Posted December 31, 2013

The top 13 stories from American soccer’s unforgettable 2013

2014 World Cup, Clint Dempsey, CONCACAF Champions League, Jozy Altidore, Jurgen Klinsmann, L.A. Galaxy, Landon Donovan, MLS Cup, MLS Expansion, U.S. men's national team, World Cup qualifying
The Snowclásico against Costa Rica in March was a chilly, and unique, highlight of 2013. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The Snowclásico against Costa Rica in March was a chilly, and unique, highlight of 2013. (Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)

The year in American soccer was bracketed by bitter cold, which brought out the best in those who rose to the occasion and helped shape the sport in 2013.

Way back in January, Jozy Altidore exuded dignity and determination during a Dutch Eredivisie game that featured snowballs and racial abuse cascading from the stands. In March, a beleaguered U.S. national team began its dramatic climb to the top of CONCACAF in a fearsome Colorado blizzard. And in early December, Sporting Kansas City and Real Salt Lake contested an unforgettable MLS Cup final that was hampered, yet somehow heightened, by a frozen field and record-low temperatures.

The past 12 months were full of moments and men that seemed to transcend the game. There was courage (see Bob Bradley and Robbie Rogers), redemption (see Jurgen Klinsmann and Landon Donovan), speculation about the future of a league and pandemonium at the end of World Cup qualifying. It was a most memorable year.

Here are SI Soccer’s top 13 stories of 2013:

1. Dos a Cero Dominance

Crew Stadium’s 2-0 hex over the Mexican national team never gets old for U.S. soccer supporters, but this year’s World Cup qualifying win – the fourth straight by that mystical scoreline over an El Tri team in Ohio — was uniquely satisfying and significant.

The three points earned on Sept. 10 not only sealed a spot in Brazil for the U.S., they cemented an unexpected but unmistakable shift in the regional balance of power. Two years prior, Mexico seized control of CONCACAF with an emphatic Gold Cup triumph. It served further notice in 2012 with an Olympic gold medal. But years of anticipated dominance were reduced to months as El Tri sputtered and Klinsmann’s squad finally found its groove. The U.S. stormed to the ’13 Gold Cup title and up the Hexagonal standings before brushing aside Mexico in Columbus with a performance that highlighted the Americans’ depth and resolve.

Absent the injured Michael Bradley and the suspended Altidore, the U.S. got second-half goals from Donovan and Eddie Johnson and rock-solid defensive performances from Kyle Beckerman, Omar Gonzalez and Clarence Goodson. Mexico carried the play early, but the visitors’ lack of enterprise and belief was evident as they floundered in the second half. Meanwhile, the U.S. was cohesive, confident and well on its way to a first-place finish in the Hex. On that memorable night in Columbus, CONCACAF’s new king was crowned.

2. Expansion Excitement and New York City FC

It often seemed this year as if more people cared about MLS clubs that don’t exist than the ones which take the field each weekend, and that isn’t too surprising. MLS isn’t yet 20 years old. Conjecture and conversation about what the league could — or should — be is going to be as much a part of the narrative as the games and goals. Where MLS is now isn’t as intriguing as where it’s going.

That’s why the year’s biggest MLS story took place not on the pitch, but at a podium at a school in East Harlem, where Manchester City and the New York Yankees unveiled their mammoth commitment to American soccer. Their joint venture, New York City FC, came with a $100 million price tag and will take the field in 2015 under the leadership of former Real Salt Lake coach Jason Kreis. Within a few years, the club is expected to move into a stadium (likely in the Bronx) that MLS commissioner Don Garber said would be the “largest investment in a soccer stadium of any team in Major League Soccer.”

At this summer’s All-Star Game in Kansas City, Garber ensured that expansion would continue to occupy the headlines as he announced the 19-team league’s intention to field 24 clubs by 2020. Orlando City’s entry was confirmed last month (read more about the clubs plan’s here), while Miami (with David Beckham leading the way) and Atlanta (the effort is led by Falcons owner Arthur Blank) appear to be the frontrunners for clubs No. 22 and 23. While some indicators — especially TV ratings and CONCACAF Champions League results — remain troubling, the race to join the league and the interest in its outcome are promising signs.

3. A Wild Night in the Hex

It may have been the most riveting made-for-TV moment in American soccer history. In Panama City, the U.S. — having already qualified for the World Cup and clinched first in the Hexagonal standings — had nothing on the line as it trailed the hosts, 2-1, with seven minutes and change remaining. In San José, Mexico was losing to Costa Rica by the same score. At that moment, El Tri was out of the World Cup.

