Soccer 2006 from A-Z

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: December 24, 2006

Al-Ahly: After surviving roster changes and and even the death of a teammate, Egytian side Ah-Ahly won its second consecutive African Champions League Title by going on the road in the 2nd leg of the final and beating Tunisian side CS Sfaxien 0-1 after a 1-1 draw in Cairo. Mohammed Aboutrika’s injury time goal won it for the 5 time Champions and Africa’s team of the 20th century represented the Mother Land at the FIFAWorld Club Championships, finishing third.

Barcelona: After winning its second consecutive La Liga title, Spanish side Barcelona, led by former World Player of the Year Ronaldinho and the most high profile Black coach on the planet in Frank Rijkaard, came from behind to beat Theirry Henry and Arsenal to claim their first European championship in 14 years. If Barcelona can keep this talented squad together, the likes Samuel Eto’o, Ronaldinho, Lionel Messi and Carlos Puyol will be bringing lots of trophies back to the Camp Nou.

Cote D’Ivoire- Always considered one of the best African teams not to have made the World Cup, the Elephants of the Ivory Coast, led by Chelsea striker Didier Drogba (pictured) served notice that they will be a force to reckon with in African soccer for the forseeable future. They followed up a 2nd place finish at this year’s African Cup of Nations, with a solid showing in one of the World Cup groups of death. Though they didn’t advance, they made a favorable impression on the worldwide audience, especially with their come from behind win over Serbia Montenegro.

Deaths- Two footballing legends were lost in 2006- Ferenc Puskás the legendary Hungarian who scored and astounding 84 goals in 85 apperances for the Hungarian National team also won several titles with Real Madrid. The other was Alberto Spencer of Ecuador, considered one of that country’s two best players. His 54 goals in the Copa Libertadores (S. America’s Champions League), primarily with Uruguayan side Peñarol remains a record and Pele often spoke highly of the man known as “Cabeza Mágica” for his ability to head the ball with such ferocity. Unknown outside of South America because he never competed in the World Cup.

Egypt- The grandfathers of African football, the Pharaohs brought home their first international title in eight years by winning the African Cup of Nations as hosts. Buoyed by a fanatical home crowd and a confident head coach in Hassan Shehata, Egypt topped their preliminary group with a 3-1 win over the Ivory Coast, held off Senegal in the semifinals and stymied the high flying Elephants again, winning on penalties. It was a welcome consolation for the side that was unable to qualify for the World Cup and helped make this Egypt’s year on the continent.

Freddy Adu- Cue the Bone Thugs in Harmony CD (or X-Clan) but Freddy Adu’s career is definitely at the cross roads. After three years with DC United where his flashes of brilliance were puncutated with some maddening inconsistency and complaints about playing time, all while being played out of position, the former phenom was traded to Real Salt Lake. Adu always perferred to play in the middle of the field but coach Peter Novak played him primarily on the wing due to the presence of long time stand out Jaime Moreno and MVP Christian Gomez. He’ll now get that chance in Utah. He may never match the ridiculous hype placed on him as a 14 year old but now is the time for Freddy Adu to step up and show the world he can play at the highest level. Can’t wait, though, for RSL to visit RFK next year…

Germany 2006- Germany staged a sucessful 2006 World Cup but I personally was disappointed in the play. There were few signature matches, a lot of diving and poor officiating. When everyone talks about Zidane’s insane head butt and the wonderful sight of Germans proud to be Germans, it lets me know that there wasn’t enough artistry or classic matches to talk about on the field. Still the fans made it a great spectacle and the World Cup still brings the world together unlike any other event. As my brother said, it was the Beautiful Game, played not so beautifully.

Houston DynamoHouston Dynamo-An eventful 2006 ended in a championship for Houston’s MLS side. After getting limited fan support in San Jose, they arrived in Houston not knowing if their hearts were really in it. They originally named themselves Houston 1836 after the year of the city’s founding but the name was deemed to be offensive to Mexicans. So they changed their name to Houston Dynamo. Unable to make much headway against their Texas rivals, FC Dallas they finished second and dropped their opening playoff game against Chivas USA before coming back to win in the second leg, then swept past Colorado Rapids for the right to play in MLS Cup 2006. After falling behind in overtime, Brian Ching equalized a minute later before Houston won on penalties. A crushing blow for New England who astonished everyone by actually scoring in an MLS Cup final but Houston were deserving winners. The likes of Ching, Ricardo Clark and Wade Barrett will continue to make this a top MLS team.

