*It’s time for year-end top-ten lists. I think number 10 is very significant – a Latino drafted in the NHL? It happened this year. VL

By Gabe Salgado, NBC News (11.5 minute read) 

2016 was a tremendous year in the sporting world. From highlight reel plays to history making moments and photo finishes, sports was once again a much-needed alternative to the world around us. It was an especially big year for Latino athletes who rewrote the history books, trended on social media, changed the perception of sports fans and inspired millions of people. Here are the top ten moments for Latino athletes in 2016.

10. Auston Matthews makes history as the first Latino be drafted 1st overall in the NHL Entry Draft.

Image: Colorado Avalanche v Toronto Maple Leafs

Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Colorado Avalanche during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 11, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Avalanche defeated the Maple Leafs 3-1. Claus Andersen / Getty Images

At just 19 years of age, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews has taken the hockey world by storm. Born to a Mexican mother, this California native -as a rookie- has already been labeled as the savior of the Maple Leafs franchise. After making only two playoff appearances since 2004 (with 10 losing seasons and the 2005 NHL Lockout in between), the Leafs realized that they needed to start fresh this year and build for the future. So heading into this season, they drafted Matthews with the top pick in the entry draft back in June.

With that selection the Leafs made history on two fronts. Not only was Matthews their first number one pick since 1985, but Matthews himself is the first player of Hispanic decent to be drafted with that selection. In the process Matthews surpassed Raffi Torres as the highest ever Latino draft pick (5th overall, 2000); Scott Gomez holds the honor as the first Latino draft pick in NHL history (27th overall, 1998). And both men would be proud as Matthews already has 24 points (15 goals, 9 assists) in just 31 games. He’s also been named to the NHL’s “Three Stars of the Week” list (October 17th), and is in the drivers seat for the Calder Trophy, which is the NHL’s Rookie of the Year award.

9. Brazil’s national soccer team wins Olympic gold.

Brazil’s Neymar, center, Gabriel Jesus, second from left, Gabriel Barbosa and Rafael Alcantara right celebrate after receiving their gold medals in men’s Olympic soccer at the Maracana stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 20, 2016. Brazil won the gold medal in a penalty shoot-out against Germany. Andre Penner / AP

After winning a silver medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the FIFA Confederations Cup one year later, Brazil’s soccer team would fall on hard times and eventually fall from grace. Being the host country at the World Cup in 2014, they finished fourth after star striker Neymar suffered a back injury during the quarterfinals which caused him to miss the remainder of the tournament. They also fell in the quarterfinal round of the 2015 Copa America to Paraguay, and failed to make it out of the group stage of the Copa America Centenario back in June.

All the while Brazil fell into political and social turmoil, and not having a successful football team to cheer for made life in the South American country a little less joyful. But when the 2016 Olympic Games came around, things changed for the better on the pitch at least. A healthy Neymar rallied host country Brazil past Denmark, Iraq, South Africa, Colombia, Honduras, and Germany to give Brazil its first-ever gold medal in soccer and it’s 30th gold medal overall. For a brief moment at least they gave their fellow citizens a much-needed distraction from reality.

8. Chile wins back-to-back Copa America titles.

Argentina v Chile: Championship - Copa America Centenario

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – JUNE 26: Claudio Bravo #1 of Chile hoist the trophy after defeating Argentina to win the Copa America Centenario Championship match at MetLife Stadium on June 26, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Chile defeated Argentina 4-2 in penalty kicks Mike Stobe / Getty Images

When you think of top soccer teams in Latin America, Chile doesn’t always come to mind. But over the last few years CONMEBOL’s southwest nation has built itself into a respectable program. That respectability turned into soccer equality thanks to their performances at South America’s signature football tournament over the past two years. When Chile won the 2015 Copa America and qualified for the 2017 Confederations Cup, they had to endure battles with Bolivia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and capped it off with the memorable penalty shootout victory over heavy favorite Argentina in the title game.

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In 2016’s Copa America Centenario Argentina got a small piece of payback by beating Chile in group play, but they bounced back defeating the likes of Bolivia and Panama in the remainder of the group stage, followed by dominating wins over Mexico and Colombia in the knockout stages to setup a championship rematch with Argentina. It was déjà vu all over again as Chile for the second straight year bested “La Albiceleste” in another memorable penalty kick contest. Even though the Centenario was purely symbolic in nature, it gave “La Roja” the opportunity to prove that they belong on the worldwide stage.


[Photos courtes of NBC News]

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