Four days earlier, Raúl Jiménez scored an astonishing goal that kept Mexico in contention.

But now, they’d need one more miracle.

Knowing that a loss would eliminate Mexico, the U.S. nevertheless pushed for the equalizer. An inexperienced Panamanian team opened the door, and the Americans put a heated rivalry aside and barged through. Graham Zusi headed home a stoppage-time cross from Brad Davis to draw the visitors level, then Aron Johannsson sealed Panama’s gut-wrenching fate a few seconds later.

The following day, the Mexican press was more than willing to put El Tri in its place. Under Miguel Herrera, its fourth coach of 2013, Mexico eventually eased past New Zealand in November’s intercontinental playoff and booked its barely-deserved place in Brazil. Would Mexico have gone for the win if circumstances were reversed? Will the U.S. effort lead to greater respect south of the border? How would elimination have impacted Mexican soccer? Why was Panama so overwhelmed? Such questions ensure that the improbable events of Oct. 15 echo for years.

4. Ambassador Bob Bradley

No one would have blamed Bradley if he’d packed his bags and left following the horrifying riot at an Egyptian Premier League match in February that left nearly 80 people dead. But he stayed, and then did even more than that, marching with protesters in Cairo, visiting hospitals with his wife and understanding with a deep and courageous conviction that the national team he managed could be a unifying force in a fractured nation.

Bradley guided the Pharaohs to a 6-0-0 record during the group stage of Africa’s World Cup qualifying competition without the benefit of a domestic league (which had been suspended) or a home crowd. The ending wasn’t a happy one — a playoff matchup with Ghana marked the end of Bradley’s World Cup road — but it was satisfying. He left with his own dignity, and that of his team’s, intact. His conduct and commitment exemplified the highest ideals of soccer statesmanship and reflected well on his homeland, and the record wasn’t too shabby either. Bradley was a source of significant U.S. soccer pride this year and hopes to continue carrying the flag for American coaches in Europe in 2014.

5. The Year of Jozy

Altidore’s place on Klinsmann’s depth chart was in question as 2013 began, but his maturity certainly wasn’t. The then 23-year-old’s classy response to racist chanting during a January league match in the Netherlands was a sure sign that the striker had come of age. It set the stage for a year to remember.

Altidore finished the 2012-13 season at AZ Alkmaar with 31 goals, a record for an American abroad. He scored the game-winner in the 2-1 Dutch Cup final win over PSV Eindhoven and earned a summer transfer to Sunderland of the English Premier League. Mired in an 18-month international scoring drought, Altidore joined up with the U.S. and finally broke through in June, scoring in a program-record five consecutive matches. He finished the year tied for the U.S. lead with eight goals and notched the winner in three of the national team’s seven Hexagonal victories.

Last month, he was named U.S. Soccer’s male athlete of the year.

6. The Snowclásico

The U.S. faced an uncomfortable crossroads in March. The Hex had started miserably in Honduras, and months of lackluster performances were taking their toll on a locker room that was questioning Klinsmann’s methods. The squad needed a boost, a sign, a reason to believe again — and found it in a blizzard outside Denver.

Perhaps no game in U.S. history has provided more surreal scenes, and perhaps no result was more welcome, than the 1-0 World Cup qualifying win over Costa Rica at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Clint Dempsey’s 16th-minute goal, which came off a deflected shot by Altidore, was all the Americans needed as the drifts grew deeper.

Four days later, the U.S. dodged multiple bullets and ground out a 0-0 draw with Mexico at the Estadio Azteca. Klinsmann’s team managed just one shot on goal in the two games combined, but came away with four points. The intangibles were falling into place and fortunes (for both teams) started to reverse. It all began in the snow.

16 comments
shohanali298
shohanali298

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nugrohowidi
nugrohowidi

I followed MLS and mlssoccer.com closely. MLS is growing exponentially and is becoming rapidly to be one of the best league in this PLANET

MLS have built real fanatic fanbase in cities. Very interesting watching them. 

Deegley
Deegley

While these 13 stories are all admirable, I would include a few more... NEW LEAGUE: "Women's professional soccer launches NWSL" NEW SCORING LEADER: "USWNT's Abby Wambach set the new scoring record for both men and women" STELLAR YEAR: "USWNT goes undefeated in 2013 with 13-0-3 record". These are just my personal favorites, but let's stop ignoring that American soccer also has a women's side.

