Posted January 01, 2014

World Cup winner, EPL race, MLS shakeups and more: 14 predictions for 2014

2014 World Cup, Argentina, Arsenal, Bayern Munich, Bundesliga, Champions League, English Premier League, Lionel Messi, Manchester City, Manchester United, MLS, U.S. men's national team

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo scored 69 goals for club and country in 2013 and is a Ballon d’Or finalist. (Frank Augstein/AP photo)

8. Cristiano Ronaldo will win the 2013 FIFA Ballon d’Or.

We’ll know for sure very soon — Jan. 13, to be exact — but Ronaldo will win his second world player of the year award, and the fact is the decision isn’t really very hard. Ronaldo had a remarkable 69 goals in calendar year 2013 (59 for Real Madrid, 10 for Portugal), and nobody else is even close to that total. Goals shouldn’t be the only determining factor, of course, but among the fellow finalists, Messi didn’t do enough to supersede Ronaldo, and Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribéry (while deserving of praise) didn’t stand out nearly as much as Ronaldo did. Ronaldo was the outstanding player of 2013, period.

9. In the Premier League, Manchester City will top the table by a wide margin, while Manchester United squeaks into a Champions League berth.

Arsenal has been a revelation this season and continues to hold a slight lead in the league for now, but Man City will be too good over the long haul, not least because Manuel Pellegrini’s team has fixed its inexplicable road woes. And despite a miserable start by Manchester United, manager David Moyes will find a way to slip in the top four along with Man City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

10. Sydney Leroux will continue becoming a breakout star.

The U.S. women’s team will qualify for World Cup 2015 this year, and Leroux, 23, is poised to become the next U.S. women’s player to become a truly national figure. Leroux scores goals, she exudes enthusiasm and she’s comfortable being herself on social media. No U.S. women’s player appeared in more games than Leroux’s 15 in 2013, and only Abby Wambach (11 goals) scored more than Leroux’s 10. There’s a reason why Nike has started to make Leroux even more visible in its promotions. Here’s hoping they come up with pre-World Cup ad campaign involving Leroux and Alex Morgan as a Brock Landers-Chest Rockwell-style action-movie duo.

11. New England and Kelyn Rowe will make the leap in MLS.

After showing extreme promise last season, Rowe and New England will put themselves in contention to win the 2014 MLS Cup title under coach Jay Heaps. For large parts of last season, New England was one of the most entertaining teams in the league, and Rowe has the tools to take the next step this year.

12. The Real Salt Lake exodus will continue

The word out of Salt Lake is that people don’t much like working for new owner Dell Loy Hansen, who miscalculated badly on extending Jason Kreis’s contract and ended up losing him to New York City FC. Salt Lake still has a lot of talent on the field, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see more departures from RSL over the next year.

13. The team of the year in the NWSL will be the Seattle Reign.

The biggest disappointment of last year’s NWSL season was Seattle, which started 0-9-1 and played without any of its U.S. national team stars (Hope Solo, Megan Rapinoe, Amy Rodriguez) for the first half of the season. The team rebounded with a 5-0-2 run once Solo and Rapinoe came back, showing what the team could be, and coach Laura Harvey has been active in the offseason, adding Leroux, former Arsenal midfielder Kim Little, Danielle Foxhoven and Beverly Goebel. Whether that will be enough to unseat champion Portland remains to be seen, but Seattle now has the firepower to compete head-to-head.

14. Omar Gonzalez and Graham Zusi will be the highest-profile Americans to move abroad.

Fresh off stand-out World Cup performances that draw the attention of European clubs, Gonzalez and Zusi will jump across the Atlantic and join new clubs. Los Angeles will use its open Designated Player slot from Gonzalez’s departure to sign Frank Lampard, while Kansas City will sign an up-and-coming midfielder from Argentina to replace Zusi.

Happy new year to everyone, and let’s hope 2014 is as exciting as it looks like it could be!


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14 comments
JacquesCoubelz
JacquesCoubelz

Guess my first post was deleted. I questioned Wahl for claiming there's no difference in quality between Ghana and the US. Kwame Asamoah played in Juve's 3-0 romp over Roma's while the USA's Bradley rode the pine. Jermaine Jones has just been cut by Schalke, who've returned Kevin-Prince Boateng. Ghana have two other seasoned midfielders with big clubs: Muntari at Milan and Essien with Chelsea. They also have Dede Ayew with Marseille. This is a much stronger Ghana side than the last two squads that beat the US.

