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