Soocer 2008: From A-Z

By Andrew Dixon, III
Updated: January 2, 2009

Al Ahly Al Ahly– Completed a triumphant year for Egyptian soccer by outlasting first time finalist Coton Sport of Cameroon for a record sixth African Champions League, riding goals from players like Angola’s Flavio and Mohamad Aboutrika and the experience and familiarity of a lineup which boasted many Egyptian internationals. A heartbreaking collapse against Pachuca and subsequent under-performance at the Club World Cup shouldn’t diminish another outstanding year for the African giants.

Back of the Net-We had few calls and fewer sponsors. But for five months at the start of the year, I had an absolute blast talking about the Beautiful Game on BASN Radio. The show featured well known journalists like Martin Rogers, Marc Gleeson and Luis Bueno as well as figures like James Nevels, Irving Smalls and Kendall Reyes. Speaking on diverse topics such as MLS, the African Cup of Nations, soccer at HBCUs, US Men’s National Team and the weekly Black Soccer 101 feature with various guests, callers and Alex Luna (my co-host who joined late in the show’s run) it was just another attempt to help introduce the world’s game to Black people here in the States. I hope to bring the show back one day but even if I don’t, wow…what a ride.

Columbus Crew– Nobody’s looking at this side and proclaiming one of the great MLS champions but for the bulk of 2008, like that brother D.O.C., no one could do it better. The team that featured the Defender of the Year (Chad Marshall) Coach of the Year (Sigi Schmid) and the MVP (Guillermo Baros Schelotto) the Crew put three players on MLS’ Best XI and basically led the Eastern Conference from start to finish. Schelotto tallied 19 assists, (the most since Carlos Valderramma in the inaugural season) and added three more in MLS Cup to lift Columbus past RBNY to its first MLS title.

Du Nord– Want to know when you’ve made it as a soccer writer in the US? It’s when Brucio @ Du Nord links to your column. Every day he combs the internet and provides a listing of worthwhile online reading about the Beautiful Game. Whether it’s a recap, a column or a human interst story, best believe Du Nord will find it and link it, even from a part-time soccer journalist like myself. Similar sites to learn about the game include, and Steve Goff’s Soccer Insider,

***image9*** Egypt-2008 was the Year of the Pharaohs and for once I’m not talking about Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. Egypt is clearly the epicenter of African football right now. Not only did Al-Ahly capture the Champions League, but the Egyptian National Team captured its second consecutive African Cup of Nations, stunning tournament favorites Cote D’Ivoire in the semifinals and beating Cameroon for their 6th ACN title. While other top African sides garnered attention due to their European based stars, Egypt relied on domestic stars like Mohamed Aboutraika (Al-Ahly, Hosni Abd Rabbou (El-Ismaily) and Amr Zaki (Zamalek) to see them through. Egypt is now hoping to ride this momentum to the 2010 World Cup in S. Africa.

***image22*** FC Harlem– What started as a seemingly unreachable dream by an ex-Penn State football player has turned into a viable and recognized youth soccer club in the middle of one of the most famous Black neighborhoods in the country. Back of the Net guest Irv Small’s efforts to make FC Harlem a place to provide mentorship to New York area Black and Latino youths as well as learning about and playing the Beautiful Game was helped tremendously by a gala fundraising event attended by Pele and a clinic put on by David Beckham. Support FC Harlem.

Goal of the Year– Juan Pablo Angel’s 71st minute goal against the Galaxy at Exit 16 W should have been Goal of the Year in MLS. Check it out and watch it in high quality. Please RBNY, make sure you lockdown Angel for a long time.

Hucles, Angela– I don’t talk much about the women’s game but I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the sisters working it out for the USA. When star forward Abby Wambach went down with an injury before the Olympics started, few gave the US a chance to win the gold. However, Angela Hucles stepped in and delivered, leading the team with four goals during the tournament, including two in the semifinals, to help lead the USA to another Olympic gold. However, Angela was not alone.

Tina Ellertson has become a stalwart on the backline and recently scored her first international goal and UCLA’s Sydney LeRoux earned Golden Shoe (top scorer) and Golden Ball (top player) honors as the USA side won the women’s U-20 World Cup.

