Video: A revealing behind the scenes look at the latest installment of David Beckham’s H&M underwear campaign (if you know what I mean and I think you do)

Sadly, there is no statue of the Galaxy’s Davids Beckham at the Torrance H&M at Del Amo Fashion Center (yes, I checked), although there’s piles of his underwear priced at $35 for three pairs (a price that not only probably has a lot to do with the volume of Becks-branded undies on display, but also gives new meaning to his English tabloid nickname of Golden Balls).

Anyway, check out the video starring Beckham’s, um, underwear:

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Wednesday Galaxy and USMNT Gameday

Take one look at the headline to this blog post and you’ll know why MLS players — and others around the world such as those in the English Premier league, which starts Saturday — have absolutely no interest in this silliest of FIFA international FIFA dates.

“It’s an awkward fixture date,” said the Galaxy’s Landon Donovan before departing for Mexico. “Almost all the players don’t like this fixture date. We’d much rather do away with it.”

Which thankfully is likely to happen next year.

But for now Southern California soccer fans will have to juggle the timing of the Mexico-U.S.-friendly (5 p.m. ESPN2 and Univision) with the start of the Columbus Crew-Galaxy affair (4 p.m. NBC Sports Network), which is sure to be an emotional, galvanizing evening for the hosts and also feature a reunion with one familiar face.

The U.S., which has never won on Mexican soil, is unlikely to start now in a nation still feeding off the euphoria of an Olympic gold medal (players will reportedly be introduced to the crowd before the game), but at least Jurgen Klinsmann has compensated for that as much as possible by selecting a a half dozen players who regularly ply their trade south of the border.

“Any time we play in Azteca it’s pretty raucous, I think it will be a pretty exciting night,” Donovan said. “We’ve been saying for a number of years now how good the youth is in their country and how well they’re producing players, their ’17s, they’re ’20s and now their Olympic team. The future certainly looks bright for them and it’s going to be a good test for us.”

It will be for younger players who have never seen a crowd like this one, so in that respect this “meaningless” game could actually be quite helpful in exposing players to the atmosphere before a World Cup qualifier is played there.

“In Germany there are just a few stadiums that are close to this big,” said defender Fabian Johnson. “In Dortmund, there is a stadium that holds 80,000. I think Jurgen said this one holds about 110,000. That’s crazy. I’ve never played in front of a crowd like that. I’m happy to be here and not a lot of players get to play in front of this big of a crowd.”

Make sure you have fresh batteries in that remote control.

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Weekly Column: The English Premier League is America’s game

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The club future of U.S. international Clint Dempsey remains unresolved just days before the start of the English Premier League season. Dempsey’s current club, Fulham, opens the season Saturday against Norwich live on U.S. TV (Associated Press file photo).

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Clint Dempsey’s future is just one of several unresolved questions that could have a huge bearing on the English Premier League season, which begins Saturday.

“I am surprised an Arsenal or a Liverpool haven’t made an offer,” Warren Barton, soccer analyst with Los Angeles-based Fox Soccer told me in an interview Monday. “He will still have a white shirt on to start the season, but don’t be surprised it that changes in 10 to 14 days.”

Despite the failure of the Merseyside club to flash the cash for Dempsey, Barton thinks the team that fired Kenny Dalglish this season will improve greatly under new management.

“If they can keep everybody healthy like Newcastle did last season I think they can compete,” Barton said. “Will they win? I don’t believe so. But they will get back into that top five.”

Which would be a relief for Liverpool fans after recent struggles.

I take an extended look – with Barton – at the EPL in today’s column.

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Thursday Kicks: USWNT going for Olympic gold & more*

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*Updated:

The U.S. Women’s National Team has won, 2-1, against Japan in the Olympic gold medal game on two goals from Carli Lloyd. Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan provided the assist on the 8th minute opener. More to come.

*A photo gallery of the game is here.

*Incidentally, Torrance’s Shannon Boxx was back in the starting XI today for the first time since a hamstring issue cropped up in the opening game of the Olympic tournament.

