” he said at a news conference. "I have to be comfortable when I have made decisions solely on football grounds alone, nothing else. ...

“From the offset, when I sat down with the [English Football Association] chairman David Bernstein some time before Christmas, he offered me the opportunity to pick the squad. If at that stage he had said to me that certain individuals would have to be included, I certainly wouldn't do that job. I don't know any manager worth their salt who would have. Right through this process I have had carte blanche to pick whatever players I regard as best. I do enough hours watching matches, and I think I've done due diligence on all the players here.”

Pearce saw Beckham play in three Major League Soccer games before deciding to leave him out of the squad. Beckham played a vital role in bringing the Olympics to London and has played an ambassadorial role since, and it was widely assumed that he would captain the unified British team as a reward.

Beckham has not addressed the media since learning last week he would not make the Olympic team. His representative released a statement Thursday in which the Galaxy star said he was “very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me.”

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No Olympics for Beckham

June, 28, 2012

David Beckham will not be playing for the unified Great Britain team at the London Olympics.

Manager Stuart Pearce, who was at Home Depot Center to watch Beckham in L.A.'s 1-0 victory 11 days ago, had been expected to select the 37-year-old legend along with Liverpool's Craig Bellamy and Beckham's old Manchester United teammate Ryan Giggs as the three over-23 players for the “Team GB” men's soccer roster. Manchester City's Micah Richards is expected to get the nod instead of Beckham.

“Everyone knows how much playing for my country has always meant to me,” Beckham said in a statement. “So I would have been honored to have been part of this unique Team GB squad. Naturally, I am very disappointed, but there will be no bigger supporter of the team than me. And like everyone, I will be hoping they can win the gold.”

Beckham, who played 115 times and in three World Cups for England, had hoped to cap his career at his hometown Olympics. He played a vital role in the London organizers' bid to win the games and has served as an ambassador since. A role on Pearce's 18-man roster was expected to be his reward.

“He's been a great ambassador, but that's no guarantee he'll get in the squad. I'm picking on form and merit alone,” Pearce, who made two trips to the U.S. to scout Beckham, said in April. “David Beckham will be treated exactly the same as any other individual, whether it is young or overage. I have a duty of care to the Great Britain squad to try to win a gold medal. I will pick the strongest squad I can.”

The Olympic men's soccer tournament is for under-23 teams, but each nation may include three overage players.

Beckham is expected to have a role at the July 27 opening ceremonies.

Morgan, Wambach do it again

June, 18, 2012

There's no stopping Alex Morgan these days. Ditto Abby Wambach.

Both scored two more goals Monday to lead the U.S. women's national team to a 4-1 rout of Japan in an Olympic tuneup in Halmstad, Sweden.

Morgan, from Diamond Bar, netted her 16th and 17th goals off the year and Wambach, who has a home in Hermosa Beach, climbed within 20 goals of Mia Hamm's international career record with her 137th and 138th in a rematch of last year's Women's World Cup final.

It was the third meeting since last July's title game in Frankfurt, Germany, which Japan won on penalties following a 2-2 draw. Japan won, 1-0, in March at the Algarve Cup in Portugal, and the teams drew, 1-1, in Japan on April 1.

Morgan, who is increasingly becoming the face of women's soccer in America, has 27 goals in 41 international appearances.

Morgan scored in the third and 61st minutes and Wambach in the 10th and in second-half stoppage. Yuki Nagasato tallied, from an assist by former L.A. Sol star Aya Miyama, in the 28th for Japan, which faces Sweden on Thursday to conclude a three-national tournament.

The U.S. beat the Swedes, 3-1, with Morgan and Wambach scoring goals, on Saturday.

Redondo Beach's Shannon Boxx and UCLA alum Lauren Cheney also started for the Yanks, and Lake Forest's Amy Rodriguez and UCLA product Sydney Leroux came off the bench. Palos Verdes Estates' Christen Press was on the game-day roster but did not play.

In the four Olympics to include women's soccer, the Americans have won three gold medals (Atlanta 1996, Athens 2004 and Beijing 2008) and one silver (Sydney 2000). The U.S. opens its London Games schedule July 25 against France in Glasgow, Scotland.

Beckham for Team GB, reports say

June, 8, 2012

David Beckham is going to the Olympics.

That's the word according to English tabloid Daily Mail, which reported Thursday that it “can reveal that the Leytonstone-born England icon is included in the Great Britain squad Stuart Pearce will submit to FIFA, ending fevered speculation over his participation.”

Pearce is to submit Friday a shortlist of 35 players to FIFA, and The Telegraph, a British broadsheet, reported that “it is understood that Beckham has not only been included but will survive the cut to become an Olympian.”

