New Year, Same Beautiful Game

By Jeff Kassouf

As the year 2008 comes to a close, there are many things to look back on and appreciate in the soccer world. At the same time, it allows for the New Year’s resolutions to be implemented, and for some very necessary changes to come. Here is a recap of eight things to be thankful for as an American soccer fan in 2008, and nine necessary resolutions in 2009.

Some of the best things to happen in American soccer in 2008:

8) First, give some credit to the women’s game. The United States Women’s National Team brought home the gold medal from the Beijing Summer Olympics and did so in a convincing manner. The squad looked sharper than it has in years and somewhat atoned for its second straight third place finish in the 2007 Women’s World Cup. Now, the 2011 World Cup will be the biggest test in reestablishing the U.S. as the world’s top team.

7) Rio Tinto Stadium opened in October, giving Real Salt Lake its own place. More importantly, the boys from Utah finally got off of that dreadful astroturf at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Though it may have served as a home field advantage for unsuspecting visiting teams, it was painful to watch soccer on that surface. The opening of more stadiums in the future, including Red Bull Arena, should make the game quality even better league-wide.

6) This year saw the official announcement of the next two expansion teams, both of whom have already shown that they will be well supported. The Sons of Ben in Philadelphia could prove to be some of the best supporters in the league, and Seattle will be kicking off its MLS franchise in a few months with upwards of 20,000 season tickets. This growing trend (see: Toronto FC support) is certainly encouraging for the future of MLS.

5) Tristan Bowen became the first “homegrown” talent to be signed by Major League Soccer. The 17-year-old came up through the LA Galaxy youth system and recently signed with the senior squad. Major League Soccer must continue to develop its youth system to expand its talent pool.

4) Major League Soccer actually did quite well in balancing its top talent retention this year. It did part ways with now Villareal striker Jozy Altidore and now Rangers midfielder Maurice Edu, but it was able to hold onto the likes of Kenny Cooper and Chad Marshall, and hopefully it will continue to retain top American talent. Landon Donovan’s future will be very interesting to monitor.

3) Though the American contingent at Craven Cottage has been reduced, let’s give thanks to the Fulham boys. It is still a team that Americans can latch onto through past and present memories. Brian McBride, one of the most respected U.S. internationals of all-time, left his captaincy at the club to return to his home city of Chicago and play with the Fire. The flair of Clint Dempsey’s play has also provided some great memories, including his “brace” (two goal game) against Chelsea this past Sunday to earn Fulham a draw, and perhaps prove that it truly is a much-improved side.

2) Give thanks to the classic games that gave us a true thrill. The most memorable of the year for the U.S. National Team has to be the 0-0 draw with Argentina in Giant’s Stadium in front of over 76,000 people. The atmosphere was electric and the game was immensely entertaining. More recently, the Eastern Conference final between Chicago and Columbus was the best MLS game of the season.

1) Finally, fans should give thanks to thanks to the Columbus Crew – assuming they can get over their anger of not seeing their team win the title. The Crew won both the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup, proving that parity and chance would not dictate the fate of MLS Cup in 2008. Columbus put together a winning combination of entertaining and hard-nosed soccer that, at many times, was fun to watch. Oh, and don’t forget about their faithful fans.

Read more…Looking forward to 2009