By Allen Ramsey
Anytime someone looks back over a full year of action in the world of soccer there's any number of great stories to remember. So in the first edition of The Short List (which will get shorter by the way), I wanted to take a look back over top 10 things I will remember about 2008. This list will likely not include many of the stories that made major headlines worldwide, and is without question up for debate. Some of the moments might not mean as much for some fans as they do for others, but that’s what lists are for.
10. October 11: Jose Francisco Torres gets capped by the USA.
This one is close to my heart and probably only made the list because of how much I like watching this guy play-- and maybe because we grew up in towns just a few miles apart-- but Torres’s decision to play for the United States was great.
Torres grew up in Longview, Texas and was scouted by Pachuca out of a local men’s league when he was only 16. There might never have been a chance that he was going to make Mexico’s roster. But when Torres stepped on the field at RFK stadium wearing the Red, White and Blue, he was American for life. The fact that he stepped in that night against Cuba, and then four days later against Trinidad and Tobago, and played well, was just the icing on the cake.
Recent performances from Torres in the Club World Cup just solidified how much I like his style of play. At only 21, Jose Francisco Torres should be part of the U.S. Men’s National team pool for many years to come. Even if he never fulfills his potential, the Torres’s decision to represent the Red White and Blue will always be a victory in my book.
9. November 15: Michael Bradley scores his first Bundesliga goal.
Normally, an American player scoring their first goal in one of Europe’s top leagues is good news for American fans (see the coverage American media gave Jozy Altidore’s first goal in Spain). But what Michael Bradley did set his first goal in Germany apart from other firsts in ‘08.
Down two goals to Germany’s biggest club, Bayern Munich, all hope looked lost for Bradley and Borussia Monchengladbach. Then the miracle came. M’Gladbach pulled one back in the minute 79, stunning Bayern and setting the table for Bradley to play the hero just two minutes later.
It was just a free header from about six yards out, but nonetheless, it was American midfielder Michael Bradley scoring a goal to pull his team level with one of the best clubs in the world.
If you’re only going to score once in the first half of the year, you might as well make it a big one. I’d say a goal to draw Bayern Munich is a great way to open an account in Germany.
8. November 13: Columbus takes the Eastern Conference title over Chicago.
This match won’t go down as one of the all time greats. It probably doesn’t even rank in the top three Eastern Conference finals ever. But I loved it.
Maybe it was Brian McBride scoring against the Crew to give Chicago the lead that drew me in. It could’ve Blanco falling all over the field and giving the ref his patented “por favor, arbitro!” face. There’s a chance that I was drawn in by Chad Marshall’s goal over McBride to level the match. Seeing someone out-muscle and out-jump McBride is rare. You know, it might’ve even been Eddie Gaven’s beard. But this game was fun to watch.
The league’s two best teams played in the semifinals and the match lived up to its billing.
Compared to the other Major League Soccer playoff matches of 2008, this was the best one to watch. Here’s hoping we get to see a grudge match in the 2009 playoffs.
7. September 16- October 29: Two USL team make the CONCACAF Champions League Quarterfinals.
One of the best stories on this side of the globe in 2008 was the run of two United Soccer League teams through the CONCACAF Champions League group stage.
The story began on match-day 1 with the Montreal Impact beating Joe Public, a team that had crushed the New England Revolution in the preliminary round. Then, the Puerto Rico Islanders pulled off an upset of their own over Tauro F.C. of Panama.
It looked like an opening game fluke, or a dream that could never last. But one week later it happened again. In the second go-round Montreal pulled off a draw against Atlante and the Islanders crushed Santos Laguna 3-1 on a rain-soaked pitch.
After six hard-fought group matches each, and a string of good play from the USL sides, the second division American league had two representatives in the quarterfinals. Major League Soccer had only one.
It may be a far stretch of the imagination for these two teams to make the semifinals. But their run to the quarters made the first ever CCL one to remember.
6. August 21: U.S. Women’s National Team wins the Olympic Gold Medal.
Admittedly, I don’t watch much women’s soccer, but this game pulled me in. The USWNT’s overtime final against Brazil had everything needed to be a great match.
The game pitted two of the world’s top teams against each other. It was full of high drama as each team created a number of good chances. And, as every great game should, this one had a thrilling end. Carli Lloyd’s winner six minutes into overtime was a great climax to a well-played match.
Not since Brandi Chastain scored the final penalty in 1999 have I been so completely intrigued by a women’s match. Part of the allure was how talented the Brazilian women were. Their skill on the ball was amazing at times. It looked like the U.S. was over-matched and would eventually succumb to the pressure the Brazilians were mounting.
The other part was a natural call to cheer for the U.S. in the Olympics. For most people, rooting for your country comes as naturally as breathing. The Olympics bring about a loyalty for many fans that doesn’t come around too often. This game was the high point for American soccer fans at the 2008 Olympics, and one of the crowning moments in U.S. soccer history.
5. June 8: U.S.M.N.T. ties #1 ranked Argentina.
It was a long summer for the U.S. men’s national team. A three game run against world-class competition began with a disappointing showing against England. That game was followed by a hard-fought loss to the soon-to-be Euro Champions in Spain. Then on June 8 the team returned home, to Giants Stadium, to take on the number 1 ranked team in the world.
