2013: The Soccer Year in Datelines and Recommended Reading (Part 1)
*Editor’s note: This is Part 1. The second half can be found here.*
What soccer moments and stories will you remember most from 2013?
In our small (but growing) world of soccer in the United States, SI’s Brian Straus and I have a thing we try to keep as a guidepost: Write stories that people will remember. You can’t do it every day, of course, and in today’s media landscape of multiple platforms and 24-hour news cycles, you have to try and hit singles and doubles in addition to the occasional home run.
And sometimes the home run comes out of nowhere as part of the 24-hour news cycle.
The soccer person I’ll remember most from 2013 is a 41-year-old guy from Los Angeles named Abel Rodríguez, an A-Rod everyone can love, someone who reminded us that you can be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. After working as an unpaid runner for superstar coach José Mourinho during his teams’ preseason camps in L.A. over the years, Rodríguez showed up unannounced in Madrid in February hoping to see the Real Madrid-Barcelona game.
Rodríguez waited in the cold at Real Madrid’s training ground, got spotted by Mourinho (“a miracle,” Rodríguez said) and then embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, joining the Madrid squad behind the scenes for the Barcelona game and the Champions League elimination game at Manchester United.
Rodríguez never sought publicity for his remarkable story — my SI.com piece didn’t come out until more than a month after his trip happened, and only then after I got a casual tip from a Mourinho confidante. But Rodríguez’s tale was a human one that showed the highest levels of the game aren’t just a cold, hard business all the time.
What soccer moments and stories will I remember most from 2013? My look back at those datelines and favorite tales is a personal one and hardly comprehensive, but it’s safe to say that 2013 was a remarkable year, both for U.S. soccer and for the journalism that produced so many memorable stories by talented journalists.
NEWTOWN, Conn., Jan. 7 — One of the great things about the U.S. soccer community is that it can come together and do some truly special things as a group. Just three weeks after the Newtown school shooting tragedy, more than 50 current and former players gather from around the country to do something fun for the Newtown community. It’s impossible to be there and not be moved by the experience.
TORREÓN, Mexico, Jan. 8 — Less than 12 hours after Newtown, I land in the dusty town of Torreón, home of Santos Laguna and U.S. national team forward Hérculez Gómez. Never before has an SI magazine story subject picked me up at the airport, but that’s exactly what Gómez does, a perfect example of an Everyman player who has overachieved without forgetting where he came from. Injuries will limit Gómez’s time with the national team as the year went on, but I wouldn’t write him off heading into a World Cup year.
Other January stories that I’ll remember:
Jorge Arangure wrote a terrific piece on Tijuana, San Diego and the cross-border appeal of Club Tijuana.
Matt Futterman sat down with Jurgen Klinsmann and got some eye-opening quotes from the U.S. coach.
Steven Goff wrote a nice feature on U.S. prospect Joe Gyau.
Brian Phillips is tremendously talented, and here he is on the criticism leveled at MLS by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Robert Andrew Powell wrote a fantastic book on soccer in Ciudad Juárez, “This Love Is Not for Cowards,” and he goes back to Mexico for his own profile on Herc Gómez.
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, Feb. 6 — The U.S. will end up qualifying for World Cup 2014 with ease, a sharp contrast with the near-crisis that ensues after losing the Hexagonal opener.
HARRISON, N.J., Feb. 11 — On one of my favorite days of 2013, I sit down for 10 minutes with nearly 20 MLS players, gave them anonymity (for their candor) and asked them a series of questions about the league. One reason I enjoy covering MLS is the smarts of the guys in the league, reflected here in Part 1 and Part 2.
NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 15 — Out of nowhere, Robbie Rogers releases a heartfelt blog post in which he comes out as gay and steps away from the game. Once again, the U.S. soccer community rallies in support, which will eventually cause Rogers to do a 180 and return to the game.
TUCSON, Ariz., Feb. 19 — By turns insightful and prickly (what else is new?), Thierry Henry sits down with me for an SI magazine MLS preview story on the New York Red Bulls, who end up winning their first competitive trophy in the Supporters’ Shield.
Other February stories that I’ll remember:
Roger Bennett, part of the consistently excellent “Men In Blazers” show with Michael Davies, checks in with a good piece on Klinsmann’s coaching influences.
Brian Phillips on match-fixing.
COMMERCE CITY, Colo., March 22 — The SnowClásico enters the pantheon of one of the most memorable games in the history of U.S. Soccer, and it’s the turning point in World Cup qualifying for Klinsmann’s U.S. team. It is also the occasion of my favorite selfie from 2013.
MEXICO CITY, March 26 — The U.S. bags a historic World Cup qualifying point at the Azteca in Omar González’s coming of age. Mexico’s troubles are only just beginning.
Other March stories that I’ll remember:
Brian Straus with the most talked-about U.S. soccer story of the year, in which a host of U.S. players anonymously question Klinsmann’s methods. If you ask me, the story ended up helping the U.S. team confront some issues it needed to face.
Noah Davis wrote a nice historical piece on a tide-changing U.S.-Mexico game in 1980.
Sam Borden moved from the NFL beat to the soccer beat for the New York Times, and his excellent stories included this one on Robbie Rogers.
Jeff Carlisle with a really nice piece on L.A. Galaxy braintrust Bruce Arena and Dave Sarachan.