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Best of the year and decade in women's soccer

Incredibly, today marks the last day of this decade.  I cannot honestly say that I know where time has gone.  It seems that as soon as we think we have a grip on life, time takes over and hurries us along.

It has been an up-and-down decade for women’s soccer.  On an all-time high after a hugely successful 1999 Women’s World Cup, the sport finally saw the formation of a professional league in the United States with the Women’s United Soccer Association in 2001.

The WUSA’s collapse in 2003 was terrible news, and it seemed unlikely that a women’s league could revive itself anytime soon.  This, coupled with rising global competition for the United States, meant that Germany won both Women’s World Cups this decade (2003 and 2007), one of which came on the American’s home soil.

The U.S. did manage to claim Olympic gold medals in 2004 and 2008, but the victories seemed to take a back seat to the ultimate glory of the World Cup.

Women’s Professional Soccer enjoyed its inaugural season in 2009, getting off to a great start on and off the field and providing encouragement for the future of the game.  Without a doubt, that has to be the most positive moment of the decade for me.  WPS has found a way to take previous failures of the WUSA and build a product that provides the highest level of competition with the opportunity to be profitable in the future.

Below are some of my favorite personal memories in women’s soccer of the past decade, along with some of my year-end awards for 2009

Founders Cup 2001 (Aug. 25, 2001):
I was in attendance for the Bay Area CyberRays’ 4-2 (3-3 after extra time) penalty shootout victory over the Atlanta Beat, and it was a great experience.  I still remember standing in line for autographs for over an hour outside of Foxboro Stadium.  I was just about to the front of line when Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy got out of their seats to let the next rotation of players sit down for autographs.  I must admit, I was incredibly disappointed, but Gro Espeseth and Joy Fawcett will have to do.

Aug. 3, 2002: The only Philadelphia Charge game that I was able to see in person.  The San Diego Spirit was in town for a stormy evening in which kick-off was delayed multiple times due to thunderstorms.  Back in the day (before I had my reporter’s hat on) I was a Philadelphia Charge supporter.  I’m not sure how it happened, but looking back, the roster was truly incredible in the City of Brotherly Love.  Lorrie Fair, Kelly Smith, Marinette Pichon and Heather Mitts all composed a Charge team that consistently underachieved (and broke this fan’s heart).  On this particular night, the Tietjen sisters (Jennifer of Philadelphia and Margaret of San Diego) were taking on each other, but San Diego had stars of its own.  Lori Lindsey, Shannon MacMillan, Julie Fleeting, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and Shannon Boxx made for quite the opposition.

On that former Charge player note, we recently learned about the battle that Kelly Smith had with alcohol during her first stay in the United States.  I never knew anything about it, but I am glad to hear that she is doing well now.

April 15, 2001: WUSA’s inaugural game between the Washington Freedom and Bay Area CyberRays in front of 34,148 fans at RFK Stadium.  RFK has hosted some great events through the years, and it is important that this day does not get forgotten in those.

2004: The Olympic gold medal run that the United States made, followed by the fan celebration tour was the perfect way to send Hamm, Foudy and Fawcett out on the right note.  Hamm would hold the American flag at the Closing Ceremonies in Athens, and a new era of the U.S. Women’s National Team would be welcomed in.

Aug. 26, 2007: I made the short day trip up to Oneonta to see Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy get inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame (first all-women induction class).  It was by far the most crowded I have ever seen Oneonta, and I’ve been there quite a few times.  The two then played in the Hall of Fame Game between the Washington Freedom and the Connecticut FC Reds.  Here is some shaky home video from yours truly (my buddy on the camera in part six, acting like a goofball).  And probably the funniest moment of my life that happened there that day: A fan mistook me for Cobi Jones.  Seriously….

2008: A United States team that was supposed to be lost without it’s stars of the past, but 2008 would bring Olympic glory again for the Americans.  The victory came after another disappointing third place finish in the 2007 Women’s World Cup (and who could forget Hope Solo’s media antics there?).  This gold was perhaps even more significant, as it was the first time that the U.S. really played an underdog role.

October 29, 2009: The U.S. travels to Germany for a No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown before almost 30,000 fans in a sold-out Impuls Arena.  This is an encouraging sign of things to come for Germany 2011.

On a more personal note, spending the spring and summer of 2009 working communications, marketing and just about anything else needed for the W-League’s Hudson Valley Quickstrike Lady Blues was truly a great experience.  In less than a year of operation (and just a few months to prepare), we found our way to an undefeated Regular Season Championship, the 2009 Organization of the Year Award and the 2009 Communications Award (a personal favorite of mine).  Look for even bigger and better things out of us in 2010 as we strive to become the premier W-League franchise, one with the professionalism that rivals even WPS clubs.

And finally, I am obviously completely thrilled that WPS has brought back professional women’s soccer in the United States, and it is my hope that is here to stay.  The model that has been laid out to help make this happen, but there is obviously still a worrying factor given the current economy and previous happenings with the WUSA.  I will say this: Everyone that I have met in WPS – from league office officials, general managers, right down to players and volunteers – has been absolutely great.  They have been helpful, insightful and friendly and they all have an idea of what it means to do good business.  And I am happy to have gotten a package from the league with some Puma gear in it today – the final day of the year and decade – which only confirms this.

A big thank you to Rob Penner and everyone else at the league for that and for incredible interactions all year.  Shout-outs to Andy Crossley, Mark Washo, Charlie Naimo, Jack Cummins, Marcia McDermott and many more.  Like them, I want to see this league grow.

Here’s a little WUSA trivia for you (as I review some of my old material): Mia Hamm and Tiffeny Milbrett were named Player of the Week twice in the 2001 inaugural season, but only one player received the honor three times.  Who was it?  And, who was the first-ever WUSA Player of the Week?  Hint: They both played for the same team.  Leave your answer in the comments section below.

And as far as 2009 goes, here are some of my quick thoughts on some of the best of the year:

Best Player: Shannon Boxx – I voted for her for MVP, and I stand by that.  She was the glue that held the Los Angeles Sol together.

Best Team: North Carolina Tar Heels – Yet again, Anson Dorance and company gets it done, taking down Stanford on the way to a 20th national championship.  Also, I have to give credit to the Pali Blues, who completed a second straight undefeated W-League season en route to another championship.

Best Coach: Paul Riley, Long Island Fury/Philadelphia Independence – He leads Long Island to a WPSL championship and then makes the jump to Philadelphia, immediately bringing in players like Heather Mitts, Amy Rodriguez, Lori Lindsey, Caroline Seger, Allison Falk and Val Henderson.  I’ve spoken with Riley several times, and he knows what he is doing.  Look for Philly to make noise in 2010.

Best Story: Hands down, have to give credit to Christie Rampone one more time.  2009 was the year of Rampone.

I can truly say this was an incredible year and a decade that flew by, and I can’t wait to see what 2010 and beyond brings.  Happy New Year everyone.

Check out my year in review here.


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