Crystal Ball: North American Soccer 2021

As with any new year, 2021 seems to be bringing a bit of optimism and some predictions as well. It is the start of a new page for both the game of soccer and the world and a hope that perhaps that better times lay ahead. Oh, and of course a few trophies as well. Our own Sean Maslin has a few predictions for what might transpire in North American soccer in 2021.

Prediction #1: That fans will return to the stands and it will be fantastic. While there are of course far bigger things to look forward to with a COVID-19 vaccination and a return to some semblance of normalcy make no mistake about it: The day fans return to stadiums will be a great day. Whether one calls them fans or supporters their presence at matches this year was noticeable and no magic screen can replace them. It may be a bit of time before we get to the great numbers that we would see in stadiums prior to COVID but 2021 will be a step in the right direction.

Prediction #2: Lionel Messi will join New York City FC (eventually). When it comes to Messi moving to Major League Soccer it seems like more of a question of ‘when’ and not ‘if’. Given his current relationship with FC Barcelona, his age, and his desire to build his brand’s footprint in the United States the timing seems right to start the move to Major League Soccer. So which team will nab La Pulga? New York City FC seems to have the inside track. Given his relationship with Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and the flexibility to play with both NYCFC and Manchester a move to the Big Apple makes sense.

Prediction #3: An MLS side will win the CONCACAF Champions League. As of December 2, 2020, no MLS had ever won the CONCACAF Champions League, falling time and time again to their Liga MX competitors. But given the ground that MLS has made up in their academies and in their spending the time seems right for the league to finally overtake Liga MX for top honors. Columbus Crew, Portland Timbers, and Toronto FC all have the right mix of youth and seasoned veterans to finally earn top honors.

Prediction #4: USWNT stars will continue to head to England… When USWNT superstars Alex Morgan, Rose LaVelle, Kristie Mewis, Christen Press, and Tobin Heath all made the move to Europe it sent shockwaves across the soccer move. While the move certainly brought some level of concern to those who follow the National Women’s Soccer League it gave England’s First Division, the Football Association Women’s Super League (FAWSL), an immediate shot in the arm. With higher wages and the chance to expand their brand and image under big names like Manchester United and Manchester City the timing seems right for more of America’s top stars to make the trek across the Atlantic.

Prediction #5….But the NWSL will be better for it. While it may sound a little counter-intuitive that the NWSL will be better off without its main stars, hear us out. For years, the league has relied too much on the established USWNT superstars to help drive people to their matches. Without them, the league can continue to build off what made 2020 such a successful season: by investing in younger talent and in creating a competitive product across the league. With Challenge Cup and the Fall Series the NWSL was able to expand their audience without the USWNT factor. That is an encouraging sign for the league and is something that will continue in 2021 as the NWSL continues to find partners with resources who can help expand their product.

Prediction #6: CANMNT will make the CONCACAF Gold Cup final but fall short against the US. Canada has improved their form in international play over the last few years thanks in part to Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich) and Jonathon David (Lille). Their dynamic 1-2 combination coupled with a strong back four led by Richie Laryea and Mark Anthony Kaye in the midfield should surprise some teams. If they can find some depth and get a little bit of luck they should find themselves in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final against the United States.

Prediction #7: Alphonso Davies will be heading to FC Barcelona. Speaking of Mr. Davies, look for him to head to the Camp Nou. With Barcelona looking to rebuild and Davies sitting at just 20 years old the timing seems to be perfect for a big move. Bayern always seem to be thinking ‘big picture’ when it comes to exciting young talents that can perhaps lead to a big reinvestment in their youth academy system. While there is always the possibility that he stays long-term with the club, they will also not hesitate to make the move if it helps get them 2-3 other big players down the road.

Prediction #8 CF Montreal will win the Supporters Shield. Thierry Henry seems to be building something big in Montreal. Although the club did not make the playoffs in 2020, Henry had the side playing a fast, energetic style that was finally delivering results near the end. Montreal is a very young side but they are highly organized and with Victor Wanyama really taking to the role of team captain they will be a very difficult side to beat in 2020.

Prediction #9: Chris Wondolowski will continue poaching goals for the Earthquakes. Call him lucky, call him the ultimate opportunist, call him whatever you want but make sure to call Chris Wondolowski the greatest goal scorer in MLS history. After bagging 166 goals he has kind of earned the title. There was some speculation at the beginning of the season that Wondo might hang up his boots after this year. But with how weird this season has been it just doesn’t seem right for a player of Wondo’s caliber to end things on a whimper. So look for him to suit up for one more season with Quakes with the hopes of bagging a few more gimme goals and perfecting his Triple H water spitting routine.

Prediction #10: LAFC finally win MLS Cup. This year seemed to be the perfect opportunity for LAFC to win their first MLS Cup title. With the likes of Diego Rossi and Brian Rodriguez in their prime and Carlos Vela hitting on all cylinders it seemed like they were finally ready to the lift. But COVID seemed to derail their plans and they never really found their footing at either the MLS is Back tournament or during the regular season. Head Coach Bob Bradley certainly has the talent to make a run for the title. If they can find their chemistry again then they should be the frontrunners for the league’s top honor. 

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