Another year and another 12 months worth of memorable soccer. Here are some of the moments that stick out in my mind.
10. The Beckham Experiment
The Beckham Experiment, the book written by Grant Wahl brought a tidal wave of attention to Beckham, Donovan, the Galaxy, and MLS. Landon Donovan unleashed on his Galaxy teammate in the book. Calling him a bad teammate and uninterested in the Galaxy’s success. The book also revealed the problems in the front office that led to the disasters in the first year and a half of Beckham’s time with the Galaxy.
The Book thrust the league into the limelight, never a bad thing. Beckham came home from his loan spell in Milan to a frosty reception, including two ugly incidents with fans in the stands. In the end that all blew over, Donovan and Beckham made up, and Beckham went on to help the Galaxy to the MLS Cup and Western Conference Championship.
9. Switzerland and Ghana are new champions
Ghana won its first U20 World Cup and Switzerland won its first U17 championship over the summer. Ghana became the first African team to win a U20 World Cup. Ghana is quickly becoming one of the best teams in Africa and the world. This can be attributed to their excellent youth development programs. The “Black Stars” have won two U17 championships and have finished runners up several times at the U20 and u17 World Cups.
The Swiss only have the 2002 U17 European Championship trophy to talk about in their entire soccer history. This win is big for the Swiss as they slowly start to work their way into the soccer elite. Young stars like Haris Seferovic, Nassim Ben Khalifa, and Benjamin Siegrist should usher in a new Era in Swiss football.
8. MLS Rookies and Newcomers
The new faces in MLS really lit up the league. The new crop of rookies really made an impact for their clubs. Omar Gonzalez, Rookie of the Year, solidified the LA Galaxy backline, helping them get to the MLS Cup. Offensively, Steve Zakuani and Chris Pontious were dangerous and exciting to watch. Sam Cronin and Stefan Frei were key starters for Toronto, Cronin earning a national team call up. This is important for the league, because 1) it reaffirms the belief that there are quality soccer players coming out of college and available in the draft, and 2) it helps calm some worries that the US isn’t producing enough talent to support MLS’s expansion. You could put together a very good team composed of all 2009 MLS rookies.
The league also did a good job of finding talent abroad. Players like Fredy Montero, Freddy Ljungberg, David Ferriera, and Pablo Vitti provided much needed skill and offensive spark to their teams. The league also brought home some Americans from overseas. Guys like Berhalter, Keller, and Heath Pearce all played major roles in their clubs.
7. Jonathon Bornstein scores tying goal against Costa Rica
The US’s World Cup qualifying campaign had its ups and downs but no one ever believed we wouldn’t qualify. After securing a berth to the World Cup, the US played a lackluster match against Costa Rica in October on the final day of qualifiers. Down 2-0, the US pulled one back in 72nd minute off a Michael Bradley tap in. Deep into to stoppage time the Costa Ricans were just waiting for the final whistle to blow. Soccer is a cruel sport, in the 95th minute Jonathon Bornstein rose up to meet a corner kick at the front post and buried it in the net. The final whistle blew and the Costa Ricans cannot believe what just happened.
Why is this goal so important? First, it came a few days after Charlie Davies was seriously injured in a deadly car crash. The stadium was filled with cheers and banners supporting the young American striker, so the game meant a lot to everyone. Second, it assured the US a first place finish in qualifying, a moral victory but important nonetheless. Third, it reminded everyone of how good the US is at fighting back when the chips are down. Finally, for every Honduran soccer fan in the world Bornstein was a hero, a god, a savior. One goal changed the history of Honduran soccer forever.
6. Ronaldo to Real Madrid
This past summer we saw an incredible shift in power from the English league to the Spanish league. After Barcelona took home the Champions League title in a convincing performance over Manchester United, the power balance began to tilt. England was no longer a desirable destination for the world’s top players. Some attribute taxes, style of play, and weather to the change in focus.
I think the major tipping point was the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo from England. There is not question that he is among the best players in the world, and too some the best. Although players like Kaka and Messi are in the same class as Ronaldo, neither of those players can match Ronaldo’s overall appeal. Ronaldo was an icon both on and off the field for the English game. Once he left, some of that spectacle left with him.
5. Henry Handball
One of the most controversial moments in 2009 had to be Henry’s handball that led to their World Cup berth. The handball was clear enough and Henry openly admitted to handling the ball. The problem is that the referee didn’t see it and the goal was allowed. The incident sent shock waves through the soccer world. People were calling Henry a cheater, while others called him a hero. For the Irish it was slap in the face. The Irish played well enough but it took a slick handball to end the Irish’s World Cup dreams.
4. Seattle Sounders
The Seattle Sounders inaugural season will go down in history as one the most important moments in MLS history. The club broke all previously set attendance records by a large margin. The Sounders created a model for all other expansion teams to follow.
So what did they do right? Almost everything. First, MLS decided to expand in a market with a built in fan base. Second, Drew Carey took charge of getting fans involved and excited about the game. Third, they hired MLS Coach of the Year Sigi Schmid. Fourth, they drafted for defenders and purchased attacking talent from abroad. Fifth, they dedicated themselves to playing good soccer. Finally, they got lucky, a necessary ingredient for any successful business.
The Brazilian national team has been absolutely unstoppable in 2009. They finished first in South American qualifying and won the Confederations Cup after recovering from a 2-0 deficit against the US. It isn’t so much about what Brazil did in 2009, but how they did it. The Brazilians are playing great soccer. It doesn’t have the same flash or style of the 1970 squad, but this team has more grit and to go along with their magic. The team hasn’t lost its identity though. Players like Robinho, Kaka, Luis Fabiano, and Elano bring enough spark to remind us just how magical soccer can be. It was a pleasure to watch them play in 2009 and they should be better come the summer of 2010.
The Spanish Giants were completely unstoppable in 2009 winning 6 trophies (La Liga, Champions League, Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup, European Super Cup, and the Club World Cup). The Barcelona roster reads like a shortlist for the World Player of the Year. Led by Lionel Messi, Xavi, Puyol, Alves, Iniesta, Ibrahimovic, and Eto’o the club played a beautiful style of soccer. Their quick passing and attacking flair captured the hearts of the world.
Their exploits in 2009 were so great that the coach conceded that there is no way they can duplicate that form. They club had reached its peak and it will slowly start to fall from grace. This Barcelona team will go down in history as one of the best teams of all time.
1. Confederations Cups
The Confederations Cup, in my mind, is one of the biggest moments of all time for US soccer. After a dreadful start in group play, the US fought back and did the impossible to qualify for the second round. The team went on to beat #1 ranked Spain ending the Spanish’s 15 game winning streak. They met Brazil in the final and came out guns blazing. The US was up 2-0 at the half, but failed to hold on to the lead.
The tournament was huge for the US. It was the first final the US has reached in FIFA sanctioned tournament. They beat the unstoppable Spanish. The world was introduced to a young striker known as Charlie Davies. Landon Donovan played like one of the best players in the World. Jay Demerit and Jonathon Spector arrived as national team starters. The US played with the kind of heart and athleticism that gained us respect in the 2002 World Cup.
Let me know what your top 10 moments were this year. Thanks and Happy New Year!!!