As promised last week, here are my highlights from 2009 in American Soccer, in no particular order:
U.S. National Team Beats Spain in Confederations Cup Semi-Finals:
On June 24, 2009, in the Semi-Finals of the Confederations Cup, the U.S. National Team, which barely advanced out of the group stage, managed a stunning 2-0 victory over Spain, the winners of Euro 2008. Going into this match, Spain was sitting in the top place in the FIFA rankings and was looking to keep alive its 35 match unbeaten streak. Spain ended up making the biggest mistake a team can make in International football, they underestimated their opponent, while the United States came into the match determined to get a victory. Jozy Altidore picked up the US’s first goal in the 27th minute, giving his team the lead going into halftime. In the 74th minute, Landon Donovan crossed the ball to Clint Dempsey who scored the US’s second goal, sealing their victory over Spain. By playing 90 minutes of aggressive, focused football on June 24, 2009 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, the United States showed it can beat one of the best teams in the world.
Real Salt Lake 2009 MLS Cup Champions:
When the Los Angeles Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo, 2-0, during extra time in the Western Conference Final, it must have been a dream come true for Don Garber and other executives in the MLS front office. Finally, David Beckham would be featured in a MLS Cup Championship match. While the folks at MLS most likely wanted Chicago to advance to the Cup match too, I doubt they complained much when Real Salt Lake beat advanced by beating Chicago on penalty kicks. Real Salt Lake was the last seed into the MLS playoffs and it was likely that they would crash and burn in the Cup, the way New York did in 2008 after a similar run through the playoffs. To add to the excitement, David Beckham’s first appearance in the MLS Cup would occur in Seattle where ticket sales were brisk, so the Cup was setting up to be a great way for MLS to showcase itself to the foreign press that would show up because of Beckham. In front of 46,011, Mike Magee got a goal for the Galaxy in the 41st minute, giving his team the lead going into the half. Galaxy held firm until Robbie Findley picked up the equalizer for Real Salt Lake in the 64th minute. In the end, Nick Rimando played hero for Salt Lake and spoiler for Los Angeles by ably defending the goal during penalty kicks. When a scrappy team like Real Salt Lake can claw their way to becoming MLS Champions, beating the previous year’s champions and the so-called “Super Club” of their league, you know there is something special about the playoffs. They might not have playoffs in the top flight leagues in Europe, but in a league like MLS, where there is no relegation system, the playoffs that extra spark of excitement that makes fans look forward to next season.
Summer of Soccer:
The summer of 2009 was anointed the Summer of Soccer thanks to the Confederations Cup, the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the World Football Challenge, and the MLS 2009 Regular season. The summer provided a plethora of soccer for the soccer fan in the United States, bringing out thousands of fans to stadiums across the country to witness great soccer at many levels.
The Crowds in Seattle:
Technically, the crowds at Qwest Field for the Seattle Sounders’ home games were not true sell-outs since large portions of the stadium were tarped off, but the newest club to join MLS brought the fans out in droves. For the Sounders’ inaugural match, which was aired on ESPN2, 32,523 football fans showed up to watch Seattle beat New York, 3-0. For the rest of the season Seattle averaged 30,943 fans per match, a new MLS record.
United States v. Brazil in Confederations Cup Final:
Yes, I know the United States lost this match 3-2, after going up 2-0 in the first half, but what was important about this match was how much attention it garnered from the mainstream sports media and sports fans across the United States. Going into this match, there was a certain sense of anticipation, across the board, that I had never seen prior to a US match. Sports talk radio stations that all but ignored soccer were talking about this match, ESPN’s coverage was amped up, and even Tennessee Titan’s running back Chris Johnson, who rushed for over 2000 yards this season, was tweeting about the match. The US had a rough start to the Confederations Cup, but in the end it proved a good tournament for increasing interest in the Beautiful Game here in the States.