The 2014 FIFA World Cup is over and all soccer-dom has a sad. One of the greatest tournaments the world has ever seen has ended, and while there is no shame in MLS and the improvement it has undergone in the last four years, it is not the same as the World Cup.
Good news for those that got hooked on the international game in the past month, or for those just craving more international soccer. There are plenty of major international competitions between now and the 2018 FIFA World Cup, many of which will be held in North America. In addition to the following competitions below, you are also encouraged to check out the 2014 Paralympic Copa America, featuring inspirational five-a-side and seven-a-side soccer events, 2016 Summer Olympics, featuring U-23 squads, and the 2016 Paralympics.
With that being said, on to the major international competitions taking place between now and the 2018 FIFA World Cup!
2015 AFC Asian Cup
Dates: January 9, 2015 to January 31, 2015
Host Nation: Australia
Television Channel: ONE World Sports
Will the U.S. be competing?: The U.S. is not an Asian country, so no.
Why should I watch?: The Asian nations did not show themselves well in Brazil. Four nations, and nary a win among the four. So why pay attention to this one? Because it is the first major international contest since the World Cup, and because Japan and South Korea are capable of real high quality soccer. Also, North Korea have qualified. Awkward things tend to happen when North Korea plays soccer.
2015 Africa Cup of Nations
Dates: January 17, 2015 to February 8, 2015.
Host Nation: Morocco
Television hannel: Currently unknown, but ESPN3 carried the entire 2013 Africa Cup of Nations. If not ESPN, I imagine someone will at the very least carry it online.
Will the U.S. be competing?: The U.S. do not have colorful enough kits to compete in the Africa Cup of Nations.
Why should I watch?: If the AFC Asian Cup is front-loaded, then AFCON's strength is in its depth and parity. Not many saw Mali making it all the way to third place last time out, and Nigeria were not the most obvious of favorites to win it all, either. Despite numerous instances of intra-nation turmoil throughout the recent years, including the recent ban of Nigeria from all competitions, African soccer is frequently really beautiful to watch. And if that does not grab your attention, the kits certainly will.
2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup
Dates: May 30, 2015 to June 20, 2015
Host Nation: New Zealand
Television channel: Fox, Fox Sports 1, Fox Sports 2, and possibly other Fox channels/online streaming services (the collective of which will simply be referred to as Fox throughout the rest of the article)
Will the U.S. be competing?: Unknown. CONCACAF qualification for the U-20 World Cup will take place during the CONCACAF U-20 Championship in January 2015. Though the U.S. failed to qualify in 2011, they did qualify in 2013, and given the emphasis Jurgen Klinsmann has placed on youth and developing young talent, it figures they should probably qualify for 2015.
Why should I watch?: To get a glimpse of some of the stars of tomorrow - both American and international. Given the tournament is taking place in New Zealand, this will not be the easiest tournament to watch, but if you are interested in youth development and the stars of tomorrow, the U-20 World Cup will make for a fine follow. Should they qualify, the U.S. will be seeking to improve upon their 2013 performance where they placed last in their group, earning only one point, a draw against France (losses came against Spain and Ghana; yes, Ghana). If you are a fan of high-profile European clubs, you will likely see some names your favorite club has been linked to in the transfer window.
2015 FIFA Women's World Cup
Dates: June 6, 2015 to July 5, 2015
Host Nation: Canada
Television channel: Fox
Will the U.S. be competing?: Very likely! Though their qualification has not yet began (October 16-26; this is not drawn out like the men's CONCACAF qualification), the USWNT (United States Women's National Team) are currently ranked number one in the world, and it would be a let down of epic proportions were they not to qualify.
Why should I watch?: During the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, the U.S. women went on an incredible run that garnered a lot of press, largely stemming from Abby Wombach's dramatic late stoppage time equalizer in extra time against Brazil in the quarter-finals. The U.S. went on to win that match in penalty kicks and ultimately advanced to the Final where in a similarly dramatic game that also went to penalties, Japan took the title. Despite the U.S. women winning Olympic Gold in London, the what-nearly-was of the 2011 World Cup still hangs over people's heads. In fact, despite being ahead of many nations in women's soccer, the U.S. has not won the Women's World Cup since 1999. With the 2015 competition being played just north of home, the U.S. women will seek to end their championship drought.
2015 Copa América
Dates: June 11, 2015 to July 4, 2015
Host Nation: Chile
Television channel: beIN Sports
Will the U.S. be competing?: No, though CONMEBOL invited Mexico and Jamaica to join the tournament to officially make it a 12-team tournament as opposed to a 10-team one.
Why should I watch?: This is will be a great opportunity to witness the next step to the stories played out at the 2014 World Cup. In addition to having not yet won a World Cup, Lionel Messi has also not won a Copa América, as Argentina were last Copa América winners in 1993. Brazil won the Copa in 2004 and 2007, but failed to even make the semi-finals in 2011, and will be seeking some semblance of redemption after the utter embarrassment of their last two World Cup games. But enough about schmaltzy "stories." You want to watch this Copa América to watch Colombia and Chile play soccer again.
2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup
Dates: July 7, 2015 to July 26, 2015
Host Nation: TBD, but almost certainly United States. The last five Gold Cups have been held exclusively in the U.S.
