Soccer 2015 from A-Z

By
Updated: January 18, 2016

 

ball

A Round up the World’s Game while you wait for your W2 forms to come in the mail.

 

 

(eauchampsrw)Aubameyang, Pierre-Emerick The well-traveled Gabon striker announced his arrival on big stage as he captured the CAF Player of the Year, breaking the four run of Cote D’Ivore’s Yaya Toure (who was…not pleased about losing out as you’ll read later).  The Borussia Dortmund striker found the net with alarming regularity in 2015, especially in the opening half of the 2015-16, having scored 18 times in 17 Bundesliga matches.  He has become a regular contributor to Gabon’s National Team as well, finding the back of the net during last year’s African Cup of Nations. He’ll be Gabon’s main threat as that nation attempts to qualify for the 2018 World Cup for the first time.

 

 

 

FcBarcelona.jpg~c200Barcelona  The magic number for the storied Catalan club was 5. Led by one of the most lethal strike forces in a generation in Lionel Messi, Luis (the Cannibal/Vampire/Chupacabra/insert-blood-sucking animal-here) Suarez and Neymar, Barcelona won La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Champions League (2-1 over Juventus) the UEFA Supercup (5-4 over Sevilla) and the FIFA World Club with a convincing 3-0 win over South American champions River Plate.  Now coached by Barca legend Luis Enrique, they’ve shown no signs of slowing down, not even for an injury to Messi early in the 2015-16 season.

 

 

chileChile Hosts Chile built on their excellent tournament at the 2014 World Cup by winning the Copa America on home soil, pulling the upset against Messi and Argentina in the final. Led by supremely talented Alexis Sanchez and Arturo Vidal (who was voted Man of the Match for the final) and a defense that surrendered only 4 goals the entire tournament, La Roja frustrated Argentina’s star studded line-up to win on penalties and qualify for the 2017 Confederations Cup.

 

 

061314-sports-DaMarcus-BeasleyDaMarcus Beasley- This time it really is over. After announcing his international retirement following the 2014 World Cup, Run DMB came back for the US’ Gold Cup before finally hanging up his US jersey for good. DMB made over 120 appearances in a career that saw him make his mark at 2002 World Cup, score 17 goals, reinvent himself as a left back after seeming losing his away at the start of the decade, captain the 2013 Gold Cup side and later become the first American player to appear at 4 World Cups. A brilliant ride for someone thought to be light weight and too limited skill-wise to have a meaningful career.

 

 

 

en-franceEngland-France friendly- After the tragic terrorist attacks on Paris that killed over 100 people on the same night that France was hosting Germany in a friendly, Les Bleus travelled to England to play a November 17 friendly. What unfolded was one of the greatest examples of solidarity through sport ever seen. Wembley Stadium was lit in the Red Blue and White of France’s colors; flowers were laid by both coaches as well as Prince William and the 70,000 fans in attendance sang “La Marseillaise” with the enthusiasm as “God Save the Queen” while holding up France’s colors.  The 2-0 England score line was essentially meaningless.  Football won that night. Humanity won that night.

 

 

fifalogoFIFA- Rarely do the happenings of a sporting organization overshadow the sport. But the indictments handed down in the spring of 2015 charging several important FIFA figures with different levels of corruption as well as the unsealing of the indictment against former CONCACAF head, Chuck Blazer which formed the basis of a substantial amount of the charges was, for me, the biggest story of the year. The indictments announced by Attorney General Loretta Lynch which included charges bribery, fraud, money laundering and wire-fraud, related to decisions on television rights, outfitting and the award of the 2022 World Cup to Qatar and hastened the downfall of FIFA President Sepp (Grand Poobah) Blatter, UEFA President and French legend Michel Platini and CONCACAF’s Jack Warner amongst several others key FIFA officials.  A new President will be chosen at FIFA’s Congress next month but the investigation will continue for some time.  While it will be an unfortunate blot on the game as a whole, many soccer fans world-wide are thankful that the long suspected corruption within the organization has been laid bare and hopefully uprooted.

