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2011 review: Memories from US Soccer

Megan Rapinoe (C) and US national team celebrate in victory over France.
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Ives Galarcep

Ives Galarcep is a 14-year veteran of the American soccer beat. He created and operates the popular American soccer blog, Soccer By Ives, which was voted Best American Soccer Blog by US Soccer in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Ives was also voted Best Football Writer by SoccerLens in 2010. 
 

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How will 2011 be remembered by American soccer fans?

2011 YEAR IN REVIEW

 
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There were enough ups and downs, triumphs and failures, progress and setbacks to make the past year one worth remembering, even if some of those memories are painful ones.

We witnessed the positives of a growing MLS; the disappointments of a year that won’t go down among the best ever posted by the U.S. men’s national team; the U.S. women’s national team’s roller coaster ride at the World Cup - there was something for everyone, and every kind of emotion a fan could enjoy and endure.

We had inspirational comebacks, emotional farewells and impressive debuts. We saw some young players emerge as promising national team prospects, while expansion delivered another strong MLS club and vibrant fan base.

So what were the most significant and memorable events and moments of 2011? You will hear any number of suggestions, but here are my picks for eleven events and moments in American soccer that should not, and in most cases, will not be forgotten:

Manny Schellscheidt retires

The name Manny Schellscheidt may not ring a bell to most US men’s national team fans, but his retirement after nearly a quarter century as head coach of Seton Hall brought down the curtain on one of the most important coaching careers in American soccer history.

Schellscheidt wasn’t a legend just for his college coaching exploits, but rather for his role as trailblazer and mentor to some of American soccer’s most successful coaches. The first coach to earn an A coaching license in the United States and a one-time coach of the US men’s national team, Schelscheidt was a pioneer in the way he viewed the game and taught the game and his influence on coaching in the United States is unmatched.

Both Bob Bradley and Bruce Arena count Schellsheidt as a major influence, as the German-born coach passed his knowledge of the game onto countless coaches and players.

Livestrong Sporting Park unveiled

When the club formerly known as the Kansas City Wizards unveiled a new team name and logo, it was the first step in the re-invention of the Midwestern club. The true completion of the evolution to Sporting Kansas City came with the opening of the state-of-the-art Livestrong Sporting Park.

A $200 million stadium boasting beautiful architecture, impressive sight lines and top-notch technology, LSP immediately joined Red Bull Arena among Major League Soccer’s elite stadiums. The building helped spark an impressive turnaround for a club that went from last place to first place in the Eastern Conference.

Livestrong Sporting Park has quickly become soccer’s Jewel of the Midwest, having already hosted Gold Cup matches and established itself as an ideal location for future US national team matches (LSP is set to host CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying in March.

Charlie Davies returns to action

Charlie Davies celebrates one of his two goals on his return to action in March. (Ned Dishman/Getty Images)

Less than a year and a half after nearly dying in a fatal car accident, Charlie Davies made a remarkable recovery from multiple life-threatening injuries to take the field for D.C. United.

The former US national team striker wasted no time showing just how far he had come, scoring two goals in his MLS debut in a display that was nothing short of inspirational. Davies enjoyed a strong run of form in the first half of the season before eventually falling out of favor at D.C. United.

The storybook comeback was tarnished a bit by the disappointing end to Davies first (and only) season with D.C. United and there is still no certainty that Davies will ever return to the form that once made him the most promising striker on the US national team. But his comeback still stands as one of the most emotional and heart-warming sights of the last 12 months.

Real Salt Lake falls in Champions League final

Playing in front of a packed Rio Tinto Stadium in the biggest game an MLS team has ever played in, Real Salt Lake fell short in its quest for a historic CONCACAF Champions League run, losing to Monterrey on aggregate after dropping a 1-0 decision at home. As heartbreaking as that result was, it didn’t diminish from a truly impressive run by RSL.

The CONCACAF Champions League had been brutal for MLS teams before RSL rolled to the final and pushed Monterrey to the brink. Traveling to Costa Rica to beat Deportivo Saprissa in their semifinal series before posting a draw in Mexico in the first leg of the final, RSL set a new standard for what an MLS team could do on the international stage.

Though Real Salt Lake fell short, the team’s run clearly inspired MLS teams in the subsequent tournament, and now three teams head into the 2012 Champions League quarterfinals with a chance to try and match, or even surpass, the new standard RSL set for the league and for American soccer.