Both reports are unsourced, but Beckham, the Galaxy's midfield leader, is considered a strong bet for one of three-overage slots on the 18-man roster for the London Olympics, for which the soccer competition begins July 26, the day before the opening ceremonies.

Beckham, 37, was part of the team that campaigned to bring the Olympics to his hometown and has served in an ambassadorial role since. He left the Galaxy last month to accompany the Olympic flame from Athens to Cornwall, where the torch relay across Britain began.

There has been criticism in Britain that Beckham's inclusion would be solely about his celebrity -- his ability to fill seats and sell souvenirs -- and he bristled about it with the British press while in England last month.

“I have never said it before, but that suggestion has always felt a bit disrespectful,” he said. “Whenever I have been asked about shirt sales or filling stadiums, it has always felt it is a bit disrespectful. Throughout my career, I have been pretty successful, I’ve played for some pretty big teams, represented my country quite a few times, and played for managers without sentiment.

“When you play for Sir Alex Ferguson, Fabio Capello, Sven Goran Eriksson or the [other managers] that I have played under, they don’t pick players because they want to fill a stadium or particularly to sell shirts. I have always found it an honor that people have wanted to buy my shirt and an honor that fans turn up to watch the team I am playing in. I have always found that a huge honor. But no, I don’t want to be picked for shirt sales or as a stadium-filler. I want to be picked for what I can bring to the team.

“That has been the case throughout my career, and I don’t want that to change.”

Olympic roster out, Morgan strikes again

May, 27, 2012

Alex MorganDrew Hallowell/Getty ImagesDiamond Bar's Alex Morgan scored two more goals in win over China just hours after she was named to the Olympic roster.

Alex Morgan made the U.S. Olympic roster, which was never in doubt, so she celebrated with the usual aplomb.

The striker from Diamond Bar scored two more goals Sunday evening to lead the U.S. women's national team past China, 4-1, before a sellout crowd of 18,573 at the Philadelphia Union's stadium in Chester, Pa.

It was the first game in the Americans' final run-up to the London Games, which kick off July 25. Head coach Pia Sundhage unveiled her 18-woman roster for the tournament earlier Sunday, and there were no surprises.

Morgan (Diamond Bar HS), who is quickly evolving into the Americans' most visible star, at least on par with Hope Solo, has 24 goals in 39 international appearances, after netting her ninth and 10th in a dozen games this year. She had a breakout performance at last year's Women's World Cup in Germany.

Other local players on the roster are midfielder Shannon Boxx (Redondo Beach/South Torrance HS), forward Amy Rodriguez (Lake Forest/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and USC), UCLA products Sydney Leroux and Lauren Cheney, and star forward Abby Wambach, who has a home in Hermosa Beach. Leroux is the only player on the roster who was not at the World Cup last year.

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SUPERCLASICO: Becks' focus: a flame

May, 16, 2012
The Galaxy, its White House visit now a warm memory, and Chivas USA, still making sense of an is-it-done-or-not trade for Danny Califf, have a big date this weekend: the first of three SuperClasico meetings at Home Depot Center.

That's the focus for everyone, except David Beckham.

The English star has Olympic duty to complete first, so he'll miss training Thursday and the news conference home team Chivas is trying to put together for Friday to help deliver to the U.K. the Olympic flame.

Beckham, who played an ambassadorial role as London pursued the 2012 Summer Games, has traveled to Athens, Greece, to join dignitaries for a torch handoff ceremony Thursday. He will join other Olympic officials, including Princess Anne, in flying the torch to Britain on Friday. A 70-day relay involving some 8,000 people will carry the flame from Cornwall, in the south of England, to the Shetland Islands, off Scotland's north coast.

Beckham, whose jaunt was unveiled Wednesday, will then fly home to Los Angeles for Saturday's game against the Goats. It's the first of three games in eight days for the Galaxy, and he rarely plays in all three matches in such situation, so he could be held out of the Chivas match after so much travel. He has played following long trips before, and if he was going to miss a match in the tight span, the May 26 clash at Houston seems likeliest.

GALAXY: Beckham no Olympic certainty

April, 24, 2012

David Beckham has made no secret of his desire to play for a unified Great Britain side at this summer's London Olympics, which will take place in his hometown. Sounds like he'll have to earn the honor.

G.B. manager Stuart Pearce told BBC Sport that he plans to travel to the U.S. to see Beckham in action with the Galaxy before determining the three over-23 players for his 18-man roster.

“[I will choose] solely on merit,” Pearce said following Tuesday's Olympic draw at Wembley Stadium. “It's the only way any manager picks a squad or a team, and I will do exactly the same. I will know a bit more when I go to the States to see what form [Beckham] is in. He's made the shortlist, and he has been a great ambassador for this country and the Olympics, but that's no recommendation that he will get in the squad, and that's fair and square across the board for all players.”

