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.
Hermosa Beach's Abby Wambach is a finalist for FIFA's Ballon d'Or women's player-of-the-year honor, joining former L.A. Sol forward Marta and Japan's Homare Sawa, who has starred in both U.S. pro league's, among the top three.
Wambach, 31, was the catalyst for the United States' run to the Women's World Cup final last summer in Germany, scoring four goals, and she led the U.S. with eight goals in 2011. She also won Women's Professional Soccer's scoring title with 11 goals in 11 games, finishing the campaign as player-coach for magicJack, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based club that last month was expelled from the league.
The big forward has in 165 international appearances scored 125 goals, fourth all-time internationally (behind Mia Hamm's 158, Kristine Lilly's 130 and German forward Birgit Prinz's 128).
Wambach, who is from Rochester, N.Y., has finished in the top five four times but never higher than fourth.
Marta, the Brazilian star who helped the Western New York Flash to the WPS title, has won the honor the past five years, deservedly on most occasions, and is again the likely victor. National team coaches and captains and select international media vote for the FIFA awards, and with so little women's soccer readily available on television or online -- unlike the men's game -- reputation carries more weight in the process.
U.S. coach Pia Sundhage is a repeat Coach of the Year finalist, joined by France's Bruno Bini and Japan's Norio Sasaki, the favorite after a surprise Women's World Cup triumph.
The finalist for the men's player-of-the-year honor are Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid and Argentine forward Lionel Messi and Spanish midfielder Xavi of Barcelona. Messi has won the last two years.
Men's Coach of the Year finalists are Manchester United's Alex Ferguson, Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and Real Madrid's Jose Mourinho. Finalists for the Puskas Award, for “most beautiful goal,” are Messi, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney and Santos' Neymar.
Winners will be announced at a Jan. 9 gala in Zurich.
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.
Women's soccer's finest talent will remain in Women's Professional Soccer. Marta, the Brazilian forward who was MVP and scoring champion in WPS' first two seasons, reached agreement Tuesday with the expansion Western New York Flash for the final year of her reported three-year, $1.5 million deal with the league.
Marta, who has won FIFA's World Player of the Year award the past five years, scored 10 goals to lead the L.A. Sol to the 2009 regular-season title and a berth in the championship game, then scored 19 as Bay Area-based FC Gold Pride won the WPS title last year. The Sol disbanded last January, and Gold Pride folded in November.
The Flash, which as the Buffalo Flash won the USL W-League title last year, previously acquired former Gold Pride defenders Ali Riley (Pacific Palisades/Harvard-Westlake School), Candace Chapman and Kandace Wilson (Los Angeles/Walnut HS and Cal State Fullerton), midfielder Becky Edwards, and forward Christine Sinclair.
The club also has picked up Swedish national team captain Caroline Seger, U.S. national-teamers Yael Averbuch and Ashlyn Harris, as well as midfielder McCall Zerboni (San Clemente/San Clemente HS and UCLA) and defender Whitney Engen (Rolling Hills Estates/Peninsula HS). It made Diamond Bar's Alex Morgan (Diamond Bar HS) the top pick in the Jan. 14 WPS draft.
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.
- Stories/No. 7: Sol starts a trend
The L.A. Sol set the standard in Women's Professional Soccer's inaugural campaign in almost every regard, with the league's most professional organization, the most sponsorship and merchandising revenue, the best fan experience (in the league's best stadium) -- and, especially, on the field.
Rodrigo Coca/Getty ImagesThe Sol's lone season was a memorable one because it included Brazilian star Marta.
The team would never play another game. The team folded on Jan. 28 after negotiations with a potential new ownership group fell apart.
It began a trend in the league, and not a good one. Saint Louis Athletica, which posted the second-best regular-season record in year one, dissolved just six weeks into the 2010 campaign, and Bay Area-based FC Gold Pride -- winner of the 2010 title with Marta and Boxx leading arguably the finest women's team ever assembled -- packed up shop in November.
