2002 Heisman Trophy


My Top 5 Performers
1. U.S. men beat Portugal and Mexico, outplay Germany in World Cup
2. Ronaldo scores eight goals, leading Brazil to fifth world title
3. Oliver Kahn's remarkable goalkeeping leads Germany to World Cup final
4. Carlos Ruiz scores 24 goals to win MLS MVP, provides game-winner for L.A. Galaxy in MLS Cup VII
5. Mia Hamm recovers 1998 form, scores a string of highlight-reel goals for WUSA finalist Washington Freedom

Overrated European World Cup teams
Defending champ France didn't score a single goal in three World Cup games. Nor did highly fancied Portugal survive the opening round, while the Italians were sent packing in Round 2. Yet the most disturbing legacy of the Euros' demise was the classlessness with which they exited the tournament. With Portugal down two men, Luis Figo desperately tried to arrange a 0-0 tie with the South Koreans, only for Park Ji Sung's late goal to sink the Lusitanians. Both Italy and Spain sulked home, all the while claiming the fix was in. (Hint, guys: It wasn't.) If only all the European teams had shared the grace and indomitable spirit of the Irish (unlucky Round 2 losers), the World Cup would have had far fewer ugly moments.
Underrated Major League Soccer
If you listened to international soccer pundits during the World Cup, U.S. soccer went a long way toward gaining real international respect with its run to the quarterfinals. Yet never was any credit given to the league that produced so much of the American talent (and whose players scored five of the Yanks' six goals). U.S. coach Bruce Arena is dead right when he says his team couldn't have succeeded without MLS -- so why is that so hard for the rest of the world to figure out? Granted, MLS' crowd atmosphere may not match that of European or South American soccer, but if there's one thing we learned at the World Cup, it is this: Young Americans can stay at home in MLS and still thrive on the international stage.
Annoying Sepp Blatter
The smug FIFA president makes the panjandrums of the International Olympic Committee look like squeaky-clean statesmen. During this year's Orwellian farce of a FIFA election campaign, Blatter was accused by his former right-hand man, Michel Zen-Ruffinen, and a host of credible soccer officials, of putting FIFA in the poorhouse through gross mismanagement of funds, dubious loans and favor-currying grants to poor soccer nations. Blatter, who has consistently denied any wrongdoing, responded by forcibly shutting down any public debate before the election, then claimed after his "victory": "The result of the election is that there are no questions. ... The people cannot lie. The people love the truth." (Right. Among the respected officials purged afterward by Blatter were Zen-Ruffinen and press secretary Keith Cooper.) And how about this shocking truth: the U.S. Soccer Federation actually voted for Blatter! If King Sepp grants the U.S. a World Cup down the road, it won't come close to making up for the shameful way the USSF helped keep a ruthless dictator in power.
Breakthrough Performance of 2002 U.S. men's team
After all the adversity -- the '98 fiasco, the perils of World Cup qualifying, the media bashing -- U.S. Soccer made the biggest leap in its history on the world stage in 2002. By reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930 and outperforming such world powers as France, Argentina, Italy, Nigeria, Holland and Portugal, Bruce Arena's Yanks established beyond a doubt: Americans can play this game when it counts. The mind reels at what might have happened if referee Hugh Dallas had deservedly awarded the U.S. a potentially game-tying penalty kick (for a handball on the goal line) in the quarters against Germany.
Uplifting South Korean fans
Dressed by the millions in their BE THE REDS T-shirts, the home fans at this year's World Cup were the kindest, cleanest, most passionate supporters you could possibly imagine. As South Korea made its historic run to the semifinals, some seven million pride-filled citizens took to the host nation's streets for postgame celebrations -- and then, one by one, picked up their trash afterward. Thirty-six years after North Korea eliminated Italy in one of the World Cup's greatest upsets, the South Korean fans greeted the Italians in Round 2 with a gigantic message formed by supporters holding up cards in the stadium: AGAIN 1966. Anyone with a pulse got chills, just as surely as they did when Ahn Jung-Hwan's golden goal eliminated the hapless Italians. Again. Just like 1966.
MVP Ronaldo
For four years the Phenomenon was a cautionary tale, a transcendent talent lost to the Fates following his nervous breakdown in World Cup '98 and a slew of injuries that allowed him to play only seven minutes of competitive soccer between Nov. 21, 1999 and Sept. 20, 2001. But by the time he had scored his 11th and 12th career World Cup goals in the 2002 final -- tying Pelé for the most ever by a Brazilian -- Ronaldo had rediscovered his explosive instincts, to say nothing of his infectious smile. Fans of the Beautiful Game can only hope that at 25, Ronaldo will spend many more years enchanting us on the soccer field.
Storyline to Follow in 2003 Women's World Cup
The "Girls of Summer" will seek to become the "Girls of Autumn" when they defend their 1999 world title next October in China. Can coach April Heinrichs prove she deserved the job after helming the U.S. to a disappointing silver medal in Sydney? Can the Old Guard -- Mia Hamm, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Kristine Lilly -- hold on to add another chapter to their legendary careers? Will any youngsters (Danielle Slaton? Aly Wagner?) make The Leap? Will keeper Briana Scurry make The Comeback? And for that matter, will anyone in the U.S. pay attention if the games are being played in the middle of the night on the other side of the world?