Italy- When I previewed the World Cup for BASN, I asked if this 3 time champion was slipping under the radar. Well they rode that low altitude right to the top of the world. The defense, marshalled by GK Gigi Buffon put opponents on lock down (they allowed one goal until the final, an own goal against the US) and Italy did enough on offense to win its fourth World Cup. It was, however, far from pretty. They did their fair share of elbowing, diving and provacation (just ask Zinedine Ziedane) but they were the most consistent side in the tournament. The title basically won the European and World Player of the Year awards for defender Fabio Cannavaro who was stellar all tournament long and provided Italian soccer a welcome respite from the scandal that was about to engulf….

Juventus-Imagine that fresh off a World Series title, the Yankees were found guilty of fixing games, demoted to AAA baseball and was forced to start off 36 games below .500. That is what happened to Italy’s most successful team as they were stripped of their last two titles, forced to play in the Italian second division and docked 36 points to start the season. The country’s worst sporting scandal in recent memory also affected 3 other clubs and saw several high profile players like Cannavaro, Patrick Vieira and Lilliam Thuram leave for Real Madrid, Inter Milan and Barcelona respectively. The point penalty was eventually reduced and Juve is certain to gain promotion but it left a bad stain on the Italian game.

Kenya- A country in the news for all the wrong reason as financial mismanagement and excessive government interference led FIFA to suspend the Kenyan Football Federation in October and ban them from any international competition. There have been allegations of corruption, unilateral dissolution of the KFF by the government and two domestic leagues, the last of which led to FIFA’s ban. Get it together, please!!!!

Lamar Hunt- While the American mass media focused on his contributions to football, fans of futbol mourned the loss of this soccer visionary, responsible for so much of the resurgence of the world’s game here in America. After falling in love with the game while watching the 1966 World Cup, he helped form the NASL and owned the Dallas Tornados. At one point the NASL got so popular it began taking fans away from pro football and the NFL tried to force him to give it up, only to lose in court. He continued to promote and invest in the sport when MLS started play in 1996, owning two teams (Columbus and Kansas City) and building the first soccer specific stadium in Ohio. In recognition of his tireless efforts on behalf of the game, the US Soccer Association renamed the US Open Cup in his honor. Thank you from every soccer fan in America for showing everyone else that you can love football and futbol at the same time.

Makélélé, Claude- The Chelsea midfielder was at the center of one of the bigger club/country confrontations in quite a few years. Makélélé came out of international retirement in 2005 to help France qualify for the World Cup then played a huge role as France made it to the final against Italy. After the tournament, he announced his intention to retire from France and concentrate on his club career. However, French coach Raymond Domenech continued to call him up for matches and threatened to invoke a FIFA rule that would ban him from playing for Chelsea if his club refused to release him for international duty. This led Chelsea coach Jose Mourinho to remark that France was treating him like a slave, to which French defender Lilliam Thuram (who also came out of retirement to get France to Germany2006) to retort that Mourinho knows nothing about slavery. For his part Makélélé is continuing to represent France as they prepare for Euro 2008 but it begs the question how much say a player really has in his career. It also demonstrates another well-known fact: Claude Makélélé is the best defensive midfielder in the world.

Next big thing? While Freddy Adu tries to get his career back on track and Eddie Johnson locates his focus, a lot of eyes are looking at Florida native, Josmer Altidore. An impressive performer on the US U-20 level, the US Soccer Federation 2006 Young Male Player of the Year had a tremendous stretch run with Red Bull New York, helping them gain the playoffs and absolutely abusing DC United’s Argentine defender Facundo Erpen to give heavily favored United a mighty playoff fright. Great skills and seemingly very humble, look for him down the road in a US National Team jersey.

