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Rising Stars
June 30th, 2006 12:45PM

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Soccer America profiles American soccer's rising stars, nine executives and coaches who were born after Soccer America was launched in 1971 and have excelled in their positions. They all caught the soccer bug at a young age and quickly moved up the ranks. They stress the importance of diligence and the good fortune of opportunity as reasons for their rapid advancement. What comes through most of all is their passion for the game and commitment to developing players and serving fans. They're all doing something they love.

Jay Berhalter: Keeping a sharp focus

Jay Berhalter, 34, is the deputy executive director of U.S. Soccer. The Notre Dame graduate worked for the 1994 World Cup organizing committee. After the launch of MLS, he joined the MetroStars, where he worked until moving to the U.S. Soccer Foundation in 1998. He joined U.S. Soccer in 2000 when Dan Flynn left the Foundation to become U.S. Soccer's executive director and general secretary.

Many were touched by the two seminal events in the history of American soccer: the rise of the NASL in the 1970s and the organization of the 1994 World Cup.

Jay Berhalter and his brother, Gregg, grew up in the shadows of the Cosmos in Tenafly, N.J.

''We watched the Cosmos at Giants Stadium and Italian League highlights on Sunday morning on RAI,'' says Jay, ''and my brother and I played every day in any weather. New Jersey was an incredible place to experience the game and learn about many different styles of play because you had so many different backgrounds on the field at one time - players who were from South America, Central America, Europe, Africa all had different ideas about the game, but ultimately had to play as a team. If you look at the players who have come from our area, it's pretty remarkable.''

Jay learned his soccer from legendary coach Manfred Schellscheidt on the great Union Lancers teams of the 1980s but says he ''had a rather disappointing career at Notre Dame.'' (Gregg, on the other hand, has been selected to two World Cup teams and is entering his 13th season in European pro soccer, at German club 1860 Munich.)

Jay started out his career in soccer management as a volunteer with the 1994 World Cup organizing committee.

''I started as a volunteer and several months later was hired in transportation,'' he says. ''Because the business infrastructure in the sport was just starting to develop at the time, many of us got the opportunity to experience multiple aspects of the event and learn about overall event management in a very hands-on manner. Each day was really a chance to learn and to apply that towards managing a process to help the event succeed.''

Almost a decade later, Berhalter was U.S. Soccer's deputy executive director. Along with many members of the U.S. Soccer staff, he pulled double-duty, helping organize the 2003 Women's World Cup after China was forced to withdraw as host because of the SARS scare. The 2003 tournament didn't enjoy the critical acclaim that the 1999 tournament did - for one thing, it didn't have the same happy ending - but its organization was a testament to Berhalter's can-do abilities.

''1994 set the stage for our country being able to host large-scale events,'' added Berhalter, ''and you saw the results of that experience when we were able to host the Women's World Cup with four months' notice in 2003.''

U.S. Soccer is the largest soccer organization in the United States with a projected budget for fiscal year 2007 of almost $36 million. It's also a diverse organization whose members have varying and often conflicting agendas.

Berhalter says focus is the most important quality to have to work for U.S. Soccer.

''As an organization,'' he says, ''we have made great progress keeping a sharp focus on players - from a player development side, we have more than doubled our annual investment and for the senior teams, we try to provide the best environment for them to succeed. This coupled with financial discipline makes it possible for us provide the resources our teams and coaches need to develop players.''

The strong management Flynn and Berhalter have installed in U.S. Soccer has allowed them to focus on some long-term goals. Much of Berhalter's time recently was spent in the buildup to the World Cup, helping shape the image U.S. Soccer wanted to portray as the national team came under close media scrutiny for the event.

''We have come a long way in the last 15 years,'' says Berhalter, ''but still have a long road ahead. Personally, I would like to be part of the continued growth of the sport.'' - By Paul Kennedy

Michael Hitchcock: Getting a greater return on effort

Michael Hitchcock, 32, says from the day he started working in MLS his goal was to be a general manager of a league team. An all-state high school player in Georgia, Hitchcock also played four years at Virginia Commonwealth University before entering the working world in the sales department of D.C. United. After winning MLS's ''Sales Director of the Year'' award three times and being part of the ''Sales Team of the Year'' four times while working for D.C, Colorado, and Los Angeles, Hitchcock was named FC Dallas President and GM last October.