Beckham, who turns 37 on May 2, played a role in London's campaign to stage the Olympics, which begin in late July. He is on a list of potential players that has been whittled to 80 names. Only those on England's roster for the June 8-July 1 European Championship won't be considered for the G.B. roster.

Legendary English striker Gary Lineker last week told BBC's Radio 5 live that there are better choices for the three over-age slots, but “if it is a 'thank you' for all the work that Beckham has done for the Olympics and getting it to London, then it is a different matter. I would pick my best three players if I was in charge. That is who I would want, but who knows? It might be a done deal.”

The Brits were drawn into Group A with Uruguay, expected to feature Diego Forlan and Luis Suarez among its three over-age players, and with Senegal and United Arab Emirates. The men's tournament opener is July 26, the day before the opening ceremonies.

OLYMPICS: U.S. finds out its foes

April, 24, 2012

Pia Sundhage
Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty ImagesU.S. coach Pia Sundhage.

The U.S. women's national team was paired with familiar opposition in Tuesday's Olympic soccer draw. All three first-round foes were on the Americans' path to last year's Women's World Cup title game.

They were draw with WWC group foes Colombia and North Korea, plus France, which they beat in the semifinals.

“It’s always exciting to know who we will be playing,” U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage said in a U.S. Soccer statement following the draw at Wembley Stadium in suburban London. “We will start with an excellent opponent that we faced in the World Cup and that is a good thing. Once again, we will be facing teams with different playing styles and that is a challenge our team enjoys. When the draw happens, it energizes our players and brings even more of a focus to our team. We also have the chance to start scouting and preparing for what will be an entertaining and extremely competitive first round.”

The U.S., which heads Group G, opens July 25 against France and meets Colombia on July 28, both matches at Hampden Park in Glasgow, Scotland. The Americans wrap up the group stage July 31 against North Korea at Old Trafford, Manchester United's stadium.

The top two teams in each group and two best third-place teams advance to the Aug. 3 quarterfinals. The semifinals are Aug. 6, and the medal matches are Aug. 9, with gold determined at Wembley.

Mexico has one of four seeded men's teams and heads Group B, with South Korea, Gabon and Switzerland. Honduras, CONCACAF's other representative, is in Group D with Spain, Japan and Morocco. The men's tournament begins July 26, the top two in each group advance to the quarterfinals, and the gold-medal match, at Wembley, is Aug. 11.

Here is the result of the draw:

Group E:
Great Britain, New Zealand, Cameroon, Brazil.
Group F: Japan, Canada, Sweden, South Africa.
Group G: United States, France, Colombia, North Korea,

Group A:
Great Britain, Senegal, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay.
Group B: Mexico, South Korea, Gabon, Switzerland.
Group C: Brazil, Egypt, Belarus, New Zealand.
Group D: Spain, Japan, Honduras, Morocco.

OLYMPICS: H.B.'s Duffy will officiate

April, 20, 2012
Still a couple of months before Pia Sundhage has to decide on her 18-woman roster for the Olympics, but five Americans know they're headed to London for the soccer competition.

Huntington Beach's Marlene Duffy and four other referees were invited to officiate at the 2012 Summer Games. Duffy also worked the 2008 Olympics in Beijing and last summer's Women's World Cup in Germany.

The other officials are Kari Seitz and Veronica Perez for women's games and Major League Soccer veterans Mark Geiger and Sean Hurd for men's matches. Duffy and Perez have primarily worked as lineswomen internationally.

The Olympic soccer competitions begin July 26.

OLYMPICS: Ponce gives Mexico the crown

April, 2, 2012

Mexico heads to the Olympics as CONCACAF's under-23 champion. Honduras goes to London with two players suspended.

That's the upshot from Monday's title game in the region's Olympic qualifying tournament, in which El Tri prevailed, 2-1, on Miguel Angel Ponce's volley late in overtime in Kansas City, Kan.

Marco Fabian de la Mora also scored for Mexico, which rallied from a deficit after Romell Quioto's header gave the Hondurans a 48th-minute lead.

Both sides qualified for the Olympics with semifinal victories Saturday.

Keeping tabs on the road to London:

Mexico fell behind early in the second half, then took over, sending attacking wave after wave at the Honduran defense to net a 75th-minute equalizer and score the winner 26 minutes into overtime.

Quioto gave the Catrachos the advantage by nodding home Alexander Lopez's cross, but they were under heavy pressure the rest of the way. Marco Fabian tied the score with a brilliant blast from 28 yards that bent just inside the right post -- his fifth goal of the tournament -- and Mexico failed to win in regulation when the star forward shot wide with an open shot inside the box in the 83rd minute and his Guadalajara teammate Erick Torres put a looping header off the crossbar in the 86th.