 

gz(mlssoccer)Gyasi Zardes- the LA Galaxy forward and now US regular will have to step up his game during a busy 2016 for the Red, White and Blue.  Zardes has shown promise as both a left winger and as a forward but American fans will hope that his inconsistent 2015 for both club and country was a temporary plateau in his learning curve. Athletic? Sure but he’s shown he has the skill to both score and create. Much more will be expected as the US progresses through qualification phases for the 2018 World Cup.

 

 

 

ray-hudson.jpg (wstalk)Hudson, Ray- Many people experience soccer joy. Ray Hudson IS soccer joy.  The SiriusXM co-host of The Football Show and former MLS coach with the Miami Fusion and DC United simply loves this game, especially when it is played at its highest level. If you don’t subscribe the beIN Sports, you are missing out on his descriptions  of the latest “magisteeerial” goal by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, “orgasmic” passes or players who are “Braver than a matador in a pink tutu”.  His enthusiasm is genuine and in my opinion adds to, rather than detracts from, a wonderful 90 minutes of good football.

 

 

_80871493_yaya_celebrateIvory Coast- Finally.  One of African’s most talented sides over the past 12 years, the Elephants of Cote D’Ivore, beaten finalists in 2006 and 2012, finally tasted international success by claiming its first AFCON title in over 20 years, beating Ghana 9-8 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes.  The tournament saw disappointing performances from stalwarts such as Cameroon, Senegal and South Africa and was hurt by the absence of multiple winners Egypt and Nigeria but take nothing away from the Elephants. The team, led by the likes of the  Toures (Yaya and Kolo), Wilfred Bony and Gervinho may have started slowly but were dominant for the majority of the knock out stages, allowed only two goals against fellow 2014 World Cup  entrants Algeria and DR Congo before fending off a talented Ghanian side.

 

 

fab2Johnson, Fabian-Michael Bradley may have been named US Player of the Year for 2015 but Fabian Johnson may be the main man in the US’ midfield in 2016.  Johnson, followed an excellent 2014 World Cup campaign with solid performances all year round and a move to a right sided midfield position, where he customarily plays for his club side Borussia Mönchengladbach, will provide better attacking and possession for a US team that has given the ball away too often in important matches.  Look for him to be heavily relied upon during a busy 2016

 

 

 

jur-300x169Klinsmann, Jurgen- There are those who think soccer will never “make it”  or “won’t work” in this country.  Such myopia suffers have already missed that boat and the latest evidence of this is the hot seat that US’ manager found himself on during an inconsistent 2015 for the Squad.  While he has seemingly never had the support of some US’ veterans such as Alexi Lalas Tony Meola and of course  Landon Donovan, he seemingly quieted the critics after guiding the US out of a difficult group at the 2014 World Cup.  However, the chorus demanding his ouster after a lackluster Gold Cup in 2015 grew louder, bemoaning not only the US’ key losses but its inability to mount a consistent attack against the more established soccer nations of the world. The President of the US Soccer Federation, Sunil Gulati has made it clear that the ever optimistic JK isn’t going anywhere.  But 2016 is going to prove a pivotal year for JK’s coaching legacy. JK knows it.  It’s real now, even more than it was 3 years ago.  Honorable Mention-Kei Kamara who had an excellent season with Columbus Crew.

 

 

carli(ap)Lloyd, Carli- The FIFA World Player of the Year made the final of the 2015 Women’s World Cup her personal highlight film with a first half hat trick including this goal that got me and my daughter out of our seats in wonderment and celebration.  Overshadowed no more by Abby Wambach or Alex Morgan, Lloyd will be the US’ main threat at the Olympics in Rio.

 

 

 

mibMen In Blazers-Not the first soccer show to feature to British ex-pats, it has proven itself the most popular. What started as a hilarious podcast starring Roger Bennet and Michael Davies, has grown into a featured spots during the 2014 World Cup (their lampooning of a failed German free-kick routine had me crying) and a now weekly show on NBCSN focusing mainly on the English Premiere League and International matches. With a steady stream of guests that aren’t limited to soccer and hilarious commentary on various matches as well as BlazerCon, a soccer convention, these guys simply embrace the fun in the game in an innovative way.  More pies please.

