Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Five Wishes for American Soccer in 2013

As we ring in the new year, I reflected upon an eventful and enjoyable 2012 blogging about soccer and thought ahead to 2013. Qualifying for the 2014 World Cup will be the big story globally, and it will be the focus of my blog in the upcoming year.

Specific to American Soccer, I have five wishes for 2013:

1. A relatively smooth World Cup qualification for the USMNT
The final round of qualifying for the US, the Hexagonal, begins in February with a trip to Honduras. Three of the first four matches for our boys are on the road - a difficult task to be sure. But if they can get a win over Costa Rica in their lone home match during that stretch, and pick up a couple draws or a win in the other three, they should be in the top half of the group going into June home matches against Jamaica and Panama. Remember, the top three of the six automatically qualify for the World Cup, while the fourth place team goes into a playoff. The USMNT should have no trouble earning one of those three spots, unless they start off poorly on the road.

2. Another trip to the Gold Cup Final for the USMNT
The USMNT will also be participating in the Gold Cup in July, a regional tournament that will be hosted here. Because of the tournament taking place in a World Cup Qualifying year, teams like the US and Mexico will likely field "B" teams, but USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinsmann should use this opportunity to get some young up-and-coming players who could make the 2014 World Cup team like Terrence Boyd, Chris Pontius, Josh Gatt, and Perry Kitchen. I would also like to see Stuart Holden, coming off more than a year of injury trouble, get significant playing time to see if he can get back to Premier League form. Revenge over Mexico in the Gold Cup Final for losses to them in the 2009 and 2011 finals would be icing on the cake.

3. A successful beginning for the National Women's Soccer League
Sustained success for women's soccer outside of the national team has been lacking in the U.S., but the third time may be the charm. The NWSL will begin play in the spring with eight teams - Boston, Chicago, Western New York, New Jersey, Kansas City, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and Portland. U.S. Soccer has promised to subsidize the league and help pay salaries for national team players to play in the league, which would be a good foundation. The Canadian and Mexican soccer federations have also pledged to help pay salaries for some of their national team players to participate in the league.

4. Seamless transition for new USWNT coach Tom Sermanni
There is no question that in recent years, the US Women have been the class of the world. Led by Pia Sundhage, the ladies in stars and stripes won gold in the 2012 Olympics in exciting fashion, winning a thrilling semifinal against Canada and then exacting revenge on Japan in the final. Sundhage was a beloved leader for the USWNT, but the native Swede resigned to take over as head coach of Sweden's women's national team - something she dreamed to do before ending her career. Enter Sermanni, former head coach of Australia's women's national team. Sermanni led Australia to the quarterfinals of the 2007 and 2011 World Cup, the best finishes in the history of Australian football. There will be some challenges for Sermanni, with many core players aging, but Alex Morgan is the probably the best overall player in the women's game today at just 23 years old, and Megan Rapinoe (27 years old) is a very good player in her prime, so there is strong young talent to build his team around.

5. US-Mexico in Columbus on September 10, 2013
A somewhat selfish final wish since Columbus is my home away from home and less than a three-hour drive away, but you cannot argue with the merits of why Columbus should host this match. Columbus has been a great host for US Soccer, specifically important matches between the two best teams in CONCACAF in recent years. The USMNT has beaten Mexico all three times they have played in Columbus. The lasting memory of this past September 11 World Cup Qualifier in Columbus, an important 1-0 win over Jamaica, was a raucous and patriotic crowd supporting the stars and stripes. What else could US Soccer want in a host for its most important home match in the Hex?

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