A Decade Under the Crossbar – Volume 1.

6 05 2010

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Haha – now that i’ve got your attention.  Buckle up because here is PSD’s look at the face of soccer over the last decade.  Volume 1.

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Yeah we’ll start in PSD’s home turf.  The whole idea for this series of posts is to amp everyone up for the World Cup.  Since we’re already planning on having a massive WC preview series – I thought well what the heck can I do, that’ll be interesting and fun?  So here is my idea – I’m going to look at the last decade for some of Europe’s bigger soccer leagues and also the MLS.  Now I would expand to leagues outside of Europe, but I honestly don’t follow, example Brazilian league, often enough to fill confident that i’m covering it fairly.  So i’ve only chosen the leagues that i’ve kept some form of interest in over the last decade.   Also I know you may be wondering – “Um Gadi its freaking May why not do this in December or something?”.  Well most of the leagues I’m going to cover end there season this month and also the Champions League final is at the end of the month.  So technically I’m covering the seasons thru 2010 – not the full years.  And here is the run down of how it’ll all happen.   Volume 1 is below and is a look at North America – specifically the MLS.  Volume 2 will cover the English Premiership and the Scottish Premier league.   Volume 3 will cover the French and Portuguese top leagues (ligues).  Volume 4 ventures on to the German Bundesliga and the Dutch Eredivisie.  Volume 5 will deal with Serie A (Serie A TIM – to be correct) in Italy.   Volume 6 will wrap everything up nicely with a look at the Spanish La Liga (just in time to see if Barca can hold on for the title or Real completes the come back).

And now we begin – Volume 1:  Coming to America.

The second major North American soccer league of the past 60 years started up in 1996 (though was announced prior to the 1994 World Cup in the USA).   It started with 10 teams and now has expanded to 16 (15 US based and one Canadian team).  In 2011 that number will jump to 18 teams.  So when looking at whats happened in the last decade of North American soccer ?  Expansion is the first word that pops to mind.  Whether its the number of teams or the number of talented players.  And of course the expansion of the financial means of teams has gotten more and more.

In 1998 a change was made in Commissioner of the league as Doug Logan departed.  In came, former NFL international chief, Don Garber who over the last decade has brought about his expansion hopes and dreams.

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Don continued to push cities about the benefit of having a professional soccer team.  Owners, Players, and anyone Don could get was pushing the league hard.  I don’t have enough time to get into all of the influential people in this period of time.  But one man hits home a bit more then anyone else.  Lamar Hunt the icon that changed the face of American life with his name behind the American Football League (where would the NFL be with out the AFL?), NASL (North American Soccer League was the basis for the MLS) and Major League Soccer.  His influence on sports in North America rivals anyone and his legacy continues to shine brightly.

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Just to brag about the man a bit – He was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972, the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1982, and the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993.  3 decades, 3 different sports, and one man.  Its not to much to say that Lamar is an American legacy.   The great man passed away on December 13th, 2006.   Through his help people like Don Garber were able to take the MLS to new unseen heights.

Its time we jump into the soccer action.  Up to 2000, DC United was the only team of note.  They had won 3 of the 4 League titles and finished with the best record in the regular season 2 of the 4 years.   From 1997-2000 United had won:  Coach of the Year (Bruce Arena 1997), Rookie of the Year (Ben Olsen 1998), Golden Boot winner (Jaime Moreno 1997), Defender of the Year (Eddie Pope 1997) and Most Valuable Player of the Year (Marco Etcheverry 1998).

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Marco Etcheverry, Bruce Arena, and John Harkes.

2000 marked a changing of the guard and the first team that took over was one owned by none other then Lamar Hunt.

Led by GK Tony Meola, MF Preki and ST Miklos Molnar who brought home the MLS Supporters’ Shield (highest point total in the regular season) and then went onto defeat Chicago 1-0 to capture the MLS Cup (Championship).

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GK Tony Meola.

2001 marked one of the most intriguing seasons in US Soccer history.  The Miami Fusion ended the regular season with the MLS Supporters’ Shield.  They stormed into the Semi’s as the clear favorite and ran into the San Jose Earthquakes who were in the first year of Head Coach Frank Yallop, the English-born Canadian is by far one of the more recognizable and respected managers in the decade.

