American soccer is likely at its high point of popularity in the United States due to a new generation of adults who grew up playing the sport as children, an increase in foreign matches being shown on television, an improvement in the National Teams (especially the Olympic Champion Women), and an influx of foreign stars coming to play soccer in the MLS. However, 2013 will be an important year for American soccer as countless big stories are set to emerge, and the nation will have to adapt to the changing global nature of the sport itself. Here are some of the big stories ahead for American soccer in 2013:
The Face of the MLS After David Beckham departs – The arrival of David Beckham was a monumental achievement for the MLS in 2007, showing the world that American soccer could compete for star players. Winning two MLS Cup Championships in his time here, the Englishman paved the way for a whole host of other foreigners to come to the MLS, including Freddie Ljungberg, Thierry Henry, Torsten Frings, Tim Cahill, and Robbie Keane. The global landscape now sees the MLS as a viable option for mature superstars, and has greatly improved awareness and popularity in the league. So where does the MLS head in 2013?
Rumors suggest that Frank Lampard of Chelsea or Kaka of Real Madrid could be among the next soccer players to come to the MLS. Now that America is at least a legitimate option for these types of players, the MLS should continue to harbor increased popularity.
I also would expect that more focus be placed upon the New York Red Bull with Henry and Cahill as team leaders. The Red Bulls suffered a tragic end to the season in the playoffs as D.C. United benefitted from a recalled PK to snatch a win in the quarterfinals of the MLS Playoffs. Since this was Cahill’s first MLS go and he just arrived in the summer, I would expect the pair to play better next season and lead the Red Bulls to glory.
Will the United States Men’s National Team Qualify for the 2014 World Cup? – The USA National team has largely struggled to impress under renowned manager Jurgen Klinsmann. Although they won the last group of qualification, the matches were nervous, and qualification was only secured on the final day with a victory over Guatemala. The United States had lost in Jamaica and drawn with Guatemala earlier in the group stage.
The qualification for Brazil will take on a tougher feeling now as America must qualify 3rd to enter the World Cup directly, and finish 4th in the North American group to enter a playoff match with a team from Oceania, likely to be Australia. Facing teams like Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Honduras, and Panama, the United States will need to improve their game to qualify directly. How the team performs in Brazil will be anyone’s guess, but just to get there looks like it will be a challenge.
America will need to get its best out of key men like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Tim Howard. Additionally, the team will be looking for several of its youngsters to step up to the next level. Guys like Jozy Altidore, Brek Shea, and Michael Bradley need to become dependable players for the USA to qualify with ease. The team has a friendly against Canada at the end of January before the important games begin with Honduras on February 6th. The ten matches through October will surely test the country’s resolve and strength. Let’s hope for a successful 2013 qualification and an even better 2014 when the World Cup takes place.