A month later, the Chicago Red Stars went on hiatus, with plans to return in 2012. The Washington Freedom, the lone survivor from the late, great 2001-03 Women's United Soccer Association, nearly went under, too.
What's left? A six-team league, entirely on the East Coast for 2011. The San Francisco-based front office has been all but scuttled, and survival remains uncertain, perhaps unlikely. Yet there are groups angling to join in 2012 and beyond, including one that wants to put a team in Orange County.
The Sol lost somewhere around $3 million in 2009. Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owned half the team and paid about 90 percent of the bills, pulled out -- as planned, it turned out -- after the first season, and Blue Star LLC, a partnership that included L.A. Blues owner Ali Mansouri and Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia, couldn't afford to run things on its own.
The league took control of the club in November 2009 and had a new owner, never identified, all but signed, sealed and delivered. That owner pulled out in mid-January, and the Sol was dead a week later.
First thought upon seeing the finalists for FIFA's Ballon d'Or award: Where's Wesley Sneijder?
Three very deserving Barcelona stars -- midfielders Andres Iniesta and Xavi, the most prominent figures in Spain's World Cup triumph, and Argentine forward Lionel Messi, the world's biggest star -- are up for the honor, called FIFA World Player of the Year before it merged with France Football magazine's legendary Ballon d'Or (or “Golden Ball” award for the top European star.
Marta, Women's Professional Soccer's two-time MVP, is up for the women's Ballon d'Or, and U.S. coach Pia Sundhage is a finalist for women's Coach of the Year.
Messi, who won FIFA's and France Football's awards last year after finishing second in FIFA's balloting the two previous years, scored 47 goals in 53 appearances for Spanish champs Barca during the 2009-10 season and has 25 in 20 games this season. He did not score during the World Cup in South Africa but was nonetheless among the event's finest attacking players.
Xavi provided the foundation of Spain's World Cup triumph, combining with Iniesta to create the mobile, quick-passing attack so key to the victory.
Sneijder should be there, too, probably in place of Iniesta. The Dutch midfielder led Inter Milan to its fifth straight Italian Serie A title and to the UEFA Champions League crown, then was the pivotal player as Holland reached the World Cup final. Inter's poor start to this campaign might have harmed his candidacy.
And it's a crime.
We get so much soccer on TV these days -- every MLS game, with the right package; every game from Mexico's Primera Division; dozens of matches from England, Spain, Italy, Germany and France each week; regular telecasts of Australia's A-League; UEFA Champions League; CONCACAF Champions League; Copa Libertadores and Copa Sudamericana from South America; Uruguayan, Argentine, Brazilian and Colombian league play; national team matches from around the globe; and, of course, wall-to-wall coverage of the World Cup -- that it's easy to forget what it was like 30 or 35 years ago, when PBS's “Star Soccer” trimmed an English game of the week (usually involving Liverpool) to an hour, “Soccer Made in Germany” made Cologne fans of us with a weekly broadcast on Channel 22, and Univision offered a slow-paced clash each Sunday from what was a most substandard Mexican League. We could watch the NASL final each summer on ABC's “Wide World of Sports.”
The U.S. women were the biggest thing in America 11 years ago, when the Women's World Cup enthralled the country and Hamm and Co. toppled a superior Chinese side on penalties in a packed Rose Bowl. Now, not so much.
Hamm has retired. Brandi Chastain, whose bra-baring celebration of that title triumph over China, was the iconic moment of '99, is strictly an amateur now. Michelle Akers is better known as a horsewoman than as the greatest of all female players. Mission Viejo's Julie Foudy (Mission Viejo HS) is a television commentator. Huntington Beach's Joy Fawcett (Edison HS) is, primarily, a mom.
Aside from forward Abby Wambach (Hermosa Beach) and goalkeeper Hope Solo, no U.S. women's player possesses star power. Nobody in the American game can match Brazilian superstar Marta. There are some outstanding U.S. players, but none have caught the imagination of the public -- and none aside from Solo have offered much in the way of personality.