Honduras goalkeeper Jose Mendoza was heroic on several occasions. He required medical attention after appearing to hurt his knee and signaled at least twice to bee substituted off.

Ponce, a Sacramento-born midfielder for Guadalajara, got open at the left post to finish Israel Jimenez's cross from the left flank in the 116th minute. The seven-pass sequence occurred when Mexico failed to return the ball to Honduras, which had knocked it out of bounds so a player could receive medical treatment.

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OLYMPICS: Mexico, Honduras qualify

March, 31, 2012
Mexico and Honduras are headed to the Olympics in men's soccer after winning semifinal showdowns Saturday at CONCACAF's qualifying tournament in Kansas City, Kan.

Gerson Rodas scored twice in overtime as Honduras overcame Central American rival El Salvador, 3-2, in the first game of a doubleheader at Livestrong Sporting Park. Mexico claimed its berth at this summer's London Games with a 3-1 victory over Canada.

Mexico is making its 10th men's soccer appearance at the Olympics but just its second in the last four Olympiads. Honduras has qualified for the third time since 2000.

Keeping tabs on the road to London:

Mexico's class was apparent in a deserved victory over the Canadians, with Guadalajara's Marco Fabian de la Mora scoring his fourth goal of the tournament, UANL Tigres' Alan Pulido netting his fifth and Sacramento-born Miguel Angel Ponce, also from Guadalajara, adding a second-half insurance strike.

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CHIVAS: Villafaña back after Oly failure

March, 28, 2012
CARSON -- Jorge Villafaña is trying to keep his mind off what occurred Monday night in Nashville, but he wasn't about to escape so easily back into practice with Chivas USA.

Peter Vagenas, a 2000 Olympian, made sure to give the 22-year-old defender an earful.

During a break in a short-sided drill Wednesday morning at Home Depot Center, the veteran midfielder needled Villafaña about the United States' failure to advance from group play in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament. The Americans, with Villafaña at left back, surrendered a late, late goal in a 3-3 draw with El Salvador that ended their run toward this summer's London Games.

Jorge Villafana
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesChivas USA's Jorge Villafana was part of the U.S. team that suffered a shocking end to its run toward Olympic qualification.

Vagenas brought up El Salvador, and he also mentioned Canada, which beat the U.S., 2-0, on Saturday, exposing the underbelly of a side that, all assumed, was a sure thing to make it to the Olympics.

“I asked him,” Vagenas said afterward, “if they were going to just replay the 2000 Olympic Games [men's soccer matches] during the time slots that were scheduled for them this summer.”

That 2000 team, Vagenas remembers well, was among the most memorable in American Olympic history, winning its group and making a stunning sprint to the semifinals before losses to Spain and Chile left them fourth.

Villafaña laughed when asked about the stick. “We knew that we were going to get this from everybody,” he said, “but there's not much we can do right now, just focus with Chivas.”

SHEDDING TEARS: Villafaña has been through a range of emotions the past few days. He was seconds from playing this weekend for a berth in London when Jaime Alas' long-range shot bounced off Chicago Fire goalkeeper Sean Johnson and into the net, a catastrophic result that prompted heated criticism of the team, of coach Caleb Porter, and of U.S. Soccer -- a sign, at the very least, that American soccer fans and observers are nothing if not passionate.

“Everybody was shocked,” Villafaña said Wednesday. “We were winning, 3-2, and the last second you get scored, and you're out of the tournament. Everybody was on the ground crying. I don't even know what I was supposed -- it was bad. But soccer's like that, you know.”

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OLYMPICS: Mexico, Honduras are 1-2

March, 27, 2012
CARSON -- Everything went according to plan in the final Group B doubleheader in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament, with Mexico claiming the top spot, Honduras advancing to winner-takes-all semifinals as the No. 2 side -- and both likely to claim berths for the London Games.

Honduras snared its berth in Saturday's semifinals in Kansas City, Kan., with a by-the-numbers 2-0 triumph over Trinidad & Tobago on Tuesday night at Home Depot Center. A victory over El Salvador will send the Catrachos to their third men's soccer tournament in four Olympic games.

It was going to take a miracle to knock Mexico out of the top spot -- El Tri had clinched a semifinal berth Sunday -- and Panama, despite a spirited battle, wasn't going to post the nine-goal win required to do so. It had nearly sewn up a scoreless draw when Guadalajara's Erick Torres, making his first appearance of the tournament, scored in stoppage for a 1-0 victory that thrilled most of the 10,061 in attendance.

Keeping tabs on the road to London:

Honduras and Mexico did what was required and little more.

The Catrachos weren't particularly sharp, but they engineered two scoring plays -- one fortunate, the other precise -- to overcome a game T&T side. Eddie Hernandez and Anthony Lozano assisted each other's goals.

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