Los Angeles Soccer: Leo Cuellar
U.S. women's national team star Abby Wambach and head coach Pia Sundhage will have to be content with being finalists for FIFA's major women's honors.
Japan, as expected, swept the women's awards at FIFA's Ballon d'Or gala Monday night in Zurich, with Homare Sawa claiming the player-of-the-year honor and Norio Sasaki winning as best coach after their surprise triumph at last summer's Women's World Cup in Germany.
Sawa, 33, has extensive experience in the U.S., playing all three seasons in the Women's United Soccer Association for the Atlanta Beat and the first two years in Women's Professional Soccer for the defunct Washington Freedom. She also played in the W-League in the late 1990s.
Wambach, 31, who has a home in Hermosa Beach, finished third for the player award after leading the U.S. to the WWC title game. Former L.A. Sol star Marta, 25, a Brazilian playmaker who helped the Western New York Flash to the WPS title last year, was second in the balloting. She won the award the previous five years.
Hope Solo finished fifth, and Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar/Diamond Bar HS) was eighth.
Sundhage finished second in the coach-of-the-year finalist vote. Former Cal State L.A. coach Leo Cuellar, who guides Mexico's women, was ninth.
Barcelona star Lionel Messi won the FIFA World Player honor for men for the third straight year, and his coach, Pep Guardiola, won the coaching award.
FIFA on Tuesday unveiled finalists for its women's Ballon d'Or award -- for global player of the year -- and it includes some of the usual suspects, five-time winner Marta and Japanese star Homare Sawa and star U.S. striker Abby Wambach.
Plus Alex Morgan.
The 22-year-old forward from Diamond Bar, who has emerged in the past year and a half as a force for the U.S. women's national team and played a key role in the Americans' run to last summer's Women's World Cup title game, joins teammates Wambach and Hope Solo among 10 finalists for FIFA's top individual honor.
Morgan (Diamond Bar HS) started just two of 16 games she played for the U.S. in 2011, but she's second on the team, with Wambach and former UCLA star Lauren Cheney, with five goals -- despite playing far fewer minutes, just 589, than anyone else with at least three goals. (Carli Lloyd's six goals leads the U.S. this year.)
She tallied twice off the bench during the Americans' stay in Germany -- in the semifinal victory over France and the final against Japan, which was lost on penalties -- and has scored nine times in 24 international appearances since making her debut in March 2010.
Wambach, who has a home in Hermosa Beach, and Solo are likelier to place in the top three, of course, and Marta has a stronghold on the award. Balloting is conducted among national team coaches and captains, and with so little of the women's game available on television or Internet feeds -- in great contrast to the men's game -- the honor has seemingly always been about reputation more than performance.
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.
Their link goes far deeper than that.
Sanchez was a midfield creator and Gonzalez a backline anchor for Cal State L.A.'s men's team in the early 1990s -- a breeding ground, it turns out, for outstanding coaches.
They're among several Golden Eagles from the era, all prodigies of former Mexican national-teamer Leo Cuellar, who have gone on to guide title-winning teams, and the jobs they've done this year -- no matter what occurs this weekend -- have been among their best.
Sanchez returned just five players from last year's champions for what was supposed to be a "restructuring" campaign. His Mounties are 17-1-4, ranked second in the state and fourth in the nation, and one victory -- Friday morning at 10 against Northern California's West Valley College (16-4-2) -- from an opportunity to defend their title on Sunday.
Gonzalez's Falcons (22-1-2) have more experience but are somewhat of an underdog, forced to knock off the nation's Nos. 1 and 3 teams to reach the final four. They're no favorite at Canyons, either: NorCal powerhouse Santa Rosa (17-0-5), the state's lone unbeaten side, is their foe in Friday's 4 p.m. semifinal.
The other games: Canyons (16-5-2) vs. Fresno City (15-4-3) in a men's semi at 1 p.m., and San Bernardino Valley (17-1-3) vs. Fresno City (19-2-2) in a women's clash at 7 p.m.