Soccer 2007 from A-Z

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: December 30, 2007

AC Milan-Though they have continued to perform below expectations in Serie A, AC Milan was clearly the big winner on the international stage. The side that boasts of KaKa, Andrea Pirlo, Clarence Seedorf and Paolo Maldini sailed through most the Champions League, overturned a one goal first leg deficit in the semifinals against Manchester United with a brilliant performance then outclassed Liverpool to claim another European Cup. They completed the year by winning the FIFA Club World Championship over…

***image32***Boca Juniors-Though they came up short in Japan, 2007 saw them welcome home Juan Riquelme and rode his old partnership with Martin Palermo and the steady defensive play of Hugo Ibarra to their sixth Copa Libertadores title. Argentina’s most supported side did not capture either in domestic title but they’ve continue to be a major player in the Libertadores.

Copa AmericaCopa America-A tremendous S. American championship hosted by Venezeula saw competitive matches, the home team advance to the knockout stages for the first time in history, Argentina display their class throughout, a beautiful goal by Lionel Messi to elimate Mexico who opened the tournament with an impressive win against Brazil and Uruguay fall to Brazil on penalties. Argentina was favored to win it all but Brazil smoked their rivals to capture their 8th Copa America title.

DPs- No, not the Digable Planets (but MAN I would cop another CD from them in a SECOND) but Designated Players. MLS allowed teams to sign two players and pay them however much they wanted over the salary cap (think Larry Bird exception). This allowed players like Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Juan Pablo Angel and of course David Beckham to sign with MLS teams and increase the attention and prestige of the league.

***image8***Etoile Sahel-The Tunisian side continued N. Africa’s dominance in African club football by riding the eight goals of Mohamed Amine Chermiti to claim their first African Champions League title. After drawing at home 0-0 against two defending champion and five time Champions League winners Al-Ahly, Etoile gained revenge for the 2005 loss in the final by beating the favorite 3-1 in Cairo. Etoile gained the semifinals of the 2007 FIFA World Club Championship where they lost to Boca Juniors.

***image7***Feilhaber, Benny. The author of the goal of the year in many Americans minds. With the score tied in the second half of the Gold Cup Final , Feilhaber latched on to a cleared corner and volleyed an absolute laser to the top left hand corner past a futile dive of Osvaldo Sanchez, giving the US a 2-1 win and its 4th Gold Cup title. See it here.

***image23***Gullit, Ruud-After 12 seasons, MLS has named its first full-time Black coach. Former Newcastle manager Ruud Guillit took over in LA for Frank “the Spotlight’s not for me” Yallop at season’s end. Gullit, a former European and World Player of Year will have his work cut out for him, resurrecting a team that has failed to make the playoffs for two years running.

Houston Dynamo-There’s a new dynasty in MLS and it can be found in H-town as the Dynamo collected their second straight MLS Cup after coming from behind to beat the New England Revolution 2-1 in a hard fought final. Joseph Ngweyna began the a comeback with a goal in the 2nd half before Dwayne DeRosario won it for Houston. Combined with their two Cups before they were relocated from San Jose, they have established themselves as the premier team in MLS over the past 5 years.

Interviews-Many thanks to Jill Robbins of Soccer in the Streets and former MLS Standout Robin Fraser who were kind enough to grant interviews to GolNoir and BASN this past year.

Josmer AltidoreJosmer Altidore-Last year I called him the next big thing. This year he’s continued his growth forming a great partnership with Juan Pablo Angel at RBNY and scoring 4 times at the U-20 World Cup. After calls by fans and pundits alike for his inclusion, he earned his first cap with the senior squad and the results of his hard work are being noticed by the clubs Real Madrid. The young man’s rise continues…

***image11***Kaka-Right now, the best player on the planet. His surging runs from the middle of the field towards goal, easily stepping past would be defenders to set up forwards or score goals himself were on full display in ’07. His displays against Manchester United in the Champions League and in the Club World Cup final were simply awesome and showed why he picked up both European and World Player of the Year awards.

***image12***Liverpool made news on the field, taking out the defending champions FC Barcelona on their way to the Champions League Final. Off the field, they became the latest English Premiere League club with American owners. Tom Hicks and George Gillet, owners of the Texas Rangers and Montreal Canadiens respectively, completed their purchase of the famous side in February. Though they have reportedly have had differences of opinion with manager Rafa Benitez regarding transfers, they are apparently in it to win it. By the way, three of England’s top sides are owned by foreigners, two of them American, while another (Arsenal) could be headed in that direction. All this is cool but HELLO, MLS needs some help too!