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

I'm not sure what team will beat Brazil in the final, but Spain, Argentina, or someone else will do it, and I don't envy them the crowd reaction. Security better be sharp. 

cubanpete
cubanpete

Its always better to put pressure on the other team player to make them make mistakes but as far as whom will win the gold world cup, Its either Brazil whom will be playing in front of their own fans and in own stadium and has a tremendous history on winning the world cup, off course that is if FIFA does not pay off the players like they did when Spain and France whom won the world cup. They, the Brazilian will not let down the third team in soccer which is the fans specially since the world cup its being held in Brazil. Italy being the reining champion has a clear road to winning the world cup and beside the other european teams Brazil stands in the way. England been a powerful force in the world and has won it before late in the 20th century has a slight chance of winning if the other teams don't cheat, remember maradona and the gol with the hands. Spain can only win in their own turf if you follow soccer history you can see it for yourself and they only won it because FIFA paid off some important players. As far as the other teams, Out of the Latin American team that will advance beyond the final 32 team the only one will probably be Paraguay which quietly has done so in the past. Argentina which has had problems the last four to six world cup will just play three games and out, Colombia which the last time it has play in the final 32 teams was in the World Cup that was held in Los Angeles and they played three games and out. Uruguay has not appeared in the world cup since the turn of the 20th century, so they will play three games and out. Mexico, they only worry about making it to the world cup so three and out, USA, the woman national team do better than the men's national team so three games and out, Netherlands, Germany, Nigeria, Cameroon, France, will go beyond the first round,  Portugal, Greece, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, RussiaBrazil, Spain, Germany, Argentina, Colombia, Belgium, Uruguay, Switzerland Japan has the best baseball team but this is soccer, Iran, Korea Republic, Australia, Costa Rica, Hondura, Cote d'Ivoire, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon, Chile, Ecuador three games and out. They will be ousted in the first round.




Anthony Roque
Anthony Roque

Not sure if they repeat, but Spain will be in the final game. Blatter to be offensive? Yawn...

FDowney
FDowney

I love you, Grant, but really. Here are some facts:

Liverpool's remaining matches with the three teams above them are at Anfield. The remaining games with the three behind them are two at Anfield, one away. They have only lost one game at Anfield, to Southampton back when Southampton were beating everybody. While their one remaining away game to the top teams is at Old Trafford, they beat United *without* Suarez, and United's not been great at Old Trafford this year. And Liverpool, as I type this, has 5 points on United. 

So, really, United is going to beat out Liverpool for top 4? Nope. Not going to happen. (Unless United buy Messi and a couple of center-backs in January.)

DmN33
DmN33

Hope to see Liverpool in the top 4 at the end of the season.

pamperofirpo
pamperofirpo

Let's hope Mr Wahl is wrong regarding Man U. I would love to see Everton (or Liverpool) displace Man U in the Champions League. Everton displacing Man U would be so ironic, given David Moyes defection from Everton to Man U.

newshamg
newshamg

Hard to see a poor Uruguay team getting very far. I give them only a 50/50 of getting out of their group. Remember, they didn't qualify for the WC outside of an easy playoff.

pablomiguez115
pablomiguez115

I hope you are right about Uruguay reaching semifinals and Argentina (Messi!) winning WC!

ShawnKey
ShawnKey

Love your coverage Grant but Arsenal still miraculously wins the EPL this season. I can't settle for another top four finish only (again)! 

ButchWright
ButchWright

No way Argentina beats Brazil in the final. One Maracanaço nearly destroyed this country's soul; they'll never allow it to happen twice - particularly given the animosity over the '78 World Cup manipulation by the "Hermanos".


DSmithy3211
DSmithy3211

@FDowney So Liverpool's remaining tough matches are at home.  And Liverpool's record at Anfield has been great so far this season.


Has it ever occurred to you that these two factoids might be related?

DmN33
DmN33

@newshamg Uruguay regained excellent form in early 2013. I was a lousy 2012 (a six game span where they lost four and tied two) that kept them from automatically qualifying, and they almost did at that (losing out on goal differential). Look for Uruguay to do some damage in Brazil. They will likely win their group.

HFH
HFH

@newshamgUruguay also looked very bad in 2010 before the World Cup and finished 4th. Any team with Cavani and Suarez can do a lot of damage.