Ince, Paul– It’s been some year for Paul Ince. As manager of MK Dons, he guided the team to its first silverware and promotion to the second division of English football (Coca-Cola League). He was rumored to become manager of a host of teams and eventually was hired to run Blackburn Rovers during the summer, becoming the English Premiere League’s first Black manager. Then the bottom fell out. Two key players, including former US International Brad Friedel, left before September was even done and a winless streak left Blackburn in the relegation zone prompting. The club quickly fired him. There were grumblings in the press and amongst fans that he should not have been hired in the first place given his lack of top flight EPL experience and was replaced by a member of England’s old boy network. I’m sure it’ll be a long time before he gets another shot but I hope I’m wrong.

***image21*** Jamaica– 10 years ago, Jamaica was playing in its first World Cup and thought it had established itself as not only the premiere team in the Caribbean but one of the new powers in CONCACAF. Fast forward to today and the Reggae Boyz have sputtered, having been eliminated before the final round of qualifying twice and a row, producing inconsistent results and have seen Trinidad and Tobago qualify for the 2006 World Cup ahead of them. They recently won the Digicel Caribbean Cup but former England great John Barnes had a lot of work on his hands as manager.


KRS1, meet CRON7. Who says Hip Hop has no influence on the Beautiful Game? When asked if he whould win the European and World Player of the Year awards (which he later did), Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo channeled the Blastmaster from “Step in to a World” by saying, “I am the 1st, 2nd and 3rd best players in the world.” YES YES Y’ALL YOU DON’T STOP CRON7. ROCK ONNNNNN!

***image11*** Landon Donovan-Please Landon look both ways before you cross the street. Don’t touch any downed wires. Don’t take any guns into night clubs or ride any ATVs. With the final round of qualification looming and the 2010 World Cup thereafter, America’s most important player and 2008 Honda Award Winner will be counted on the duplicate his 2008 form for club (20 goals, nine assists) and country (3 goals and 5 assists). The US will only go as far as he takes them.

***image7*** Manchester United A Big big year for the Red Devils. Riding the sparkling form of Critiano Ronald (see above) the brilliant central defensive partnership of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic and mix of newcomers and veterans, United outlasted Chelsea on the final day of season to claim its second consective English Premiership title. Twe weeks later they won the European Champions League for the first time since their memorable 1999 triumph beating Chelsea again on penalties after a 1-1 draw. From there it was to Japan where they won a 5-3 shootout against Gamba Osaka and overcame a second half red card to Vidic to win on a Wayne Rooney goal to claim it’s first Club World Cup

***image16*** Nevels, James– In major American sports we hear continue to lament the lack of minority owners. Yet after Victor MacFarlane became one of the co-heads of the ownership of DC United (which also includes former Duke basketball star Brian Davis) Jim Nevels, president of the Swarthmore Group has become one of the major figures with the as of yet unnamed new MLS franchise in Philadelphia to begin play in 2010. For those of you counting, that’s MLS 2, MLB 0.

***image14*** Obama, Barack-The President-Elect’s love of basketball is well documented. But the President Obama also has love for the world’s most popular sport and is probably the world’s most powerful fan of EPL side West Ham United. How brilliant would it be for him to show up at a World Cup Qualifier?

***image18*** Pacem, in Requiem– We said good bye to couple of legends. Emmanuel “Ti Manno” Sannon, who scored a stunning at the 1974 World Cup for Haiti against Dino Zoff and Italy, passed away this year. The goal which briefly gave Haiti the lead in a match they would eventually lose 3-1, was voted the Goal of the tournament and the greatest sporting moment in Haiti’s history. Journalist Pierre Boisrond, who appeared as a guest on Back of the Net, spoke about Sannon’s goal and his tireless commitment to uplift Haitian football. To this day, Haitian kids still recite the play by play of the Haitian announcer.

***image20***We also lost Giles “Gil” Heron, the first Black player to appear for legendary Scottish club Glasgow Celtic. Nicknamed the Black Arrow, the Kingston born, Canadian raised Heron scored on his Celtic debut but was unable to command a regular spot and returned to the Detroit area. If you’re familiar with the term “The Revolution Will Not be Televised” then you know who his son is.

