The calendar says it’s January now, but I’m already thinking ahead to the time from June 3 to July 10. That’s when the U.S. will host the Copa América Centenario and France will welcome the world to Euro 2016. So get ready for Euro games during the U.S. day and Copa games at night. Get ready for wall-to-wall TV coverage featuring the best players in the world. Get ready for a summer soccergasm.
I’m getting excited just typing these words.
But those are hardly the only enticing events coming in 2016 on Planet Fútbol. The U.S. women will try to win another Olympic gold medal. Barcelona will go for another UEFA Champions League title while seeking to hold off Pep Guardiola as he hopes to finish his time at Bayern Munich with the biggest club trophy in the world. And over in England, Arsenal is gunning for its first Premier League title in 12 years—while Leicester City hopes to continue its inspiring run near the top of the league.
Here are my 12 fearless predictions for 2016:
Sheikh Salman will win the FIFA presidency.
For the first time in 18 years, a new FIFA president will take charge on February 26 in Zurich. The winner from the five (tremendously named) candidates—Tokyo Sexwale, Jérôme Champagne, Prince Ali, Gianni Infantino and Sheikh Salman—will be Sheikh Salman, the current president of the Asian confederation. With the help of Kuwaiti power broker Sheikh Ahmad, Salman will reach a deal with Infantino, the UEFA general secretary, that gives Europe plenty of influence but lets a non-European run FIFA (which is especially important to the vote-heavy African and Asian voting blocs). Salman comes with some significant baggage—he’s from Bahrain, which has been accused of torturing its citizens, including pro soccer players—though Salman denies that charge and cleared a FIFA “integrity check.” Will he really change FIFA for the better? It’s hard not to be skeptical when all the candidates are FIFA insiders.
More U.S. Department of Justice arrests will come in the FIFA scandal.
It’s like pulling on a ball of string, isn’t it? With a sweeping series of arrests in May and December, U.S. attorney general Loretta Lynch has already overseen more than 40 arrests of global soccer officials. Some of the most compelling soccer writing of the year can be found in the updated U.S. indictment. Look for more arrested officials to work out plea deals that lead to more arrests in 2016, including those of soccer pol from Europe, Africa and Asia (who have largely escaped the long arm of the U.S. law to this point). Also keep an eye on the U.S.’s pursuit of those involved in the decade-old ISL scandal, for which the DOJ recently requested the Swiss files.
The U.S. women will win their fourth straight Olympic gold medal.
They were the biggest U.S. soccer story of 2015, with a domestic average TV audience of 27 million watching their 5–2 thrashing of Japan in the Women’s World Cup final, and the clear lesson of their last two WWC games was this: When the U.S. is on, no team in the world comes very close to them. The emerging stars in 2016 will be forward Crystal Dunn, the reigning NWSL MVP, and midfielder Morgan Brian in the wake of Lauren Holiday’s retirement.
Jurgen Klinsmann will keep his job.
The U.S. coach had a rough 2015 by any measure, but the fact remains that his continued tenure is almost entirely dependent on World Cup qualifying, where the U.S. got a cupcake draw for the semifinal round (Trinidad and Tobago, Guatemala, St. Vincent and the Grenadines). With the help of being a seeded team and playing at home, the U.S. will advance to the semifinals of the Copa América Centenario before bowing out with dignity against a powerhouse South American team, but questions will remain about the U.S.’s lack of identity. The player to emerge in 2016 will be Darlington Nagbe, who possesses skills on the ball that set him apart from other American players. And the U.S. Under-23 team will be disappointed when it falls to Colombia in March and fails to qualify for the Olympics.
Here are my predicted winners of 2016.
Belgium will win Euro 2016, realizing the full potential of a golden generation of talent. Argentina will win the CopaAméricaCentenario, with Lionel Messi finally getting his national team over the hump. Bayern Munich will outduel Barcelona for the Champions League crown in Pep Guardiola’s farewell. Arsenal will hold off Manchester City to win its first Premier League title since 2003-04. Barcelona will defend its Spanish league title and Bayern will win again in the German league, while Inter will hold on in a crazy Italian league race. Brazil will win the men’s Olympic gold medal for the first time—and on home soil, no less. And the New York Red Bulls and Portland Thorns will win the titles in the U.S. men’s and women’s top flights.
