What to watch for in 2009: Soccer
The U.S. will beat Mexico in the Estadio Azetca for the first time in Aug. qualifier
Landon Donovan's move to Bayern Munich will be permanent, ending his MLS days
Man. United will repeat as European champions; powers will miss World Cup draw
1. The U.S. will win in the Estadio Azteca for the first time. History is actually on Bob Bradley's side when the U.S. plays at Mexico in 2010 World Cup qualifying on Aug. 12. The last two times an American coach took a team down to its personal hell of a venue for the first time were the last two times the U.S. had a real shot at a result. Steve Sampson guided the team to its only point at the Azteca in 1997 with a 0-0 draw, and Bruce Arena's best and only real shot of a win there came two years later in his first trip to Mexico City, as Mexico won 1-0 in extra time of a Confederations Cup '99 semifinal. Bradley will prepare his team well, the Americans will extend their dominance over El Tri onto Mexican soil and Landon Donovan will become an even greater villain by scoring the game-winning goal.
2. Landon Donovan will not play in Major League Soccer. While his Galaxy teammate David Beckham treks off to Italy to prepare for a similar short-term loan with AC Milan, Donovan's move to Bayern Munich isn't intended to keep the American superstar in shape for national-team consideration, nor can it be spun as a marketing ploy. Donovan's move to Munich is the culmination of Bayern manager Jürgen Klinsmann's interest in the American star, and he's not about to let his prize acquisition go after just two months in the Bundesliga.
3. Manchester United will successfully defend its Champions League title. Not since AC Milan repeated as European champions in '90 has a club held onto its continental glory, but United will pull the trick once more. The Red Devils are just off the pace in the Premiership and have a tough second-round opponent in Inter Milan, but they'll will respond. Last year's European title only added fuel to Man U's fire, and Sir Alex Ferguson won't let another nine years between European glory pass again.
4. Two powerhouses will be absent from the draw for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Coaches and players have maintained for years that the soccer world has shrunk -- a pair of teams will show just how much times have changed with their absences when the draw takes place in Cape Town in December. The leading candidates to miss out on the first-ever African World Cup: Mexico, which nearly failed to reach CONCACAF's final qualifying phase; France, which sits in third place in its group and struggled to reach Euro 2008; and Portugal, which was a better side with Luiz Felipe Scolari in charge, and a lesser side with "Big Phil" in London.
5. A successful Confederations Cup will quell fears about South Africa's ability to host the World Cup. Although it's around 18 months away, many around the globe half expect the World Cup to be moved to a different locale, such as to the U.S. or possibly somewhere in Europe. However, South Africa will have its opportunity to show what it's capable of in June and will step up to the challenge. The Confederations Cup will go off smoothly as all the talk about the tournament will center on the tournament itself and not the host nation's shortcomings.