Boxx has overcome worse health issues to become an Olympian, however. Her story is here:

*The USWNT has scheduled a Sept. 16 game at Home Depot Center against Australia as part of its post-Olympic tour. Will this be Boxxy’s final South Bay appearance as a member of the USWNT? Ticket information is yet to be announced.

*In other women’s soccer news, Rolling Hills Estates’ Whitney Engen will play in the inaugural 2012 Viking Cup, an invitational soccer tournament for women’s national teams set for Nov. 21st through Dec. 2nd at Cal State Fullerton. Engen, who missed out on a spot on the Olympic team, was a regular last year for the Chicago Red Stars of the now-defunct WPS.

*And in other news involving South Bay pros, Robbie Rogers, who grew up on the Palos Verdes Peninsula, was placed on the transfer list by Leeds United.

*Finally, Galaxy defender Todd Dunivant says he’s fit to play in Sunday’s SuperClasico.

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Olympics Women’s Soccer Final Preview: U.S. vs. Japan, the rematch

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The game kicks off at 11:45 a.m. Thursday live on the NBC Sports Network. A record crowd of more than 83,000 is expected, which would break the Olympic women’s soccer attendance record that was set in 1996 when 76,489 fans watched the USA beat China in Athens, Ga.

A preview is below, but first here’s Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan who looks back at the win over Canada and ahead to Thursday’s gold medal showdown:

Associated Press Sports Writer Joseph White has the game preview:

LONDON (AP) — It’s not just about the gold medal. It’s about redemption.

The women’s football tournament couldn’t ask for a better finale.

United States vs. Japan. Rematch of the World Cup final. Wembley Stadium. Quite possibly the largest crowd ever to watch women play the sport at the Olympics. And an American team flush with passion, bent on mending the heartache from a penalty kick
shootout to the Japanese in Frankfurt 13 months ago.

“I’ve been hoping for this final,” U.S. forward Abby Wambach said, “from the moment I stepped off the podium in Germany.”

The Americans got a hero’s welcome for their second-place finish from fans enthralled by the come-from-behind cliffhangers and engaging personalities. Brave faces were in order. The kudos were nice, but coach and players were bummed out. Coach Pia Sundhage went home to Sweden and tuned out football completely for a while. Hope Solo went on “Dancing With the Stars.”

The passage of time helped a little. Winning the gold on Thursday would do so much more.

“It’s definitely redemption,” midfielder Carli Lloyd said. “But it’s also an opportunity, an
opportunity to show the world that we’re the No. 1 team.”

The Americans are still ranked No. 1 and are the two-time defending Olympic champions. They have the deepest, most talented team in the tournament. By contrast, Japan’s World Cup triumph was a stunner, as well as a psychological salve for a nation recovering from a triple tragedy of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown.

But the Nadeshiko were worthy of the title, playing disciplined, tactical and savvy football.

The savviness returned at these Olympics, when coach Norio Sasaki told his players to
deliberately try not to score during a game against South Africa because a victory would have required extra travel. It’s a tactic Sundhage said she would never try.

Japan also has a chance to become the first team to win the World Cup and Olympics in
back-to-back years.

If Thursday’s news conferences are any indication, Japan is the more relaxed team headed into the rematch. Sasaki and his players laughed, smiled and cracked jokes throughout.

Sasaki acknowledged the Americans perhaps “have a greater incentive” to win after last year’s result, so he said his challenge is to see “how much stronger we can make our incentive to have a win and beat the United States.”

Here’s a possible incentive: Maybe his players will get better seats on the plane ride home if they get the gold. The Japanese delegation was heavily criticized for putting the world champion women in economy while the men’s football team flew business class on the way to London.

Midfielder Homare Sawa said at the time that it “should have been the other way around.”

Former Los Angeles Sol free kick specialist and now Japan’s captain Aya Miyama laughed off the subject Thursday, saying: “We’re pretty small, so it doesn’t matter.” But then she added: “When I think about a more expensive cabin, it makes me feel good.”

