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My Sportsman: U.S. Soccer's pioneers


Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Nov. 29. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.

Building a sport from scratch isn't easy. When Brandi Chastain decided to pursue a career playing soccer, she had no idea if it would even be viable, much less put her front-and-center in one of sports history's most iconic moments. When Brian McBride signed with a startup called Major League Soccer, he didn't know if it would exist two years later, much less become his launchpad to U.S. soccer immortality. When Jaime Moreno joined D.C. United in 1996, the young Bolivian thought he'd only be there for a short time, not spend the next 15 seasons producing the finest career in league history.

It took a leap of faith by these three athletes, a belief that "American soccer" wasn't an oxymoron, to embark on their now-legendary careers -- all of which happened to end in 2010.

If you were going to name a 2010 Sportsman of the Year from the soccer world, the obvious choice would be the World Cup champion Spanish national team. And it would be deserved. Whether it was Xavi's vision or David Villa's finishing or Andrés Iniesta's timeliness, Spain is a creative force of nature, one of just three teams ever to hold the World Cup and European trophies at the same time -- and the only one to win both of those tournaments without hosting either one.

But the ongoing story of U.S. soccer's rise is one that we sometimes miss in the headlines, and the retirement class of 2010 is such an accomplished group that it demands recognition for a body of work that took the sport to a new level on these shores. For that reason, it is my 2010 Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the Year.

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This is a group that helped lead the U.S. men's national team to the quarterfinals of the 2002 World Cup. So, thank you, Brian McBride, for your fearless forays into the penalty area, your bloody face against Italy, your holy s--- strikes against Portugal and Mexico. Thank you, Clint Mathis, for your Korean Mohawk, your crowd-silencing goal in Daegu, your five-goal game and your 70-yard scoring run in MLS. Thank you, Eddie Lewis, for being the master of a lost art, the best ball-crosser in U.S. history.

The 2010 retirement group helped put U.S. women's soccer on the covers of Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and Time during the same glorious week of 1999. So, thank you, Brandi Chastain, for burying your penalty kick, your jersey-waving, sports-bra-baring celebration, and the classy way you handled your moment in the global spotlight. Thank you, Briana Scurry, for your sprawling saves, your honesty in interviews,your leonine ferocity patrolling your area. And thank you, Kate Markgraf, for your defensive instincts, your leadership, and for showing everyone that world-class female athletes can balance competition and motherhood.

This group helped turn MLS from an unstable league into a permanent part of the U.S. sports landscape. So, thank you, Jaime Moreno, for your inventiveness on the ball, your 133 league goals, and your dedication to the fans in the nation's capital. Thank you, Taylor Twellman, for your insatiable hunger to score, and a strike-rate that would have broken every MLS goal-scoring record were it not for the effects of post-concussion syndrome. And thank you, Steve Ralston, for your crafty passes, your professionalism, and your all-time MLS records in assists, appearances and minutes played.

The players hailed above weren't the only ones who called it a career in 2010. Chris Klein, Wade Barrett, Aly Wagner, C.J. Brown, Mike Petke, Angela Hucles, Seth Stammler, John Wolyniec: They may not have been superstars, but they also did their parts in building U.S. soccer on and off the field. Klein, for example, is a certified investment planner who does *pro bono* work for his low-paid Los Angeles Galaxy teammates. Stammler, for his part, started the Sporting Chance Foundation after a humanitarian visit to Haiti in 2006. The foundation has built a well to provide clean drinking water for 10,000 citizens and provided 65 scholarships to disadvantaged young Haitians.

The games will stop now for all these players, but the work does not. Let's raise a glass to the retiring builders of U.S. soccer. Let's raise a glass to my 2010 Sportsmen and Sportswomen of the Year.

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