What does country music star George Strait have in common with Major League Soccer?

When he can draw a sellout crowd of 27,000 to a facility owned by an MLS investor-operator, that makes Michael Hitchcock mighty pleased. ''I'm the general manager of FC Dallas and Pizza Hut Park, so I oversee everything that's going on,'' says Hitchcock, who left AEG and the Los Angeles Galaxy last fall to join Hunt Sports Group. ''We're in the concert business right now, which is an interesting business to be in.''

He's also in the soccer business, which in his case extends far beyond MLS. With 17 fields in operation at PHP, there's constant activity at the facility when tournaments, MLS games, and international matches are added to the concerts and other events.

Hitchcock sees the facility, its merging with the youth soccer community - North Texas State Soccer Association has moved its offices to Pizza Hut Park - and growing investment from the large Dallas corporate community as ideal complements to promoting and selling MLS.

''We'll have 1.2 million people come through this complex this year,'' says Hitchcock of the facility that will celebrate its first anniversary in August. ''A lot of the decision-makers we're talking to drive to the complex for their kids' games, and they see the fields are packed. We can deliver, in sheer volume, a pretty attractive customer base for a client. They can build their business through us.''

Another vital aspect of Hitchcock's business plan is short-term: FC Dallas winning the 2006 league championship game at Pizza Hut Park in November. Dallas bid for and won the right to host the 2005 title game; following a first-round playoff exit to Colorado, Hitchcock went back to the bargaining table.

''Winning a championship in front of your home fans is a defining moment,'' he says, ''and we were very aggressive in trying to [host] MLS Cup as well as win it. One of our primary goals this year is to host sellouts and win an MLS Cup at Pizza Hut Park. We won the bid and now it's our goal to make it, and then win it. That speeds up the process.''

Also speeding up the process of making soccer work as a business is a much greater acceptance of the sport than from his days at D.C. United, when the league and the team had just gotten off the drawing board.

''When I started in this business eight-plus years ago, the decision-makers seemed to think this was communist football,'' he recalls. ''We're now starting to see in a lot of cases that the decision-maker in a company is the coach of a soccer team, or someone who played the game growing up, or at least been around the game enough they're familiar with it. That landscape has changed a little bit. The doors open a little bit quicker and a little bit easier. That doesn't make it easy, but we're getting a greater response from the message and a greater return on effort.'' - By Ridge Mahoney

Mario Sanchez: Educating the community

Mario Sanchez, 30, was a four-year starter at Fresno State and was selected by the Kansas City Wizards in the third round of the 1998 MLS College Draft. He played in the USL with Central Coast, Orange County and Stanislaus County. He was an assistant coach at Fresno State for four years (1999-2002) and Akron for three years (2003-05) before being named the men's head coach at UNLV in January.

One of the best life lessons is learning to turn a negative into a positive.

Mario Sanchez's break came when his alma mater, Fresno State, dropped men's soccer after the 2002 season.

''I think everyone needs a break to get their first coaching job of significance,'' Sanchez says. ''One break for me, believe it or not, was when Fresno State dropped its soccer program. I was fortunate to land a job as assistant coach at Akron. That's when my coaching career took off.''

The Zips reached the NCAA Division I Tournament all three years Sanchez was an assistant coach - they were No. 1 in the 2005 Soccer America rankings - and he took the UNLV men's head coaching job held by Barry Barto for 24 years.

Sanchez began coaching as a teenager, working at camps in the summer and with youth teams. His mentor was Afshin Ghobti, who later worked with the Los Angeles Galaxy and is now on the Korean national team staff.

''Coaching was something else that allowed me to be around the game,'' Sanchez says. ''If I wasn't playing, coaching was the next best thing.''

Many young Hispanic players aren't as lucky as Sanchez was. He graduated from Fresno State with a degree in business administration and was fortunate to move into a field he loves.