 

 

 

nagapNagbe, Darlington-One of the most consistent criticisms of US players is the lack of creativity and on the ball skill in the midfield.  For this reason the progression of the newly naturalized  Portland Timbers star by way of Liberia will be a storyline to follow. Nagbe grew up in Ohio and played collegiately at Akron for his current coach at Portland, Caleb Porter. Gaining  American citizenship in 2015, his ability to make defenders miss and create in the middle of the field and …well, do this, has been proven in MLS and has helped make Portland a top MLS side.  American fans will be hoping that it translates to the international level.

 

 

 

omar goalcomOmar Gonzalez-In the run up to the 2010 I expressed my hope that two players based in Mexico, Hercules Gomez and Jose Torres were successful in South Africa to demonstrate that American players have a viable option to Europe in Liga MX.  This offseason Omar Gonzalez, a former MLS Defender of the Year and 2014 World Cup participant took his talents south of the border to play with Pachuca, a move mirrored by Real Salt Lake player Luis Gil, who US fans are looking to be a major playmaker out of the midfield in the future. While I want MLS to strive and be the best league in the confederation, Liga MX offers a higher quality league right now and American players would do well to consider it as career option alongside any European offers.

 

 

 

pogba-4Pogba, Paul- Poised to become one of the next world elite players, Juventus’ Paul Pogba will  play a major role for France at Euro 2016, especially with Karim Benzema’s uncertain status. Formerly with Manchester United he has become since automatic starter since his move to Italy and debuted during his country’s World Cup qualification campaign. He scored against Nigeria in Brazil and was named Best Young Player. An excellent dribbler and strong physically, his play will help determine whether the hosts make a deep run in this always entertaining tournament.

 

 

 

q22Qatar- Few positives have come about since country was named host of the 2022 World Cup. From accusations of bribery which hastened the aforementioned indictments against FIFA officials, to the allegations of horrific working conditions for Indians and Nepalese, to the now scheduling of the tournament in November and December. While this might actually benefit the European based players who often complain of end-of-season fatigue at the tournament, (and conversely work against some MLS based players) many European clubs will be unhappy with the disruption of their season schedule.  Another ongoing saga, a result of the mess that FIFA has become.

 

John-MoshoeuRIP- 2015 saw the passing of John ‘Shoes’ Moshoeu who earned 73 caps and won the 1996 African Cup of Nations with the Republic of South American; Sir Cecil Jones Attuquayefio who won the 1965 with Ghana and became a successful coach, leading Ghanaian side  Heart of Oak champions to the 2000 African Champions League title and Benin to qualification for 2004 African Cup Of Nations

 

 

 

sgKevin HagenCanadian PressSebastian Giovinco-Andrea Prilo. Kaka. Frank Lampard. The returns of these high paid, big name players who came to MLS in 2015 were vastly inferior to those of Toronto FC’s Italian forward who rode 22 goals in 33 appearances to win MLS Newcomer of the Year a spot on the MLS’ Best XI and MVP honors.  While MLS continues to wave money at big names to the league to help sell tickets, let’s hope that teams improve their international scouting to ensure that players like this aren’t ignored, either.

 

 

 

timbersTimbers- Many figured it would be a matter of time before MLS Cup would make its way to the Northwest.  But it was Portland, rather than Seattle, who’s first to earn that honor. After losing at home to Sporting KC in early October, they won three straight to make the playoffs, survived a 9-8 penalty shootout against KC, overcame Vancouver and FC Dallas, the latter 5-1 on aggregate then scored twice in the first half in Columbus to beat the Crew 2-1 and bring the first championship to Portland since the Trailblazers in 1977. Diego Valeri scored 27 seconds into the match and the aforementioned Darlington Nagbe, whose midfield play in the latter part of the season helped propel Portland into the playoffs, assisted on the second goal scored by Costa Rica’s Rodney Wallace.