The Year in Photos: U.S. Soccer in 2015
U.S. U-20 vs. El Salvador, January 24
Paul Arriola (7) celebrates his goal in a World Cup qualifying playoff match vs. El Salvador. The U.S. U-20s cemented their place in the World Cup with a 2-0 win. They drew host New Zealand, Ukraine and Myanmar in their summer group.
USMNT vs. Chile, January 28
Bobby Wood flies high in the USA's 3-2 loss to Chile, which opened the calendar year for the national team. Brek Shea and Jozy Altidore scored in the loss.
USMNT vs. Panama, February 8
Gyasi Zardes and Clint Dempsey celebrate after combining for a goal against Panama at StubHub Center to cap off winter training camp with a 2-0 victory.
USWNT vs. France, February 8
Lori Chalupny (left) and the USWNT had a tough time keeping pace with Jessica Houara (center) and France in a 2-0 loss in a friendly in Lorient. The match was the first of two played without suspended goalkeeper Hope Solo.
USWNT vs. England, February 13
Alex Morgan celebrates scoring the lone goal in the USWNT's 1-0 win over England in a friendly at Stadium mk in Milton Keynes.
USWNT vs. Norway, March 4
The USWNT opens the Algarve Cup with a 2-1 win over Norway, marking Hope Solo's return from a 30-day suspension with a come-from-behind victory. Carli Lloyd scored both goals for the Americans.
USWNT vs. Switzerland, March 6
Alex Morgan celebrates her goal in the USWNT's 3-0 win over Switzerland in the Algarve Cup group stage.
USWNT vs. Iceland, March 9
Alex Morgan and the USWNT were frustrated by Iceland, held to a 0-0 draw to wrap up group play at the Algarve Cup. The result was still enough to put the Americans in the final against France.
USWNT vs. France, March 11
The U.S. women's national team celebrates winning the Algarve Cup after a 2-0 triumph over France. Julie Johnston and Christen Press scored, and Hope Solo saved a penalty kick.
U.S. U-17 vs. Jamaica, March 15
The U.S. U-17 national team celebrates qualifying for the FIFA U-17 World Cup after defeating Jamaica on penalty kicks following a 0-0 draw in a playoff match.
USMNT vs. Denmark, March 25
U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando expresses his frustration after one of Nicklas Bendtner's three goals in Denmark's 3-2 win over the Americans. Jozy Altidore and Aron Johannsson scored for the USA.
USMNT vs. Switzerland, March 31
Jozy Altidore watches as Brek Shea hits a perfect free kick to put the USA on the board against Switzerland. The Americans settled for a 1-1 draw.
USWNT vs. New Zealand, April 4
Lori Chalupny (16) celebrates her goal vs. New Zealand with Lauren Holiday at St. Louis's Busch Stadium. The goal opened the floodgates for a late outburst en route to a 4-0 U.S. victory in front of more than 35,000 fans.
USMNT vs. Mexico, April 15
Jordan Morris etched his name in U.S.-Mexico lore, as the Stanford University forward scored in his first senior national team start to break a scoreless draw against El Tri at the Alamodome.
USMNT vs. Mexico, April 15
Juan Agudelo collapses to the ground in celebration after his goal at the Alamodome gave the USA a familiar lead over Mexico: Dos-a-Cero.
U.S. U-23 vs. Mexico, April 22
Real Salt Lake's Luis Gil captains the USA to a 3-0 win over Mexico at StubHub Center in Olympic qualifying preparation for both CONCACAF favorites.
USWNT vs. Ireland, May 10
Abby Wambach celebrates one of her two goals vs. Ireland as the USWNT took a 3-0 win on Mother's Day at Avaya Stadium.
USWNT vs. Mexico, May 17
Sydney Leroux is congratulated by her teammates after one of her two goals in a 5-1 pre-World Cup rout of Mexico at StubHub Center.
U.S. U-20 vs. Myanmar, May 30
Maki Tall celebrates his equalizer for the USA as part of a come-from-behind 2-1 win over Myanmar to open the U-20 World Cup group stage in New Zealand.
