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U.S. Soccer’s Second Annual “Best of…" Series

A monthly column about the State of U.S. Soccer that takes a hard look at everything from the performance of the U.S. National Teams to pro soccer in the good ‘ole U-S-of-A . If you’re looking for a viewpoint that you won’t see in a generic, nuts-and-bolts U.S. Soccer press release, you’ve come to the right place.

The Armchair Midfielder is an opinionated person (in case you hadn’t noticed from past issues). And the Armchair Midfielder has been known to try to influence others with said opinions, which is the goal of this piece as we make picks for U.S. Soccer’s second annual “Best of…” series of awards. [Editor’s Note: Fans can vote once daily for one or all of the 11 awards from now until Dec. 9 at]

The envelope, please!!! Below are the best picks (okay, the opinion of one man) for the “Best of U.S. Soccer 2003” honors:

1) Best U.S. Soccer Story
This is a toughie. If the category was biggest U.S. Soccer story, it would be the Women’s World Cup being moved to the USA. If it was the most-talked-about story, it would definitely be the “Great U.S. Hope” tale of Fab Freddy. But my vote for Best U.S. Soccer Story goes Timmy Howard, whose out-of-nowhere signing and remarkable performance while being thrown into the English Premier League fire at Man-U is the stuff of legends.

2) Best Soccer Bar
Before you start ripping me for my uninformed choice for this particular award, let me first admit that I have not enjoyed a Bud at all 10 of the bars listed. But I have been to four. No, wait--five. I could be diplomatic and say something along the lines of “Every bar that supports soccer is a winner,” but that’s far too lame. Instead, like most of you out there,  I’m voting for the one closest to my apartment. The winner: Ginger’s Ale House of Chicago.

3) Best Soccer Store
Every store that supports soccer is a winner.

4) Best Crowd
This is an easy one. For all of the great crowds that came out in force on short notice for Women’s World Cup matches to scream “Miiiiaaa!!!,” especially the D.C. crowd for the opener and the incredibly loyal sell-out crowd in Portland that stood behind the U.S. after the disappointing semi-final loss to Germany, the one that stands out just so happens to be the biggest. Despite being billed as “La Revancha in la Cancha,” the Houston crowd of almost 70,000 was all about (okay, mostly about) peace and love, with as many American flags in Reliant Stadium as there were Mexican flags to watch a fitting 0-0 draw.

5) Best Stadium
Do I even need to waste my breath on this one? Home Depot Center, hands down. For the open-air dining tables in the Stadium Club, for the roof (and the cool blue lights), for the ring of flags surrounding the venue, for the almost ideal seating capacity, for the churros-sellers that made the trip from their days in Pasadena, for the top-notch training facilities, for the fact that soccer is the main focus of the complex amid a dozen other sports that use it, and on and on and on.

6) Best Fans
Who can I offend with this one? Let me count the cities. I’m going to take the easy way out, dodge the MLS markets, and go out on a limb to say that Portland has the best fans, as witnessed by their knowledge of the game, their cultural diversity, and their ability to rally the entire city behind big events like the Women’s World Cup and really make it their own.

7) Best Promotion
While I think the best “idea” of 2003 was our own Men’s National Team unveiling one-of-a-kind retro jerseys from 1950 [Editor’s note: If you don’t know what happened in 1950, shame on you. Go see the movie next year] to go along with U.S. Soccer’s 90th anniversary, it was more of a stroke of marketing genius than game promotion to get fans in the building. For that, I’ll select the Milwaukee Wave United's popular “Happy Hour” for spoiling their season ticket holders more than a Buck-a-Brat-loving Crew fan with four George Washington’s crumpled in his fanny pack.

8) Best Game Performance (Player)
Although her mantel is already bowing in the middle from the weight of previously awarded trophies and medals, let’s not penalize Mia Hamm for being Mia Hamm. The facts is that she set the tone for the entire tournament and served notice to each of the 15 other teams by providing perfect assists on all three U.S. goals in a convincing 3-1 win over Sweden. The message: I’m here to play.

9) Best Game Performance (Team)
The U.S. Women’s National Team’s 3-1 win over Canada in the Third Place Match narrowly edges out the U-17s 6-1 thrashing of South Korea at Finland 2003 and the U.S. Men’s 3-2 comeback win over Costa Rica to win third place at the Gold Cup, only because in both of the latter cases the team’s second-half performances needed to be that good to make up for disappointing first halves. In the case of the Women’s World Cup, however, the USA overcame the bewildering hangover of a stunning loss to Germany, brushed off some cheap shot remarks from their opponent and went out and dominated Canada to re-affirm their position as the only one of the traditional women’s soccer powers to remain as one of the top three teams in the world. (Sorry China. Sorry Norway. The truth hurts.)

10) Best U.S. Goal (Youth National Team)
Don’t hand over the award to Freddy Adu just yet. If you want to acknowledge the most incredible, unlikely, exhilarating goal of the year, it’s that of U.S. Under-23 MNT midfielder David Testo. Maybe you saw it as one of the top plays of the day and week on SportsCenter, but let’s just say that at 85-90 yards, it’s the longest goal you’ll ever see in your life. And it was in the 92nd minute at Mexico, which made it all the more sweet.

11) Best U.S. Goal (Full National Team)
This one comes down to who had the best frickin’ laser beam [yes, I know that’s from “Austin Powers” and was funny about five years ago - leave me alone] shot of the year. Lilly has two worthy nominees, while Earnie Stewart has but one, so Lilly it is. Besides, the woman hardly gets any pub. She deserves it.

Click here to vote on all XI categories...

Download this issue of Center Circle (.pdf).

Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder [“Best of U.S. Soccer 2003”: Who Should Win]
2) In Threes [w/ U-20 MNT forward Mike Magee]
3) Making it to the Show [w/ U-23 MNT defender Nat Borchers]
4) Queries & Anecdotes [w/ WNT defender Brandi Chastain]
5) Mark That Calendar [U-20 MNT vs. Group D Opponents – Nov. 29-Dec. 5]
6) Superstar!!! [w/ WNT defender Cat Reddick]
7) Point/Counterpoint [Who will win MLS Cup?]
8) "You Don’t Know Jack (Marshall)" [U.S. U-20 World Championship Trivia]

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