- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 28, 2002

There's no argument: This year was the greatest to date for American soccer.
It was the year the U.S. men's team reached the quarterfinals of the World Cup. It was the year an American became the captain of an English Premier League club. It was the year an American goalie saved two penalty kicks at the World Cup. In short, it was a year when America's finest players proved their mettle and earned a dose of respect.
The U.S. team escaped a tough opening round at the World Cup in Asia with a stunning 3-2 win over Portugal and a 1-1 tie with South Korea. Then after a 3-1 hammering from Poland, the high-flying Koreans saved the U.S. from an early exit by downing the Portuguese 1-0 in a thriller. The Americans, under Virginia-based coach Bruce Arena, suddenly were on their way.
After an impressive 2-0 victory over Mexico, the United States outplayed and outran Germany during most of the quarterfinal match but lost 1-0. The performance impressed critics worldwide. The Americans ended 2002 with a record 12 wins, the team's most successful year in the history of the program.
U.S. captain Claudio Reyna led his team into uncharted waters at the World Cup and then became captain of English Premier League club Sunderland. But in November, Reyna tore knee ligaments and will be out for at least six months.
Brad Friedel, who saved two penalty kicks at the World Cup, is now considered by many to be the best goalie playing in the Premier League, where he stars for Blackburn.
The idea that Americans can't play soccer is fading fast. The snickers are turning into admiration.
Sadly, because of the financial crisis hitting European leagues, no American players won lucrative contracts with overseas clubs after the World Cup.
The World Cup, co-staged by South Korea and Japan at a cost of $11billion, produced a number of surprises with the early exits of France, Argentina and Italy. But the biggest surprise was that the South Koreans, who had never won a World Cup, went on to reach the semifinals with wins over Poland, Portugal, Italy and Spain before going down to Germany. It was the best result ever for an Asian team.
Brazilian forward Ronaldo, back on the field after a two-year absence with knee injuries, scored eight goals in the tournament, including two that downed Germany, to give Brazil its unprecedented fifth World Cup. Amazingly, it was the first time the two teams, each appearing in its seventh championship match, had met at the World Cup.
For Major League Soccer, the year began with the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny folding and the league going back to 10 teams to cut costs. The league's seventh season ended with the New England Revolution losing to the Los Angeles Galaxy 1-0 before 61,000 at Foxboro in the worst MLS Cup final to date. In between, the Galaxy's Carlos Ruiz (24 goals) and the Revolution's Taylor Twellman (23 goals), both in their debut seasons with MLS, livened up the season with their offensive talents.
For D.C. United it was another miserable year plagued by bad trades, injuries and a goal famine. The year started off on a bright note with the arrival of coach Ray Hudson from the defunct Fusion. But United (9-14-5) messed up at the draft in passing over Kyle Martino and then traded away talented youngsters Mark Lisi, Craig Ziadie and Daouda Kante. Hudson got little help from star forward Jaime Moreno, who found the back of the net just three times in 16 games.
In the Women's United Soccer Association, the Washington Freedom played some of the most attractive soccer witnessed at RFK Stadium in a long time. Mia Hamm returned from a knee injury and led the Freedom to the championship game against the Carolina Courage. Hamm scored perhaps her best goal of the season in the final, but it wasn't enough as the Freedom went down 3-2. She ended the year by winning the FIFA Player of the Year Award.
In men's college soccer, a moment of individual brilliance by UCLA's Aaron Lopez put us all out of our misery as the Bruins finished off Stanford in a lackluster NCAA title game. In the women's final, Portland finally won its first title by defeating Santa Clara 2-1 for beloved coach Clive Charles, who is undergoing chemotherapy for prostate cancer.
As for the new year, it looks bright.
American midfielder Landon Donovan, 20, who scored twice at the World Cup and was the only player to appear in all 20 U.S. team's games in 2002, continues to mature into a great player.
In MLS, the Galaxy will kick off the new season in new Home Depot Stadium, the second soccer-specific stadium built for an MLS club. The other is Crew Stadium in Ohio, home to the Columbus Crew, the only team to make a profit last season indicating the future of the game in America is intrinsically related to the building of stadiums suited to the game and its fans.

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