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Complete archive of Robert Wagman's It Seems to Me.

It Seems To Me . . .

Highs and lows of 1998 plus some New Yearís resolutions.

By Robert Wagman
SoccerTimes

WASHINGTON, D.C. (Tuesday, January 5, 1999) -- The New Year is always a good time to look back and reflect, and to formulate some resolutions for the coming year. So I thought I would share with you what I consider my five soccer highs and lows from 1998 and what I have resolved to try to do in 1999.

High Points

February 10 -- United States 1 Brazil 0 (Gold Cup). It started out like most U.S.-Brazil matches. The Brazilians attacked and attacked and bombed away. Kasey Keller initially made a couple of good saves, then a couple more, and then started to make some that had to be seen to be believed. Suddenly, you realized that something special might be happening. Then Preki scored, and the entire U.S. squad picked up its game. Finally the U.S. had one of its greatest, and most unexpected victories.

June 13 -- Nigeria 3 Spain 2 (World Cup in Nantes, France). Matches like this are what the World Cup is about. The pure joy on the faces of the Nigerian players and their fans as the match ended was certainly the high point of the World Cup for me. Heck, this victory was so good Nigeria's coach Bora Milutinovic smiled.

August 17-- D.C. United 1 Toluca 0 (CONCACAF Champions Cup). This was not an exhibition match or some friendly. This was the Mexican champion going all out to win a title it wanted very badly. D.C. United showed it could step up its game and play the best in the Hemisphere dead even and emerge victorious. It was a coming of age for D.C. United.

October 16 -- Chicago Fire 2 Los Angeles 1 (Major League Soccer Western Conference final). I thought this was the best MLS match I saw all year. Played before a large, raucous crowd at Soldier Field this shootout victory clinched the Western Conference crown for the Fire. Looking up at the stands from the field as the Fire players took a victory lap, the cheering crowd -- a mix of Poles, Hispanics and suburban Moms and Dads looked like the future of soccer in America.

December 5 -- D.C. United 2 Vasco da Gama 0 (InterAmerican Cup). Given the disappointment of the World Cup for the U.S., this was undoubtedly the most important victory of the year for this country. Understanding Vascoís travel weariness, this was still an unexpected thrill. If United is weakened in the name of parity, this match may end up being the high point for MLS for years to come.

Low Points

February 24 -- Holland 2 United States (friendly, Miami). After the high of defeating Brazil, this match showed clearly how far the U.S. was behind in its World Cup preparations. Even in the Gold Cup championship loss to Mexico, the Americans had shown some signs of life. None was shown here, in as dispirited a performance as you can imagine against a Dutch side more intent on soaking up some Florida sun than in playing a hard match.

April 22 -- United States 3 Austria 0 (friendly in Vienna). You might wonder why I consider what on paper was the Americansí most resounding victory of 1998 as a low point. As it turned out, the coaches, the players, the media and the fans did not see the match for what it was, an outing against a second-rate foe most of whose players tried to get out of playing because of club commitments, who then gave a half-hearted, completely disinterested effort before being replaced by reserves. But the victory convinced U.S. coach Steve Sampson his new 4-5-1 strategy was right, that Claudio Reyna was Johan Cruyff, that he was right in dismissing John Harkes and that his younger players could now carry the load. In retrospect, the U.S. would have been better served by a 3-0 loss.

June 25 --Yugoslavia 1 U.S. 0 (World Cup in Nantes). I did not expect the U.S. to beat Germany (yes, a little better effort would have been nice). The Iran match, given the political overtones and the U.S.ís many near misses, was one of those matches in which destiny was simply against them. But to me rock bottom was hit against Yugoslavia. Simply put, the U.S. could have spent all night on the pitch and likely would not have scored against an opponent who was expending as little effort as possible.

August 26 -- D.C. United 2 Kansas City Wizards 1. Ever wonder what maybe 2,500 people look like in a 79,000 seat stadium? Weather was a factor, but almost no one showed up for what was a critical match for the home side as it tried to make the playoffs. This match showed exactly how big a problem MLS has in some markets.

October 25 -- Chicago Fire 2 D.C. United 0 (MLS Cup). It was not the result, Chicagoís winning was good for MLS. But this was the leagueís showpiece event, and it was an ugly match, horribly officiated, and played in front of a half-empty stadium of mostly disinterested fans. Another MLS Cup like this one and the league would be well advised to consider a home-and-home MLS Cup series, and it can hold its annual black-tie dinner some other time and some other place.

Resolutions

The New Year is always a time for resolutions. Well, I have five soccer resolutions for 1999, and I hope I keep them better than my annual lose weight resolution. The five, in no particular order:

See More A-League Matches: This year I want to see those Raging Rhinos, Geckos, Mania, Riverhawks, Silverbacks, Riverhounds and as many of the other A League teams as I can. It is important the leagues under MLS become solidly established in this country. For soccer to grow in popularity generally, fans need a local team to support and players need the ability to earn a living playing soccer at levels others than MLS.

See an MLS Match in Dallas: For some reason in the first three years of MLS, I have not made it to the Cotton Bowl to see the Burn play. I have been to every other venue, but not Dallas. So this year I will get there and I hope that the I will be going to Dallas in future years to see the Burn, and not to Houston or San Diego, should attendance and support continue to lag in the Big D.

Really Enjoy Womanís World Cup: I will admit it. In the past I have been somewhat lukewarm to womanís soccer. I have enjoyed watching the U.S. national team, and some of the better college teams, but letís say my enthusiasm has been somewhat lagging. But I am bound and determined that will end with this yearís World Cup. I hope you all will join me.

Finally Learn To Speak Bora: New MetroStars coach Bora Milutinovic speaks a truly unique language. It sounds something like English, at least most of the words do, but it really isnít. Itís Bora speak, and understanding it is likely to become an important part of reporting on MLS in the coming year.

Come To Love The Shootout: MLS commissioner Doug Logan says that with only a little effort, I can, that we all can, come to love the shootout. So in 1999, letís all try. THIS IS ONLY A JOKE, I DONíT MEAN IT. I AM KIDDING. PLEASE DONíT WRITE.

Robert Wagman wrote a nationally syndicated political column for Scripps-Howard for many years. At the same time he has covered soccer in North America for British and South African newspapers since the days of the North American Soccer League. His "Football In America" column now appears regularly in British newspapers. He can be e-mailed at MobileWag@aol.com.

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