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Stoic Frank Yallop.

Also on that team was a young fella named Landon Donovan.  Mr. USA.

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2001 was more interesting for the fact that at the end of the season the MLS contracted from 12 teams back to 10 teams.  The Tampa Bay Mutiny were one of the two and the other were their Florida neighbors, the Miami Fusion.  Yep – best regular season to CONTRACTED.  The City of Miami still doesn’t have a MLS team.

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Damn they had a cool mascot – o well.

2002 saw a World Cup happen and with the national team making it to the Quarterfinals.   Soccer in the US fully transformed and 02′ saw increases all around.  In that season a major market finally took home all the glory.  The Los Angeles Galaxy took home the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup.  Galaxy dominated the league but not the player awards with only Fwd Carlos Ruiz taking home MVP, Golden Boot and Goal of the Year honors.  O that darn Carlos Ruiz.  The Man, The Myth, the oops did I fall down machine!!!

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Yeah Mr. “Flop”.  Ok so I’m a little biased seeing the master flop all over the place while with FC Dallas.  He still is one of the top talents the MLS has seen.  The Guatemalan has been one of the main “names” since he entered the MLS.  El Pescadito (“The Little Fish”), kicked ass in 02′ as he piled up 24 goals and in the post season he rewrote the record books with 18 total points and 8 post season goals.

2003 – East Meets West – as the Chicago Fire in the Eastern Conference and San Jose of the Western Conference were the only teams to eclipse the 50 point total on the season.  Chicago ended up with the top honor and took the Supporters Shield back to the windy city.  San Jose and Chicago completed the dominance as they met in the MLS CUP Final.  Landon Donovan led the Earthquakes to there second title in 3 years as he netted twice in the 4-2 victory.   This marked a Goalkeeper of the Year award for Pat Onstad (he might be part of my all-decade team later in the post – he’s on a lot of people’s list for sure!!).

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2004 marked the return of DC United and also the introduction to a little 14-year-old kid named Freddy Adu.  Ironically the eventual MLS Cup champs were only the fourth best team in the regular season, trailing Columbus Crew (Supporters’ Shield winners and another Lamar Hunt owned team!), Kansas City, and Los Angeles in total points.  That season a lot of young stars were coming into there own.  For us Dallas folks we fell in love with striker Eddie Johnson.  But on a national level the Rookie of the Year was Clint Dempsey.

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United would capture there 4th total title, but so far the only title since the 00’s have begun.

2005 marked the 10th year anniversary of the league and saw movement of some of its superstars.  Landon Donovan came home from a lackluster loan to German side Bayer Leverkusen and wanted to play for his home town team – The Los Angeles Galaxy.  A deal was struck and “Mr. Flop” Carlos Ruiz was now in Dallas (well Frisco to be exact).  The Galaxy barely made the playoffs then went on a killer run, all the way to a 1-0 upset of the well respected New England Revolution, in the beautiful new soccer stadium in Frisco, Tx – Pizza Hut Park.

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Awww HOME!!! I’ve walked around that damn outside one to many times!

2006 marked the first Southern team to win it all and they did it in front of a packed Pizza Hut Park Crowd (that’s right back-to-back MLS Cup Finals happened in PHP).  The big news in 06′ was the relocation of the San Jose Earthquakes to oil country – aka – HOUSTON, TX.  The Dynamo were born (though that season they were known as Houston 1836).  The season saw DC United dominate the Eastern the Conference and the west was won in Texas as FC Dallas and Houston finished 1st and 2nd.  Shockingly FC Dallas was upset in the first round – still in shock over that loss – FREAKING PENALTY KICKS and a mini-brawl right after the last kick!!  Houston would storm on to the title and meet up with the Taylor Twellman led New England Revolution.  Grueling action led to a 0-0 score after 90 minutes and extra time saw Taylor Twellman score the go-ahead goal, but…  The man who would take home Goal of the Year came up big as he scored the equalizer a minute later.  Brian Ching would then end the game with his successful penalty kick try to give Houston the MLS Cup.

