It was a year Sepp Blatter and his FIFA cronies surely would like to forget. U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann probably won’t look back on 2015 too fondly, either. Former Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho must have mixed feelings about the past 12 months.
But among those raising a toast to 2015 will be Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Jill Ellis, women’s soccer fans, Leicester City fans, Barcelona fans, Chile, Mexico, Robert Lewandowski, Portland, Jamie Vardy, Miami FC owners, and David Beckham, who seems to finally have an acceptable plot of land to build a home for his Major League Soccer team.
Let’s review, shall we?
▪ Bye-bye Blatter: The biggest story of the year, without question, broke on May 27. That is the day the U.S. Department of Justice indicted 14 FIFA officials for bribery, money laundering, wire fraud and racketeering in a corruption scandal that continues to rock the sport.
Seven officials were arrested in a predawn raid at a posh hotel in Zurich, where the FIFA bigwigs were meeting. There was a simultaneous raid of the Miami Beach offices of CONCACAF, the regional soccer governing body for North and Central America and the Caribbean.
On June 2, Blatter, the longtime FIFA president, resigned. As the year went on, nearly two dozen soccer officials were embroiled in the scandal. On Dec. 21, Blatter was slapped with an eight-year ban by the FIFA Ethics Committee.
“I’ve finished my work in football,” he declared a day later.
▪ Champions crowned: On a happier note, Chelsea finished atop the English Premier League, and Mourinho was considered a genius … at least for a while. Barcelona won its seventh La Liga title in 10 years. Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi combined for 122 goals, setting a league record.
▪ Chi-Chi-Chi, le-le-le: Chile surprised powerhouse Argentina and won the Copa America championship in a penalty-kick shootout.
▪ U.S. women dominate: The most exciting story of the year for most American fans was the Women’s World Cup in Canada, which the U.S. women won in unforgettable style. Lloyd scored a hat trick in the first 16 minutes of the final to lead the American women to a 5-2 win over Japan. It was the quickest hat trick in World Cup final history — male or female — and the first title for the U.S. team since 1999.
A record 25.4 million people tuned in.
▪ U.S. men struggle: The U.S. men’s team did not fare nearly as well as the women’s team, and critics of Klinsmann keep getting louder. Team USA finished fourth in the Gold Cup, losing a shocker 2-1 to Jamaica in the semis, the team’s first home loss to a Caribbean team since 1969.
A few months later, the men’s team lost 3-2 to Mexico in the Confederations Cup playoff. Wambach, the U.S. women’s great who retired in December with a world-record 184 goals, was asked what she would do to fix the men’s team. She said: “I’d fire Jurgen.”
▪ Strikers rehire (and re-fire) Kronsteiner: On June 30, the Strikers rehired coach Gunter Kronsteiner, a fan favorite who had been fired before the season despite leading the team from last place to the NASL championship game in 2014.
“We are thrilled that Gunter is returning,” Strikers managing partner Ricardo Geromel said. “We remain convinced that the team possesses tremendous potential. Under Gunter’s leadership, we expect to realize this potential.”
The club had replaced Kronsteiner with Marcelo Neveleff, who finished 3-5-2 in the Spring season.
As he did the year before, Kronsteiner rallied his team and the Strikers reached the NASL semifinals. Apparently, that wasn’t enough, as Kronsteiner was again fired at the end of the season.
▪ Miami FC launched: While Beckham continued to search for a suitable spot for his MLS expansion team, sports media mogul Riccardo Silva and former Italian soccer great Paolo Maldini launched Miami FC, an NASL club to begin play in 2016. Another Italian legend, Alessandro Nesta, was hired as coach. The team will play its games at FIU Stadium.
By Christmas Eve, Miami FC had signed seven players — defender Brad Rusin (U.S.), forward Jaime Chavez (U.S.), forward Dario Cvitanich (Argentina), midfielder Wilson Palacios (Honduras), midfielder Dane Richards (Jamaica), goalkeeper David Sierra (Spain) and midfielder Blake Smith (U.S.).
▪ Beckham settles on Overtown: Beckham’s seemingly never-ending search for a home for his MLS team hit a few more snags. On July 17, after failing to gain support for a waterfront stadium at the port or adjacent to AmericanAirlines Arena, Beckham and his group agreed to build next to Marlins Park in Little Havana. The politicians seemed to be on board, and the Miami-Dade School Board worked a deal to partner with Beckham and be his landlord.
Alas, it was not to be. Beckham’s group could not come to terms with a handful of landowners whose property occupies a sliver of the land that would have been necessary for the stadium. So, they went to Plan D: Overtown. Everyone seemed excited about this site, which is close to the Metrorail and in an area that could use revitalization. But some dissenters showed up at a Town Hall meeting. Stay tuned.
▪ Memorable dates: Bayern Munich’s Lewandowski scored five goals in nine minutes on Sept. 22. … Barcelona thumped Real Madrid 4-0 in El Clasico on Nov. 21. … Portland beat Columbus in the MLS Cup final Dec. 6. … Defending champion Chelsea, mired in 16th place and in danger of relegation, fired coach Mourinho on Dec. 17.
▪ Unlikely hero: Who would have predicted that heading into the new year, the leading scorer in the EPL would be Vardy? The Leicester City striker has 13 goals and had scored in 11 consecutive matches, breaking a league record. Even more surprising, his team sits atop the standings, two points ahead of Arsenal and six ahead of Manchester City.
Unpredictable year, indeed.
EPL: Leicester City (38), Arsenal (36), Manchester City (32), Manchester United and Tottenham (29).
La Liga: Barcelona and Atletico Madrid (35), Real Madrid (33), Celta Vigo (31), Villarreal (30).
Serie A: Inter (36), Fiorentina and Napoli (35), Juventus (33), Roma (32).
Bundesliga: Bayern Munich (46), Dortmund (38), Hertha Berlin (32), Monchengladbach (29), Bayer (27).
Ligue 1: PSG (51), Monaco (32), Angers (31), Caen (30), Nice (29).
On the tube
Sunday: Nottingham v. Leeds (11:25 a.m., BeINSport USA).