By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Dec 28, 2020) US Soccer Players – 2020 was an unprecedented year loaded with obstacles, rescheduled games, and health protocols. Even when soccer came back, it wasn’t the same. Tournaments played in bubbles, no fans allowed into stadiums, and piped in crowd noise became common this year. Despite all of this, enough of the games continued to create a new normal. That didn’t include two of the biggest tournaments in world soccer, meaning that next year could be the busiest 12 months the game has ever seen. Here’s what to look forward to in 2021.
The MLS SuperDraft, the league’s 22nd edition, will be held virtually on January 21 and made up of three rounds. In a league that has been able to both nurture talent domestically as well as luring international stars, the draft remains vital as teams look to grow their rosters and expand the talent pool. US Soccer has yet to confirm its annual January camp.
FIFA postponed the 2020 Club World Cup, usually held at the end of the calendar year, to February. The seven-team tournament will feature six continental winners and Qatari club Al-Duhail as the hosts. The tournament opens on February 1 with the final on February 11 in Doha. The round of 16 of the UEFA Champions League opens on February 16 with the first-leg match-ups featuring Barcelona hosting Paris Saint-Germain, while Liverpool travel to RB Leipzig.
Another MLS season would typically kick off in early March. MLS has yet to officially announce a start date. The 2021 season, the league’s 26th season, will see the addition of expansion side Austin FC, which will take MLS to a total of 27 teams. The March international break will see the USMNT return to action with what could be a first-choice squad.
The UEFA Champions League final is set for May 29 in Istanbul. Originally the host city for last season’s final, the pandemic forced the tournament inside a bubble in Lisbon. The expectation is that there will be no need to alter the format, with the knockout rounds going ahead normally to get to the one-off final.
June 11 will be one of the biggest days of the 2021 soccer calendar. It’s the day that marks the start of both the European Championship and Copa America. Both tournaments, originally scheduled for 2020, ended up delayed by a summer. The European Championship, still called Euro 2020, will feature 24 teams. The tournament, played in 12 cities across the continent, will open with Italy hosting Turkey in Rome. The Copa America, co-hosted by Colombia and Argentina, will open with Argentina hosting Chile in Buenos Aires. The Concacaf Nations League, previously scheduled for March 2021, will also take place in June. The semifinal match-ups will see the USMNT take on Honduras while Mexico plays Costa Rica. The winners will meet in the final on a date and venue to be determined. Concacaf has already announced that the tournament will be in the United States.
The Gold Cup, now in its 16th edition, returns on July 10 with 16 teams. The USMNT is in Group B with Canada, Martinique, and a team yet to qualify. Concacaf has yet to announce the venues and schedule. The Copa America concludes on July 10 in Barranquilla, Colombia. The Euro final is the following day at London’s Wembley Stadium. The month will also feature the postponed 2020 Tokyo Olympics with the soccer tournament starting on July 23. The men’s tournament is restricted to under-23 players, though following the postponement of the Olympics by a year, FIFA decided to maintain the restriction of players born on or after January 1, 1997.
The Gold Cup final is set for August 8, with the city and venue yet to be determined. The Olympic gold medal match is the same day.
Concacaf World Cup Qualifying kicks off on September 21. The final round of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup will last 14 matchdays and conclude in March 2022. The USMNT is among the favorites to qualify for Qatar and is waiting on the completion of the second round of qualifying to learn two of its three September opponents.
The UEFA Nations Leagues Finals will be played from October 6-10. The semifinals will feature Italy vs Spain and Belgium vs France. The semifinal winners will meet on October 10 in Milan. The USMNT plays Jamaica, one of the second round teams that advances in World Cup qualifying, and then Costa Rica in another three-match window.
World Cup qualifying picks up with the USMNT hosting Mexico and traveling to Jamaica. The 2021 MLS Cup Final, no date set yet, is targeted for November. The 2020 MLS Cup Final took place in December only after the pandemic forced a schedule change.
The 2021 FIFA Club World Cup, as usual, will cap off the year. The tournament, dates to be determined, will take place in Japan.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- The top 5 MLS jerseys
- MLS 2020 in review
- The 4-2-3-1 worked in the 2020 MLS playoffs
- The 2020 Thanksgiving soccer guide
Graphic courtesy of Concacaf