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2007 THE WORLD CHANGES for MLS.  One man would eat up all of the headlines.  Before we get to him though there were some interesting things happening in 07′.  First off FC Toronto was born.  Teams were allowed to have sponsorship on there uniforms for the first time.  Also the league passed a Designated Player Rule which permitted one big-ticket foreign player to play for each team without going against the team’s salary cap.  Argentinian Guillermo Barros Schelotto joined the Columbus Crew.  Brazilians Luciano Emilio and Denílson joined DC United and FC Dallas.  Colombian Juan Pablo Ángel left the English Premier League for Red Bull New York.  Mexican legend Cuauhtémoc Blanco joined the Chicago Fire.  And then this Brit joined the Los Angeles Galaxy.

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David Beckham coming to America took over all news and well it fueled one of the wildest season ever for the MLS.  The designated player rule is of course is called “The Beckham rule”.  When the right foot of God get $250 million (mostly sponsorships not football payment) and is in the City of Angels what else can even compete with David.  The league has always had talented players and North American soccer loves the big names (Pele anyone!).  David changed the whole thing though with the hype, money and exposure.  But this first year was a bit of a disaster on the field as injuries plagued the Galaxy and they finished out of the playoff race.  DC United would capture the Supporters’ Shield while Chivas USA would barely take the Western Conference top spot (Houston was one point behind and FC Dallas rounded out the top teams).  Remarkably the first round saw BOTH top seeds knocked out.  The Houston Dynamo went on to take home the Cup against those same New England Revolution they beat in 06′.  Houston GK was Pat Onstad and yeah he finished the year with the lowest Goals Allowed Average and second in shut outs.

2008 marked the first year, since LA in 2002, that the regular season top club would pull off the double and bring home the MLS Cup too.  It also was the return of the San Jose Earthquakes (now an expansion team).  Also a carousel of coaches saw some big names come into the league.  One big name had his exit as Bruce Arena was not renewed by the New York Red Bulls (but he’d be back really soon!).  Frank Yallop left David Beckham and Landon Donovan for the expansion Earthquake and was replaced by Dutch soccer great Ruud Gullit (snappiest dresser i’ve ever seen on the sidelines!).  But the love affair with Ruud would end quickly as Gullit resigned and so did LA president Alexi Lalas – The Beckham effect couldn’t keep humpty dumpty together.  And guess who jumped back in as Head Coach.

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David and Bruce.

The team of the season was Columbus Crew.  German born and American raised Sigi Schmid took home  Coach of the Year honors for having the best team pull off the double with not a single player in the top ten goal-scorers.

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Sigi did have one super talent that was all the talk of the MLS.  Guillermo Barros Schelotto had a strong 08′, being chosen Player of the week four times, Player of the month once, and recording 19 assists and 7 goals during the regular season.  He was awarded the Major League Soccer MVP on 20 November 2008.  Barros Schelotto capped off his 2008 MLS campaign with an MVP performance in the 2008 MLS Cup which Columbus won 3-1 against New York Red Bulls at the Home Depot Center on 23 November 2008, behind Barros Schelotto’s 3 assists.  For his performance in the 2008 MLS season, Barros Schelotto was named Sports Illustrated Latino’s Sportsman of the Year.

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Plain and simple – one of the best soccer seasons ever.  Watching him and Beckham put the ball wherever they wanted has been the real highlight of the last few seasons in MLS.

2009 marked continued brilliance of the Crew, though Sigi had left to Coach the expansion Seattle Sounders, his long-time assistant Robert Warzycha took over and led Columbus to back-to-back Supporters’ Shields.  The MLS Cup would witness a remarkable performance by the lowest seed.  In fact three teams were battling for the final spot for the playoffs (of course FC Dallas ended a point out of it – DAMN!!).  Real went on to reign down havoc on all the predictions.  All they did was beat the top team Columbus, then beat up Chicago the second best Eastern Conference team.  Then they went on and beat the heavy favorite and best of the West = Los Angeles Galaxy.  Yep David Beckham, Bruce Arena and Landon Donovan lost the game to Real Salt Lake.   Meet the goal-scoring machine that sparked on the terrific run of Real Salt Lake.

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Robbie Findley.  In the last match of the 2009 regular season, Findley scored two goals to lead RSL to a 3–0 victory over Colorado, securing another playoff bid for the club. For his performance, he was named MLS Player of the Week. In the first leg of the quarterfinal round of the 09′ MLS Cup Playoffs, his eighty-eighth minute goal gave RSL a 1–0 aggregate lead over top-seeded Columbus.