This isn’t one of those no-love-lost rivalries. Between the teams’ news conferences, players and coach put arms behind waists and stood in a line like buddies on the same team, the white coats of the United States alternating with the blue ones from Japan.

Wambach is friends with Sawa, and they ran into each other in the Olympic village earlier in the day.

“We told each other that we were glad the other had won,” Wambach said. “Because we believe that we’re the top two teams in the world, and we believe our fans deserve to see a great final.”

Wambach also guaranteed the game wouldn’t see some of the rough play the Americans have seen from other teams in the tournament.

“They snatched our dream last year,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said. “And still we have that respect for them.”

The Americans revived their flair for the dramatic on Monday with a last-minute win over Canada in the semifinals, and few would be surprised if the gold medal game is just as close — perhaps ending with penalty kicks once again.

Sundhage said she learned a lesson from last year: The team that scores the final goal to force a shootout is usually happier and more loose, something she didn’t realize until she saw her more tense players fall flat in the shootout.

Few players are able to express the magnitude of Thursday’s game better than Wambach, who earlier this week gave an impassioned monologue about the “nightmares” from last year, how motivated she is, how the U.S. team has earned the chance to put things right.

“The truth is, this is going to be a great day,” she said. “A great day for soccer, a great day for women’s sports, and something that hopefully we’ll able to remember for the rest of our lives — and hopefully it’s in a good way.”

By the way, in case you were wondering about the status of FIFA’s investigation into the Canadian complaints at the end of the U.S.-Canada semifinal:

LONDON (AP) — The governing body of soccer said Wednesday that it needs more time to look into complaints by the Canadian women’s team following its semifinal loss to the United States at the London Olympics.

FIFA said its disciplinary panel has to wait for Canada to play its bronze medal match Thursday against France.

Canada gave up the winning goal in stoppage time at the end of extra time in a thrilling match at Old Trafford on Monday.

Canada’s players and coach were angry that the Norwegian referee awarded a free kick against Canadian goalkeeper Erin McLeod that led to a tying goal by the Americans.

McLeod was whistled for holding the ball longer than six seconds. The resulting shot from the U.S. free kick struck the hand of a Canadian defender. Abby Wambach scored the penalty to make the score 3-3.

Canadian forward Christine Sinclair said after the game that the players “feel cheated.”

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Abby Wambach’s Olympic countdown the difference in controversial U.S. win over Canada?

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Oh Canada! Canada’s Sophie Schmidt, left, and teammate Christine Sinclair, react after the U.S. won 4-3 on a last-gasp goal at the Olympics in Manchester (AP Photo).

FIFA is reportedly now taking a look at the post-game accusations made by the Canadians, incidentally. Associated Press Sports Writer Joseph White takes a look at the furor surrounding Monday’s game:

MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Abby Wambach was counting. Out loud. Within earshot of the referee.

That’s how medals are won, with moments such as those. A wily veteran using a subtle tactic to get the ref to make a call no one ever makes, one that turns the match around.

When the game for the gold is all there’s left to play, it’s usually fitting to immediately
sweep away the underbrush that preceded it. Not this time. The United States’ semifinal win over Canada in the Olympic women’s soccer tournament was so dramatic — and produced such fiery accusations of bias against the referee from the Canadians — that it’s taking some extra time to digest it all.

“It’s definitely draining,” U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe said Tuesday before boarding the bus to London, where the Americans will play Japan in the Olympic final on Thursday. “We played 123 minutes. And, on top of that, all the emotion.”

The basic facts and bitter words were evident after the 4-3 result at Old Trafford on Monday night.

Diamond Bar’s Alex Morgan scored the winning goal in the final minute of extra time, but it was Wambach’s out-loud timekeeping that led to the game’s pivotal moment: Norwegian referee Christiana Pedersen’s decision to whistle the Canadian goalkeeper for holding the ball too long, a call that led to the tying goal for the U.S. in the 80th minute.

