In this playful piece, we pose a question or make a statement about something in soccer that will be opined about, agreed and disagreed on, by YOU, the reader. No more talking heads giving safe, politically correct answers. Those days are over. Instead, we’ve opened the floor to everyone out there in Cyberland to throw in their two cents.
This will be a busy next 12 months, presenting great challenges and opportunities for U.S. Soccer and its National Teams. With CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying for the U.S. U-23s, the beginning of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying for the U.S. Men, and the 2004 Olympics for the U.S. Women, the stage is set for someone on both the Men’s and Women’s side to really put their stamp on 2004. So last month, we asked you: Who will be the breakout players for U.S. Soccer in 2004?
Not surprisingly, the rapid rise of Tim Howard and Bobby Convey with both club and country did not go unnoticed on 2003, and most believe that those two are on track to keep that success going in 2004. On the women’s side, you picked WWC rookies like Shannon Boxx and Kylie Bivens and UNC upstart Heather O’Reilly to lead the team back to Olympic gold. Below are the best of the best responses:
"Being a Man Utd fan, I'd definitely have to give my vote to Tim Howard, and I can justify my claim. For years, after the great Danish keeper Peter Schmeichel left, United has been trying to find his perfect replacement. The team went through numerous changes: Bosnich, Van Der Gouw, even World Cup winner Fabien Barthez, but none it seemed could truly try to fill the shoes of Schmeichel, until now. Howard joined United straight from the MLS, nobody, not even Sir Alex, thought he would make such an impressive start. His solidity at the helm of the United defense has made him the first choice keeper at a club who's never had an American player before. He pushed stalwart Fabien Barthez to go to Marseille and has captured the hearts of United fans all over the world. Tim Howard is a true class act. Despite all the hype and pressure surrounding his drastic change from the MLS to the demanding Premiership, he has managed to keep his head on his shoulders, and his feet firm on the ground. His abilities has kept United on top of the Premiership table and for just £2.4 million he is the epitomy of the quality of the players that the USA are producing. Tim Howard definitely deserves to be named breakout player of 2004."
--Webmaster / www.manutdonline.org
"Even though attackers score goals, I think defense wins games. Tim Howard could become a great leader and organizer in the back for the US. He commands his box well, is quick off his line, and is gaining valuable experience playing with a top club in British football. A mark of a good keeper is when his defenders feel comfortable playing the ball back to him, and I think Howard has demonstrated the ability to not only keep shots out of the back of the net but also to play the ball with his feet. And, of course, he is in a great commercial. What is better than seeing an American break up the play between Rio and Ruud in between elevators! I think Tim Howard can become an anchor for the U.S. team in the future."
--Michael Maza / 25 / Chicago, Ill.
"Bobby Convey is clearly the emerging star of US Soccer. His maturity both on and off the field became exceptionally apparent both during and after the World Youth Tournament. He stood tall against the world's best and delivered us goals and assists with calm precision when the opportunities presented themselves. Watching Bobby steer the U-23's against the U.S. Men's National Team at the National Training Center in California gives us great hope that he will continue to show a level of confidence NEVER SEEN BEFORE in the central midfield of any United States soccer team. His work rate this spring and summer with Peter Nowak's young and talented D.C. United will be unmatched by any ‘young’ star on that team or in MLS. Mark these words, Bobby Convey will be entertaining significant offers from various International clubs come MLS Cup 2004.
--Benjamin Bird / 26 / Alhambra, Calif.
"For the last few years I have wondered who would replace Claudio Reyna as the holding midfielder and playmaker. I believe my question has been answered and this will be the year Bobby Convey turns all the promise into a breakout year for the U.S. Men’s National Team."
--Alexi Manresa / 36 / Miami Beach, Fla.
"I followed the Women's World Cup so closely this past year that my husband kept telling me to keep it down on game days!!! We attended the Women's World Cup final in Carson, Calif. The Germans and Swedes were outstanding, but I'm still rooting for the our women in the 2004 Olympics. My vote for the women's breakout player is Shannon Boxx. She was outstanding on the San Diego Spirit (my hometown) and a great newcomer to our U.S. Women’s National Team. She is strong and has great physical endurance. She's not afraid to get herself into the game. I think she is only getting better and better and her potential to be the MVP for the U.S. this summer is real!"
--Darrah Rogers / 39 / Salt Lake City, Utah
"I have just one player in mind: Heather O'Reilly. She is obviously an incredible soccer player, but she is an even more remarkable person off the field. Always handling every situation with class and modesty, she is a perfect role model. Her determination to succeed, both on and off the field, is extremely motivating. She inspires me each day to work my hardest at whatever I do. Perhaps the most admirable accomplishment of Heather's was making such a hard-fought and courageous comeback after the unfortunate injury she suffered in June in the international friendly versus Ireland. While other athletes may be devastated from such a fallback, Heather simply pushed herself harder, and look where she found herself at the end of her freshman college season: 2003 NCAA MVP. Simply incredible! I am so proud to be a friend and fan of Heather's! Team USA would be very fortunate to have Heather on the 2004 Olympic squad!"
--Pauline Yang / 17 / East Brunswick, N.J.
"What about Kylie Bivens? She got her feet wet and got her National Team jitters out during the Women's World Cup, so I think she's going to make a name for herself in the road to the Olympics. In every article, ad, or commentary mentioned about the WWC, she is rarely mentioned as even a team member, much less anything on her play, but she stepped up and had a great Cup in the shadow of Reddick, Wambach, and Hamm. I think she will be the next breakout player just as she led the Atlanta Beat to the Founders Cup this past year."
--Miranda Pettit / 33 / Spartanburg, S.C.
For February, the question is: Which American in England will have the best second half of the Premier League season?
Timmy Howard has been almost impossible to beat at Man-U, but can his remarkable results hold up in the thick of the Barclaycard cauldron? Will a newbie like Carlos Bocanegra step in to a make a difference for Fulham, or will it be teammate Brian McBride who steals the spotlight by recreating his scoring success at Everton last spring? Can Brad and/or Claudio step it up and led their teams to the top half of the table?
E-mail your BRIEF, but well-crafted rant to email@example.com. PLEASE INCLUDE YOUR FULL NAME, AGE AND CITY OF RESIDENCE. Feel free to submit responses for as many months as you wish, but in the interest of sharing the spotlight, we will be giving space to different respondents from month to month.
Download this issue of Center Circle (.pdf).
Table of Contents
1) Armchair Midfielder [The U-23 Class of 2000: Then and Now]
2) In Threes [w/ MNT midfielder Chris Klein]
3) Making it in the Show [w/ U-23 MNT midfielder David Testo]
4) Queries & Anecdotes [w/ U-23 MNT forward Conor Casey]
5) Mark that Calendar [U-23 MNT vs. Group A – 2004 CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying / Live on MatchTracker]
6) Superstar!!! [w/ WNT defender Heather Mitts]
7) Point/Counterpoint [Who will be the Breakout Players for U.S. Soccer in 2004?]
8) You Don't Know Jack (Marshall) [General U-23/Men’s Olympic Trivia]
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