By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Dec 21, 2015) US Soccer Players – As we start counting the days until the end of 2015, now is a good a time as any to look forward to 2016. For the game we all love, this year featured many highlights and some lowlights. The Portland Timbers won its first MLS Cup title, while the US National Team struggled through several stretches. The Montreal Impact got as far as the final of the CONCACAF Champions League, while the USA won the Women’s World Cup.
Around the world, 2015 will be remembered for Chile winning the Copa America (and Argentina once again losing in a final) and Mexico taking the Gold Cup (and defeating the USA in the one-off CONCACAF Cup).
Off the field, the widening FIFA corruption scandal reached an unprecedented level. FIFA president Sepp Blatter and UEFA president Michel Platini saw their suspensions turned into eight-year bans from world soccer. Though he is expected to appeal, Blatter, who already announced he would step down at the end of February, will not be leading the organization into its executive transition or playing a part in the ongoing reform. The number of people arrested by the US Department of Justice thus far is 30, including many high-ranking CONCACAF executives accused of taking bribes related to big-money TV deals.
With another year heading for the history books, here are the five events to circle on your calendars in 2016:
CONCACAF Champions League 2015-16
The quarterfinals of North America’s premier continental tournament resumes February 23 with DC United taking on Mexico’s Queretaro. Indeed, the entire round features four MLS clubs playing four Liga MX clubs. If USA vs Mexico wasn’t enough for you, the rivalry now extends to the club level. That’s a win for fans watching at home.
In other match ups, Seattle Sounders plays reigning champion Club America (Feb. 23), while Real Salt Lake plays Tigres and the Los Angeles Galaxy faces Santos Laguna (both on Feb. 24). The return legs are on March 1 and 2. The final will be played over two legs on April 20 and 27.
Could this be the year an MLS team finally wins the tournament? It’s a real possibility, although Mexican clubs remain the standard when it comes winning the CCL.
2018 World Cup Qualifiers
The United States resumes its road to Russia 2018 on March 25 away at Guatemala in the semifinal round of CONCACAF World Cup Qualifying. Four days later, the Americans host Guatemala at MAPRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio. The United States closes out the round against St. Vincent and the Grenadines (September 2) and Trinidad & Tobago (September 6).
Usually considered a formality, the question remains whether the United States can amass enough points to reach the Hexagonal? Even with its recent troubles, the United States remains one of the strongest teams in the region.
Copa America Centenario
A tournament many thought would never even take place after taking center stage in the FIFA corruption scandal, the Copa America Centenario – played in honor of the event’s 100th year – will happen in the United States. It is the biggest soccer tournament on US soil since the 1994 World Cup. The tournament will run from June 3-26 in 10 cities and will feature 10 teams from CONMEBOL and six from CONCACAF, including the United States and Mexico.
Although the draw has yet to be determined, the USMNT is in Group A and will play first-round matches at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Chicago’s Soldier Field and Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The final is on for June 26 at MetLife Stadium in New York.
How the Americans stack up against some of the best teams in the world? With the team playing at home, watch for the United States to at least reach the knockout round.
European Championship – Euro ‘16
France will host Euro 2016 in 10 cities and will feature a widened field of 24 teams for the first time. France opens the tournament on June 10 against Romania at the Stade de France outside Paris. That’s also the venue for the final on July 10. Outside of the World Cup, the Euros are the biggest TV soccer event for US fans.
There are several not-miss matches, especially if you plan on watching at your local soccer pub – during the first round. Those games include England-Wales and Germany-Poland (both on June 16) and Italy-Ireland (June 22). This last match should be particularly interesting. Irish fans are still gloating about having defeated the Azzurri in the opening round of the 1994 World Cup.
Can Germany, the defending World Cup winners, add more silverware to its trophy case? The Germans will be strong, but an outsider such as Belgium, No. 1 in the FIFA rankings, probably has the best chance to lift the trophy.
Summer Olympics – Rio 2016
The 2016 Olympics Summer Games (August 3-20) features a soccer tournament that should be one of the best ever. A big reason for that is that the Olympics are in Rio de Janeiro, where Brazilians care more about futebol than track and field or archery. As usual, the men’s tournament (limited to Under-23 players) will take place at several venues across the country just two years after Brazil hosted the highly successful World Cup.
On the men’s side, look for Brazil to try and win its first-ever Olympic gold medal when the final is played at the famed Maracana Stadium on August 20, a chance for the country to avenge its 6-1 semifinal defeat to Germany at Brazil ‘14. The United States, meanwhile, still has a chance to qualify and plays Colombia in a two-leg playoff. On the women’s side, the US is favorites, although other nations like Brazil and Germany are also in the medal mix.
Will the US men qualify and can the women win gold again? The quick answer is maybe and yes.
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