US tops Japan to take Olympic women's soccer gold

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US tops Japan to take Olympic women's soccer gold

WEMBLEY, England (AP) -- Hope Solo found herself enveloped in a group hug at the final whistle. Abby Wambach ran to join the fun in a celebration that unleashed a year of bottled-up frustration. The U.S. women's soccer team won its third straight Olympic gold medal Thursday, beating Japan 2-1 in a rematch of last year's World Cup final and avenging the most painful loss in its history. Carli Lloyd scored early in both halves, Solo leaped and dived to make saves, and the entire roster found the redemption it had been seeking since that penalty kick shootout loss in Germany last summer. Before 80,203 at Wembley Stadium, a record crowd for a women's soccer game at the Olympics, the teams put on a back-and-forth, don't-turn-your-head soccer showcase, proving again that these are the two premier teams in the world. Women's soccer is still in its formative stages in Britain, but the match proved more than worthy for the hallowed grounds of the beautiful game. And the Japanese perhaps played just as beautifully as the Americans, using their speed and discipline to dominate possession and scoring chances for long stretches before finally cutting a 2-0 deficit in half with about a half-hour to go. Back home, America was paying attention -- just as it was last year and despite the rest of the Olympic events. Even President Barack Obama, during a campaign speech at Colorado College during the second half of the game, noted that, "The women are doing pretty good right now in soccer." Lloyd's goals came in eighth and 54th minutes, making it four goals in the tournament for the midfielder who lost her long-held starting job weeks before the Olympics. She got back on the pitch when Shannon Boxx injured her hamstring in the opening game and started every game since. Yuki Ogimi answered in the 63rd minute, and Asuna Tanaka nearly had the equalizer in the 83rd -- only to be thwarted when Solo flung her entire body to the left to push the ball away. The U.S. team has won four of the five Olympic titles since women's soccer was introduced at the 1996 Atlanta Games, settling for mere silver at the 2000 Games in Sydney. In the first half, Japan was unfortunate not to have a penalty kick awarded for a clear hand ball by U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, who stuck out her left arm to stop a free kick inside the area. Japan also had two shots hit the crossbar, one off the left hand of a leaping Solo, who was kept consistently busy for the first time this tournament. The closest the U.S. came to doubling the lead in the first 45 minutes came when Azusa Iwashimizu attempted to clear a routine ball played in front of the net -- and headed it off the post. The U.S. goal in the eighth minute began with a run by Heath down the left side. She fed Alex Morgan, who settled the ball near the goal line, spun and chipped it toward Wambach. Wambach raised her left foot for the shot, but Lloyd charged in and got to it first, her strong running header beating goalkeeper Miho Fukumoto from 6 yards out. Lloyd extended the lead with a 20-yard right-footer just inside the left post after a long run with the ball through the middle of the Japanese defense. Ogimi soon cut the deficit to one after a mad scramble in front of the net. Captain Christie Rampone saved a shot off the line, but the ball went to Homare Sawa, who fed Ogimi for the tap-in. Another scramble followed after U.S. defender Amy LePeilbet saved yet another shot off the line in the 74th minute, but this time her teammates were able to corral the ball before a Japanese player could pounce on it. Boxx was back into the starting lineup after the missing four games with the hamstring injury. Lauren Cheney, who injured an ankle in the semifinals, began the game on the bench for the first time this tournament. Canada won the bronze earlier Thursday, beating France 1-0 at Coventry.

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Morning tip: John Wall adds to argument for All-NBA recognition with 41 points vs. Clippers

Morning tip: John Wall adds to argument for All-NBA recognition with 41 points vs. Clippers

LOS ANGELES -- Scott Brooks didn't realize a lot of things before taking the job with the Wizards. He didn't know they hadn't won a division title in four decades. He also didn't know that his four-time All-Star point guard, John Wall, had never been chosen for the All-NBA team. 

Wednesday, Wall scored 41 points in a 133-124 loss at the L.A. Clippers. He shot 16 of 23 and had eight assists, seven rebounds and three steals. In the two previous games on this road trip, he had 37 points, 11 assists and four rebounds in a win at the Cleveland Cavaliers and 34 points, 14 assists and four steals in beating the L.A. Lakers.

"I didn't realize until about two or three weeks ago that he wasn't All-NBA yet," Brooks said. "There's no question, what he has done this year to lead us and to put us in this position, that's All-NBA. He's one of the top players in the league, not just at his position, not just in his conference. He's definitely All-NBA."

In his seventh season, Wall has posted career-bests of 23.2 points and 10.8 assists and led the Wizards to their first division title in 38 years. 

