Featured image: Earl Gardner
2011 was a great year for Philly soccer fans. The Philadelphia Union made it to the playoffs in just their second season. For the second year in a row, and their second year of existence, the Philadelphia Independence made it to the WPS Finals. Nearly 58,000 turned out to see the Union play Real Madrid at the Linc, where the USMNT would host Mexico only a few weeks later (even if the home support was outnumbered by the support for the visitors at both games). And the USWNT thrilled and entertained us all in its run to the finals of the Women’s World Cup.
It has also been a great year for the PSP and we are grateful to you, the reader, for supporting the work of the our writers and photographers in making the PSP what it is today.
As we prepare to enter a new year, we present to you our Best of 2011 awards. Feel free to share your own Best of 2011 awards in the comment section below. After all, we’re sure to have missed something, and we couldn’t do this without you.
Men’s Player of the Year
Danny Califf. In November we named Califf Man of the Year based upon him having the highest season average in our post-game player ratings. A vocal leader on and off the pitch, he also sports an always entertaining variety of haircuts and sideburns stylings, not to mention some very cool tattoos. A consummate professional, he’s also a really nice guy—unless you try to invade his box. While Carlos Valdes was rightly picked for several “Best of” lists across the webosphere, Califf was generally, and wrongly, overlooked. Try to remember Califf having a significantly bad moment, let alone a bad game, in 2011. It’s hard, isn’t it? He is the backbone and moral center of the Union defense and the definition of class.
Women’s Player of the Year
Veronica Boquete. Once you get to the 5′ mark, the measure of her height might be more accurately described in centimeters than in inches but the diminutive Spanish playmaker and league MVP solidified the Independence offense upon her arrival. With Amy Rodriguez away for long stretches of the season with the USWNT, Boquete took over matches by herself and provided the electrifying Tasha Kai with all the service she needed to keep the Independence in the playoff hunt. A more dynamic midfield maestro you simply will not find.
Men’s Rookie of the Year
Michael Farfan. He played everywhere on the pitch, doing everything asked of him with confidently creative play and great technique. Then he would sprinkle a little pepper on top of things with an improbable assist or a cracking goal. In a system of fluidity, Farfan’s play down the stretch demanded that he retain his right midfield spot while everyone rotated around him. Marfan & Williams = Shake & Bake.
Women’s Rookie of the Year
Sinead Farrelly. She’s local and she’s a badass on the pitch. Ladies, get your Farrelly USWNT jersey, stat—you’re going to get plenty of chances to wear it. And US Soccer/Nike, make some damn USWNT supporters gear for men. We’ll buy it, promise.
Coach of the Year
Paul Riley. In the first Independence season in 2010, Riley led the team to the WPS final against all expectation. In 2011, Riley did the same while also having to contend with the absence of starting keeper Nicolae Barnhart, midfielder Lori Lindsey, and star forward Amy Rodriguez. And if you thought Indy ’11 was exciting, consider the addition of Lori Chalupny, the continued development of Farrelly, the return of Boquete and Holmfridur Magnusdottir, not to mention a crop of exciting draft picks, and realize that the 2012 edition will have even more firepower. Riley will be overjoyed with the plethora of attacking options.
We also like him because he’ll talk forever to reporters after a game with great openness and wit. If you get a chance to hear an interview with Coach Riley, take the time to listen—he never disappoints.
Executive of the Year
David Halstead. Not only did the Independence owner see his team through to their second straight WPS Final, he also worked tirelessly when the season was over to save the league. The product speaks for itself—go see the Independence play. NOW! Well not now, but soon.
Match of the Year
In 2011 we continue a tradition that started with the inaugural awards in 2010: copping out. Here’s a selection of some of our favorites.
- Union beats Seattle. TAKE THAT PLASTIC PITCH!!!
- USA defeats Brazil in Women’s World Cup. And Marta went wee wee wee all the way home.
- Union’s comeback draw with New England. Saved MacMath an unsavory beginning to his career.
- Union thumps Toronto. Six goals. SIX GOALS!!!!
- Independence knocks magicJack out of the playoffs. Kia McNeill is Abby Wambach repellent.
Best Local Soccer Event of the Year
Kyle Nakazawa’s Team Dinner for Autism Awareness. It was easier to say which Union players weren’t at this event than who was there. Next time you run into MLS fans from another city, ask them if they get to hang out with their team’s players over dinner, if their starting goalkeeper goes around the room and shakes the hand of every fan in attendance, or if their team’s players enjoy the company of their fans and each other as much as the Union players obviously do. As for Kyle himself? Good dude, that guy. Our hats are off to him.
Best Soccer Moment
USWNT beats Brazil. With 10 players. From the Hope Solo PK save that was called back to Abby Wambach’s textbook headed finish of Megan Rapinoe’s spectacular last gasp cross to force PKs after extra time, this is the drama that international soccer is all about. Beating a bunch of whiny Brazilians (we’re talking to you, Marta) was just the icing on the cake.
Best Road Trip
This one is a tie: the trip down to Baltimore for the SuperDraft and the last game of the season at New York. We can’t remember how many Union supporters made the trip to Baltimore, probably 200 or so (and on a weekday at that), but there was no doubt Philly was in the house when everyone marched into the Baltimore Convention Center. Sure, there were other supporters there in numbers—DC United, the Energy Drinks, a few Revolution supporters—but their presence was nothing compared to the Union support, led by, and largely made up of, the Sons of Ben. It was an awesome day.