Portland Timbers arrives in MLS

The Portland Timbers joined MLS in 2011 with high expectations. The storied NASL club was famous for its strong support, and the Timbers name had continued to carry cache in the Pacific Northwest, but not until the MLS Timbers made their debut did we find out just how strong Major League Soccer’s 18th club could be.

No, the Timbers didn’t make the playoffs in year one, but they offered plenty of exciting moments in their first season. From the unforgettable rendition of the national anthem sung by Timbers fans in the team’s first home game, to the action-packed regular-season finale against D.C. United that eliminated Portland from playoff contention: many moments left Timbers fans, and MLS fans, wondering just what Portland would have in store for 2012.

Kasey Keller's big Seattle farewell

Kasey Keller brought down the curtain on his glittering career. (Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Seattle Sounders fans have been setting new standards for MLS support ever since the club joined the league three seasons ago, but they set the bar even higher in the final regular season home game, when 64,140 fans filled CenturyLink Field to give a big ‘Thank You’ to legendary goalkeeper Kasey Keller. He responded with a game-saving performance as the Sounders won and their fans put on an unforgettable display.

The moment wasn’t just about the fans showing up in record numbers. It was also about honoring a goalkeeper who will go down as one of the best American soccer players ever. Keller’s career, from his decades in Europe to his multiple World Cups and multiple outstanding performances for the United States, will be hard to top. He even ended his career with another trophy, helping lead the Sounders to their third straight U.S. Open Cup title.

Mexico beats USA men in Gold Cup final

In a packed Rose Bowl, played in front of a heavily pro-Mexico crowd, the US men’s national team blew a 2-0 lead and suffered a 4-2 defeat against Mexico in the Gold Cup Final.

The defeat was a brutal one for the United States and its fans. Not just because of the way Mexico blew the game open, setting off a big green fiesta at the Rose Bowl, but because it sent a very clear message that Mexico has regained control as CONCACAF’s top team, featuring a very strong generation of young players poised to give the USA problems for years.

Klinsmann replaces Bradley as US men's national coach

The Gold Cup Final loss to Mexico paved the way for US Soccer to fire Bob Bradley and hire German legend Jurgen Klinsmann, the same coach US Soccer president Sunil Gulati had tried to hire on two previous occasions.

The move was widely praised as a step forward and a chance to revitalize the national team, though five months into Klinsmann’s tenure the only thing we know for sure is that Klinsmann certainly talks a good game and has his own unique views on player selection.

The results haven’t come just yet, with just two wins in his first seven matches, but players are singing his praises and are buying into his ultra-positive approach. Whether that continues in 2012 and whether Klinsmann’s approach will ultimately produce victories and attractive soccer remains to be seen.

USA women beat Brazil in World Cup quarterfinals

The moment Abby Wambach headed home the game-winning goal against Brazil, the US Women’s national team captured the imagination of a country that had slowly but surely been captivated by the team’s run toward a World Cup.

The American women failed to write the perfect ending to their World Cup run, losing to Japan in heartbreaking fashion in penalty kicks, but as disappointing as the finish was, it didn’t erase the thrills and excitement they delivered in winning over a plethora of new fans.

LA Galaxy lift MLS Cup as Beckham wins first American trophy

David Beckham poses with his first silverware from his time in MLS. (Getty Images)

David Beckham’s fifth, and presumably final, season in Major League Soccer saw him put together a complete impressive season for the first time a he took part in the Los Angeles Galaxy’s season-long domination of MLS. The Galaxy won the Supporters Shield and then capped their dream season with their first MLS title since 2005.

The victory brought a bit of vindication for Beckham, who had endured deserved criticism in his early years in MLS for not delivering on-field success and for putting his own interests ahead of the Galaxy’s on multiple occasions. In 2011, Beckham gave the Galaxy a full season playing at a high level, which was a key factor in helping LA dominate the competition.

The Galaxy’s championship wasn’t just about Beckham either. It marked Landon Donovan’s first MLS title since 2005, and the fourth of his career. After going through what, for him, was a bit of a slump, Donovan capped 2011 with the championship-winning goal.

The dream season for the Galaxy, a season that just might have been the best ever put together by an MLS team, also served as the latest masterpiece of Bruce Arena’s career. The best coach to ever walk a sideline in MLS won his third championship by turning a league laughingstock into a league powerhouse in just three years. He will now look to set the bar even higher in 2012 by trying to lead the Galaxy to the CONCACAF Champions League title.

Ives Galarcep is a senior writer for FOXSoccer.com covering Major League Soccer and the US National Team.

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