Also everyone in Utah fell in love with a hair cut style thanks to the Captain of RSL – Kyle Beckerman.

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Over the last decade the MLS has grown significantly.  The talent has gotten better, the coaching has been at an all-time high, and attendance has increase (FC Dallas – set it up though!!).  With talks of players like Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Alexandro Del Piero, and Raul all being linked with teams in the MLS – the “Beckham rule” has gotten the world’s attention.  Its really simple do you want to come to America and make money or sit on the bench?  Imagine if one if not all of those names comes on over.  Now this is similar to the explosion that had PELE and the late 70’s/80’s best come over and money folded the league.  But with the MLS seems to be able to get past all that and with attendance increasing adding a big name may lead them into the next decade with a lot of positives.  Youth soccer in America is huge, American presence on the world’s best teams, and a WORLD CUP could mean 2010,2011 and 2012 could be ground-breaking seasons.  I’m just looking forward to seeing the world’s best get messed around on the field.  My happiest moment was being inches away from David Beckham as was almost stepped on by Defender Adrian Serioux.

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I was just off to the left and still remember the massive divot left behind by Adrian’s knee.  Its really simple David – DON’T MESS WITH TEXAS (even if you’re messing with a Canadian like Adrian.).

Ok so here goes my Team of the Decade.

Let me first clarify – some talented players have spent limited time in the MLS and may well be better overall players, but for this team i’m talking about MLS cred.  So Tim Howard is not the best GK of the decade though he easily may be the most impressive American GK during this decade.  In fact his talents have been much more recognizable in England and so he may well be my pick for best GK of the decade in Volume II – our look at Great Britain.  So once again this is for service in the MLS.   Also Formation for my team of the decades will be a little different then the 4-4-2 most folks go with.  I love my midfielders to much and so i’m being a bit bolder then most.  Formation for the teams is a 3-5-2 look. So 3 defenders, 2 defensive minded midfielders, 3 attacking midfielders, and two strikers.  Been a fan of this formation and teams that are bold enough to use it forever!  (if you’re wondering – Gadi who actually use that formation – well how about the Brazilian National team. – i’ll let you google and find out what other bold folks are out there doing the 3-5-2 justice.)

GOALIE – Pat Onstad.

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The mighty Canadian has one three MLS CUPS (two with H-town and one with San Jose), two goal-keeper of the year awards, and career 1.05 Goals Allowed Average.  At 42 he’s the oldest player in MLS history and still leading the Houston Dynamo in net.  He’s had three seasons of sub 1.0 GAA and double digit Clean Sheets (2005, 2007, and 2009).

DEFENDER – Jimmy “ESPN” Conrad.

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Jimmy started out with the San Jose Earthquake and was part of there 2001 MLS CUP champion team.  In 2003 he was traded to his current team the Kansas City Wizards.  He’s been part of 3 BEST XI MLS lists and was the defender of the year in 2005.   2004 he helped lead KC to a US Open Cup title, to the MLS Cup final (lost 3-2 to DC United), and was a finalist for the Defender of the Year.  He has been captain for KC since 2007 and has become a beloved figure in KC for staying with the club and not bolting to Europe.

DEFENDER – Carlo Bocanegra

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In four seasons the UCLA standout put an undeniable stamp on the MLS, City of Chicago and on American football as a whole.  2000 the MLS Rookie of the Year helped the Chicago Fire bring home the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and went to the MLS Cup finals (lost 1-0 to KC).  Then to end his career he won the Defender of the Year award back-to-back seasons in 2002 and 2003 before jumping aboard a flight for London (Signed with Fulham in January of 2004).  By far the most respected American defender in the world.

DEFENDER – Chad Marshall

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The 2nd overall pick in the 2004 MLS Super Draft has been a staple of the Columbus Crew defense ever since.  His incredible rookie season saw him win the MLS Defender of the Year and runner-up to Clint Dempsey for MLS Rookie of the Year.  The team went on to win the MLS Supporters’ Shield after an unforgettable run of 18 unbeaten matches.  In 2008 the young defender came back from a horrible 2007 season (he missed most of the season due to concussion), this season the Crew would pull off the double.  Chad scored the game winning goal in the CUP final 3-1 victory over New York Red Bulls.  He was awarded his second Defender of the Year award and was in the MLS Best XI.  He took a page out of Carlos Bocanegra’s career as Chad won his third DOY award last season.  The 25 year old is leading the way for the next group of talented American soccer players.

