As we wind down 2010, a great and terrible year for US Soccer, we at The Yanks Are Coming thought a series of pieces discussing what’s been and what we’ve taken from the incredible year that was would ring in the New Year (and new World Cup cycle) quite appropriately. So pour yourself a cup of egg nog, and if you buy the store brand kind e-mail or tweet The Yanks Are Coming’s Jon “Lightning Cup” Levy for his special recipe and spare yourself the embarrassment, cue that tape of Auld Lang Syne (hopefully not the “I’m going to kill myself Dan Fogelberg “met my old lover in the grocery store” version), and strap in for a sequence of fine pieces full of enough nostalgia to make a Norman Rockwell painting weep.
We begin our celebratory ensemble of pieces with a look back at the Top USMNT Villains of 2010. Villains are a necessary part of life—whether it be in your dating pool or circle of friends, in your collection of Coen Brothers film DVDs, or perhaps above all, in sport. While a proper sporting villain doesn’t often attain the banal evil status that say a Javier Bardem Anton Chigurh reached in the marvelously wicked No Country For Old Men, they do often reach a level that’s close. I think new Florida Gator Head Football Coach described the sentiment properly when he said “It isn’t hatred…that’s too strong a word…but it’s something close.” We may write it off as hatred—hell, we might even believe its hatred in some contexts (think Auburn-Alabama or Ohio State-Michigan in college football, Carolina-Duke in college basketball, Packers-Bears or Cowboys-Eagles in the NFL, or Lakers-Celtics in the NBA), but if we’re honest it’s simply “something close”—those figures who make you cringe, shudder in your seat a bit and yell things at the television you are either already embarrassed or one day will be embarrassed to have your kids know about. Soccer is no different—in fact, it’s perhaps the sport where the manifestation of rivalry, hatred and villainhood in sport reaches its point of excess, as there is too often a sad historical story that underlies the hatred between say a Real Madrid and a Barcelona or a Celtic and Glasgow Rangers fixture. A bit of humanity has been lost in the past when it comes to these (and many other unlisted) games, and that’s a shame. But that’s a situation that is getting better, coming back to earth if you will, and as the violent excess diminishes we find we’re still left with some pretty heated rivalries and some pretty vile villains. This is no different for fans of the USMNT, and here’s our list of the top USMNT villains of 2010 and beyond, in reverse order of nausea-inducing, obscenity producing vitriol.
10 CARLOS RUIZ, MF, Guatemala—The Aris FC midfielder was a longtime MLS’er prior to a move to Greece and will probably be a lifelong member of this list. Credit our friends at The Shin Guardian for the dime on this one, as we probably would have forgotten. Shame on us for doing so. Anyone who remembers World Cup qualifying will remember Ruiz’s head stomp on a defenseless Tim Howard, who somehow had no teammates come to his aid in the aftermath. Our bet is that MB 90 just didn’t see it, or Ruiz and his homies might be lying in chalk (Yes, that was a Coolio reference).
Howard, a strong Christian who rarely hurls stones lest he be accused of living in a house of glass, had this to say: “He caught me. He kicked me straight in the head. With Carlos, you expect that. You know what? He’s dirty. I wish I could say otherwise. I’ve seen it [in MLS]. There is no place for it. It’s reckless. It’s there for everyone to see. I kind of expect it….
“That’s what he does. I think you would rather have him be a man out there and say, ‘Look, I don’t like you, I am going to kick you.’ You can almost respect it in a funny way. He has this way about him. He kicks, he punches, he’s an *&%$@#. And he wants to come and be your friend [when he tried to apologize]. There is no place for it.” In the end, anyone who head stomps our goalkeeper will always have a place on the USMNT villains list. I hope Carlos knows we drank his side’s tears after the 1-0 victory. And as Steven Goff put it so well—I doubt Ruiz is on Tim Howard’s Christmas Card list. Our villains list will have to do.
9- SACHA KLJESTAN’S BARBER—With one more dime to the Shin Guardian here (they’re piling them up faster than you can say CP3), Kljestan makes the list. Well…sort of. We’d open up a whole can of worms if we included a USMNT player on this list. Guys like Yanks Are Coming patron saint Jeff Agoos could end up on here. So could Ricardo Clark, and many of our readers when we called for suggestions were clamoring for his inclusion. Instead, we’ll lay down the one and only ground rule and exclude USMNT players. This does not include their barbers. Everything was fine with Super Sacha # 16 before the haircut. One of our writers suggested he was ready for Glasgow, and then the world…..and then he went all Samson and cut his hair. Hell—he might have even cut it for a woman, which makes the Biblical allusion even more disastrous and compelling. You know the rest of the story— lost his form, lost his way, pouted, was grumpy, grew his hair back and started to tear it up in Anderlecht, where he now hopes he hasn’t lost the manager’s eye for too long back in the States. We ain’t mad’atcha Sacha—but we loathe your barber.