Western New York's expansion team in Women's Professional Soccer is getting started with a local player. Moreno Valley's Beverly Goebel (Moreno Valley HS) was one of the two players the Buffalo/Rochester-based club selected Friday in the league's expansion draft.
Goebel, a midfielder who played collegiately at Sacramento State and Miami, saw action in 16 games (starting nine) with one goal during her rookie season this year with the Washington Freedom.
The Flash, which won the United Soccer Leagues' W-League title but must remake its roster in stepping up to the WPS, took Atlanta Beat defender Kaley Fountain with the first pick. After selecting Goebel, they passed -- there were only 19 players available -- and will fill their roster through the college draft and in a deep pool of free agents.
A bid by a group headquartered in the Bay Area to bring FC Gold Pride to Orange County fell through, but Women's Professional Soccer could be headed to Southern California soon. Perhaps real soon.
A meeting of the group's chief investors and strategists is scheduled Friday, and on the agenda is discussion whether to wait until 2012 to start a WPS franchise -- the likeliest option -- or make a play to bring in a team next season.
WPS announced Tuesday that it had six clubs, all on the East Coast, lined up for its 2011 campaign and was giving the Chicago Red Stars another month to secure the necessary funding to continue. Gold Pride, which scorched the competition en route to the championship in the league's second season, folded Tuesday, and its players -- including Brazilian superstar Marta -- became free agents.
Gold Pride's potential survival, with a move likely to Cal State Fullerton's Titan Stadium, fell apart apparently over financial matters, although a league official offered no such reasons during a teleconference Wednesday.
"We did have several conversations with a group, a couple of groups in Los Angeles and Orange County, [about trying] to take over Gold Pride," said T. Fitz Johnson, owner and CEO of WPS's Atlanta Beat, chairman of the league's board of governors and head of the league's expansion committee. "We just couldn't get over the hump of getting everybody on the same page in time for 2011."
Shannon Boxx is looking for a new home. FC Gold Pride, which the imposing midfielder from the South Bay helped to Women's Professional Soccer's title in September, disbanded Tuesday after failing to find the investment required to continue.
The Bay Area-based team follows the L.A. Sol and Saint Louis Athletica into oblivion. The Sol folded last January and Saint Louis' demise arrived seven weeks into the 2010 season. Boxx was on both clubs' rosters when they disbanded.
An effort by a group of investors to purchase part or all of Gold Pride and move the club to Orange County fell through. The group is one of two in Southern California seeking a WPS franchise for 2011.
Gold Pride, which played in Santa Clara in 2009 and in Hayward last year, put together the most impressive collection of talent the women's game has seen and posted a 16-3-5 record, finishing 17 points ahead of second-place Boston. The club routed Philadelphia, 4-0, in the title game.
The roster starred Brazilian superstar Marta -- the two-time WPS MVP -- Canadian striker Christine Sinclair and Boxx (Redondo Beach/South Torrance HS), plus WPS Rookie of the Year Ali Riley (Pacific Palisades/Harvard-Westlake School). Other local players were forward Kiki Bosio (Mission Viejo/Santa Margarita Catholic HS and Capistrano Valley HS), defender Kandace Wilson (Los Angeles/Walnut HS and Cal State Fullerton) and midfielder Rosie Tantillo (USC).
All of the U.S. players, several of the Canadians and a couple of the Mexicans are keeping an eye on what's going on with Women's Professional Soccer. Champion FC Gold Pride and the Washington Freedom, a Women's United Soccer Association survivor that is the only team to reach the WPS playoffs in both seasons, are desperately seeking investment to stay alive.
A report over the weekend that both teams would fold Monday was premature, but the possibility they'll become the third and fourth teams in the second pro U.S. league to disband isn't remote by any means. Gold Pride GM Ilisa Kessler on Monday told the San Jose Mercury News that “it's do-or-die week for us.” Freedom president Mark Washo was quoted in The Washington Post: “We're approaching the 90th [minute], hoping for extra time.”