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