It’s a rarely enforced rule, akin to an umpire in baseball deciding the batter hit by the pitch didn’t make a sufficient attempt to get out of the way of the ball. It gave the U.S. an indirect kick, which turned into a hand ball, which turned into a penalty kick.

The Canadians were furious. And they made their feelings known after the game.

Coach John Herdman: “The ref, she will have to sleep in bed tonight after watching the replay. She’s gonna have to live with that. We will move on from this. I wonder if she will be able to.”

Forward Christine Sinclair: “We feel like it was taken away from us. It’s a shame in a game like that, which is so important, that the ref decided the result before the game started.”

Goalkeeper Erin McLeod: “I think the referee was very one-sided.”

Soccer governing FIFA is weighing disciplinary action against Canada for those remarks.
Regardless, when such serious allegations are made, it’s imperative to look closely at what happened.

The goalkeeper is supposed to control the ball with her hands, including bouncing it to herself, for no more than six seconds. In many ways, it’s a laughable rule: U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo is one of the quickest in the game at getting rid of the ball, but it’s not unusual to see her go over that limit.

But McLeod pushed the rule to the extreme. The first time she caught the ball Monday night — off a deflected header — she held it for 17 seconds before punting it away. A couple of minutes later, she controlled it for 16 seconds. There was another 16-second possession later in the half as she cradled the ball, gave it a bounce, walked forward and directed traffic.

“Their plan is to slow down the game,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “If I put myself in (their coach’s) shoes, it’s about game management, slow down the game and you feel like you have a chance to win against the States.”

It’s customary for the referee to give a warning when she thinks the goalkeeper is taking too much time. Wambach said she saw Pedersen give McLeod a warning. McLeod said she was told by a linesman at the start of the second half not to slow down play, but didn’t consider that a proper warning.

Wambach felt McLeod’s time-wasting got worse once the Canadians took the lead. That’s when the American started counting out loud whenever McLeod had the ball.

“It was obviously clear that Canada was trying to bide their time,” Wambach said. “They’re up a goal, and they’re taking as much time as they need. Throughout the game, I was speaking with the ref. She warned Erin throughout the game that she was taking too long. Erin responded with an ‘I understand.’”

With Canada leading at 76:36, McLeod fell to the ground making a
two-handed catch of a corner kick by Rapinoe. McLeod took three to four seconds to get up, still cradling the ball. She started to run forward, then slowed to a walk. At 76:44, she started to direct her players forward. She bounced the ball once, then started to punt it at 76:47.

Wambach was keeping track.

“I had gotten to 10 seconds counting out loud next to the referee,” Wambach said. “And at 10 seconds she blew the whistle, and I think it was a good call. Yes, it’s uncharacteristic for that call to be made in a soccer game, but the rules are the rules.”

“Here’s the thing — we needed a goal,” Wambach added. “They’re trying to waste time, and I’m trying to speed it up. You can say it’s gamesmanship, you can say it’s smart, but I’m a competitor and I want to get the ball back at our feet.”

At 78:03, Rapinoe takes the resulting indirect free kick about 16 yards from the goal. She rams it right into Marie-Eve Nault, who instinctively raised her right arm, with the elbow bent. If she had kept her arms at her side, it’s probably not a hand ball. It’s like an offensive lineman in football who can get away with holding until he extends his arms to make it blatantly visible to the officials.

The Americans were awarded a penalty. At 79:33, Wambach converted the kick to tie it at 3.

The U.S. is now in the gold-medal match against Japan. The Canadians will play France for bronze, having failed to beat the Americans now in 27 straight games.

The U.S. players have no second thoughts about how they won. They do, however, understand why the Canadians said what they said.

“The Canadians are obviously going to be frustrated,” Morgan said. “If I was in their position, I would be frustrated as well and not really want to sugarcoat my interviews. I’d just let it all out — like they did.”

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