8—NIGEL de JONG, MF, HOLLAND/BLANKCHECKSTER CITY—Old Bruce Lee himself checks in our list at number eight. Even if this weren’t the first TYAC villains list, this would be the first appearance for him, but probably not the last. Why? With all due respect to Nigel de Jong superfan Puck, he’s guilty of several crimes in addition to talking in the third person, which the jackleg apparently thinks is okay given that he is the son of Dutch soccer royalty. First, he broke Stuart Holden’s leg with a malevolent tackle that despite being a tutorial on how red cards should work failed to result in a sending off. Second, he quite literally roundhouse kicked the joy out of the World Cup Final. Third, he makes Carlos Ruiz look like a FIFA Fair Play poster-child on the “players who are dirty” front, and this is even more obvious in the Premier League, where he serves as Roberto “catenaccio is too exciting” Mancini’s hatchet man in the midfield. Nigel de Jong may love Nigel de Jong, but USMNT fans sure don’t.
7- GIUSEPPE ROSSI, F, VILLAREAL/ITALY—Yeah, yeah, yeah—you are tired of hearing about it. At least some of you aren’t because he was well-accounted for in our request for suggestions. You all know the story. Rossi is the Benedict Arnold of American soccer, whose parents came calling to Lady Liberty when they ran into tough times in the homeland. America obliged and gave the Rossi’s a home in New Jersey and a brighter tomorrow. Rossi thanked the US by playing for Italy. There are questions as to whether his just desserts came this summer when he was left off the Italian World Cup roster—but that just makes Marcelo Lippi stupid instead of making us less angry. And if it does make you less angry, then you obviously haven’t envisioned Giuseppe and Jozy paired up at the World Cup this past summer enough times to make you vomit. Yes, I may have a bit of a problem. Either way, he makes a good villain and a funny one (that’s important sometimes), as our friend Keith Hickey, who gets the dime here, pointed out all summer in his running Rossi World Cup diary.
6- DANIELE DE ROSSI, MF, ROMA/ITALY—Another mainstay on any proper list of USMNT villains. All you need to know about De Rossi you can learn in this YouTube clip. It was, as the announcer said—an “Italian job you could hardly conceive.” Three things before we move on, since the hatred here ought to be self-explanatory. First, how dare you elbow Brian McBride in the face? I mean, the thought of that enrages me to the point of tackling my Christmas tree. I won’t, but I’m enraged enough to do so. Second, the bloody face and stitches and mud mixed with blood and sweat on #20’s jersey did nothing to slow down #20. That’s impossible. De Rossi has a good deal of his career in front of him yet. Let’s hope he knows that somewhere, in a dark corner of a dark room, #20 is waiting. Somehow, we have a De Rossi apologist on our staff, but suffice it to say, we’re all pretty sure he’s four or five “Lightning Cups” in when he defends the man. Finally, all we want for Christmas? How ‘bout one final dime to The Shin Guardian, who put this on their 2010 Shin Guardian Christmas list: FOR MB 90, WHAT WE WANT FOR CHRISTMAS IS “A transfer to Roma to replace Daniel De Rossi. How ironic, an American to replace the most hated Italian by American soccer fans. Seems so very…Mike Bradley-like.” Indeed. And you can shove it, Daniele. Nice girls name, clown.
5- TORSTEN FRINGS, MF, WERDER BREMEN/GERMANY—Torsten may in fact be a pretty nice guy. Anyone versed in the history of handballs that was paying attention this year in particular knows that when it comes to the intentional, cheater-indeed world of handballs in international football knows being a generally good guy isn’t an excuse, and certainly doesn’t alleviate the feeling of ill-will the “oops, I cheated” moment generates. Frings is to the US Soccer Fan what Thierry Henry will forever be to the Irish Soccer fan: a villain of the vilest nature. Word out there is that he’s considering retirement, a fair move for a man with a storied career who was left out of the young German scoring machine that took to the pitch in South Africa this summer. If he does retire—we certainly don’t wish him well. Not after this outrageous handball wasn’t called, costing the United States a tie in a game they without debate dominated in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal. Who cares if the Yanks would have lost in penalties? Some things in the world of sport are never forgivable or forgettable. Jazz fans have Michael Jordan on dart boards. Alabama fans will never forget “Punt, Bama, Punt” in 1971 or this year’s “Comeback.” Florida Gator fans will never let “The Choke at Doak” go– a tie to Florida State that felt like twelve losses. For Americans, Frings handball is a reason to universally despise the man, and an underlying reason it felt like pulling teeth to cheer for a total football, brilliant German side this past summer.