MIDFIELD:

MID – Steve Ralston

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Steve would be in my starting line-up for the last freaking decade!!!  He had a hall-of-fame career long before he joined the New England Revolution.  Simply put – the first MLS Rookie of the Year – has represented the MLS (Tampa Bay Mutiny 1996-2001 and New England Revolution 2002-2009) longer then any other man.  Major League’s Soccer all-time career leader in assists (135), appearances (378), starts (372) and minutes played (33,143). He also holds the U.S. record for professional appearances (412).   Just looking at his Revolution career he’s been tremendous.  201 appearances and scored 42 goals including a career high 8 goals in 2008.   7 time MLS all-star and 3 time Best XI selection.  The only down note for Steve’s Iron Man career is four New England MLS Cup final losses.   The most exemplary note on his career is the only 3 time MLS Fair Play Award (given to the player with the least amount of yellow and red cards).

MID – Predrag “Preki” Radosavljević

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Like Steve Ralston, Preki was an original member of the league starting his first run with the Kansas City Wizards.  He would play the 2001 season with the Miami Fushion then return to KC for the remainder of his career.  He is the all-time league leader in points scored (270 on 79 goals and 112 assists, plus another 25 points on 10 goals and 5 assists in the playoffs).  In fact the old man (42 in his final game) left the game magically as he scored a goal in his final game…in the final minute.   He also has impressed as a leader of men, in his first year as Head Coach (Chivas USA 2007) he won the Coach of the Year Award.   There are a few players that winded down there careers (Eddie Pope was hard to not include but he wasn’t the same player in the 00’s), Preki remained a solid controlling midfielder with a knack for scoring.  Nice dude to boot.

MID – Dwayne De Rosario

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The Canadian started out with the San Jose Earthquakes (01-05) and moved with them to Houston (05-08) and returned to his homeland to play for FC Toronto (09 – current).   Dwayne has scored 66 goals in 216 MLS appearances.  He’s been part of 4 MLS CUP Champion teams (2 with San Jose 01′ and 03 and 2 with Houston – 06′ and 07′).  He was MVP of two of those four games (01′ and 07′) both games he scored the game-winning goals.   De Ro was named to the Best XI for 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2009 (damn missed a five year stretch!).   On a local note – Houston was undefeated at home against there Texas rivals FC Dallas as long as DE RO was with the team, Just last night (May 5th – Cinco De Mayo!!) FC Dallas recorded there first ever road victory against the damn Dynamo (thank you Dax, Brek and Ugo for each touching the ball on the beautiful 79th minute goal – I jumped off my couch and screamed loudly on that one).

MID – Landon Donovan.

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It can be argued that Landon is the best American Soccer Player ever – yep.  Ironically from 2001-2005 he was on the record as a member of Bayer Leverkusan he spent most of his playing days with the San Jose Earthquakes.  On loan for those three years made for an interesting switch for the second half of this decade.  Before we get there, Landon with San Jose was a magical time.  In four years with SJ, he scored 32 goals and 29 assists in league play, and 10 goals and six assists in the playoffs.  He led the Earthquakes to MLS Cup championships in 2001 and 2003.  In 03′ he was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year.  After a failed return to Germany the face of US soccer had to deal with some crazy last minute wheeling and dealing to get him to LA (2005- current).  In his first season with the Galaxy, Donovan scored twelve league goals and ten assists and added four goals and an assist in the playoffs as the Galaxy won the MLS Cup.  He’s been selected to the 2003, 2008, and 2009 BEST XI list.  He took home the 2008 MLS Golden Boot (given to top goal-scorer) netting 20 goals for LA.  Donovan enjoyed an outstanding 2009 campaign, winning the league’s MVP and Goal of the Year award and leading the Galaxy to the MLS Cup final, which they lost on penalties to Real Salt Lake.  Just to cap off the point – Landon is the USA’s all-time leading goal and assist leader.

Mid – Guillermo Barros Schelotto.

