A new year is upon us, and so too are my annual soccer predictions. Let’s go!
1. There will be a legitimate controversy over whether Carli Lloyd or Alex Morgan should be the U.S.’s starting center forward at the Olympics.
Morgan is expected to give birth in April—three months before the start of Tokyo 2020—and while that would give her enough time to be ready for the tournament, Lloyd is certain to stake her claim for the starting spot over the coming months. As the starter, Lloyd scored three goals in coach Vlatko Andonovski’s first two games in charge, and Lloyd has already been vocal heading into 2020 about being written off (in her opinion) by the media and others. Lloyd will turn 38 six days before the start of the Olympics, but this will become a real story if she continues banging in goals during the first half of 2020.
2. The USMNT will be in a surprisingly comfortable position after the first six games of the World Cup qualifying Hexagonal.
The Hex starts in September and gets the first six games out of the way quickly, with two each in September, October and November. And while there remains a lingering dread among USMNT fans that the U.S. could miss a second straight World Cup, they’ll be pleasantly surprised when the U.S.—buoyed by the 2020 return of a healthy Tyler Adams—wins its first two games and builds a points cushion that puts the U.S. in the top two positions by the end of the year.
3. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will finally have that dinner—and it will be a megaspecial on Netflix.
One of the pleasant surprises of the 2019 UEFA awards show was seeing Messi and Ronaldo sitting side-by-side and speaking with mutual respect about each other’s achievements. Ronaldo even said he would like to arrange a dinner between them.
Well, in 2020 that dinner will finally happen, and it will be a global hit on Netflix. What does it need to become something truly meaningful and not just a PR exercise? For starters, both men should speak in Spanish, since that will allow the more reticent Messi to be comfortable. And there should be a respected interviewer to help guide the conversation. But if this is done right, it could be a fantastic way to get to know the two megastars of the men’s game from the past decade in a new way.
4. VAR will stop being used for marginal offside calls in the 2020-21 season.
Responding to the outcry over VAR being used to determine if players are millimeters offside, the IFAB—which oversees the Laws of the Game—will rule that that the “clear and obvious” threshold should be used for offside calls and provide specific language for leagues to spell out what “clear and obvious” means in the offside context. For its part, England will finally get smart and institute field-side monitors so that referees can make VAR rulings themselves.
5. Pep Guardiola will win the UEFA Champions League and decide to leave Manchester City.
With the return of Aymeric Laporte and the Premier League title conceded to Liverpool, Guardiola will focus on the Champions League and win his first European title with a team other than Barcelona. Then he’ll decide (after a frustrating league season) that it’s time to leave City on the high of its first European championship and declare mission accomplished.
6. UEFA and/or FIFA will finally step in to address racism in Italian soccer (and elsewhere).
Perhaps this is wishful thinking more than anything (I hope not), but since Italian soccer authorities have done nothing of value to combat the widespread instances of racism, UEFA and/or FIFA will have to be the adults in the room and take much more meaningful steps to fight the problem in Italy and in other countries. That means identifying and banning perpetrators in stadiums. That means docking points from teams whose fans are guilty of racist behavior. That means supporting players who walk off the field when racist incidents take place. It’s long past time for soccer authorities to go scorched-earth on racism in the sport.
7. Liverpool will break Man City’s record of 100 points in a Premier League season—but won’t be invincible.
Crazy but true: Liverpool (currently with 55 of a possible 57 points) could drop 11 points in the second half of the season and still finish with 101 points to eclipse City’s record from two seasons ago. But will Liverpool join Arsenal’s Invincibles from 2003-04 and go undefeated? It says here that Liverpool will slip up at least once. It could be at Man City on April 4. It could be when you least expect it. But it’ll happen at least once.
8. LAFC will do what it couldn’t in 2019 and win the 2020 MLS Cup.
LAFC lapped the field during last year’s MLS regular season, earning 72 points—eight more than any other team and 16 more than any team in the West. But that second-place team in the West, Seattle, took down LAFC in the playoffs and went on to win the trophy. LAFC may not get 72 points this time around, but it will get things right in the playoffs to make sure that MLS’s best team actually wins the title.
9. Rose Lavelle will make The Leap.
After her breakout performance in the World Cup, Lavelle will take the next step toward being the best player in the world. That means standing out at this summer’s Olympics, but it also means putting together her first great season at the club level with the Washington Spirit. Why this year? Well, she’s ready for it, and by staying injury-free and finding consistency in her performances, Lavelle will show that she really is the next American superstar in the women’s game.
The North Carolina Courage will continue their dynasty by raising another NWSL trophy, though.
10. The major summer tournament champions
At the 2020 Olympics, the U.S. will become the first team ever to win an Olympic gold medal the year after triumphing in the Women’s World Cup. Meanwhile, the U.S. men will qualify for the first time since 2008, though Spain will win gold in Japan.
In Euro 2020, taking place all over the continent, the Netherlands will climb to the summit and announce a new generation of Dutch football. In Copa América, split strangely between Argentina and Colombia, Messi will finally win his first major trophy with a resurgent Argentina under Lionel Scaloni.