Oguchi Onyewu-Few things are certain with the US National team these days, but the presence of Oguchi “Gooch” Onyewu in the center of defense is one of them. After gaining myth like status for his, “I wish you would” glare at Mexican Jared Borgetti in 2005, the US’ 2006 Male Soccer Athlete of the Year continued his fine play with Belgian side Standard Liege and was one of the few players who showed up for the Stars and Stripes at the 2006 World Cup. Already attracting interest from such clubs as Real Madrid, he’s only going to get better . His imposing presence in the middle of the US’s backline has instilled a lot of confidence in US fans, especially with the international retirement of….

Pope, Eddie- Eddie Pope never quite got the respect due to him during his 11 year international career. It was always Alexi Lalas or Jeff Agoos or Jimmy Conrad who people raved about. But his elegant, unselfish and accomplished play as an anchor of the US’ backline over his 82 appearances (including 3 World Cups) showed he could play at the highest levels of the game while plying his trade solely in MLS. His play at the 2002 World Cup was stellar all tournament long and he was known to score the occasional goal as Mexico found out 3 times. The first to give GolNoir an interview he will always be a favorite of this writer.

Questions-Is David Beckham coming to MLS? How sick are Ronaldinho’s skills? Why is Jeff Cunningham not on the US National Team? Will Thierry Henry leave Arsenal? When will we stop hearing about the potential of African teams and see them produce at the World Cup? And while we’re at it, when will we stop hearing about the potential of England and see them produce at the World Cup? Are you going to an MLS or Gold Cup match in 2007?

Ricardo Clark-One of the big reasons that Houston was able to be so succesful this year, Ricardo Clark was injury free for the first time since his rookie season at Exit 16W off the Jersey Turnpike and earned his first Best XI selection. A steady perfomer in the defensive midfield role, he should contend for a roster spot for the US’ Gold Cup and Copa America competitions. Keep your eye on this young man who could be a star before you know it.

Sport Club International- A big year for this club out of Porto Alegre. They outshone more well known Brazillian outfits to win their first Copa Libertadores title, beating the likes of traditional favorites, Boca Juniors and defending champions Sao Paulo along the way. They then upset Barcelona to win the 2006 FIFA World Club Championship. Though people like AP Writer Chris Lehourites dismissed their achievement as an exhibition, their road to get there was nothing to scoff at.

Toronto-MLS is about to go NHL style in 2007 as Toronto FC opens up play as an exapansion club. Slated to be team #13 in what MLS Commisioner Don Garber hopes to be an 18 team league, they have already signed players such as former Columbus Crew and RBNY striker Edson Buddle in hopes of being competitive early.

USA-A frustrating year for the fans of the Red White and Blue. After destroying mediocre compeition early in the year and getting a solid exhibition win over Poland in Germany, the US looked lethargic in the three warm up matches before the World Cup then did a disappointing 3 and out in Germany. They were awful in their opening match against the Czech Republic buT should have won their second match against Italy despite losing Pope and Pablo Mastroeni to red cards. However, they were never quite good enough to overcome a game Ghana side and were sent home. They then spent 5 months trying to “secretly” hire Jurgen Klinsmann who guided his native Germany to third place but were unable to come to terms, settling on Chivas USA coach Bob Bradley as an interim choice. The US needs to get its act together in 2007 as they defend their Gold Cup title and compete in the the Copa America for the first time since a 4th place finish in 1995.


World Cup 2010- For the first time, an African nation will host the World Cup as S. Africa welcomes the world in 2010. As is always the case when a major sporting event is held anywhere but Western Europe or the United States, the criticsm has been relentless as people question whether S. Africa could host the event given the stadia that need to be built, the supposed poor infrastructure and the high crime rate. FIFA General Secretary Sepp Blatter criticized S. Africa’s progress or lack thereof in getting the necessary tasks done. However, S. African president Thabo Mbeki continued to defend his country’s ability to host the tournament and its preparations. Good luck, there is no Black soccer fan on the planet that wants to see Africa fail.

Speaking of X-Clan, RIP Prof. Overseer.

You- That’s Time Magazine’s person of the Year. You, not me, You. And I thought I had problems coming up with stuff….

“What a way to go out, out like a sucker.”-EPMD

Another year has come and gone. Thanks to all of you who have written me and supported me, GolNoir and the Black Athlete Sports Network. A mighty AAAA Phi to my brothers in Old Gold and Black. My hopes for 2007 are that you get out to a match, join a league, play pick up or just kick a ball with a friend. Soccer is clearly the world’s game.