Top soccer stories of 2015: World Cup of fraud

2015 was a year to forget for FIFA and Sepp Blatter. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP/Getty Images)

In soccer, 2015 will be remembered for the shocking scandals that rocked the sport. Whether it was FIFA operating like the mob or the Hope Solo saga, there was plenty of controversy.

Thankfully, there were many memorable moments on the pitch as well, especially in Major League Soccer and Toronto FC. Three of Sportsnet’s top soccer stories of 2015 are about TFC and MLS.

10. Leicester City, Jamie Vardy, and an unpredictable start to the BPL season

The 2015–16 Barclays Premier League has been a cornucopia of unpredictability. Leicester City went into Christmas as the leaders, which few people could have foreseen. The Foxes were bottom at this time last year, which is a remarkable rise. The exploits of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez have catapulted Leicester to the top of the table and manager, Claudio Ranieri, deserves endless credit for some astute signings like N’Golo Kanté. The Blue Army actually has a legitimate chance of claiming at least a top-four finish by season’s end.

Ethan Dean-Richards: Vardy & Company bring a bit of anarchy to BPL

9. The Hope Solo controversy

The fallout from allegations in 2014 of domestic violence against Hope Solo, the U.S. women’s national team’s star goalkeeper, followed the squad into the World Cup year. There was widespread discussion about whether the 34-year-old should participate at the tournament. Ultimately, she was named to the squad.

Donnovan Bennett: Hope Solo, the uncomfortable conversation

8. The Paris attacks

On Nov. 13, more than 100 people were killed in terrorist attacks across Paris. Loud explosions could be heard outside the Stade de France, where France and Germany were playing a friendly. No one in the stadium was hurt, but French player Lassana Diarra later confirmed that his cousin had died in the attacks. Just a few days later, English fans at Wembley showed solidarity with Paris by belting out La Marseillaise before the England vs. France friendly. There are more important things than sports, but sometimes, they can bring everyone together in moments of despair.

Michael Grange: Paris attacks a gruesome reminder for sports fans

7. Didier Drogba makes big impact in MLS with Montreal

From the moment he landed in Montreal on July 29, Didier Drogba mania was in full swing. The Ivorian scored 11 goals in 11 appearances to guide the Impact to the MLS playoffs. The team also clinched a home game in the process. Despite the exit in the conference semifinals, Montreal could make an even deeper run in the 2016 post-season as long as Drogba remains with the squad.

Nick Sabetti: Drogba helped transform Impact’s MLS season

6. Toronto FC’s Sebastian Giovinco named MLS MVP

When Giovinco signed a deal with Toronto FC that promised to pay him at least $7 million per year, it came with heavy expectations. The Italian not only met those expectations, he exceeded them in a way no one could’ve ever imagined. Giovinco set an MLS record with 22 goals and 16 assists. The 28-year-old forward won the Golden Boot as the league’s top scorer and was subsequently named MVP. He doesn’t plan on stopping next season, either. “I am very happy [to win] this award. And I hope to win more.”

John Molinaro: TFC’s Giovinco named Major League Soccer MVP

5. Toronto FC makes playoffs for first time, gets blown out by Impact

In its ninth season, Toronto FC finally qualified for the Major League Soccer playoffs. Sebastian Giovinco’s jaw-dropping strike in the 78th minute against the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 14 was the clinching goal in the 2–1 victory. However, TFC ended up limping into the post-season, finished sixth in the Eastern Conference, and was confidently beaten 3–0 by the Montreal Impact at Stade Saputo in the knockout round. What a difference 15 days makes. The Reds will be hoping to build on a relatively successful 2015 in the new year.

John Molinaro: TFC’s season ends in embarrassing fashion

4. Barcelona wins Champions League to complete treble

In January, Barcelona was in crisis mode. Director of football, Andoni Zubizarreta, was fired, and Carles Puyol immediately stepped down from his role as Zubizarreta’s assistant. Lionel Messi was supposedly unhappy with manager, Luis Enrique. But then suddenly, Barca regained its form. The attacking trio of Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suarez clicked. Los Cules steamrolled through their competition and won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, and Champions League titles. In doing so, the Catalans became the first club to win two trebles.

John Molinaro: Barcelona set up to dominate for years to come

3. Chelsea fires enigmatic manager Jose Mourinho

When Jose Mourinho began his second spell with Chelsea in 2013, he spoke about building a dynasty. However, his second stint with the Blues ended much like his first, the difference this time around being the London side’s abysmal form. Mourinho was fired in his third season with the club, when it was just one point above the relegation zone. The squad looked dejected. In typical Mourinho fashion, his final press conference ended with him calling out his players for “betraying” his plans. Wherever he lands next, the 52-year-old Portuguese tactician will attract a lot of attention.

James Sharman: Mourinho author of his downfall at Chelsea

2. Women’s World Cup brings Canadians together

A World Cup has the ability to capture the imagination of an entire country. The 2015 Women’s World Cup did just that in Canada in the summer. Christine Sinclair’s goal in the opening match against China in Edmonton will be etched in Canadian soccer folklore forever, as will Josée Bélanger’s winner vs. Switzerland during the round of 16 in front of a record crowd at BC Place. Canada was eventually knocked out in the quarterfinals by England but their memorable run provided plenty of lasting memories for an entire generation of Canadian soccer fans.

John Molinaro: World Cup proves Canada not just a hockey nation

1. FIFA scandal rocks soccer world

This story gained worldwide attention, given that it involved a multi-million dollar scandal. On May 27, seven high-ranking FIFA officials were arrested in relation to money laundering and accepting bribes and kickbacks. Just two days later, Sepp Blatter was re-elected as FIFA president. (He announced his resignation shortly thereafter.) Blatter was eventually dragged into the investigation due to a suspicious payment involving UEFA’s Michel Platini, which resulted in both men receiving eight-year bans from soccer. A further 16 executives were charged on Dec. 3, which indicates that this case won’t be closed anytime soon.

Stephen Brunt: Not even Blatter could escape the FIFA storm

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