4- RAFA MARQUEZ, CB/MF, NEW YORK RED BULLS/MEXICO—Our readers suggested we simply include the entire Mexican national team. Fair enough—but we think the Captain will do just fine for now. For a longer treatment of how I feel about Rafa Marquez, please read my piece where I openly wonder if Rafa Marquez is the Antichrist. The short version: multiple red cards against the United States, efforts to take Landon Donovan’s knees out, death stares towards MB 90 (a bad idea, I think) in Columbus in 2009, and the like should do. Oh, and he’s the Captain of the Mexican national team. Nice job finishing second in your group this summer, Rafa. Ya’ll still think you’re better than the first place Americans? Really? Check the FIFA Rankings, pal. 2002 Forever, Chief. Dos y cero in your black dreams bud!! That is, if cold, soulless men can even have dreams. In any other year, Marquez is probably in our top three. He’s lucky 2010 produced more banal evil than most seasons.
3- KOMAN COULIBALY, REFEREE, REPUBLIC OF MALI—An overwhelming suggestion from readers who made suggestions, we weren’t about to forget the man from Mali. His sin? Here’s the video evidence. His excuse? None, not that we should be surprised—this is a FIFA appointed referee, after all. His punishment? He was not assigned to the next round, but reappeared in a quarterfinal with a flag as an assistant. He is very fortunate he was bailed out by “Goal, Goal USA!!” or he might have topped this list. His call was inexcusable, it was wrong and it cost the Americans two points. Our own Raf Crowley defended him, but let’s be honest here—Crowley hangs out with Javier Zanetti in the summertime eating Jimmie Johns, drinking Powerade, reading Marx and talking about “The Revolution”. I love the guy, but he’s not exactly the ally I want when I nearly ruin America. I hope they serve beer in hell, Koman.
2- SEPP BLATTER AND QATAR—Look, I don’t know where you come down on this and here at The Yanks Are Coming we did our best to provide you with both sides of the story. That said; let’s just say Blatter really screwed a great deal of us over when he and his hatchet-men rallied behind the Qatar 2022 bid. The most upsetting thing to me about all of it—putting aside the corruption, the logistical nightmare that Cup will present and the soundness of the American and Australian bids— the fact that in 2022 I’ll hopefully have a young son or daughter, and Blatter and the corrupt folks at FIFA have denied me an experience with that child I’ll never forget. I won’t take my son, much less a young girl, to Qatar, and that makes me quite sad, which is an emotion a villain can makeyou feel when they are at their most vile and insensible.
1-ASAMOAH GYAN, F, SUNDERLAND/GHANA—I was a bit surprised by his ranking at the top of the list, but longtime readers like Kakistos Kakos placed him at the top of their list, as did our own writer Sean McElroy, among others. And yes—this goal in extra time was the most gut-wrenching, knife to the windpipe moment of US Soccer in 2010, edging out Qatar being awarded the World Cup. We could have just put the entire country of Ghana on the list—after all; two consecutive cycles have ended in destruction at the hands of the Black Stars. That surely means Stephen Appiah, their captain, is an honorable mention type figure for this list. But in the end, it’s Gyan who tops the list and perhaps that’s because he’s the most horrifying villain of all—the one you don’t really know is evil until it is far too late to stop him. He’s the Keyser Soze in the dark haunts of USMNT fan dreams, and he’s young to boot, which makes it all the more horrifying. And yes—every time he scores for Sunderland, a little part of me, and many USMNT fans, lives the moment linked above over again and dies inside. That’s pretty damned evil.
That’s it for our 2010 villains list. Come back next year. I’ve a sneaking suspicion a Chicharito may play his way onto this list of the most non-triumphant, unless Omar Gonzalez grows up fast and treats him like Lieutenant Aldo Raine treated the you-know-whos.
Neil W. Blackmon is Co-Founder and Associate Editor of The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @nwb_usmnt.