AP/Wide World Photos
Who says all the French care about is wine and romance? Soccer was all the rage this summer with the World Cup in town. Not only did France host the 16th World Cup this year but then they went out and won it.
Millions of raving fans packed the Champs D'Elysees, supposedly the most cultured street in the world, to celebrate their win over the defending World Champion Brazilians. It was midfielder Zinedine Zidane's two headers that stunned Brazil in the first half of their championship match July 12 at the Stade de France just outside Paris and gave the French a 2-0 lead. The team would add a third goal in the second half and the French defense was magnifique in shutting down the most creative offense in the world including tournament MVP and FIFA World Player of the Year Ronaldo. While the French were toasting their victory, Brazil was a nation in shock and mourning. Winning has come to be expected in the soccer-crazed country.
Meanwhile back in the U.S., fans were hanging their heads in shame and disbelief. Just when it appeared that we had this soccer thing figured out with our tremendous effort in organizing one of the best World Cups ever in 1994 and with a surprising berth in the second round the U.S. national team gets embarrassed in France with a three straight demoralizing losses. The Americans finished in 32nd place out of 32 teams and while they hit the post many times they could manage just one goal in the tournament. They finish was so disappointing in fact that head coach Steve Sampson lost his job because of it. Former University of Virginia head coach Bruce Arena, who had been leading the D.C. United of Major League Soccer for the past three seasons, was tabbed as Sampson's successor in October by U.S. Soccer. It is thought that Arena will emphasize youth and that a major makeover of the team is in store.
Arena's United made their third straight MLS Cup championship game appearance but could not beat the expansion Chicago Fire to keep their dynasty intact. Again, a title game was won by the defensively superior team. The Fire were able to keep the United's formidable offense off the scoreboard and Polish Midfielder Peter Nowak keyed the Fire's goalscoring with two assists, earning game MVP honors.