***image13*** Quito, Liga de– LDQ made history this year becoming the first Ecuadorian team to capture the Copa Libertadores (S. American club championship) and bringing the first international football title of any kind to Ecuador. They beat Brazillian side Fluminese 3-1 on penalties after a 5-5 aggregate score and gave Manchester United all they could handle before losing 1-0 in the Club World Cup final.

Racism– Normally the most visible elements of soccer racism have been crowds booing or making money noises at Black players in Europe. Unfortunately, this foolishness found its way to MLS when Kheli Dube scored at a goal at Columbus and was promptly called a niqqer by Columbus fan. The incident found its way to YouTube where it became the talk of MLS for about a week. The guy who did this was an absolute infidel but the people who failed to identify him or turned such discussions into a larger one about streamers being thrown at MLS matches infuriated me even more.

***image17*** Spain-Finally, Spain threw off years of frustrated failures (choking) at big tournaments to capture its first major title since 1964 by defeating Germany in the final of this year’s Euro2008. Featuring a complete stylistic lineup, the Spanish side only truly tested in the quarterfinals by Italy and destroyed an improved Russia side in the semis. The tournament, as a whole, was one of the most exciting in recent memory, featuring some incredible comebacks and competitive matches. But on the whole, Spain were deserving winners.

***image23*** Tim Howard-Got my vote for Honda Player of the Year and was rightly named the US Soccer Male Athlete of the Year. Currently playing in England with Everton has given Howard all of the confidence and swagger in the world and it showed through the tremendous year he had for the United States in goal. He literally shut the door on Argentina during the friendly played at Exit 16W and more importantly made some key saves during the World Cup qualifiers against Guatemala and Cuba that helped the United States win matches they might have ordinarily either tied or lost. Forget Allstate, we’re in good hands with Timmay in goal.

***image15*** USA-An interesting year for the Stars and Stripes. The US cruised through the first two rounds of World Cup Qualifying, destroying Barbados in a home and away and dropping only one match away to Trinidad and Tobago after qualifying for the final round. That much was expected. What wasn’t expected was how overwhelmed they looked playing against England Spain and Argentina. Though they improved with each match and tieed 0-0 with Argentina, they didnt’ look dangerous on offense at all. The US is expected to qualify for the World Cup but whether they can play with the best in the world and make a deep run in the tournament is clearly unanswerable at this time. But first things first: the final round of qualifying begins in February in Columbus against arch-rivals Mexico.


***image19*** Woodward, Robert-Another guest on Back of the Net, look out for Rob Woodward’s book “Black People Don’t Play Soccer” exploring the dynamics that have kept Black Americans from embracing the Beautiful Game.

Xpansion (I know it starts with an E, you didn’t want another X-Clan reference did you?). Expansion has been a hot topic in MLS with Philadelphia being awarded a team, Seattle Sounders FC signing its first players and luring Sigi Schmid away from the champion Columbus Crew, and major steps being taken in Miami. Other cities have been in the running such as Vancouver, St. Louis and Montreal and Portland. MLS Commissioner Don Garber (AKA the Don) has stated he wants to eventualy have 18 teams.

Yoder, Earlina-There are people who talk about greater inclusion for minorities in American soccer. Then there are people like BAck of the Net guest, Earline Yoder who simply go about doing it. Tired of seeing a dearth of young Black girls playing soccer and being tracked towards basketball and track, she started Off The Bench, to increase the visibility of the game amongst Black girls throughcamps and clinics in partnership with organizations like Soccer Camps of America and schools such as the University of North Carolina, home of the most successful women’s soccer program in America. With role models such as the aforementioned Angela Hucles, Tina Ellerton and Sydney LeRoux and visionaries like Yoder, the growth of the game amongst all Black people has found yet another avenue.

***image10*** Zaki, Amr-One of the stars of Egypt’s Cup of Nations triumph, he has parlayed his hot international form into a successful loan stretch with EPL side Wigan Athletic. His play has led him to be included on some journalists’ All-EPL teams of the first half the season and garnered the attention of top teams who are looking to buy him outright from Egyptian club side Zamalek. Most Egyptian players opt to play domestically but the success of players like Zaki and Mido will certainly have European scouts checking making some offers that might give cause for consideration.

Well, it’s the end of another year. I want to thank BASN for allowing me to give a Grown Man’s Opinion about the game I’ve come to love so much. My soccer wish for the coming year is for you to get out play and support this great game.