The unpredictability of sports is what makes it so compelling. It’s why we watch. In 2012 we watched in shock and amazement over the way many things turned out.
Who could have predicted a Chelsea side, so dominated by the opposition almost every step of the way, win the UEFA Champions League?
Who expected the Canadian men’s team to roll over and play dead against Honduras when they seemed to be on the verge of entering new World Cup qualifying territory?
And who could have predicted the startling Olympic outcome of the Canadian women’s team with all of its highs and lows?
Yes it’s impossible to predict, and yet I’ve been saddled with the task of doing just that for 2013. Let’s just call these educated, or uneducated guesses if you prefer, regarding what might come to pass in Canadian soccer in the coming 12 months.
With regards to the men’s team, one of the first things Victor Montagliani told me after being elected CSA president was that he intended to have the team play on every international date throughout the entire year. Given the disastrous World Cup campaign it was entirely possible, although unlikely that the program would become almost dormant in 2013. It used to happen that way. We remember those lean years very well.
But not now. In fact the team already has two matches lined up in January against Denmark and the United States. They both actually take place even before the first FIFA date of the year. Good news, indeed. Combined with the upcoming Gold Cup, this could be the most active non-World Cup qualifying year we’ve ever seen for the men.
The makeup of this summer’s Gold Cup squad will be an interesting one, because I believe the new permanent head coach will not be in place by then. I have a feeling the CSA will wait until the fall when a bundle of coaches worldwide will suddenly become unemployed after failing to qualify their country to the World Cup.
One question remains unanswered. Or maybe the silence tells us it has. Neither David Hoilett nor Jonathan De Guzman have declared any interest recently in playing for Canada. It looks as though the door has closed completely on the latter, and the former is showing no inclination to make a move. It’s interesting to note that De Guzman is emerging as a more impactful player in the English Premier League than Hoilett. Given the environment at both Queens Park Rangers and Swansea that trend will likely continue.
For the Olympic bronze medal winning women’s team, you can expect a year of celebration. There will be plenty of matches as head coach John Herdman embarks on the journey towards the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015. Several high profile friendlies are already set up, and there will be more to come. And yes, there will be opportunities to see these Olympic heroes playing on home soil.
It’s also a transitional year as Herdman intends to work new blood into the squad. Christine Sinclair will continue to score goals at a remarkable rate and will likely pass Mia Hamm on the all time list. The only question is where her record total will relate to that of American Abbie Wambach.
Former Canadian international Nick Dasovic is arguably the best young coach in Canada right now. He could also enhance his reputation this year. As coach of Canada’s youth team, he has a huge opportunity with the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2013. First he has to negotiate his way through the CONCACAF qualifying tournament. If he’s able to do that and acquit himself with some degree of success on the world stage, he’ll be one to watch in the coming months and years.
Finally to the three MLS clubs. First, this league is impossible to predict. Some things are obvious though. The Montreal Impact will begin year two with a new coach. His task will be to mold an eclectic group of players from many different football cultures into a playoff team. Easier said than done, of course. But that appointment will be key to any success this franchise has in the league’s only true bilingual city.
With Toronto FC, everything hinges on coach Paul Mariner’s ability to get out of the gate with some wins. He’s made some important player moves already in an effort to remake the roster once again. If he’s successful, great. But if not, will team ownership have the stomach to pull the trigger yet again? It could be good times in Toronto, or it could be worse than ever.
The Vancouver Whitecaps management spent the early part of the off-season publicly admitting the roster mistakes they made during the franchise’s second year. That’s after they made the playoffs. This is a franchise with high standards, even if they aren’t able to meet them. They should be at least as good as they were last year and might even make more noise in the post-season.
In the end, I only know two things. There will be plenty of surprises as there always are. And the team that gets the most goals wins.