USWNT vs. South Korea, May 30
Carli Lloyd gets off a shot through traffic in the USA's final World Cup send-off friendly, a 0-0 draw against South Korea at Red Bull Arena.
U.S. U-23 in Toulon Tournament, May-June
Alonso Hernandez, left, takes on Qatar, while Julian Green, right, vies for the ball against France in the Toulon Tournament as part of Olympic qualifying preparations.
U.S. U-20 vs. New Zealand, June 2
Gedion Zelalem controls the ball against New Zealand in the USA's 4-0 win that cemented a place in the U-20 World Cup knockout stage.
U.S. U-20 vs. Ukraine, June 5
From left, Joel Soñora, Gedion Zelalem and Rubio Rubin show frustration during a 3-0 loss to Ukraine that wrapped up group play in the U-20 World Cup.
USMNT vs. Netherlands, June 5
DeAndre Yedlin and Danny Williams salute each other after the latter's goal–his first international strike–brought the U.S. level with the Netherlands at 3-3 in the 89th minute.
USMNT vs. Netherlands, June 5
Bobby Wood puts the finishing touch on an epic comeback, with his 90th-minute strike capping a wild 4-3 win for the USA over the Netherlands. The USA trailed 3-1 in the 71st minute.
U.S. U-23 vs. England, June 7
USA defender Boyd Okwuonu makes a tackle on England's Duncan Watmore in the Toulon Tournament third-place game. The U.S. U-23s won 2-1, sealing their best finish in the tournament.
USWNT vs. Australia, June 8, WWC
Megan Rapinoe lets out a yell after her second goal, which sealed the USA's 3-1 win over Australia to open Group D play in the Women's World Cup.
U.S. U-20 vs. Colombia, June 10
Rubio Rubin celebrates the goal that gives the USA a 1-0 win over Colombia in the FIFA U-20 World Cup round of 16. Zack Steffen's late penalty save preserved the win, as the Americans reached the quarterfinals for the first time since 2007.
USMNT vs. Germany, June 10
Michael Bradley was everywhere against World Cup champion Germany, assisting on Mix Diskerud's equalizer and commanding the midfield in a 2-1 win in Cologne.
USMNT vs. Germany, June 10
For the second straight game, Bobby Wood came off the bench and scored a stunning winner. He watches his long-range blast beat Ron-Robert Zieler in a 2-1 win over world No. 1 Germany.
USWNT vs. Sweden, June 12
Julie Johnston wins the header in a dominant showing on the U.S. back line, helping the Americans preserve a 0-0 draw against Sweden in the second game of the Women's World Cup group stage.
U.S. U-20 vs. Serbia, June 13
U.S. players' emotions say it all after a gut-wrenching loss to Serbia in penalty kicks at the U-20 World Cup. After a 0-0 draw, the Americans fell 6-5 in PKs, despite Zack Steffen's two saves in sudden death.
USWNT vs. Nigeria, June 16
Abby Wambach leaps for joy after scoring in the 45th minute off Megan Rapinoe's corner kick, which delivered a 1-0 win to the USA and first place in Group D of the Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Colombia, June 22
Alex Morgan's goal broke a 0-0 draw, provided relief after Abby Wambach's PK miss and helped the U.S. women to the World Cup quarterfinals after a 2-0 win over Colombia in the round of 16.
USWNT vs. China, June 26
While Carli Lloyd (10) celebrates her goal in the distance, stalwart center backs Julie Johnston and Becky Sauerbrunn rejoice in the goal that put the USA into the semifinals of the Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Germany, June 30
Carli Lloyd yells in celebration after scoring the penalty that put the USA up over Germany en route to a 2-0 victory in the Women's World Cup semifinals.
USMNT vs. Guatemala, July 3
DeAndre Yedlin and Jozy Altidore, wearing special jerseys with stars-and-stripes numbers for July 4, celebrate after a Guatemala own goal gifts the USA a 1-0 lead during a 4-0 win in Nashville, Tennessee, prior to the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
Carli Lloyd sets the tone with a third-minute goal in the Women's World Cup final against Japan, the first of her three strikes within 16 minutes that lifted the USA to a 5-2 win and its first title in 16 years.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
U.S. players rush the field after the final whistle, which sealed their 5-2 triumph over Japan and a record third World Cup title.
