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Making A Mockery of the Goal of the Year
by Paul Gardner, November 13th, 2008 7AM

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I was as shocked and amused as anyone by Danny Cepero's 80-yard goalscoring feat for the Red Bulls against the Columbus Crew. The sort of crazy moment that lightens things up, that quickly becomes a conversation piece.

But ... a farcical, meaningless goal, as the Red Bulls would have won the game 2-1 anyway without it. OK -- so it was enjoyable. But ... MLS Goal of the Year? I trust that won't happen, but it just might, because there it is, one of the last five goals awaiting the final judgment. I've never seen the criteria that are applied for this award, but a recent MLS press release referred to the award being for "the most remarkable goal" of 2008.

Which needs thinking about. Cepero's goal was certainly remarkable. But it was the product -- in effect, entirely the product -- of a huge misjudgment by opposing goalkeeper Andy Gruenebaum.

That alone should bar the goal from consideration. Look at it this way. Should it ever be acceptable for MLS to give a major award for a moment of action that could equally well feature as The Blooper of the Year? The idea is absurd.

Another point: This goal, had it been scored in identical fashion by a field player -- and it might well have been, MLS is well stocked with defenders who like to whack aimless long balls down field -- would almost certainly not have been considered a candidate. But Cepero is a goalkeeper, he's the first MLS goalkeeper to score a goal -- or so they're saying -- and that somehow turns this 80-yard free kick into an outstanding piece of soccer skill. But no amount of reasoning and argufying can disguise the obvious: the goal was a fluke, something of a joke, really. Is that what the "Goal of the Year" award is supposed to celebrate?

Surely the minimum requirement for the award ought to be that the player scoring is actually trying to score? If the award is to be taken seriously -- I do not mean somberly, I mean if it is to mean something in soccer terms, to reward a player for exceptional skill -- then Cepero's goal should not even be considered. Honoring such a fluky moment would be a pretty large-size insult to the players who make a habit of scoring goals, who work at it, who take a lot of punishment while trying to do it, and who do come up with some pretty skillful efforts.

The other four goals in the "Final Five" list -- goals from Cuauhtemoc Blanco, Geoff Cameron, Will Johnson and Robbie Rogers -- are certainly all remarkable, though in a quite different way from Cepero's effort.

I had something to say about this award three years ago, when I suggested to MLS that the current award, being a strictly individual award, was overlooking the beauty -- not to say the importance -- of a team goal, one involving skillful interchange of passes in the buildup, in which the guy who gets the final touch is no more worthy of being honored than the other players involved.

Since I wrote that, we have had a perfect example of a brilliantly exciting team goal, that scored by Argentina against Serbia in the 2006 World Cup. Esteban Cambiasso was the player who put the ball in the net but the wonderful buildup involved 24 passes. A goal to honor, certainly, but not an individual goal. A real team effort. The final pass to Cambiasso was a superb back-heel from Hernan Crespo, which reminds me that I had also suggested to MLS that an Assist of the Year award would be a nice idea, too.

Inexplicably, MLS has seen fit to snub my immensely helpful suggestions. Oh well. But, refusing to be discouraged, I shall now make some further comments. The "Goal of the Year," as it remains an individual award, should be limited to a really exceptional piece of soccer skill. Which means that the criteria need to be thought out to ensure that. If "remarkable" is the only quality needed, then we're in trouble because that's a term that can quite legitimately embrace flukes like Danny Cepero's.

What Cepero's goal did have, in abundance, was humor. Andy Gruenebaum will probably not see the point, but the episode was pretty funny. It is worth watching for that reason. And there have doubtless been other comical moments in this 420-game MLS season. So let's have a nice chuckle at the impossible, the outrageous and the absurd moments from the 2008 season -- blooper tapes are always a lot of fun. And that's where Cepero's goal belongs. Not as a candidate for "Goal of the Year." But in the blooper tape.

MLS could do itself a big favor by putting together such a tape, showing it is now strong enough and big-hearted enough to poke gentle fun at itself. By allowing Cepero's goal to even be considered as a worthy entry for the top goal award, it risks exactly the opposite: making an ass of itself.

Click HERE for video of Cepero's goal.

 

 



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