Speaking of presence and awesomeness, the 1,200 Union supporters—once again, led by the Sons of Ben—who traveled to Red Bull Arena for the last game of the season were simply magnificent. Not for one second did anyone who was there to support the home team doubt that the Union was in the house, even if the play on the pitch left something to be desired. The Energy Drinks may have won the night on the score sheet, but when it comes to moral victories, the night belong to the Union’s support. It was a proud moment in Union history, one which we were honored to cover and participate in.
The I-Can’t-Believe-He-Just-Did-That Play of the Year
Marfan’s chip against Real Madrid. At the start of the July friendly, it was safe to say that Union supporters were in the minority of the nearly 58,000 in attendance. But as the match went on, the Union began to turn many in the crowd with their persistent, never-say-die play, despite going two goals down early in the first half. With ten minutes remaining in the game, Michael Farfan received a pass just outside of the 18 from Danny Mwanga and coolly chipped the keeper for the cheekiest Union goal of the season, and quite possibly (outside of some tallies from some team from some city called Barcelona) the cheekiest goal Real Madrid had scored on them in 2010. The goal sharpened a final ten minutes in which the Union pressed for the equalizer that would turn the game.
In the end, the equalizer did not come, but by the final whistle there was no doubt that the crowd had turned in support of the hometown team. “My real name is Awesome, but you can call me Michael,” Adam Cann wrote in our match report for the game. Indeed.
The I-Can’t Believe-She-Just-Did-That Play of the Year
The Rapinoe cross to set up Wambach’s goal against Brazil in the closing seconds of extra time. It had to be perfect. And it was. We wish she still played for Indy.
Best Wakey Wakey Moment of the Year
Danny Mwanga’s interception of Tim Ream and Danny Mwanga’s interception of Sean Franklin. For 67 minutes, New York had dominated the Union at PPL Park to no effect. And then Tim Ream made a howler of a pass that was scooped up by Danny Mwanga. He took a touch or to and, just as Ream took out his ankles, laid the ball off to Roger Torres, who had just been subbed in, and with his first touch of the game slotted home what would be the game winner. Cue bedlam. Little more than a month later, the Union were down 1–0 to the Galaxy at home when Franklin made a weak back pass to Donovan Ricketts. When Mwanga intercepted the ball this time, he finished it himself to score his first goal of the season and secure the draw. Cue pandemonium.
Best Personnel Move of the Year
Selling Carlos Ruiz. And so the saga was over. Mostly, anyway. It still took a month or more for the team—and the fan base—to get its head straight.
Worst Personnel Move of the Year
Signing Carlos Ruiz. And so the saga began.
Most Forgotten Man of the Year
Michael Orozco Fiscal. Remember how ticked off the Union fan base was when Orozco Fiscal mysteriously disappeared from pre-season training? Remember how poorly the club handled releasing information about his departure? (This will refresh your memory.) Remember how Carlos Valdes became a rock in the Union defense and how you forgot about Orozco Fiscal? Remember how you then remembered Orozco Fiscal when the USMNT played Mexico at the Linc? Yeah, we all still wish Orozco Fiscal was with the Union. But with the arrival of Valdes, any concerns about the Union defense related to Orozco Fiscal’s departure were emphatically laid to rest.
Best New Nickname of the Year
The Sheanomenon. So many to choose from. The utilitarian Garfan and Marfan and the associated Farfantastic. Amobeast. Le Touch. Bearfight. Mwagic. And so on. But the Sheanomenon takes the cake.
Biggest Waste of Money of the Year
Juan Diego Gonzalez. There, we just wasted three seconds just typing his name and you wasted two seconds reading it. Why do you read only slightly faster than we type? You might consult a doctor about that.
Silliest Transfer Rumor of the Year
Nicolas Anelka to the Union. Chasing rumors of player transfers is an inevitable part of covering the game and, every now and again, a rumor actually becomes fact. But, anyone who seriously thought Anelka was going to be wearing the Union blue and gold in 2012 might be interested to read that report we just made up about Cristiano Ronaldo saying he would like to make the move to Chester to finish his career.
Diplomatic Incident of the Year
Keon Daniel’s visa situation. Last year it was the government messing with Union fans when heightened security outside of the Linc due to the presence of Vice President Joe Biden caused many to miss the the start of the club’s first game in Philadelphia. Now, it’s US Immigration screwing things up. You’d think maybe Biden could do something about Daniel’s visa situation—he owes us one, dammit.
Best Knockout Move of the Year
Remember that time when Gabriel Farfan’s delivered a Muay Thai flying knee to Houston’s Danny Cruz in the first playoff game? Yeah, so do we. Sweet.
Best Supporters Group
The IllegitimateS. When it comes to organized Union supporters, it all starts with the Sons of Ben, which is why they won this award last year. In 2011, the IllegitimateS, largely made up of Sons of Ben members themselves, embraced the responsibility of being the first line of defense against visiting support at PPL Park with dash and good humor. They also have a fine website, organize their own charity drives, and have a wonderfully gregarious presence on Facebook and Twitter. Don’t know them? Read our Q & A with their founders.
Dumbest Fans of the Year
Those who continue to insist that Carlos Ruiz was a net positive for the Union. It is one thing to recognize the contributions Ruiz made to the team; only a fool would disagree with the statement that he scored some fine goals and was instrumental in several big wins. It is quite another thing to think those contributions as a whole were singularly more important than the contributions of other players or outweigh the disruption that his arrival brought to the team and among the fans.
Oh yeah, and also anyone who supports the Red Bulls.
Smartest Fans of the Year