Having bid adieu to 2012, it’s now time to look ahead to 2013, and when it comes to soccer, there are a lot of burning questions to ponder.
Here are five to consider…
1) Where will David Beckham end up?
David Beckham dropped a bombshell back in November when he announced that the 2012 MLS Cup final would be his last match in Major League Soccer.
The English midfielder went on to help the LA Galaxy beat the Houston Dynamo in the final for a second straight season, bringing an end to his MLS career after five years. But even though he’s done with MLS, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star isn’t ready to retire.
Beckham, 37, made it perfectly clear in the build-up to the MLS Cup that he wasn’t ready to walk away from the game, and only ruled out playing for another MLS team. Since then, Beckham has been linked with teams in France, Australia and Asia, but the Englishman has yet to reveal where his next challenge will be.
Beckham’s management company recently revealed that he’s already been made some offers from some clubs, while at the same time saying it’s early days yet and there is no hurry to find him a new team.
So, where will Beckham end up? At this point, your guess is as good as ours.
2) Who will be the next coach of the Canadian men’s team?
Canada’s dreams of qualifying for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil ended in the most abrupt possible fashion back in October, with the Reds suffering a humiliating 8-1 loss to Honduras in San Pedro Sula.
All Canada needed from that match was a draw and it would have advanced to “the Hex,” the final round of qualifying in the CONCACAF region. Instead, the Reds capitulated and suffered one of its heaviest defeats in history.
In the immediate aftermath of the “Humiliation in Honduras,” Stephen Hart quit his post as coach of Canada, leaving the national team to pick up the pieces without him and the Canadian Soccer Association needing to hire a new manager.
Nobody has replaced Hart since he stepped down, and the CSA hasn’t publically given any timeline as to when a new manager will be hired. With no World Cup qualifiers in Canada’s immediate future, it appears as though the CSA is in no rush, and will take its time in hiring the right candidate.
3) Can the Canadian women’s team build on its Olympic bronze medal?
Canada’s bronze medal victory over France at the London Games was THE Canadian story of the Games.
After Canada fell to the United States in a heartbreaking loss in the semifinals, Christine Sinclair and company rebounded with a dramatic victory over the French, making amends for their last-place finish at the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup.
As the saying goes, though, that was then and this is now, and it’ll be interesting to see if coach John Herdman can continue to revitalize the women’s program and build the Canadian side into one of the best teams in the world.
The challenges are steep, mostly because 2013 is a quiet year with no World Cup qualifiers to play in. So Herdman will have to go quietly about his business and do some long-term planning, all with an eye towards the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup scheduled to take place in Canada.
His first test comes in January when he’ll take Canada to China to compete in a Four Nations tournament. Sinclair is still serving a suspension and won’t be able to play, but maybe that’s for the best.
The knock against Canada in recent years is that it relies far too much on Sinclair. This tournament allows Herdman to wean Canada off their Sinclair dependency, and challenge other players to step up and take bigger leadership and offensive roles.
4) Who will win the UEFA Champions League?
So, we know for sure that a new champion of Europe will be crowned in 2013, thanks to Chelsea exiting the Champions League in the group stage in December.
As a result, the great AC Milan side of 1989 and 1990, managed by Arrigo Sacchi, remains the last team to repeat as European champions.
Sixteen teams remain in contention to reach the final in May at London’s Wembley Stadium, and there are a number of leading contenders to take the title. Foremost among them is FC Barcelona, who cruised through the group stage, and with Lionel Messi in fine form appear to be unstoppable.
Real Madrid shouldn’t be discounted, either. Like their arch-nemesis, los blancos have a point to prove after being eliminated in the semifinals last season.
German outfits Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund look strong, as does Italian champions Juventus. Any one of these ex-champions is capable of winning it all.
But so do Paris St. Germain and Malaga, two exciting clubs who have recently asserted themselves as rising powers in the European game.
5) Will Toronto FC qualify for the MLS playoffs?
Six years. That’s how long Toronto FC has been in Major League Soccer.
Six years have passed since TFC made its debut as the first Canadian team in MLS – and after six years, Toronto’s long-suffering fans are still waiting for the team to qualify for the post-season.
2012 was a disaster of a year for the Reds, losing their first nine game of the campaign to set a new league record. They ended the campaign with a 14-match winless streak, and finished in last place with an anaemic 5-8-21 record.
No playoffs – again!
A lot has happened with this franchise over the last six months, namely Paul Mariner replacing Aron Winter as head coach, and Kevin Payne being hired as the club’s new president and general manager. And to be fair, TFC was hit hard by a rash of injuries during the second half of the 2012 campaign, making it harder for them to turn things around after that dreadful start under Winter.
But it’ll be interesting to see if TFC can finally achieve a breakthrough in 2013, or if it’ll just be more of the same.
Sporstsnet.ca bold prediction
Even though a new manager hasn’t been hired and player morale is at an all-time low, Canada will restore a bit of pride with a strong showing at the CONCACAF Gold Cup this summer, qualifying for the knockout round and advancing as far as the semifinals.
Will Toronto FC qualify for the MLS playoffs in 2013?