Los Angeles Soccer: Caroline Seger
What we learned from FIFA's Ballon d'Or festivities Monday night in Zurich: Mongolians love Abby Wambach.
The Hermosa Beach-based striker picked up eight first-place votes in the Women's Player of the Year contest, and two came from Mongolian women's national team head coach Ganjuur Bayartsogt and captain Sugar Bayar.
It wasn't nearly enough to halt former L.A. Sol star Marta's romp to her fifth successive world's-best honor: The Brazilian forward, who led FC Gold Pride to Women's Professional Soccer's title and is now playing in Brazil for Santos, captured 151 of 266 first-place votes from 119 coaches, 121 captains and 26 media. She failed to make the top three on on only 52 ballots, and on two of those -- both from Brazil -- she was ineligible.
Argentina's Lionel Messi won the men's World Player of the Year award for the second straight year, beating Barcelona teammates Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The coaches of the year were Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho, who last spring guided Inter Milan to the UEFA Champions League title, and Germany women's national team coach Silvia Neid.
More interesting than who won is how everyone voted. FIFA won't make public the executive committee members' choices on a World Cup host, but every Player of the Year vote is online, both men and women.
U.S. men's captain Carlos Bocanegra (Alta Loma/Alta Loma HS and UCLA) voted Xavi first, Iniesta second and Dutch midfielder Wesley Sneijder (Inter Milan) third.
U.S. coach Bob Bradley (Manhattan Beach) went with, in order, Xavi, Sneijder and Messi.
There's always a “Group of Death” in any FIFA competition, or so it seems, and that group at next summer's Women's World Cup in Germany belongs to the U.S.
And to Germany. And to Brazil.
There are three “death” groups in this year's field, product of the rapid growth of women's soccer outside the traditional strongholds of the U.S., Germany, Scandinavia and the Far East.
The Americans, seeded Sunday atop Group C, welcomed North Korea, Colombia and Sweden into their quartet during Monday's WWC draw in Frankfurt. That's three legitimate contenders (for at least semifinal berths) for just two spots in the eight-team knockout bracket. And we'll see about Colombia.
And it gets worse: A quarterfinal awaits with Brazil or Australia or Norway (and we'll see about Equatorial Guinea), and the likeliest semifinal foe are the Germans, prohibitive favorites to win their third successive WWC.