''Before kids can coach a college, they have to go to college,'' says Sanchez. ''The NCAA requires a four-year degree to coach. It's hard for a lot of Hispanic kids to get into these schools. Many inner-city schools don't prepare these kids to meet NCAA levels. We lose kids because they aren't in the right classes and don't have the right grades. If you don't have many Hispanic players in college, it's hard to move on to coaching if you never played. It's a problem for the schools, the NCAA and U.S. Soccer. The first jump is to get these kids into the college game.''

Sanchez is working on educating young Latinos and their families about the path to success in American soccer.

''We go out and lead recruiting seminars,'' he says. ''We go to the source and inform the clubs and high schools about NCAA requirements early on. This way, the kids can take the right classes. One of my responsibilities is to inform people. I've been in Las Vegas for six months and I feel like our efforts have already been successful. People are more educated. Hopefully, that will lead to more players down the road.''

Sanchez's immediate goal is to turn around the UNLV program that went 0-9-1 in the 2005 Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.

''In the next 10 years,'' he says, ''I want to help UNLV become a Top 20 program on a yearly basis. After that, I'd like to be involved with the U.S. national team and coach in professional leagues.''

How long does he see himself coaching?

''To me,'' Sanchez says, ''this is the only thing I can do. I can't see myself doing anything else. I love coaching and being involved with the game.'' - By Bryan Alvarez

Erica Walsh: Connecting with players

Erica Walsh, 30, is the head coach of the U.S. under-17 girls national team, and the women's assistant coach at Florida State. She won four CAA championships during her four seasons as a player at William & Mary. She was the Dartmouth head women's coach for three years (2000-02), leading the Big Green to two trips to the NCAA Division I round of 16. She then moved to Lehigh to pursue an MBA and serve as an assistant women's coach. Walsh served as an assistant coach for the U.S. team that won the bronze medal at the 2004 U-19 Women's World Championship.

Erica Walsh has been working outdoors with kids since she was a child so it was only natural that she move into coaching.

She spent her summers working at her family's all-sports day camp in Huntingdon Valley, Pa.

''It was the big reason I stayed out of trouble as a child,'' Walsh jokes.

She helped pay her way through college by working soccer camps.

''I think I have a connection with players,'' she says. ''My passion is to be outside with them and have an influence on them.''

Inspired by her coach at William & Mary, John Daly, Walsh went into coaching, first as an assistant at Bucknell and then at Dartmouth when she got her big break. At 24, she was promoted to head coach of the Big Green after Kelly Knudsen stepped down to raise a family.

Walsh enjoyed three highly successful seasons at Dartmouth - the Big Green went 7-0-0 in her first Ivy League season - when she quit to pursue an MBA at Lehigh. The plan was to return home to take over the family camp. While that plan never materialized, she calls the move the best she's ever made.

''I had a better understanding of marketing and sales,'' she says. ''Soccer is 90 percent about running a business and 10 percent coaching.''

While at Lehigh, Walsh stayed involved in soccer, working as an assistant women's coach at the school. She says her career took of when Mark Krikorian, the U.S. U-19 women's national team coach, asked her to be his assistant.

''Since that decision,'' Walsh says, ''that's when everything has taken off.''

The U-19 assistant's job led to the U-17 head coaching job and her association with Krikorian led to the Florida State assistant's job when he took over as Seminoles coach in 2005.

Walsh says the difference is ''light years'' between the U.S. girls national team program she was involved in as a youth - ''a paper team only'' - and the U-17s - her first priority - who are together as many as 50 days a year.

''The national team is a humbling experience for many of the players,'' says Walsh.

Players learn to take on roles within a team - often coming off the bench - instead of being the star. Walsh stresses the mental and physical aspects of the game, the importance of patience and rest.

Walsh spends much of her time on the road.

''I'm always looking for players,'' she says. - By Paul Kennedy

Jorge Salcedo: Learning from different styles

Jorge Salcedo, 33, has been the head coach of the UCLA men's program since 2004. He played on the Bruins' national championship team in 1990. He spent five seasons in MLS with Los Angeles, Chicago, Columbus and Tampa Bay and also played for Morelia in Mexico. He played for the USA at the 1989 Under-17 World Championship and earned three caps for the USA in 1994 and 1995. He was UCLA's assistant coach for three years before being promoted to head coach.

