By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Dec 31, 2018) US Soccer Players – The past year will stand out for years to come for the type of soccer it produced. That is almost always the case in a year with a World Cup. The USMNT continued to rebuild and got a new coach, while MLS gave us a new champion in Atlanta United FC that helped to showcase the passion for the game in this country. Indeed, Atlanta’s ability to embrace the game is another barometer of the game’s growth.
What will 2019 bring? It should be another great year. The USMNT will play in the Gold Cup, the first major tournament since failing to qualify for the World Cup. On the domestic club level, another MLS season this spring will bring with it new excitement. The league expands once again with the addition of FC Cincinnati. At the same time, all eyes will be on Atlanta and whether it can continue to dominate the competition.
Across the world, Americans – increasingly reliant on their mobile devices and premium streaming services to watch the planet’s greatest players and tournaments – have the chance to once again take in the decisive months of the Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A, and UEFA Champions League. There’s also Liga MX, a huge TV ratings draw in this country, as well as the Copa America later this year.
For example, soccer has a 61% reach – nearly double the US average – in Spanish-language households, according to a report by Nielsen. The game has also grown among other demographics. At least a quarter of all measured races/ethnicities watched soccer, including 30% of African-Americans viewers and 25% of Asian-American.
In what could be the biggest day of the soccer calendar in history, the Gold Cup, Copa America and Women’s World Cup title games are all scheduled to take place on July 7. Here’s a look ahead to the 10 biggest events (in chronological order) over the next 12 months. These are some of the teams, games, names, and tournaments American fans need to circle on their calendars.
January 5-February 1 (AFC Asian Cup)
The second-oldest continental tournament in the world for National Teams after the Copa America, the tournament will crown the Asian champions. The competition, held every four years, will take place in the United Arab Emirates and feature 24 teams. Australia is the current holders and among the favorites along with Japan, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia. The final is set for February 1 at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.
February 19-21 (CONCACAF Champions League/round of 16)
With preseason and regular season starting earlier, the gap in preparation between MLS and Mexican clubs has narrowed. There will be no all-MLS series in the round of 16 and just one MLS-Liga MX matchup with Sporting Kansas City playing Toluca. Other games include the Houston Dynamo against Guastatoya of Guatemala, Toronto FC plays Club Atletico Independiente of Panama, the New York Red Bulls versus Club Atletico Pantoja of the Dominican Republic, and Atlanta United against Herediano of Costa Rica. Can an MLS team finally win this thing?
March 2 (MLS season starts)
In an effort to hold the MLS Cup Final earlier than usual, the MLS season starts a week earlier. The final day of the regular season will be Oct. 6, two weeks earlier than this past season. With each team playing 34 games, it means fewer byes (a good thing) and more midweek games (not always a good thing).
May 23-June 15 (FIFA Under-20 World Cup)
Known as FIFA’s marquee competition for U-20 players, the 22nd edition of the tournament takes place in Poland. The US along with CONCACAF reps Mexico and Panama have qualified for the 24-nation competition. It will be a great showcase for coach Tab Ramos’s side and this country’s youth pool. England, the defending champions, failed to qualify this time around. The final will take place on June 15 at Stadion Miejski in the city of Lodz.
June 1 (UEFA Champions League final)
This season’s final will take place at Wanda Metropolitano in Madrid, home of Atletico. Many questions remain. Will the home side win it? Can crosstown rivals Real Madrid capture a fourth straight title?
June 7-July 7 (Women’s World Cup)
The US, winners of three World Cups, will look to defend the title won in Canada four years ago. The final will take place at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon.
June 14-July 7 (Copa America)
Brazil will host South America's championship. This version of the Copa America features 12 nations, including invited teams Qatar and Japan. Mexico will not participate. The final will be at the Maracana in Rio.
June 15-July 13 (Africa Cup of Nations)
As if your summer wasn’t packed with enough tournaments, The Cup of Nations moves to summer with an expanded field of 24. In November, Cameroon lost their hosting duties, deemed a security hazard. With CAF set to announce a new host nation as early as this week, Morocco and South Africa are among the front-runners. As for the favorites to win it, Nigeria and Egypt are solid picks.
June 15-July 7 (Gold Cup)
US coach Gregg Berhalter and his players face their first test as the National Team tries to win the Gold Cup. With Mexico also favored to win Concacaf's premier tournament for National Teams, expect this competition to yield lots of answers of what’s going well (and not so well) with the US as it readies for the 2022 World Cup. For the first time in history, Costa Rica will also host games.
November 10 (MLS Cup Final)
The new playoff schedule means MLS holding its championship game – at the home of the higher-seeded team – earlier than usual. Aside from better weather, it also means having to wait less time to witness the league’s showcase event. Atlanta put on a wonderful show last month. Will they get the chance to host (and win) it again? MLS preseason is just a few weeks away!
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Soccer History: San Francisco Bay Blackhawks
- MLS 2018 season in review
- Henry, Gerrard, and Lampard on the sidelines in Europe
- What to watch as the USMNT moves forward
Photo by John Dorton - ISIPhotos.com