- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 29, 2001

It's time to close out the year with my best and worst picks. But first, congratulations to the U.S. men's team, which qualified for the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea. Fans will have something to look forward to as the Americans prepare to take on South Korea, Poland and Portugal in Group D come June. Also a big thanks to Phil Anchutz and his deep pockets for keeping Major League Soccer alive. Anchutz operates five of the league's 12 teams.
Now for the verdicts:
Best Major League Soccer player Clint Mathis. He was the hottest player in the league until disaster struck in June when he tore his ACL. At the time, Mathis was MLS's leading striker with seven goals and five assists.
Mathis has the potential to play a major role on the U.S. team at the World Cup and increase his price tag at the same time.
MLS coach Frank Yallop of the San Jose Earthquakes. Who said nice guys come in last? In his first senior coaching job, Yallop turned San Jose around, transforming the worst club in the league into a championship team.
Biggest MLS story The transformation of San Jose. In 2000 the club was 7-17-8, had 29 points, and missed the playoffs. In 2001 the team was 13-7-6, 45 points, and beat the Los Angeles Galaxy to claim the title.
Biggest international story The demise of mighty Brazil, which lost six games in World Cup qualifying. Before 2000, the four-time world champion had lost just one qualifier, at high-altitude Bolivia.
World player David Beckham. The Manchester United midfielder and England captain is still the best passer in the game. His conversion rate is phenomenal, while his curling free kicks make goalies tremble. Honorable mentions: Luis Figo (Portugal), Marc Overmars (Holland), Zinedine Zidane (France), Rivaldo (Brazil), Roy Keane (Ireland) and Andrei Shevchenko (Ukraine).
Best international team Argentina. Breezed through the South American qualifying round with a 12-point lead and a sure favorite to win the 2002 World Cup.
Biggest disappointment The failure of No. 8-ranked Holland to reach the World Cup. The finals will sorely miss the talents of Marc Overmars, Patrick Kluivert, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Edgar Davids, Clarence Seedorf and the De Boer twins.
Best U.S. national team player Earnie Stewart. No longer youthful, Stewart still has speed and wisdom. His experience of two World Cups will be needed next year in South Korea. This year he became the U.S. team's leading scorer in qualifying with 11 goals.
Best game England's surprise 5-1 World Cup qualifying win over Germany in Munich. No one could have guessed this result, and Michael Owen's hat trick made it even more remarkable.
Biggest surprise Ecuador and Slovenia making the World Cup.
Best U.S. female player Tiffeny Milbrett. The Diego Maradona of women's soccer has blistering speed and great finishing skills. Her 16 goals made her the best player in the WUSA.
All-MLS team Goalie: Tim Howard (MetroStars). Defenders: Jeff Agoos (San Jose), Carlos Llamosa (Miami), Gregg Vanney (Los Angeles), Eddie Pope (United). Midfielders: Chris Armas (Chicago), Manny Lagos (San Jose), Jaime Moreno (United), Clint Mathis (MetroStars). Forwards: Landon Donovan (San Jose), John Spencer (Colorado).
All-WUSA team Goalie: LaKeysia Benne (Bay Area CyberRays). Defenders: Brandi Chastain (CyberRays), Kate Sobrero (Boston), Joy Fawcett (San Diego). Midfielders: Dagny Mellgren (Boston), Mia Hamm (Freedom), Julie Foudy (San Diego), Li Ailing (Philadelphia); Forwards: Charmaine Hooper (Atlanta), Shannon MacMillan (San Diego), Tiffeny Milbrett (New York Power).
All-World team Goalie: Oliver Kahn (Germany, Bayern). Defenders: Fernando Hierro (Spain, Real Madrid), Roberto Carlos (Real Madrid), Paolo Maldini (AC Milan). Midfielders: David Beckham (England, Manchester United), Zinedine Zidane (France, Real Madrid), Juventus) Stefan Effenberg (German, Bayern), Rivaldo (Brazil, Barcelona). Forwards: Michael Owen (England, Liverpool), Luis Figo (Portugal, Real Madrid), Gabriel Batistuta (Argentina, Roma).
Moving moment During a benefit game at RFK Stadium, 9-year-old soccer player Christa Horrocks of Philadelphia, whose father Michael was a co-pilot on United Flight 175 that hit the World Trade Center on September 11, stood next to Mia Hamm on the field as an honorary captain for the Washington Freedom. Hamm played the entire game with a photo of Christa's father in her shinguard.

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