 

 

shieldUSA-Quite an eventful year for both the men’s and women’s team.  The Squad started off well claiming friendly victories against Germany and the Netherlands in dramatic fashion. But when it came to the matches that matter, the Gold Cup and the Gold Cup Playoff against El Enemigo, the US simply didn’t get it done.  The US labored through its Group stage matches against Honduras, Haiti and Panama and though they whipped an overmatched Cuba squad in the quarterfinals they failed to show up in the first half against a hungry Jamaica and crashed out in the semifinals.  They followed that up with being largely outplayed (but showing tremendous heart) against El Enemigo in the Gold Cup Playoff. For the women? What more can I say, top billing!  The Ladies came into the tournament as one of, but not clear cut favorites. They weren’t dominant in their group stage matches, riding some individual brilliance from players like Hope Solo and especially Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd but gathered steam when the injured Alex Morgan returned to the starting line-up and ground out wins against Colombia and China in the knock out rounds. They outlasted Germany in the semifinals before blowing away Japan in a Germany-Brazil type first half in the final.  It was a fitting way to send out Abby Wambach as she retired from competitive soccer and helped the US regain its footing as the best women’s footballing nation.

 

vierapvViera, Patrick-One of the great names in world football during the late 90s and early 2000s, the Arsenal and French legend will be just the fourth full-time Black coach in MLS history after Robin Fraser, Denis Hamlett and Ruud Gullit when NYCFC opens play in 2016.  Viera has no coaching experience and will most likely be using this as a spring board for higher profile coaching jobs in Europe but his knowledge of the game as well as the respect he will have from the likes of Lampard, Pirlo and David Villa could pay some immediate dividends for an NYCFC team looking to become a top MLS side in short order.

 

 

 

Einfaches CMYKWomen’s World Cup- With the fallout from the arrests at FIFA’s headquarters still fresh in the minds of soccer fans, it was nice to have some positive on-the-field news to speak about. The 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada did not disappoint.  Excellent performances abounded through players like France’s  Marie-Laure Delie (3 goals) and Célia Šašić of Germany who, like the US’s Carli Lloyd scored 6 goals. Cameroon surprised many by making the Round of 16.  Some very tense matches in the knockout rounds (Australia upsetting Brazil; Germany v. France in the quarterfinals and then again against the US; Japan’s dramatic win against England in the semis) gave way to an anti-climatic final dominated by Lloyd and the US to earn the Red, White and Blue its third FIFA Women’s World Cup title.

 

 

Xpansion-The last time I used this sorry excuse for the letter X I had no idea that MLS would have pushed into Canada with three teams and into the southeast with Orlando having started play in 2015 and Atlanta coming in 2017. A return to Miami, a new team in LA is also on the horizon and with the NFL’s Rams having moved to LA, a team in St. Louis is now being discussed. While having a presence in these all of these cities is great and will lead to some interesting rivalries, let’s hope maintaining the standard of play in the league will hopefully remain foremost in league operators’ minds as well.  Greater scouting, both home and abroad, and increased league revenues and salaries will be factors in aiding this growth.

 

tourecafYaya Toure-  The Manchester City star enjoyed great international success in helping to lead the Elephants of Cote D’Ivoire to its first African Cup of Nations title in over 20 years and was named BBC African Soccer Player of the Year. But it was the award that he didn’t receive, the CAF Player of the Year that seemed to truly anger him.  Disappointed that he didn’t garner the award for a 5th year running after being beaten out by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, he said to Afrique Foot “Us Africans, we don’t show that Africa is important in our eyes. We favour more what’s abroad than our own continent. That is pathetic.”  What’s pathetic is that he seems to have forgotten that he won award in 2012 as well without having led the Elephants to any international title but on what he had achieved in Europe.  Settle down, bro.

 

 

 

zlZlatan Ibrahimovic (scent)- I love this guy. Not only is he a brilliant footballer who we will finally get to see on a big stage when Sweden takes part in Euro2016 but he’s got his own scent. Zlatan thinks that you should buy it.

 

 

 

 

There it is. What was your take away from 2015?  Don’t think too long, a huge year of soccer is on tap this year. If you’re not in front of your TV watching, go out, play and get stuck in lads.

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pregameheadshotBased in Tallahassee, Andrew L. Dixon, III has contributed soccer articles to BASN since 2004. He previously authored a column for the US Soccer Players.com website.

 

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