Los Angeles Soccer: Xavi
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.
The climax of the European soccer season comes Saturday when Manchester United and Barcelona, two of the game's real giants, face off for the second time in three seasons in the UEFA Champions League final at Wembley.
It's a classic matchup, pitting Barcelona's gorgeous possession-heavy attack -- fueled by Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta, three of the game's most fertile stars -- against Manchester United's rugged explosiveness that features Wayne Rooney and Mexican star Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez.
No matter the result, Barca will continue to be thought of as the finest side on the planet -- nobody's really all that close -- and Man United will be considered overachievers if they can accomplish what they couldn't two years ago in Rome.
In that one, Samuel Eto'o and Messi scored in a 2-0 victory for the Catalans, who claimed their third title, equal to Manchester United.
Nobody on this continent will be watching as closely as Galaxy midfielder David Beckham, who grew up in Man United's youth system, played a decade with its first team and pulled on a Red Devils jersey earlier this week for Gary Neville's testimonial at Old Trafford.
Beckham, as they say, is a Red through and through.
“Barcelona are such a great team,” he said. “They're the best team of this generation, such great player, great experience. … But if anyone can beat Barcelona, Sir Alex Ferguson knows how to do it.”
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.
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.