As the soccer realm approaches May, competitions around the world are coming to a close. However, some are also just starting. In this edition, we’ll explore the major happenings in world soccer, and what you should be looking out for.
1) Zlatan Ibrahimovic
The 36-year-old Swede is one of Europe’s top strikers of the last 15 years. Famous for playing in almost every major European league, minus Germany, and scoring some wonder goals, such as his infamous bicycle-kick lob against England, Zlatan has moved to the LA Galaxy of MLS after mutually agreeing to terminate his contract with Manchester United.
Back in March, Zlatan announced his arrival in the United States in typically charismatic Zlatan fashion. In a full page LA Times advert, Zlatan only had five words and a simple message for the people of Los Angeles: Dear Los Angeles, You’re Welcome.
His arrival to the United States is being compared to David Beckham’s, and similar questions are being asked about his time here. Will he bring more attention to the league? Does this increase the caliber of MLS? Does Zlatan compare to Beckham? Doesn’t this just solidify MLS’ reputation as a retirement league? Who knows, but he’s already lighting the league up.
In his first appearance for the club, he came on as a substitute against the newly formed LAFC as the Galaxy were 3-1 down. Seven minutes in and nearly 35 yards from goal, he scores with a curler right over the keeper to tie up the game. To top it all off, he scored the winner in the 90+2nd minute with a header inside the box. With his first two shots in MLS, Zlatan delivered the win over their local rivals in his first appearance for the club.
For sure, he is one to watch.
2) Champion’s League
Only twice in Champion’s League history has a team overcome being 3 or more goals down after the first leg of the two-legged tie. However, it nearly happened twice this last week.
After losing 4-1 away in Barcelona, Roma miraculously overcame the massive deficit at home, defeating Barcelona 3-0 in the Stadio Olimpico of Rome.
Juventus literally came within minutes of going through to the semifinals, but a controversial, yet correct, call from the referee gave Cristiano Ronaldo the opportunity to beat Gianluigi Buffon from the penalty spot. He converted.
Juventus lost 3-0 at home to Real Madrid, and all hope seemed to be lost. However, on the return leg, Juventus scored in the second minute. Then again, and then again later on. 3-0 up against the reigning champions Real Madrid, Juventus only needed one more goal to go through.
Yet, their opportunity was squandered in stoppage time when Medhi Benatia came upon Lucas Vazquez in a rough challenge in the box, resulting in a converted penalty.
The semifinals start April 24th, with Liverpool hosting Roma and then Bayern Munich hosting Real Madrid the next day.
This is the first time in several years that teams from four different countries have been in the Champion’s League semifinals (Liverpool – England, Roma – Italy, Bayern – Germany, Real Madrid – Spain). The last time teams from these exact countries were in the semifinals were in 1981, when Liverpool won.
The last time a German team made it through to the finals was in 2013, when Bayern won. The last time an English team made it to the finals was the year prior, when Chelsea won. Since then, it has been Spanish dominance with 6 of the 8 finalists being from Spain. Will something change this year?
The final is being held on the 26th of May in Kiev. Who will be participating is undetermined, but it’s worth it to follow and check out who will be in it.
3) The World Cup
The World Cup, the biggest competition in world soccer, begins in less than two months. June 14th is the day of the first kickoff, when Russia and Saudi Arabia face each other in the opener.
Perhaps the most dull-sounding opener in World Cup history, it will mark of month of festivities, heartbreak, and excitement.
The tournament only happens once every four years since its founding in 1930, making this the 21st edition of the tournament. You may be saying, “wait, the math doesn’t check out.” They didn’t host the tournament twice during WWII.
It’s unclear who the winners will be, but everyone has their favorites. This Brazil team is stronger than the one that reached the semifinals in 2014. Germany won the last one, but now they have an actual striker and right-back while Marco Reus may actually be fit for the tournament. France have had so much youth rise to fame since 2014, not to mention the depth of the 2016 Euro’s runner-up. Argentina have Messi, who were second place in 2014.
Regardless, the World Cup will attract billions of viewers from all over the world during the month that it’s broadcasted. Sadly, the United States didn’t make it, but that is no excuse for Americans to miss the action.
For anyone looking to get into the sport, mid-June to mid-July of this year is the perfect time to do it. Following Argentina with Messi, Ronaldo with Portugal or the flair of the Spaniards will definitely bring the most attractive football of the year to the international stage.
4) Atlanta United
The 5 Stripes kicked off their second season in MLS back in March, and they are currently 4-1-1 and second in the Eastern region having place one less game than first place NYCFC.
It’s only their second season in existence, yet they’ve already broken several records in MLS. Just this season, they’ve broken the MLS transfer record after they splashed the cash for Ezequiel Barco from Argentina for a reported $15 million dollars. In addition, they’ve broken the MLS attendance record for a THIRD time when they hosted DC United on March 17th for 72,035 fans at the Mercedes-Benz stadium.
Yet, despite their success so far, they’ve also brought something else to Atlanta this year: expectations.
Last year, Atlanta United finished fourth in the Eastern Conference, but fell to the Columbus Crew on penalties in the first knockout round.
Should we expect them to do better this year? Josef Martinez is tied for first in amount of goals scored so far this season, and Miguel Almiron is tied for second in amount of assists this season so far. They’ve only played six games, but they’re unbeaten in five.
Personally, I think that they should go further this year. Last year’s champions, Toronto FC, are last in the Eastern conference, and the only other standout team so far is New York City FC. With the lack of a clear favorite, we should expect Atlanta to go to the playoffs at least. However, expectations can be dangerous.
5) Lovett Soccer
Lovett soccer is perhaps the most crucial and relevant aspect of the soccer realm to Lovett students.
The first rounds of state start in late April, and both the boys and girls teams have their first playoff game at home. The girls hosted Adairsville first on Thursday, April 26th. The boys hosted Coahulla Creek the day after.
Both teams have the second seed in the AAA region, with each of them only having lost to Westminster.
The girls still have several senior veterans from their title-winning campaign back in 2016, such as Elizabeth Beveridge, Christina Karem, Collier Taylor and Suzanne Hollis. Sadly, they fell short last year when they lost to Pace in the semifinals. With the leadership from the top this year, they’re sure to go far again.
The boy’s team hasn’t enjoyed as much success as the girl’s team in recent years, but there’s been a significant turnaround in performance this season. With the arrival of new coach Grant Serafy, the boys finished 6-1 in their region, clinching a second place seed. Last year, they finished 3-4 and still made the playoffs before being knocked out in Round 1. Sadly, they were knocked out early again this year, but the foundation has been laid and the culture has changed. Expect them to do better next year.
Well folks, this is all I have. I hope you enjoyed your time reading about the soccer realm with me, because I know I enjoyed sharing what I know with you all. Maybe someone will come along next year, maybe not. I don’t know if I changed your mind about soccer, but I hope you can give the World Cup a shot this summer, just don’t want the opening game. Give a few games around an hour and fifty minutes of your time, and maybe you’ll find out that you actually like it.