In 1989, a 16-year-old Jorge Salcedo captained the U-17 U.S. national team at the World Championship in Scotland. In its opening game, the Americans made history with a 1-0 win over Brazil.

In their second game, they lost, 5-2, to East Germany. Salcedo recalls Coach Roy Rees bringing the entire team to the center circle, handing them a pen and paper, and telling them to write down the reason they lost. He collected the papers and started reading.

''The reason we lost was Jorge Salcedo,'' Rees said as he read the first. It was the same for the second, and the next, and the next ...

''I don't know if it's true that my teammates really wrote that,'' Salcedo remembers, ''but I was devastated.''

Before the tournament, Rees told Salcedo he'd be captain because he had a strong personality and leadership qualities.

''He also said I was one of the team's top three players, along with Claudio Reyna and Imad Baba,'' says Salcedo, who chuckles as he recalls the incident. ''After the tournament he said, 'You're probably in the bottom half.' He was brutally honest, but I learned so much from him. And it certainly taught me to be thick-skinned.''

Salcedo was born a month after his father, Hugo, an immigrant from Guadalajara, played for the USA at the 1972 Olympics. At age 6, Jorge sported his favorite outfit, a UCLA sweat suit, as he attended the Bruins' games and practices with Hugo, an assistant coach.

Jorge was a UCLA ball boy the season the Bruins won the 1985 NCAA title. He buried the winning penalty kick when they won the 1990 national crown. He was busy playing pro ball when they won their third in 1997, then served as assistant coach to the late Tom Fitzgerald when the Bruins lifted No. 4 in 2002. Now, as head coach, Salcedo aims for No. 5.

In the pros, he helped the Galaxy to a runner-up finish in 1996 and played 116 games while switching teams six times, which he points to as great preparation for his coaching career.

''I played for Lothar Osiander, Tom Fitzgerald, Bob Bradley, Tim Hankinson and back to Sigi Schmid, my UCLA coach,'' Salcedo said. ''They all had different styles and all had something very positive. I constantly think back to what I learned from them, just as I do with Roy Rees. He was a guy who had a tough approach, but he said one of the nicest things anyone's ever said to me.''

After they returned from the World Championship, Rees told Salcedo:

''One day you're going to be the coach of the full national team.'' - By Mike Woitalla

Josh Keller: Using soccer as a vehicle

Josh Keller, 31, captained UCLA's 1997 NCAA championship team. He played four seasons in MLS, the bulk of his 93 games coming with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. When the Mutiny folded, he was picked up by Dallas but instead entered the business world, first with Morgan Stanley and then Booz Allen Hamilton. In January 2005, he became director of marketing for Proactive Sports Management USA.

In college, Josh Keller double-majored in psychology and business and graduated cum laude. He was also captain of the UCLA Bruins when they lifted the 1997 NCAA title. A freshman on his team, Carlos Bocanegra, is now a World Cup player and plies his trade in the English Premier League.

Bocanegra is a client of Proactive Sports Management USA, where Keller serves as director of marketing, hired in 2005 by Lyle Yorks.

Yorks runs the firm whose British branch's clients include Wayne Rooney and Andy Cole. Among Proactive's American clients is U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, who was Yorks' teammate at the University of Virginia.

''I was a senior captain and Claudio was a freshman when we won the national championship in 1991,'' says Yorks, 36. ''So Josh and I joke about how if we worked harder, we'd be playing big time like Claudio and Carlos.''

Instead, their firm negotiates contracts and endorsement deals for those players and many others, including nearly 30 MLS players and European-based American internationals Brian McBride, Brad Friedel, DaMarcus Beasley, Eddie Lewis, Marcus Hahnemann and Steve Cherundolo.

Yorks, who launched Proactive USA in 2002, brought Keller aboard after the two befriended while coaching youth ball in the D.C. area.