NucLear
NucLear

Is this a joke? In the United States, everything about soccer is forgettable. Soccer is the most boring sport on the planet, and Americans know so - that's why we don't watch it or pay any attention to it. We watch REAL sports, like football, basketball, baseball, and hockey. Soon the Olympics will be coming up - we'll be watching that! But the "World Cup?" LOL, you have to be joking that anyone in this country (outside of immigrants and that fraction of a fraction of a fraction of the American sports audience that are soccer snobs) could give a flying F about what happens there. Soccer? Give me a break. The 500 or so of you soccer-loving losers nationwide can go on and keep watching your boring, coma-inducing game. The rest of the United States will be caught up in the drama of the Olympics, the NBA and NHL playoffs, the NCAA Div. I College Basketball Tournament, the Super Bowl, the BCS, the start of the 2014 MLB season - that's what we'll be watching. We've never watched soccer, we don't watch soccer, and we never WILL watch soccer. Good riddance to this boring, racist game! The audacity of proclaiming "soccer moments" in the U.S. that no one's ever heard of - lol, how ridiculous!

CZeroMusic
CZeroMusic

No love for winning the Gold Cup.

godfather361
godfather361

@Deegley While they're all admirable, the only one that should be mentioned is Wambach setting the record.  Other than that, the USWNT doesn't play in a world cup until 2015 and will dominate headlines then.  The new woman's soccer league is just another attempt of many.  There have been a good amount of leagues that have come and go and I suspect this new league will become defunct within a matter of a decade like the rest.  People don't ignore the woman's side of soccer, but this is the down portion of the cycle for them, hence the domination of the men's headlines.  Let's not make this more than it has to be here

RomarioDelLago
RomarioDelLago

@NucLearAnd yet you felt the need to come in here and whine. Sounds like you're running scared because the world's best and most popular sport is growing like crazy here and you're afraid of being left out.  Cry some more, baby boy.

RickPotts
RickPotts

@NucLear Nucular, hell,  I'm surprised you could figger out that there inter-web.  You forgot to include NASCAR and WWF in your list of real American sports in your short sited, narrow minded rant.  Do me a favor.  Get up off your stained couch, brush the potato chip crumbs off your extended gut, go change your dirty white wife beater t-shirt, turn off FOX News and go read a book. Please don't travel outside of this country.  Ignorant Americans like you give the rest of us a bad name.   

godfather361
godfather361

@NucLear Are you being satirical?  We can't tell if you have sarcasm or not.  If you don't, then you really don't understand that basketball is dropping in popularity drastically.  All fans do is just look at the quality in the Eastern conference coupled with the quality of drafts in the past decade combined with the mismanagement of the league and realize that it's not going to get any better any time soon.  Soccer, on the other hand, has never been developed and advertised enough for it to be popular, but don't mistake MLS for the World Cup.  That's extremely popular in the US when it comes to that time of the year

SomeguywithnosensE
SomeguywithnosensE

Oh! Now I get it! This guy is named "United States", goes by "Americans" or "American", keeps on referring to himself as "we", and probably has some voices in his head that make him believe he speaks for millions, so of course he can take his opinion as fact, I would if it was me. Well, trolls will be trolls.

ll316
ll316

@NucLear How is it that places like Seattle have a higher average attendance than many teams in Europe if nobody in the States cares?


Racist?  Please explain.  If you think it's the only sport that racists follow, try playing pickup basketball sometime.  

Ryan19
Ryan19

@NucLear Wow, you must be really scared of soccer's growth in this country.  I can't think of any other reason for you to whine so much other than fear.  The sports you mentioned are the boring ones.  They aren't even sports really.  They are 3-4 hour long commercials with the occasional break to watch guys stand around doing nothing.  But if you like that stuff, good for you.  Why don't you go to those boards and annoy the folks there?  It must be exhausting to be filled with so much ignorance, fear and hate.  Good luck with that.  

drudge
drudge

@NucLear ah yes, who can resist the total non effort of nba'ers in a january midweek game, or watching one man go one v one while the other 4 stand around.  Oh, and the 4plus hour MLB games, - put a stop watch on any player other than a pitcher or catcher during those 4 hours - they probably do something other than stand around for maybe 1-2 minutes.  don't even need to wash their uni's.  NHL - is that like on ESPN 986 on your cable box?  NFL - don't even recognize that sport anymore - can't hit anyone anymore.   Will give you college football, and only march madness, regular season no one cares.