***image15***Maurice Edu- Before the 2007 season opened, I named 10 players not named David Beckham to keep an eye on. People got on me for not naming Toronto’s Maurice Edu who was the #1 pick in the draft. Now I see why. Edu was one of the few bright spots in a tough first season for Toronto FC, earning Rookie of the Year honors and a call up the National side where he played very well in his debut against S. Africa.

***image33***Ngwenya, Joseph-Unwanted in LA and deemed expendable by Columbus, the Zimbabwe native showed just how good he could be joining the defending champion Houston Dynamo and leading a multi-pronged attack with eight goals on the season, along the way scoring this gem, which should have been MLS’ goal of the year. He added a goal in MLS Cup and has made himself an indispensable part of the Dynamo’s line up.

One Grown Man’s Opinion, of course, but start looking for me soon in the Back of the Net.

Paul IncePaul Ince-The former Manchester United Inter star has quietly established himself as arising star in the coaching ranks. After signing as a player/coach for Macclesfield Town, he rescued a side that was in last place of League Two and eventually kept them from being relegated. He was then hired by Milton Keynes Dons where his displays have brought him to attention of Premiere League clubs. Another possible top flight Black manager for the future.

***image34***Qualifying for the 2010 World Cup in S. Africa will begin in earnest next year. S. America and Oceania have already begun and the rest of the world will join in the fun. The US, should everything play out as it should, will be away to Cuba for the first time ever in what is being billed as the Elian Gonzalez home and home series.

Ronaldinho-What’s really going on? Two years ago this cat was in every commercial, on the cover of every video game and in every defender’s nightmares as he led the front line for Barcelona. Ever since the 2006 World Cup, Ronaldinho has been in an absolute funk. He’s not in top physical shape and his play has been so inconsistent for both club and country that he’s coming off the bench for Barcelona.

Major League SoccerSupporter’s Shield Curse-Like the Kumite, it’s real. It’s REALLY real. Since its creation in 1998, the award given to the team with the best record at the end of MLS’ regular season has mostly been the kiss of death come playoff time. Only DC United (1999), KC Wizards (2000) and the LA Galaxy (2002) have claimed both the Shield and MLS Cup in the same season. DC United have been spectacular victims of the curse in the last two years, running away with the Shield but sputtering late in the season.

The Three Lions, as England’s National Team is known, crashed in most spectacular fashion as they failed to qualify for the 2008 European championships. After Israel beat Russia to open the door for them, England, needing only a tie, sputtered at home losing to Croatia 3-2, getting poor games from big name players like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard but not from whipping boy Beckham. Coach Steve McClaren was fired but as Roy Keane pointed out the players didn’t do him any favors, saying of England’s style of play “You have to have the heart and passion but that only gets you so far…”

US Soccer had an eventful year. The Senior Men’s team won its fourth Gold Cup with a pulsating 2-1 come from behind win against Mexico after struggling to find its rhythm for most of the tournament. The U-20s, led by Josmer Altidore and a brilliant Freddy Adu advanced to the quarterfinals playing some excellent soccer before losing an overtime heart-breaker to Austria. The Women’s team advanced to the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup but a controversial goal keeping change in favor of Brianna Scurry (who had not played in the tournament) served as a distraction and the US’ lack of coherent play on offense throughout the tournament finally caught up with them. They got pasted by Brazil 4-0 resulting in coach Greg Ryan’s termination. That loss was the only one of his tenure.

***image13***Victor MacFarlane. While minority owners are few and far between in the sports that get 95% of ESPN’s attention, San Francisco based real estate mogul Victor MacFarlane became MLS’ first Black owner, heading an owner/investment group that includes partners William H.C. Chang and former Duke basketball players, Brian Davis and Christian Laettner. MacFarlane thought he had a new stadium site for DC United in Poplar Point only to have the deal nixed by new DC Mayor Adrian Fenty. Meanwhile, he has blazed a trail in MLS where hopefully others will soon follow.

***image22***X-Clan: This review is still protected by the Red, the Black, & the Green. With a KEY!

Are You going to an MLS Match next year? A US World Cup Qualifier? Playing a pick up game?

Z’at’s all folks (Hey, what can I do? Zidane has retired.)

Thanks to all of you who have written to me over the past year. I appreciate the praise AND the criticism. Support this wonderful sport however you can in ’08. Peace.