Tuesday, December 28, 2010
2010: End of a dream ... and the Boss' finest hour
By Scott French
Our countdown of 2010's top 10 soccer stories and newsmakers -- from a Southern California slant -- continues.
- Stories/No. 4: Dead dreams of 2022
The best-attended, most lucrative World Cup occurred 16½ years ago in a country that didn't know nor care about international soccer. Well, at least not as much as nearly everywhere else in the world.
The 1994 tournament was a starting point of sorts for everything American soccer fans today take for granted: Games from around the world on TV at all hours, summer treks to these parts by the biggest clubs in the world, a capable and competitive national team, an army of likeminded fanatics (and millions more who follow the sport casually).
|The United States lost the 2022 World Cup bid to the small middle eastern nation of Qatar.|
The Rose Bowl, of course, figured prominently in '94 (a record 94,194 were on hand to watch Brazil beat Italy on penalties in the final), and again in 1999, when the Women's World Cup caused a sensation around America (and 90,185 squeezed into the venerable stadium to watch the U.S. beat China on penalties in the final).
Oh, how we were looking forward to bringing the world back to L.A. -- to all of America -- again in 2022. And it appeared a sure thing after U.S. Soccer bid to stage the tournament again (initially, the bid was for 2018 or 2022), with a proposal that featured the world's best stadiums (Cowboys Stadium outside Dallas, New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey), the most complete infrastructure and support from dignitaries from nearly ever walk of life.
The Rose Bowl, again, was part of the proposal, but one of the proposed new NFL stadiums, in downtown L.A. or out in Walnut, appeared the likely home for games in 2022 -- and possibly the final.
But FIFA runs on different ideas than we do, and its executive committee has members from every continent, and not all of them necessarily impressed by American know-how. Money talks and backroom politics dictate the walk, and so by the time Dec. 2 -- the date of the vote at FIFA's Zurich headquarters -- rolled around, the whispers had Qatar, a tiny Middle East nation with tons of cash (but no soccer heritage to speak of) the likely choice.
The U.S. bid had been praised for everything except governmental support -- a trifle, really; both houses of Congress had passed resolutions of support, President Obama was pushing for it, and former President Clinton was part of the final presentation. Qatar's bid was the only proposal weighed as insufficient by FIFA's inspection committee.
So … the rumors couldn't be true, right? Wrong. Qatar won the vote in a virtual landslide, spurring accusations that votes were purchased and recommendations that the event be held in winter, when the searing desert heat isn't so deadly. No matter, that's where we're headed in 2022.
As for America and the Rose Bowl -- or L.A.'s new NFL stadium, wherever it may be: We can hope for 2026.
- Newsmakers/No. 4: Bruce Arena
Like him or don't -- and nearly as many don't as do -- there's no denying that Bruce Arena can build a winning soccer team like nobody else in the U.S.
We've seen him win everywhere: At the University of Virginia (five NCAA titles in six years), with D.C. United (the first two MLS Cup titles), and with the U.S. national team (with, especially, that quarterfinal run in 2002).
|He wins. It's pretty simple. Bruce Arena, standing with the smiling David Beckham, can and does build winners.|
So it's saying something to suggest that Arena did his best job of coaching in 2010.
The 59-year-old New Yorker's work rebuilding the Galaxy following its 2006-08 fiasco has been phenomenal. Upon taking charge in August 2008, he began turning over the roster, bringing in veterans and talented youngsters, all with the kind of character required for winning.
L.A.'s run to the MLS Cup final in 2009 was unexpected, and Arena was honored as the league's Coach of the Year. The Galaxy's success this year might not have been so surprising, but Arena expertly kept his team atop the standings despite on-field struggles (a fallow stretch that lasted at least three months), off-field troubles (mostly injuries and mystery ailments) and while building a young backline into one of the league's finest units.
The Galaxy weren't the best team in MLS -- probably weren't among the top three -- but they won the Supporters' Shield (as regular-season champion), dominated Seattle in the opening round of the playoffs (with Arena dominating Sounders coach Sigi Schmid tactically) and likely would have been playing for their third MLS title if not for Kevin Hartman's heroics in FC Dallas' nets during the Western Conference final.
Arena, who was inducted in the National Soccer Hall of Fame last summer, has been called arrogant (and far worse), but he's unquestionably the best soccer coach this country has produced, and the Galaxy can count on contending for trophies as long as he's at the helm.
No. 5: Would-be hero … and Chivas USA's disaster
No. 6: Big breakthroughs … and So Cal in South Africa
No. 7: Sol sets … and Chivas USA's boss
No. 8: Fantastic frosh … and the coach's son
No. 9: A royal visit … and Charlie Naimo's rough year
No. 10: College soccer's big stars … and expansion