We entered a new era for soccer in the United States in 2014. It was a World Cup year, of course, and the attention for the sport here was like nothing we had ever seen before. That interest extended to media coverage: When I started putting together a list of my favorite soccer stories from 2014, there were so many examples that I finally gave up.
But now a new year is upon us, and it too is a World Cup year -- a Women’s World Cup year. Here are nine fearless predictions for the year ahead:
The U.S. will win the Women’s World Cup.
As a recent loss to Brazil suggested, coach Jill Ellis has a lot of work to do to get the U.S. ready for Canada 2015. One big question: Should 34-year-old Abby Wambach, the game’s greatest scorer of all time, be in the starting lineup this June? Despite some challenges along the way, Wambach will get things going again and end up winning the first World Cup of her storied career (and the U.S.’s first since 1999).
Mexico will beat the U.S. men in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final, but the U.S. will drop Mexico to earn a Confederations Cup berth.
Coach Miguel Herrera has Mexico playing like Mexico again. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann says he’ll assemble the best team possible to win the Gold Cup, but look for Mexico to edge the U.S. this time. That will set up a one-game playoff for a spot in the 2017 Confederations Cup -- and the U.S. will return the favor to add new spice to one of the sport’s greatest rivalries.
Steven Gerrard will join the LA Galaxy.
The Liverpool legend announced on Friday that he’ll be leaving the Reds at the end of this Premier League season -- adding that he wants to keep playing, but does not want to play against Liverpool. MLS gives him a perfect destination in July, and if Gerrard, 34, comes to MLS, all signs are pointing to LA, which needs a replacement for the retired Landon Donovan.
Orlando will have a better MLS debut than NYCFC.
Both teams are joining the league in 2015, but already purple-clad Orlando has been doing things right, signing MLS’s highest-paid player (Kaká) and building a spine that also includes Amobi Okugo, Aurelien Collin and Tally Hall/Donovan Ricketts in goal. NYCFC has David Villa but just pushed back Frank Lampard’s arrival date until the summer. Who knows how Lampard’s legs will hold up after playing for so many months straight? He’ll likely be 37 years old when he arrives.
The U.S.’s emerging stars in 2015 will be Christen Press and Rubio Rubín.
The breakthrough by Press, a 26-year-old forward, will be on a higher order of magnitude—like scoring goals that win you a World Cup—in front of a massive U.S. TV audience this summer. Rubín’s emergence will get less mainstream attention but still be important. At age 18, Rubín is already off to a good start at Utrecht in the Netherlands and could see major minutes with Klinsmann’s national team.
The World Cup host most in danger of losing the rights will be Russia 2018, not Qatar 2022.
The Russian ruble is in freefall due to the crash of global oil prices, and the real pressure on hosting sports megaevents has more to do with economic reasons (like: Russia can’t build the stadiums it’s promised) than political ones (like Russia’s stance toward Ukraine). Qatar’s wealth comes from natural gas, though, and FIFA’s investigation into its World Cup bid is now closed. Look for FIFA to announce that Qatar’s World Cup will take place in November-December 2022.
Chelsea will win the English Premier League.
José Mourinho’s team overcomes its recent drop in form and pulls away to win the league, with Manchester City second, Manchester United third and Arsenal in fourth. Mourinho will be rewarded with a contract extension and proclaim, “Chelsea is the last club I will coach.”
Sepp Blatter will win another term as FIFA president.
He has presided over one of the world’s most corrupt sporting institutions since 1998. But that doesn’t mean the 78-year-old Blatter is in danger of losing his job. In fact, he appears to have no legitimate challengers for this year’s election. Why? Well, let’s go back to economics. FIFA generated a $2 billion profit from World Cup 2014, and large amounts of that money are given as patronage back to individual national federations -- most of which have no chance of making the World Cup but appreciate that money. (Nor do they care much about FIFA’s reputation.) Each of those federations also has the same influence in a FIFA presidential election as, say, Brazil or Germany. So we’ll see four more years of Blatter (sigh).
David Beckham’s Miami MLS team will get scrapped -- and Minneapolis and Sacramento will be named MLS expansion teams.
Stabbed in the back not once but twice by Miami politicians, Beckham and his partners will be unable to finalize plans to construct a stadium in downtown Miami and will announce that they’re dropping their plans (for now) to bring MLS back to South Florida. That opens the door for Sacramento to be granted an MLS team, along with the Minnesota United-led ownership group in Minneapolis.