*Editor's note: This is Part 1. The second half can be found here.*
What soccer moments and stories will you remember most from 2013?
In our small (but growing) world of soccer in the United States, SI’s Brian Straus and I have a thing we try to keep as a guidepost: Write stories that people will remember. You can’t do it every day, of course, and in today’s media landscape of multiple platforms and 24-hour news cycles, you have to try and hit singles and doubles in addition to the occasional home run.
And sometimes the home run comes out of nowhere as part of the 24-hour news cycle.
The soccer person I’ll remember most from 2013 is a 41-year-old guy from Los Angeles named Abel Rodríguez, an A-Rod everyone can love, someone who reminded us that you can be ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. After working as an unpaid runner for superstar coach José Mourinho during his teams’ preseason camps in L.A. over the years, Rodríguez showed up unannounced in Madrid in February hoping to see the Real Madrid-Barcelona game.
Rodríguez waited in the cold at Real Madrid’s training ground, got spotted by Mourinho (“a miracle,” Rodríguez said) and then embarked on the adventure of a lifetime, joining the Madrid squad behind the scenes for the Barcelona game and the Champions League elimination game at Manchester United.
Rodríguez never sought publicity for his remarkable story — my SI.com piece didn’t come out until more than a month after his trip happened, and only then after I got a casual tip from a Mourinho confidante. But Rodríguez’s tale was a human one that showed the highest levels of the game aren’t just a cold, hard business all the time.
What soccer moments and stories will I remember most from 2013? My look back at those datelines and favorite tales is a personal one and hardly comprehensive, but it’s safe to say that 2013 was a remarkable year, both for U.S. soccer and for the journalism that produced so many memorable stories by talented journalists.
NEWTOWN, Conn., Jan. 7 — One of the great things about the U.S. soccer community is that it can come together and do some truly special things as a group. Just three weeks after the Newtown school shooting tragedy, more than 50 current and former players gather from around the country to do something fun for the Newtown community. It’s impossible to be there and not be moved by the experience.
TORREÓN, Mexico, Jan. 8 — Less than 12 hours after Newtown, I land in the dusty town of Torreón, home of Santos Laguna and U.S. national team forward Hérculez Gómez. Never before has an SI magazine story subject picked me up at the airport, but that’s exactly what Gómez does, a perfect example of an Everyman player who has overachieved without forgetting where he came from. Injuries will limit Gómez’s time with the national team as the year went on, but I wouldn’t write him off heading into a World Cup year.
Other January stories that I’ll remember:
Jorge Arangure wrote a terrific piece on Tijuana, San Diego and the cross-border appeal of Club Tijuana.
Matt Futterman sat down with Jurgen Klinsmann and got some eye-opening quotes from the U.S. coach.
Steven Goff wrote a nice feature on U.S. prospect Joe Gyau.
Brian Phillips is tremendously talented, and here he is on the criticism leveled at MLS by FIFA president Sepp Blatter.
Robert Andrew Powell wrote a fantastic book on soccer in Ciudad Juárez, "This Love Is Not for Cowards," and he goes back to Mexico for his own profile on Herc Gómez.
SAN PEDRO SULA, Honduras, Feb. 6 — The U.S. will end up qualifying for World Cup 2014 with ease, a sharp contrast with the near-crisis that ensues after losing the Hexagonal opener.
HARRISON, N.J., Feb. 11 — On one of my favorite days of 2013, I sit down for 10 minutes with nearly 20 MLS players, gave them anonymity (for their candor) and asked them a series of questions about the league. One reason I enjoy covering MLS is the smarts of the guys in the league, reflected here in Part 1 and Part 2.
NEW YORK CITY, Feb. 15 — Out of nowhere, Robbie Rogers releases a heartfelt blog post in which he comes out as gay and steps away from the game. Once again, the U.S. soccer community rallies in support, which will eventually cause Rogers to do a 180 and return to the game.
TUCSON, Ariz., Feb. 19 — By turns insightful and prickly (what else is new?), Thierry Henry sits down with me for an SI magazine MLS preview story on the New York Red Bulls, who end up winning their first competitive trophy in the Supporters' Shield.
Other February stories that I’ll remember:
Roger Bennett, part of the consistently excellent "Men In Blazers" show with Michael Davies, checks in with a good piece on Klinsmann’s coaching influences.
Brian Phillips on match-fixing.
COMMERCE CITY, Colo., March 22 — The SnowClásico enters the pantheon of one of the most memorable games in the history of U.S. Soccer, and it’s the turning point in World Cup qualifying for Klinsmann’s U.S. team. It is also the occasion of my favorite selfie from 2013.