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The Argentinian has become one of the most explosive and intelligent players to ever grace an MLS squad.  In three remarkable seasons he’s already carved himself a strong legacy.  The Boca Juniors legend (picture above) came into the MLS as part of the “Beckham Rule”.   A day after his 34th birthday the diminutive midfielder signed with the Columbus Crew.  In the 2007 season he led the team with 11 assists, also adding 5 goals, in 22 games.  2008 was a steller year as Guillermo was chosen Player of the week four times, Player of the month once, and recorded 19 assists and 7 goals during the regular season.  He was name MVP of the season (Crew took home MVP, Coach of the Year and Defender of the Year!!).  Then to cap it all off the Crew beat NY Red Bulls 3-1 to win the MLS CUP.  Guillermo was named CUP MVP for his outstanding 3 assist game.  And as stated above – He was named SI’s Latino Player of the Year.  The 09′ season saw the departure of said Coach of the Year Sigi Schmid and with him went the mojo.  Guillermo’s 09 wasn’t as steller, but the 37 year old is still the smartest player on the field no matter the opponent.   In the end I think his biography title sums up his style  – published in 06′ – the end of his Boca Juniors career “Guillermo, el terrible. Historia de un ídolo” (“Guillermo the menace. History of an idol”).

FORWARDS:

Forward – Taylor Twellman.

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Like Landon Donovan, Taylor’s career in the MLS starts with a bad stint over in Germany (1860 Munich – only reserve play).  He joined the Revolution in 2002 and quickly jumped the ranks from reserve to starter.  Remarkably Taylor established himself as one of the most dangerous players in the league, finishing second in the league in goals scored (23), first in overall points (52), and was runner-up to Carlos Ruiz for MLS MVP.  The injuries start in 2003 but didn’t keep Taylor from tying Ruiz for the goal scoring lead with 15.   Injuries crippled his 2004 and he only finished with 9 goals.  2005 was a turning point for the young striker as he won both the Major League Soccer MVP Award and MLS Golden Boot, finishing the regular season with 17 goals.  He was also named to the MLS Best XI, as he was in 2002.  In 2007, Twellman won his first title with the Revolution: the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup.  Injuries sadly kept him on the sideline for most of the last two seasons.  If he can stay healthy Taylor has established himself as one of the more potent forwards in MLS.

Forward – Jason Kries.

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Ok so I may be a bit of a homer on this (yeah I know about Jaime Moreno), but I got to see Jason up close and personal for a few seasons and he was always the most talented player on the pitch.  He just fights harder then anyone it seems.  As the Dallas Burn’s first overall selection in the Inaugural Draft he would become the face of the North Texas soccer club.  The five-time all-star led his team in goals five times and in points four times.  He ended his ninth MLS season with career totals of 91 goals and 65 assists for 247 points, plus added four goals and two assists in the playoffs.  Jason is second all-time in goals (yeah Jaime is #1).  Ok I might as well address why Jason over Jaime.  Jaime had off and on years – he had seasons of 2 and 3 goals only and then topped off with seasons of 16 (twice).  Jason never dipped below five goals (his final season he only played four games – doesn’t count).  Though Jason never scored more then 13 I’d argue Jason did all of his goal-scoring with less around him the Jaime.   Moreno had Etcheverry for almost ever season.   Kries had talent around him, but known was as good a player-maker as Marco.  In fact I’ll go on record saying Jaime Moreno scored most of his goals in a poaching style.  Don’t get me wrong he’s top 5 all-time, but when you look at how they played the game.  Taylor Twellman, Jason Kries, and even Carlos Ruiz seemed to always be more talented then Jaime (though he tallied the highest goals).   Jason would move on to Real Salt Lake where he would tally an additional 17 goals giving him a career total of 108 – first player to eclipse the 100 goal mark.  He would move from the field to the bench as Head Coach, the youngest ever, and lead his team to MLS Cup victory in only two short seasons.  Last season remarkable season mirrored Jason Kries’ career.  Short burst of brilliance that is usually overlooked but never forgotten.  Yeah I’m a freaking Homer, haha.

Ok I’ve grown sick of this and wish to say thank you for getting through it all.  Wait till Volume II when I read ever word of War and Peace….or I’ll talk about British Soccer…I’ve forgotten.  Check back sometime next week.

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One response

7 05 2010
Alan Elkon

what a long story. Terrific well done, boy

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