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
USWNT vs. Japan, July 5
Victorious, the U.S. women's national team raises the World Cup trophy for the third time, but the first in 16 years, after completing a 5-2 win over Japan in the final at Vancouver's BC Place.
USMNT vs. Honduras, July 7
Clint Dempsey leaps in celebration of his second goal in the USA's Gold Cup opener against Honduras. The Americans won 2-1, fending off a late Honduras surge to collect all three points in the start of their title defense.
USA vs. Haiti, July 10
Clint Dempsey (8) is congratulated by his teammates after a 47th-minute goal gave the USA a 1-0 win over Haiti in the Gold Cup. Gyasi Zardes, second from left, came on at halftime and assisted, and the win clinched first place in Group A.
USMNT vs Panama, July 13
Clint Dempsey, left, and Michael Bradley, right, celebrate after the latter's goal in the USA's 1-1 draw vs. Panama, which wrapped up group play in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
USMNT vs. Cuba, July 18
The U.S. men put on a clinic against an overmatched Cuba in the Gold Cup quarterfinals, with Clint Dempsey's hat trick leading the way in a 6-0 rout. Gyasi Zardes, Aron Johannsson and Omar Gonzalez also scored.
USMNT vs. Jamaica, July 22
A downtrodden Clint Dempsey and Jurgen Klinsmann walk off the field as Jamaica celebrates a stunning 2-1 win over the USA in the CONCACAF Gold Cup semifinals.
USMNT vs. Panama, July 25
Michael Bradley walks away in dismay after having a penalty saved in a PK shootout in the USA's loss to Panama in the Gold Cup third-place game. After a 1-1 draw, Panama prevailed 3-2 in PKs, the USA's first shootout in 10 years.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, August 16
Meghan Klingenberg waves a Terrible Towel in her hometown of Pittsburgh after scoring one of the USA's many goals in an 8-0 rout of Costa Rica in its first game since winning the 2015 Women's World Cup.
USWNT vs. Costa Rica, August 19
Alex Morgan and Kelley O'Hara celebrate during a second rout of Costa Rica in three days, this one a 7-2 win in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
USA U-23 vs. England U-21, Sept. 3
U.S. U-23 goalkeeper Zack Steffen looks on in disappointment as England U-21 forward James Wilson celebrates with Duncan Watmore after scoring the lone goal in a 1-0 friendly win in England.
USMNT vs. Peru, Sept. 4
Jozy Altidore, right, is congratulated after one of his two goals that sparked the USA's come-from-behind win over Peru at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
USA U-23 vs. Qatar, Sept. 8
Gedion Zelalem made his U-23 debut off the bench in the USA's 2-0 win over Qatar in England in the final tune-up before Olympic qualifying
USMNT vs. Brazil, Sept. 8
Neymar and Marcelo celebrate while DeAndre Yedlin and Ventura Alvarado look away in disgust during Brazil's 4-1 rout of the USA at Gillette Stadium.
USWNT vs. Haiti, Sept. 17, 20
Carli Lloyd scored hat tricks in both games and NWSL Golden Boot winner Crystal Dunn scored her first international goals as the USWNT beat Haiti 5-0 and 8-0 in a pair of friendlies in Detroit and Birmingham, Alabama. Haiti replaced on-strike Australia as a last-minute opponent.
USA U-23 vs. Canada, October 1
Jerome Kiesewetter, left, and Emerson Hyndman, right, sandwich Jordan Morris after his first-minute goal in the USA's 3-1 win over Canada in their Olympic qualifying opener.
USA U-23 vs. Cuba, October 3
Cameron Carter-Vickers gets congratulated by Jerome Kiesewetter and Emerson Hyndman after opening the scoring in a 6-1 rout of Cuba in their Olympic qualifying match. The USA cemented its place in the semifinal round with the win.
USA U-23 vs. Panama, October 6
There was plenty of credit to go around, as the Americans finished off a perfect group run in Olympic qualifying with a 4-0 win over Panama. Jordan Morris and Jerome Kiesewetter came on at halftime and provided the spark needed to seize the three points.
