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Mr. Rogers on Soccer

The best and not so good of 2006.

By Andrew Rogers

(Wednesday, January 10, 2006) -- The best and worst of Planet Football 2006 from both sides of the Atlantic.

World Cup 2006: USA vs. Czech Republic

After all the hype, conjecture and analysis, the United States World Cup bubble was well and truly burst after 5 minutes of the campaign. Zdenek Grygera stole down the right flank, delivering a pinpoint cross to Jan Koeller, who rammed home a barn storming header from four yards leaving Americans Eddie Pope and Oguchi Onyewu wondering what day of the week it was. We tend to forget on 28 minutes, U.S. midfielder Claudio Reyna saw his shot from 25 yards bounce back off the inside of the post. That would have made it 1-1.

World Cup 2006 USA vs. Italy

The Battle for K-Town has to go down as one of the most exhilarating games in World Cup history. With its back to the wall and down to nine men, the U.S. held out against the eventual world champion with a one-man disadvantage. Again the marking was woeful when Italy gained the lead. However, the Americans showed their mettle in leveling the game, and was I alone in thinking DaMarcus Beasley had put the U.S. men in front before McBride was ruled offside?

Sheanon Williams' bicycle kick for U.S. under-17 men

Left- or right-sided defenders are usually percentage players. They rarely do much wrong, but then again they rarely do much right. However, right back Sheanon Williams did something very right in London early this year, scoring one of the best goals ever witnessed at any level of the game. In an under-17 men's match, Turkey had played the U.S off the field for much of the first half, but was left stunned in the second period when Williams controlled the ball on his chest on the edge of the Turkish area and, in the same motion, bicycle-kicked into the top left corner. Sub goalkeeper Erdem Kose could only watch in amazement as the ball rocketed past him. A truly exquisite moment in football.

Colorado Rapids defeats FC Dallas in penalties

FC Dallas has made the Major League Soccer playoffs in nine of 11 seasons, but what does this team have to do to make the MLS Cup final? Comfortably, the best team in the Western Conference in the regular season, and with Kenny Cooper and Carlos Ruiz sweeping aside all before them the title was on the cards, Dallas overcame a Clint Mathis rocket with six minutes remaining in overtime. Dallas keeper Dario Sala denied Aitor Karanka to keep the penalty-kicks tiebreaker alive, only to then miss his own penalty in a 5-4 loss in the extra session, maintaining Dallas fans' state of perpetual misery.

Ashley Cole transfers to Chelsea for $10 million, plus William Gallas

When Arsenal made a final offer to the former Highbury fullback of a near-$110,000-per-week contract, Ashely Cole said in his book "My Defence" that he felt "insulted" and "betrayed" by the Arsenal board's offer. Now while most people wouldn't mind being disrespected in such a manner, Cole did have a very good point within the context of the football world. He might not be an Alan Iverson or Terrell Owens, but at least European soccer is moving in the right direction when it comes to producing outsized egos.

Jay DeMerit vs. Leeds United in promotion final

Has there been another soccer story like it? Barely recognized for his soccer ability at college or in the professional league in the U.S., the Industrial Design Major jumps on a plane to England and, managing on £40 per week, pursues his dream of becoming a pro soccer player. The defender recalls: "U.S. soccer wasn't prepared to take a chance on me, so I took a chance on myself."

Powering his way through the Leeds defense to put Watford 1-0 up, the goal epitomized the timing, poise and determination of the Green Bay, Wisc., native. Three years ago he was serving in bars. Now he's tending to the world's best strikers.

Martin Jol vs. Arsenal in North London Derby

After the last North Londin Derby at Arsenal's Highbury, Tottenham Hotspur manager Martin Jol, when asked if his midfielder Edgar Davids should have played on when Arsenal had two players down injured, he claimed, "I didn't see the incident." OK, fair enough Mr. Jol. Let's ignore the fact that you were standing 10 yards away from the play. Ultimately, there was a certain amount of poetic justice in the manner the Spurs manager defended his player. For years, Wenger has allowed his players to behave like utter thugs only to suggest he "didn't see the incident." Jol's timing in delivering Wenger some just desserts was priceless.

Marcus Hahnemann: A year to remember

Back in 2003, American goalkeeper Marcus Hahnemann was under real pressure. He was out of contract at Fulham and the ITV digital deal had collapsed, leaving clubs with no money for transfers. To make matters worse, MLS wasn't interested with the end of the season approaching. The big man from Seattle could have ended up at Walsall in the fourth division but, luckily for Hahnemann. director of football at Reading FC, Nicky Hammonds remembered him from a recent trial and secured his services. Step forward to 2006 and Hahnemann had been recalled to the U.S. men, had one of the best defensive records in Europe in Reading's promotion campaign, and has six clean sheets already this year in the English Premier League. And to think the Royals were favorites for the drop back to the League Championship this year.

Steven Gerrard vs. West Ham United in FA Cup final

With seconds remaining in sports' oldest knockout competition, West Ham right back Lionel Scaloni fatally failed to clear a dodgy Dietmar Hamann throw-in, having cleared the ball so Djibril Cissé could be treated for a cramp. Eventually, the ball fell to Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard who, injured in both legs and staggering through the last 10 minutes of the game, mustered one last effort to smash home a 35-yard pile-driver from downtown Cardiff. Hollywood couldn't have created a more dramatic finale.

Zinedine Zidane's head-butt in World Cup final

Having failed miserably in the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan, France midfielder Zinedine Zidame practically wrote his own script in Germany 2006. Against Brazil, he showed the likes of Ronaldinho and Kaka who the real boss was and then dispatched Portugal's "golden generation" with a first-half penalty kick. The stage was set for "Zizou" in Berlin. With the game heading to PKs, France knew Italy had no nerve for the dreaded shootout. What the French did not count on was Zidane taking exception to the comments of a journeyman pro in the shape of Marco Materazzi. Having won everything football had to offer. Zidame could afford to put his pride ahead of his team, but duly head-butted the perpetrator of a family slur. Interestingly, Zidame was sent off on the evidence of the fourth official who had seen a TV replay, which was an illegal procedure. However, Zindane was able to leave the game stating in actions rather than words to two billion viewers that his family honor comes before anything else.

Team of 2006 (national team and club in parentheses).

Goalkeeper: Petr Cech (Czech Republic, Chelsea).
Defenders: Fabio Grosso (Italy, Inter Milan), John Terry (England, Chelsea), Fabio Cannavaro (Italy, Real Madrid), Ashley Cole (England, Arsenal).
Midfielders Clint Dempsey (United States, New England Revolution, now transferred to Fulham), Andrea Pirlo (Italy, AC Milan), Zinedine Zidane (France, Real Madrid, now retired).
Forwards: Arjen Robben (Netherlands, Chelsea), Didier Drogba (Cote d'Ivoire, Chelsea), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal, Manchester United).

Andrew Rogers, a regular contributor to the United Kingdom's League Paper and Non League Paper, lives in Sunbury on Thames in England. Formerly the director of communications for the Long Island (N.Y.) Rough Riders, he is a UEFA 'B" license coach and plays semi-professionally with Spelthorne FC.

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