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Top 5 Highlights of American Soccer in 2009

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.

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  1. Scott

    January 9, 2010 at 1:56 pm

    To me the biggest news: 3D sports is being rolled out for the World Cup and not the Super Bowl.

    (Also, I could not disagree more with Cavan. I am only a casual American Football fan, and I find NCAA much more interesting than the NFL because I have some sense of who is supposed to be good each year. Every time you blink it seems like some new NFL team is the best. Might as well be watching rock-paper-scissors.)

  2. Charles

    January 7, 2010 at 11:38 am

    They already do revenue sharing and it worked.

    The league was very competitive and very exciting. Teams like Seattle and LA had owners that made a ton of money. That caused many more owners to want take some risk for possible rewards.

    It is really hard for me, watching the Sounders draw closer to 40k next year, thinking Columbus isn’t getting their act together. Sure their playoff attn stunk, but the rest of the season the whole league drew pretty close to 15k ( outside of KC ).

  3. Reece

    January 7, 2010 at 12:30 am

    With revenue sharing the ‘big 5′ could support the rest of the teams until they decided to pull their heads out of their asses and actually compete. It would be a great idea. TFC, SEA, NYRB, DC, LA, and Houston could easily do this while KC and SJ built stadiums and revamped. Dallas and Columbus get your freakin’ acts together some of us would like to move forward.

  4. Cavan

    January 6, 2010 at 5:05 pm

    You want a “powerhouse team?” There’s a reason why I hate pro baseball and it’s not just because it’s boring. The fundamental entertainment option a pro sports league sells is fair competition. Anything less than fair competition is boring. Might as well watch pro wrestling instead. At least they acknowledge their results are predetermined.

    A league with rich teams and poor teams starts to feel less and less like fair competition and more like WWE. You can guess who will win most games by how much money the team spent on the roster. It’s just not fun. It will turn off prospective fans.

    Not only will an unbalanced league (money-wise) be boring, it will also be fiscally unstable. Be careful what you wish for, Sounder Steve. It’s great that the Sounders had such high attendence this year. Remember the reasons why there was even a league that was still around in 2009 for the Sounders to join.

  5. Charles

    January 6, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    I can see having powerhouse teams, I just wonder if there will be a league to have the powerhouse teams participate in.

    The Cosmos aren’t around anymore for a reason. The teams in the EPL not paying salaries right can be replaced, an MLS team cannot.

  6. Sounder Steve

    January 6, 2010 at 12:56 pm

    Take em all.
    Watch them fall

    Considering that Microsoft gave them so much money to put the tarps up, I think it’s plenty safe to say sell-out. I am leaning on the players side of the CBA, and I hope to see some flexibilty in the future so our large crowds can translate into great talent signing in the states (more specifically in Seattle)

    Some people don’t like the idea of “powerhouse” teams, but it works. US Soccer would be looked at more if we were taking out top teams down to S.A and beating some Argentinian and Brazilian teams, even just the Mexicans!! I’m all for a Seattle, LA, Toronto, NY, Houston big 5!!!!!!

  7. Juan-John

    January 6, 2010 at 10:48 am

    “When a scrappy team like Real Salt Lake can claw their way”

    . . . and then what??? Dude, as awesome as this site is (and I sincerely mean that), you SERIOUSLY need to run a spell/grammar check before posting your stuff.

    • Brian Zygo

      January 6, 2010 at 2:12 pm

      Thank you, a couple lines got cut out in the process of publishing the column.

  8. Charles

    January 6, 2010 at 9:45 am

    “The Crowds in Seattle:”

    Thank you, you are now my favorite and I am offering you the free game ticket to the Sounders over Kartik, who took to long to accept the offer.

    If you don’t include the story of the Sounders as one of the tops, you need your head examined. If every team was averaging 30-40k, attracting the average sports fan, this league would soon be the tops in the world as that would balloon to 60k very quickly when the talent started getting signed.

  9. Oscar

    January 6, 2010 at 1:54 am

    WTF, pro Sounders items? Oh, my bad, thought you were Kartik.

    I spent many a late night this year reliving moments and pondering futures for soccer at multiple levels of competition. Nail-biters, meaningful victories and meaningful defeats all over kept me and my fellow pub-dwellers riveted. Maybe I’ve still got energy because my club of choice (Sounders) are still bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. Nonetheless, it seems like a lot of establishment commentators are stuck in the mentality of 1. US soccer is growing too slowly and failing in multiple areas, and 2. We must defend US soccer’s fine, proud, pessimistic tradition of failing and growing slowly.

    Cheers for a pretty accurate “best of” list, IMHO.

  10. USA 2010 (formerly known as Kartik)

    January 5, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    EVEN Chris Johnson? Who the eff is he? More like Chad Ochocinco. But who cares if they’re tweeting? It certain hasn’t helped put soccer as a sport that is discussed on tv and in newspapers instead of repeating AP reports verbatim.

    • Matthew N

      January 6, 2010 at 7:48 am

      You know, my momma told me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, you shouldn’t say it at all. In your case, you should probably just stop posting altogether.

    • Charles

      January 6, 2010 at 9:48 am

      You might want to pick up a sports section once in a while, he lead the NFL in rushing.

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