USA U-23 vs. Honduras, October 10
Wil Trapp's reaction says it all, as the USA failed to secure an automatic berth to the 2016 Olympics after falling to Honduras 2-0 in the semifinals of CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying tournament at Real Salt Lake's Rio Tinto Stadium.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Captain Michael Bradley leads the USA out onto the field ahead of the Americans' CONCACAF Cup playoff vs. Mexico at the Rose Bowl.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Geoff Cameron beats Rafa Marquez to the spot and heads home a 15th-minute equalizer off a free kick from Michael Bradley, negating a Chicharito goal five minutes earlier in the CONCACAF Cup playoff between USA and Mexico.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
U.S. forward Bobby Wood celebrates his 108th-minute goal vs. Mexico that brought the Americans level at 2-2 after Oribe Peralta had given El Tri the lead in extra time. That reprieve would only last for 10 minutes, though.
USMNT vs. Mexico, October 10
Jermaine Jones falls to his knees in disappointment as Mexico celebrates after Paul Aguilar's sensational volley in extra time captured the CONCACAF Cup for El Tri and sends the U.S. rival to the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup.
USA U-23 vs. Canada, October 13
Marc Pelosi (15) celebrates after his goal breaks the deadlock and sends the U.S. U-23s on their way to a 2-0 win over Canada in CONCACAF's Olympic qualifying third-place game. The U.S. still has a chance to reach Rio, but it'll have to go through Colombia in a playoff.
USMNT vs. Costa Rica, October 13
Tim Howard can't watch as Costa Rica players celebrate Joel Campbell's goal in a 1-0 friendly win at Red Bull Arena. The match marked Howard's return to the U.S. goal for the first time since the 2014 World Cup round of 16.
USA U-17 vs. Nigeria, October 17
Victor Osimhen scores for Nigeria in a 2-0 win over the USA in the teams' FIFA Under-17 World Cup opener in Chile.
USA U-17 vs. Croatia, October 20
USA U-17 midfielder Christian Pulisic watches his opening goal find the back of the net in the Americans' 2-2 draw with Croatia at the World Cup. The U.S. led 2-0 on Pulisic's goal and assist to Brandon Vazquez, but the European side mounted a furious rally to salvage a point.
USWNT vs. Brazil, October 21
Shannon Boxx, right, passes off the captain's armband to Carli Lloyd in her final act as a player, riding into retirement in the first half of a 1-1 draw against Brazil in Seattle.
USA U-17 vs. Chile, October 23
USA U-17 captain Hugo Arellano sits dejected after a 4-1 loss to host Chile eliminated the Americans from the World Cup in the group stage.
USWNT vs. Brazil, October 25
The USA said goodbye to two more veterans, with Lauren Holiday, left, and Lori Chalupny ending their careers during a 2-1 win over Brazil in Orlando. The team improved to 5-0-1 on its World Cup victory tour with the win.
USWNT at the White House, October 27
President Barack Obama welcomes the World Cup-champion USWNT to the White House, honoring their triumph in Canada.
USMNT vs. St. Vincent and the Grenadines, November 13
Jozy Altidore watches one of his shots head toward goal in the USA's 6-1 win over St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the opening of 2018 World Cup qualifying. Altidore scored twice, as the USA overcame a shocking early deficit and won at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.
USMNT vs. Trinidad and Tobago, November 17
Gyasi Zardes and the U.S. men were held to a 0-0 draw by Trinidad and Tobago in Port of Spain, closing the year with a World Cup qualifying and sitting atop Group C in the semifinal round via goal differential tiebreaker.
USWNT vs. Trinidad & Tobago, December 10
Christen Press triumphantly raises her hand after a goal during her hat trick in a 6-0 rout of Trinidad & Tobago at the Alamodome in San Antonio.
USWNT vs. China, December 13
Crystal Dunn leaves her feet to settle a pass in the USA's 2-0 win over China at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Dunn and Christen Press scored the goals.
USWNT vs. China, December 16
Abby Wambach is introduced in the U.S. lineup for the last time at the Superdome in New Orleans, playing in her final match before retiring. She ends her U.S. career with 255 appearances and an international-record 184 goals.
Carlos Vela will join the Chicago Fire.
