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

Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi could stake his claim as the greatest player ever by leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Brazil this summer. (Cesar Olmedo/AP)

It’s a World Cup year, and now that we’ve looked back at my favorite soccer moments and stories of 2013 (January-June here, and July-December here), let’s turn our gaze forward to 2014.

The summer spectacle in Brazil will capture most of the attention in the new year, but Bayern Munich is making a run at a second straight Champions League title, the Premier League race is wide open and MLS braces for its final season before adding two new teams in 2015.

Here are 14 predictions for the year ahead:

1. Argentina will win World Cup 2014—and Lionel Messi will stake his claim as the Greatest of All Time.

Brazil is the favorite to win the World Cup on home soil, but Messi knows he needs to raise at least one World Cup trophy if he’s going to be considered in the GOAT race by most observers next to Pelé and Diego Maradona. Messi, the four-time world player of the year, will be 27 on the day of the World Cup final, the last one that will take place during the prime of his career. He needs to win it now, and for the first time Argentina has built a complementary team around Messi that can win the whole thing. That it would take place in Brazil — I have Argentina beating the Brazilians in the final — will only make the triumph greater for the Argentines.

2. Aron Jóhannsson will start games and score for the U.S. at the World Cup, where the Americans will end their misery against Ghana.

Jóhannsson, the 23-year-old Icelandic-American forward, chose to play for the Stars & Stripes and has made a great case to be in the mix as a starting forward for the U.S. with a dynamite season so far in the Netherlands for AZ Alkmaar. It says here that U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann will pair Jóhannsson up top with Jozy Altidore, and the Iceman will deliver at least once in the World Cup. The U.S. opens against Ghana, the team that has eliminated the Americans from the past two World Cups, but this time the U.S. will prevail.

There’s just not enough difference in quality between the two teams for Ghana to beat the U.S. three straight times. (Whether those three points will be enough for the U.S. to advance in a group that includes Portugal and Germany is a different matter. For what it’s worth, I have the U.S. going through to the Round of 16 with four points.)

3. World Cup games will get giant TV audiences in the United States.

Every four years the World Cup is bigger and bigger Stateside, and that will happen again with time-zone-friendly group-stage games that start at noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. ET. World Cup games involving the U.S. have previously drawn larger TV audiences here than the World Series and NBA Finals, and the gap will only get wider next summer.

4. South American teams will dominate World Cup 2014.

The World Cup has been held in the Americas seven times, and a South American team has won every single time. Don’t look for that to change in 2014. All five South American teams advanced from the group stage in 2010, and I think all six will advance in 2014, with three of them reaching the semifinals (Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay) and Argentina beating Brazil in the final. The one thing that will keep more South American teams from advancing deep is the draw itself. In my bracket as of now, the six South American teams will all have to face each other in the Round of 16 games.

5. Instagram will gain critical mass with athletes being more interesting there than on Twitter.

Maybe it’s because athletes see too many pitfalls in being candid on Twitter, or maybe it’s because they’re just more comfortable in a predominantly visual medium, but in my experience soccer players are just more intriguing on Instagram than on Twitter. Some of my favorite athlete Instagram accounts are those of Tim Howard, Didier Drogba, Sydney Leroux and Lukas Podolski, and the amount of compelling athlete accounts only figures to increase in 2014.

6. Sepp Blatter will say at least one offensive thing about women.

The FIFA president pays a lot of attention to racism in the soccer world, and that’s a good thing, considering how big the racism problem continues to be. But the 77-year-old Blatter regularly says things that ring as sexist. In the past he has suggested that women’s soccer players wear tighter uniforms, and in 2013 Blatter undermined FIFA’s move to include a female member of its Executive Committee (Burundi’s Lydia Nsekera) by calling Australian candidate Moya Dodd “good and good-looking.” Expect more of the same in 2014.

7. Bayern Munich will win another Champions League and go undefeated in the Bundesliga.

Many observers will say ho-hum when Bayern raises its second straight Champions League trophy this May in Lisbon, and it’s true that Bayern’s talent is off the charts. But the transition from one coach (Jupp Heynckes) to a new one (Pep Guardiola) is never easy, and the Bayern players have handled the switch with aplomb, even when it includes such surprises as moving Philipp Lahm from fullback to the central midfield. When it comes to club soccer, we have entered the Bayern Era.

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.