''I respected him from afar when I saw he was a great player,'' Yorks said. ''When I got to know him, I realized he was as sharp as they come. Loyal, honest, hard-working - a guy who comes up with good ideas and has the ability to execute.''

After his fourth season in MLS, Keller's team, the Tampa Bay Mutiny folded. At age 26, he was picked up by Dallas but opted out.

''I loved playing,'' he says, ''but I didn't like the prospect of waiting until I was 32 to build a resumT in business.''

After four years of financial advising (Stanley Morgan) and corporate consulting (Booz Allen Hamilton), Keller was planning to get an MBA when Yorks asked him to come aboard and run Proactive USA's marketing service.

Keller advises companies interested in using soccer as a vehicle to reach customers, setting up, for example, Blue Lizard Sunscreen soccer clinics and the Red Bull Pateadores SuperCamp for college-bound youth players.

He also handles endorsement deals, from Reyna's appearance on the cover of the EA Sports FIFA 2006 World Cup video game to Beasley's endorsements of Nike and Gatorade.

Keller feels fortunate that his post-playing career led him back to soccer, but he believes pro players are well-suited for the business environment whether it involves the sport or not.

''Players who make it in MLS have certain intangible skills,'' he says. ''You know they're hard-working and competitive, and those skills are transferable to the business world.'' - By Mike Woitalla

Tim Holt: Making a difference

Tim Holt, 33, is the vice president of the United Soccer Leagues. He's responsible for the day-to-day management of USL operations. He played soccer at Penn State and worked in soccer for Pennsylvania club FC Delco and the SoccerZone indoor facility in Michigan, before enrolling at Florida State, where he earned a masters in sports management in 1998.

Soccer has been Tim Holt's life since growing up in suburban Philadelphia, where his father was a high school teacher and soccer coach.

''I grew up immersed in a soccer family,'' he says. ''All we did was play sports all the time. We played soccer, baseball and basketball. It usually wasn't an organized game. We played pickup in the yard. I played soccer at all levels - indoor, outdoor, school, club. I grew up playing with Delco Select. This was a precursor FC Delco. I began playing at 4. I was reffing since 13. I coached since 14. When I needed a job, I would ref games. It seemed like the most natural way to make money.''

Holt says his career didn't take off in one giant leap but in incremental steps.

''Working with FC Delco out of Penn State was a good break,'' he says. ''It was the first time I got paid enough to sustain a living. Another break would be when I went to Florida State to get my masters in sports administration. I needed to gain educational knowledge. Running a three field indoor-facility in East Lansing is another break. I learned a lot working 80-hour weeks.''

Holt says his biggest break was coming to the USL.

''I got the opportunity in 1999 and made the best of it,'' he says. ''I was fortunate to work for USL. There are very talented people out here.''

He says the most rewarding part of his job is simply being able to feel he's making a difference.

''USL is making a difference in the development of the sport in this country. There are many times when you see that USL is growing the game. When a franchise builds a stadium. When Brian Ching goes from the USL to MLS to the national team. In 2002, Brian McBride and Tony Sanneh scored on a play that they had done so many times, six years earlier, in the USL. When moments like this happen, that the most rewarding.''

He says communication is the most important part of his job.

''In my current position, listening is more important than ever before,'' he says. ''Listening to people's concerns and trying to figure ways to best address those is important. We have over 120 owners. We have to make sure people understand our vision. Internally, our management has to understand our vision. Externally, our owners have to understand our vision.'' - By Bryan Alvarez

Brian Maisonneuve: Mentoring future stars

Brian Maisonneuve, 32, has been an assistant coach at the U.S. U-17 residency camp in Bradenton, Fla., since February 2005. He spent nine MLS seasons with the Columbus Crew before retiring after the 2004 campaign. Three of his 13 U.S. caps were earned at the 1998 World Cup, and he scored twice for the USA at the 1996 Olympic Games. The Michigan product played college ball at the University of Indiana and won the 1994 Hermann Trophy.

The U.S. Soccer Federation spends millions of dollars on its residency program for the nation's most promising teenagers.

The coaches in charge of the 40 players, ages 15 to 17, will be judged on how many end up starring for the U.S. national team in the years to come.

