The Austin Chronicle

Soccer Watch

By Nick Barbaro, January 13, 2012, Sports

Plenty of upsets in the English Premier League over the full holiday schedule, but since most of the top teams dropped at least one game, they remain pretty tightly bunched at the top. Heading into the second half of the season, the two Manchester teams, along with Tottenham, have opened a little gap on the rest of the field, which would leave perennial powers Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, and Newcastle in a dogfight for the fourth and last Champions League spot.

League-leading Manchester City had lost just one game all season before Jan. 1, but they've dropped three since then, including two home cup games in a four-day span – ousted from the FA Cup by bitter crosstown rival Manchester United on Sunday and losing to Liverpool in the Carling Cup on Wednesday... Thierry Henry, an Arsenal legend but now just on loan from the New York Red Bulls, came off the bench in his first game back to score the lone goal in the Gunners' 1-0 FA Cup win over Leeds United... Elsewhere, action gears up following the winter breaks observed in most other nations.

Signs of spring in these parts as well: The Austin Aztex held their first planning meeting for potential volunteers last Saturday at the Lion and Rose Pub; they'll be moving fast, now, in preparation for a season starting in early May... And down I-35, San Anton­io is prepping for not one, but two new pro teams, and two new stadiums to put them in. The San Antonio school board voted Monday to add a soccer field at Alamo Stadium, where Spurs Sports & Entertainment wants to bring a USL team. That same day, a local ownership group confirmed that they'll have an expansion NASL team in San Antonio in 2012, and unveiled development plans for a brand-new facility to open in 2013.

Year-end awards: To no one's surprise, Lionel Messi won the 2011 FIFA player of the year award; it's a record-tying third in a row (tying Michel Platini). The women's award went to Japan captain Homare Sawa, ending Marta's five-year streak. Barcelona's Pep Guardiola and Japan's Norio Sasaki were named men's and women's Coaches of the Year, and young Brazilian Neymar won the Puskas Award for the best goal of the year.

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