U.S. soccer's Olympics hopes on the line Monday

2012-03-26T00:00:00Z U.S. soccer's Olympics hopes on the line Monday stltoday.com
March 26, 2012 12:00 am

U.S. soccer team's bid for Olympics on line tonight

Barring a major upset loss by Canada to Cuba, the United States' Under-23 soccer team must beat El Salvador tonight or the Americans will fail to qualify for the Olympics for just the second time since 1976.

Canada and El Salvador are tied atop the Group A qualifying standings, with four points — one ahead of the U.S. squad. Before the U.S. meets El Salvador, in Nashville, Tenn., Canada plays Cuba (which has given up 10 goals in two games). El Salvador has played in the Olympics only once, in 1968, and a win against the Americans would put it one win away from ending that drought.

The top two teams in Group A advance to Saturday's semifinals in Kansas City, Kan., to face Group B teams, and the semifinal winners qualify for London. Even if the Americans reach the semis, they probably would have to beat Mexico for a berth in London.

"The fact that we have got to win makes it a lot easier because we know that from the first whistle that we have got to be giving 115 percent to go forward," U.S. midfielder Zarek Valentin said. "I think that we'll be ready. In all honesty, I know that the guys are looking forward to it, and that everything is in our hands makes it a lot better."

The Americans will play without Juan Agudelo, who suffered torn cartilage in his left knee in their 6-0 win over Cuba on Thursday, as they try to bounce back from a 2-0 loss Saturday to Canada. The Canadians packed the middle with what U.S. coach Caleb Porter compared to a Christmas tree alignment of 4-3-2-1. That forced the Americans to attack from the outside, and they couldn't connect on the final passes when they had a chance.

"I think we beat them all night," midfielder Brek Shea said. "We just couldn't finish the ball." (From news services)

Venus Williams advances in Florida • Venus Williams overcame a match point and outlasted Aleksandra Wozniak 4-6, 6-4, 7-6 (5) in the third round of the Sony Ericsson Open tennis tourney, in Key Biscayne, Fla. She is playing in her first tournament since withdrawing from the U.S. Open last August after being diagnosed with a fatigue-causing autoimmune disease. The three-set victory was her second in less than 48 hours, and took nearly three hours.

In other women's play, wild card Garbine Muguruza Blanco eliminated No. 24 Flavia Pennetta 6-2, 1-6, 7-6 (6) and No. 7 Marion Bartoli ousted Simona Halep 6-4, 7-6, (6).

Among men, No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal beat Radek Stepanek 6-2, 6-2 and No. 4 seed Andy Murray advanced when Milos Raonic withdrew because of a sprained ankle. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, seeded sixth, beat Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-4, 7-6 (2). Grigor Dimitrov upset No. 7 Tomas Berdych 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 and No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic stopped Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-4, 5-7, 6-2. (AP)

Boxing figure Sugar dies • Bert Sugar, an iconic boxing writer and sports historian who was known for his trademark fedora and ever-present cigar, died Sunday of cardiac arrest. He was 75. Sugar also had been battling lung cancer. Sugar was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2005 and according to the Hall's website, Sugar wrote more than 80 books, including "The 100 Greatest Boxers Of All Time." He also appeared in a handful of films, including "The Great White Hype" starring Samuel Jackson. (AP)

Tarkanian doing better • Former University of Nevada-Las Vegas men's basketball coach Jerry Tarkanian's condition has improved considerably since he suffered a mild heart attack last week, family members said. Son Danny Tarkanian said his 81-year-old father has been moved from the intensive care unit to a regular room at a hospital in Las Vegas because he's "doing a lot better." The heart attack Tuesday involved a small artery, he said, and it was a minor problem that was dealt with immediately. (AP)

Stevens staying put • Butler men's basketball coach Brad Stevens says he is staying with the Bulldogs and already is looking forward to next season. Stevens led Butler to the national championship game in 2010 and 2011. Butler went 22-15 this season, missing the NCAA Tournament but running Stevens' record to 139-40 in five seasons. (AP)

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