Chicago needs to start making itself relevant again, and the first big step in doing so will be the signing of Mexican star Vela from Real Sociedad. Additional MLS predictions: Jordan Morris will turn down a Bundesliga offer and sign with the Seattle Sounders. Frank Lampard will have an upbeat year at NYCFC, while Steven Gerrard will struggle with LA. Jason Kreis will be the available coach mentioned most often with every MLS job, and there will be plenty of talk with coaches being on the hot seat with Colorado, Orlando, Philadelphia, Salt Lake and Toronto.
The little guys will have their day.
In one of the greatest soccer stories in recent soccer history, Leicester City will finish in the top four of the Premier League and qualify for Champions League. Even better, the Foxes will use the big jump in Premier League TV money and their Champions League windfall to not only keep its best players but make the team even better. Meanwhile, upstart Iceland will show that it’s no fluke in Euro 2016, its first major tournament, by advancing from a group that includes Portugal, Austria and Hungary.
The Qataris will become part of David Beckham’s Miami MLS ownership group.
Qatar Sports Investments, which already owns Paris Saint-Germain, will join Beckham’s Miami MLS group and help pay for the soccer stadium that’s being built in Miami. Beckham has kept close ties with QSI since he finished his playing career at PSG, and it’s striking that MLS commissioner Don Garber has maintained that he thinks World Cup 2022 will still end up taking place in Qatar. Having the Qataris join MLS will draw some negative feedback, but MLS will reason that it won’t be any different than bringing Abu Dhabi money into the league for NYCFC. Miami will officially announce that its first year of MLS play will be in 2018.
The managerial merry-go-round will spin into overdrive.
Pep Guardiola, the most wanted manager in world soccer, will turn down major pushes from Manchester United and Chelsea and decide to sign with Manchester City. (He’ll then instantly have City finalize the purchase of Thiago Alcântara.) Chelsea will land Diego Simeone of Atlético Madrid, while Man United fires Louis van Gaal early in 2016 and replaces him with … José Mourinho. The buzz and entertainment value of the Premier League will thus go even higher through the roof, while its giant TV money influx (which helps the bottom Premier Leagues outspend, for example, the top Italian teams) will continue the surge of parity that we’ve seen with Leicester City this season.
USWNT players will get more vocal about their treatment vs. the USMNT.
We’ve already started to see rumblings of discontent from the U.S. women against U.S. Soccer, from their refusal to play on an unacceptable artificial turf field in Hawaii to Abby Wambach saying she wished she had taken a stand more often for equal treatment during her playing career. The U.S. women’s last collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer ended in 2012, and since then they have operated under a “memorandum of understanding.” But new USWNT players rep Rich Nichols is taking a more aggressive stance with U.S. Soccer than his predecessor, John Langel, and the U.S. women see no reason why the U.S. men should get more business class travel than they do, or money per World Cup group point (when the USWNT gets none).
Copa América success will increase calls for more Americas cooperation.
It’s still remarkable that FIFA approved putting the Copa América Centenario on its official calendar, but the success of this summer’s tournament (with full NFL stadiums) will cause more people than ever to make the case for more cooperation in the Americas, whether that means more combined Copa Américas, U.S. participation in the Copa Libertadores and/or the outright merging of CONCACAF and CONMEBOL, with or without the Caribbean countries. From a soccer perspective it would certainly help the U.S., but there would still be plenty of roadblocks, from extensive travel to FIFA’s potential disapproval to, you know, just about every CONMEBOL federation president being implicated in the ongoing FIFA scandal.
Coach Jill Ellis will make some tough Olympic roster choices.
Ellis can take only 18 players to Brazil (compared to 23 for the World Cup), so the question lingers: Aside from Crystal Dunn, which non-World Cup players could make the Olympic roster? Five World Cup players are out of consideration: Abby Wambach, Lauren Holiday, Lori Chalupny, and Shannon Boxx (all retired) and Amy Rodriguez (pregnant), while Megan Rapinoe (ACL surgery) faces a real challenge to be ready. My prediction: Rapinoe and 40-year-old Christie Rampone won’t make the final roster (they’ll be alternates), and forward Lindsey Horan, 21, will be on the final list.