Wall has come close, such as making All-NBA defensive second team in 2015, but he has never been recognized as one of the league's 15 best players. It appeared he'd be a lock two years ago when he was voted a starter in the All-Star Game and had a better invidiual season than Kyrie Irving.

Irving, however, played next to LeBron James, garnered more attention despite never leading the Cavaliers to more than 33 wins pre-James. He got the nod instead.

The Wizards are in the mix for a No. 1 seed in the East, though they lack tiebreakers with the Cavaliers, Boston Celtics and Toronto Raptors. But a top-four seed is all but certain. 

No longer are they a team that wiggled its way into a No. 5 seed during playoff runs in 2014 and '15 to pull off first-round upsets. They're now among the elite teams in the league, and he's the best player. That alone should get Wall over the hump.

[RELATED: VIDEO: Beal sets Wizards franchise record for threes]

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Need to Know: Examining Jay Gruden's reasons for optimism for the 2017 Redskins

Need to Know: Examining Jay Gruden's reasons for optimism for the 2017 Redskins

Here is what you need to know on this Thursday, March 30, 28 days before the April 27 NFL draft.

Timeline

Days until:

—Offseason workouts begin (4/17) 18
—Redskins rookie camp (5/12) 43
—Redskins OTAs start (5/24) 55
—Franchise tag contract deadline (7/15) 107
—First Sunday of 2017 season (9/10) 155

Reasons for optimism?

I don’t think that Jay Gruden is on Twitter and I doubt that he listens to talk radio but he can sense the feeling of “doom and gloom” that has set in among many in the fan base. Not surprisingly, he disagrees that such a sentiment is warranted.

“I’m very optimistic,” he told reporters at the NFL meetings in Phoenix. “I know it’s not great but we’ve had back-to-back winning seasons and there’s no reason for us not to be optimistic. Last year we were very close, lost 13-10 the last game of the year to get in. So, yeah, we’re excited.”

He then went through a list of reasons for the optimism. Let’s go through them and evaluate them.

We have a very good offensive line coming back, our quarterback’s coming back. I feel good about our receiving corps, our two tight ends. Niles Paul’s coming back, [Derek] Carrier’s coming back for depth at tight end.

I can go along with this for the most part. It’s a very good pass-blocking line and it’s an adequate group when it comes to run blocking. While the future is cloudy for quarterback Kirk Cousins it does look like he will be behind center in 2017. The receiving corps lost two key members in Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson but the addition of Terrelle Pryor and some production out of Josh Doctson should compensate to an extent. Jordan Reed is one of the best tight ends in the league and Vernon Davis is a solid backup.

The defensive line, we’ve addressed a bit, we’ll continue to address it. 

Well, yeah, a bit. They’re still looking for a nose tackle. All Gruden had last night was that new D-line coach Jim Tomsula will make someone into a nose tackle. Maybe he can’t do that but he is an upgrade in the coaching department and he could make more out of what they have. And, of course, there is still the draft. Despite the loss of Chris Baker the line could be better than last year but that's a low bar. 

Linebackers, [Mason] Foster, [Will] Compton, [Martrell] Spaight is going to be back. Our safety position with D.J. [Swearinger] will be upgraded. Hopefully D. Hall comes back, Su’a [Cravens] over there, should be an interesting move, see what he can do.

The inside linebackers are not feared by any means but they do some things well. And, again, they have the draft to upgrade. The safety spot has potential to be upgraded with Cravens and Swearinger but there are leaps of faith with Swearinger playing free instead of strong and Cravens moving from his hybrid linebacker spot.

Kerrigan will be back, pass rusher, Preston [Smith] is going to get better. Maybe Junior [Galette] if he comes back.

This area is iffy. Kerrigan is going to give you good production but we'll have to see if Smith can be more consistent and if Galette can stay healthy and regain the explosiveness that led to consecutive years of double-digit sacks in New Orleans. Gruden didn’t mention Trent Murphy, who got nine sacks last year but, as Gruden acknowledged, is likely to be suspended for the first four games. If things work out the edge rushers could be a very good group but that's far from something they can bank on. 

We have a lot of reasons for excitement around here. I don’t know why everyone is so doom and gloom around here. We’re excited. I know our players are going to be excited to get back to work. Kirk’s excited, I’m excited so let’s go. 

I’m not sure if there is reason for Redskins fans to be looking for tickets and cold weather gear for the Super Bowl in Minneapolis. This looks like a team that should have somewhere round seven or nine wins. That’s not where fans want them to be but it hardly warrants the dread and pessimism that is heard from many corners of Redskins Nation.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerCSN and follow him on Twitter @Rich_TandlerCSN.

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