The youngest of the coaches is Brian Maisonneuve, an assistant to John Hackworth, the head coach.

''Brian's playing experience speaks for itself,'' says Hackworth, ''but he is a quality individual and role model on and off the field, the kind of person you want to have an influence on young players.''

Maisonneuve's playing career came to an end at age 31, the pain from an ankle that underwent seven surgeries telling him it was time to quit. Were it not for the injuries, he would have likely played in more than one World Cup, collected a lot more than 13 U.S. caps.

But the disappointment of what could have been dissipated in Bradenton, Fla., where he arrived four months after the playing career ended.

''I couldn't have asked for a better transition from playing to coaching,'' he says. ''I love what I'm doing here.''

Besides training the boys, Maisonneuve helps choose who gets to join the program.

''I go to different events to watch the players in Region 2 [Midwest], and I see kids from other regions, too,'' he says, ''I'll call the players' club coaches, their regional coaches. I'll call coaches from different clubs who've seen the kid play. We also have mini-camps where we invite kids in for five or six days before making a decision.

''We follow the kids in the U-15 and U-14 national team programs. When it comes time to select the players, all the coaches sit down in kind of a war room, compare notes and talk about all the players in depth. 'Hack' does a good job of overseeing it. He's seen tons of players from all the regions.''

Maisonneuve says that thanks to Hackworth and the other coaches, he's learned more about coaching in his first year than he ever imagined. But he also learns from the players.

''It's a skill and a talent to see what motivates one kid and what motivates another kid,'' he says. ''Sometimes you need to explain something three different ways to three different kids. You'll get a kid that teaches you something totally different than all the players you had before him, and it's an exciting thing when you figure it out.'' - By Mike Woitalla

Brian Bilello: Balancing goals and economic realities

Brian Bilello, 31, is chief operating officer of the New England Revolution. He joined the Kraft organization three years ago following graduation from MIT and five years of work at Bain & Company, a management and consulting firm.

Brian Bilello was interning for his present position as chief operating officer of the New England Revolution long before he knew what that position entailed.

He grew up in New Jersey, played soccer for his high school, and spent one of his college summers at MIT working 1994 World Cup games at Foxboro Stadium.

''On campus, they were postering needs for ticket takers and those types of folks for the World Cup,'' recalls Bilello. ''Me and my buddies who were soccer players thought, 'So we get to go to all the games and they pay us, huh?'

''I wound up working the games that summer and I also bought a ticket to final in California, that was a special experience. Someone offered me the ticket and I looked at my dad and said, 'What do you think?' and he said, 'Are you kidding me? It's the World Cup final! Go!' I was raised right.''

After graduation, he worked for a time in the Boston offices of Bain & Company and bought Revolution season tickets. Now, he's marketing to Revs' fans and listening to their ideas and grievances.

''I left my job, did some developing proposals and ideas, and wound up contacting Jonathan Kraft [Patriots president] and Andy Wasynczuk [former Patriots chief operating officer],'' says Bilello. ''I basically told them, this is my background, I really wanted to get involved in sports, what advice what you have, and they gave me a job.''

They didn't give him his current job, not right away, but since April, Bilello has been in charge of putting a good team on the field and promoting it. And he comes to fans only a few years removed from being one of them.

''I listen to their concerns from their perspective,'' he says. ''At the same time, perhaps the most frustrating part of my job is balancing what I'd like to do with the economic realities that are necessary to make it work as a business.''

He plays in a men's league, having recovered from a blown-out knee and the staggering study load that limited him to one season on the MIT team, and marvels at stories like Michael Parkhurst, who grew up attending Revs games and now starts in their back line.

''The most rewarding thing is coming to work every day knowing you're doing something you love,'' he says. ''You're connected. Before I was helping, say, this software company grow their revenues or profits, or help a manufacturer build a better car. It was all very interesting from an analytical standpoint, but nothing that you're passionate about. To do something that makes so many people happy is a fun thing.'' - By Ridge Mahoney

(This article originally appeared in the July 2006 issue of Soccer America magazine.)



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