The atmosphere was electric as close to 80,000 fans showed up in East Rutherford, New Jersey to watch the U.S.A and Argentina lock horns in a meaningless friendly.
Under normal circumstances, a 0-0 draw does not go down as a great moment. Americans rarely count moral victories. But for one night in June the USMT showed that they could play with the best the world has to offer.
Tim Howard’s numerous saves stole the show, but the U.S. made some solid attacking moves as well. Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Demarcus Beasley all showed flashes of brilliance, and the American defense held steady despite the absence of Carlos Bocanegra.
The improvement in Bob Bradley’s side between the England match and the draw against Argentina was remarkable. The game fueled the U.S.’s impressive run in World Cup Qualifying and was arguably the best result the team has gotten since drawing with Italy in Germany 2006.
4. November 23: Columbus wins their first MLS Cup.
This was not a classic title game given the history of overtime matches in the MLS Cup final. For any number or reasons this game was not as fun to watch as the Eastern Conference final. From a historical point, it will be hard for me to forget the league’s best team finishing off the season with a bang.
It was a wonderful full-team effort, but the moment when Frankie Hejduk stuck home Guillermo Barros Schelotto’s perfect little chip takes the cake for great events in this match. The league MVP finding one of the league’s veteran stars will go down as one of the most memorable goals ever scored in the MLS Cup final.
Not to take anything away from Chad Marshall’s game winner. Marshall had as much to do with Columbus winning the title as anyone. But Schelotto to Hejduk to put the game on ice was a thing of shear beauty.
Congrats to New York for making the game an intriguing story. Without New York’s surprising run to the final, the match would’ve lost some of its luster. In the end, the best team won and the MLS Cup deserves a top five spot on this list.
So, after spending seven spots on American stories, the top three all come from the European game.
3. March 4: Fabregas’ strike puts Arsenal on top of A.C. Milan in the Champions League round of 16.
It may not have been the most important goal of the year, but Cesc Fabregas’s 84th minute strike to give Arsenal the lead was pure magic.
The second leg of the Champions League round of 16 almost always favors the home side. Arsenal had the unenviable task of traveling to the San Siro to play a very veteran A.C. Milan squad ready to seize the moment.
The match was a tight struggle with neither team finding the room needed to open things up. For 80 plus minutes the back and fourth battle continued.
With time running out, and the Milan defense tightening, seemingly looking for a draw, it was the young Gunner who would cement his spot in the history books. Fabregas collected the ball outside of Milan’s box and, rather than looking to make one of his deft passes, took a couple of touches and had a go.
The shot was a low driven effort which proved too much for Milan keeper Zelijko Kalac to deal with. Sure, other players scored prettier goals. Ronaldo, Messi, Kaka, and Ibrahimovic, all had goals worthy of being on this list, as did hundreds of other players. But for a goal of this magnitude to come from Fabregas, who seemed highly unlikely to be the scorer in this match given that he was playing fairly deep, was a stroke of genius.
The visitors would tack on one more with Milan pushing for the equalizer, but it was Cesc’s wonder strike that changed the fortunes of both teams.
2. May 21: John Terry’s missed penalty in the Champion League final.
Not so much the miss, as the way he missed, makes John Terry’s failed penalty in the Champions League Final a top three finisher in 2008.
Terry is a class act and a wonderful player. Time and again Terry has made the big play that pulled Chelsea out of trouble, or rescued a vital point. There is little doubt that Chelsea fans felt quite comfortable with him taking the penalty that would decide their fate. But the unthinkable happened. Captain Terry lost his footing, pushed the ball high and wide, and Chelsea’s hated rivals claimed the Champions League title.
It’s not like this has never happened before. Great players blow penalties in big spots all the time. Well, not all the time, but it has happened on a few very memorable occasions. But when Terry stepped up, it was as close to a sure-thing as I could remember.
In the grand scheme of things, Chelsea fans would love to forget this moment. Manchester United fans will revel in Terry’s miss for many years. For most watching the match around the world, it was just the climax to a great match and a great season in the Champions League. A classic battle between two teams with no love lost for each other.
For me, it was moment number two of the year.
1. June 29: Spain wins Euro 2008.
It would be very hard for this not to be the top spot, and so it is.
The Spanish side went unbeaten through Euro 2008, but the final against Germany was a classic. It was El Ni ño, Fernando Torres, who scored the lone goal, on a brilliant run and finish. The full squad played at a level that the Spanish people have been waiting for a long time to see.
Germany played well, containing the attack-minded Spaniards for most of the match while carving out a few solid chances of their own. As is so often the case in tightly fought contests, a single moment of brilliance stole the show.
Torres, teetering with an offside position, was played a through ball that left a lot of work to be done. With German defender Philipp Lahm tracking the pass and never in position to let El Nino past, it looked a docile enough situation. But Torres popped around Lahm, and then out-muscled the German, winning position on the ball. The finish was all that was left. A deft little chip left German ‘keeper Jans Lehman with nothing to do, but pick the ball out of his own net.
Torres’s strike was enough for Spain to claim the title of Europe’s best, and the top spot in my memories.
Allen Ramsey is a Goal.com associate editor.
What would be your top ten moments of 2008? Discuss in the forums!