MEXICO CITY, March 26 — The U.S. bags a historic World Cup qualifying point at the Azteca in Omar González’s coming of age. Mexico’s troubles are only just beginning.
Other March stories that I’ll remember:
Brian Straus with the most talked-about U.S. soccer story of the year, in which a host of U.S. players anonymously question Klinsmann’s methods. If you ask me, the story ended up helping the U.S. team confront some issues it needed to face.
Noah Davis wrote a nice historical piece on a tide-changing U.S.-Mexico game in 1980.
Sam Borden moved from the NFL beat to the soccer beat for the New York Times, and his excellent stories included this one on Robbie Rogers.
Jeff Carlisle with a really nice piece on L.A. Galaxy braintrust Bruce Arena and Dave Sarachan.
SEATTLE, April 23 — As part of my SI magazine feature on emerging U.S. women's national team superstar Alex Morgan, we watch the first leg of the Barcelona-Bayern Munich Champions League semifinal at the house of her boyfriend (now fiancé), MLS player Servando Carrasco. Bayern destroys Morgan’s beloved Barça, ensuring she’ll never watch a game with this bad-luck charm again, but it’s a nice window into the way Morgan sees the game and talks about it.
Other April stories that I’ll remember:
James Montague is the Indiana Jones of soccer journalism, turning up in fascinating spots around the world, and his story on Zahir Belounis, a French player trapped in Qatar, is eye-opening (and months ahead of the rest of the world media).
In the 100th year of U.S. Soccer, Graham Parker had a good take on the centennial.
Joshua Robinson with a nice piece on a winning team of American seminarians in Rome.
Gwendolyn Oxenham had a terrific story on pickup soccer in the U.S.
Sam Borden visits U.S. women's national team star Megan Rapinoe in France.
Nick Firchau went in-depth on Portland owner Merritt Paulson.
LONDON, May 25 — In a celebration of German soccer, Bayern beats Borussia Dortmund in an electrifying Champions League final at Wembley Stadium on a late goal by Arjen Robben. My piece in SI magazine that week focuses on the rise of German soccer and gives a nod to the classic "Soccer Made in Germany."
CLEVELAND, May 29 — A summer odyssey following the USMNT begins with a less-than-impressive 4-2 friendly loss to Belgium. Little does anyone realize that the U.S. is about to start a record 12-game winning streak with a 4-3 win against Germany a few days later. In Ohio, I sit down with Klinsmann to talk about his decision to name Clint Dempsey the U.S. captain as part of a story on the past and present of the captaincy.
Other May stories that I’ll remember:
Sam Borden on the Chivas USA discrimination lawsuit.
Donald McRae wrote a tremendous feature on Dortmund manager Jurgen Klopp.
Borden on the Champions League anthem.
Charles Boehm on the rise of artificial turf.
The Oregonian on Portland’s memorable day with young Atticus Lane-Dupre.
KINGSTON, Jamaica, June 7 — With Michael Bradley showing he’s the U.S.’s most indispensable player, the Americans get a late game-winning goal from Brad Evans, of all people, to set up what will be a perfect nine-point June in World Cup qualifying. Bonus points: I had an impromptu talk at my hotel with Jamaican FA president Captain Horace Burrell, who flew off in his helicopter afterward.
SEATTLE, June 11 — The U.S. disposes of Panama 2-0 in front of the most-raucous pro-U.S. crowd I’ve ever seen. This will also be remembered as the trip Clint Dempsey fell in love with Seattle, sparking a move to the Sounders in August.
SANDY, Utah, June 18 — The U.S. has a harder time than expected against Honduras but bags the win anyway, thanks in part to Jozy Altidore’s fourth straight game with a goal.
HARRISON, N.J., June 20 — Abby Wambach makes history, scoring four times against South Korea to break Mia Hamm’s all-time international goal-scoring record (she now has 163 international goals, and counting). Hamm, not surprisingly, is classy in her congratulations.
Other June stories that I’ll remember:
Wright Thompson is amazing in basically everything he writes, and his epic piece on Italian soccer racism is one of the stories of the year.
Robert Andrew Powell on the tragic journey of Richard Swanson, who died trying to dribble a soccer ball from Seattle to the World Cup in Brazil.
Gabriele Marcotti with a great story from Brazil on São Cristóvão, the club that gave Ronaldo his start.
Roger Bennett on a soccer-playing barber in Recife.
Bonnie D. Ford on the specter of artificial turf field for the 2015 Women’s World Cup.
We’re just now starting to get detailed tactical breakdowns in U.S. soccer journalism, and Liviu Bird does a terrific job with it.
Nick Zaccardi on the wild story of finding Bayern Munich defender Jerome Boateng's Champions League winner's medal and returning it to him. (The second half of the year is chronicled here)