Television channel: Fox
Will the U.S. be competing?: Yes! As members of CONCACAF's "North American zone," the United States automatically qualifies for the CONCACAF Gold Cup, along with Mexico and Canada. Yes, Canada.
Why should I watch?: Because the United States are competing (and very likely hosting in numerous cities spanning the entire country). If the United States win this Gold Cup, they will qualify for the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup as a result of also winning the 2013 Gold Cup. If they don't win this Gold Cup, the United States, will then be forced to play the winner of the 2015 Gold Cup in a match where the winner of that would then advance to the 2017 Confederations Cup. Between this Gold Cup and the 2017 Gold Cup mentioned later, this one figures to be taken more seriously by the U.S. due to timing. From a personal standpoint, I really want to see the Gold Cup become a thing more fans watch and take seriously. It will never be the Euros, but the Gold Cup always sees a lot of fun games and moments, and coming off the excitement of the 2014 World Cup and CONCACAF's success in it, I have high hopes for this one and I encourage you to check it out if you have never seen a Gold Cup before.
2016 OFC Nations Cup
Dates: October 5, 2015 to November 18, 2016
Host Nation: Many small Pacific Ocean island nations.
Television channel: Nope.
Will the U.S. be competing?: Nope.
Why should I watch?: Nope!. Really. You can skip this one. The winner of this wins the championship for best soccer team in OFC and wins a play-off against a likely superior team to qualify for the World Cup in addition to a berth in the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup. Only watch this if Tahiti's performance in the 2013 Confederations Cup inspired you to abandon your current lifestyle and embrace Pacific island living.
2015 FIFA U-17 World Cup
Dates: October 17, 2015 to November 8, 2015
Host Nation: Chile
Television channel: Fox
Will the U.S. be competing?: Unknown. CONCACAF qualification will be held at the 2015 CONCACAF U-17 Championships. The United States failed to qualify for the 2013 U-17 World Cup, though they did qualify for every U-17 World Cup prior to that dating all the way back to the tournament's inception in 1985 when it was known as the U-16 World Championship.
Why should I watch?: If you're really into youth development, then this tournament is for you. Though seeing as many people may miss out on the 2015 U-20 World Cup due to it being played in New Zealand, this could be a substitute of sorts as it will be played in Chile where the time change will only be one hour ahead of Eastern Daylight Time for the first few weeks of the tournament and two hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time for the final week of the tournament.
Copa America Centenario (Pan-American Cup)
Dates: June 3, 2016 to June 26, 2016
Host Nation: United States
Television channel: Very likely Fox.
Will the U.S. be competing?: Yes!
Why should I watch?: Because, quite simply, this will be the single biggest tournament the United States competes in prior to the 2018 World Cup. The Gold Cup is fun and all, but what will happen in 2016 promises to be special. South America's Copa America turns 100 in 2016 and everyone wants to throw a big bash to celebrate. With Brazil being occupied in 2016 with the Olympics, everyone turned north to the United States as they have the stadiums and necessary infrastructure already in place to host a tournament of this magnitude. The United States willingly agreed, and the party is planned. All ten CONMEBOL nations will be participating and they will rope in six CONCACAF nations including the United States, Mexico, the latest Caribbean champion, the latest Central American champion, and two other nations based off finishes in the 2015 Gold Cup. A tournament like promises to be unique in that a Pan-American Cup such as this has never been attempted before. And with the likes of Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Ecuador, Uruguay, and Paraguay, in addition to America's biggest rival Mexico, the Copa Centenario is likely to be quite the spectacle. According to Philly.com's Jonathan Tannenwald, tournament organizers are committed to getting this added to the FIFA calendar, thereby ensuring all the top players will have the freedom to participate in what may be a once in a lifetime tournament.
UEFA Euro 2016
Dates: June 10, 2016 to July 10, 2016
Host Nation: France
Television channel: ESPN
Will the U.S. be competing?: Perhaps if the tournament was held 250 years ago....
Why should I watch?: Often cited as the best international competition outside the World Cup (and preferred by some to the World Cup), UEFA has taken the step of expanding the tournament from 16 nations to 24 nations, beginning with this 2016 tournament. The obvious worry is that by expanding the tournament from 16 all the way to 24, the field will become more diluted. Had the field been expanded simply been expanded to 20 teams in 2012, Estonia would have qualified for Euro 2012. By expanding the field, obvious minnows are created in a tournament that previously lacked them. But the quality at the top is still magnificent, and the 16 days where the Euro 2016 overlaps with Copa America Centenario will be World Cup awesome. With the potential of start times being coordinated to avoid overlap, you will be able to watch Euro games in the morning and early afternoon on ESPN, then you can switch over to Fox for the Copa America Centenario in the late afternoon and evening. Even with a more diluted than normal Euro, 2016 is going to be World Cup awesome.
CONCACAF 2018 FIFA World Cup Qualification
Dates: Summer 2016 to Fall 2017, though in fairness, Summer 2016 is simply when the U.S. will enter the fray. CONCACAF qualification figures to start again in 2015, with first round games in the summer and a second round group stage in the autumn and winter, but all those matches will feature nations that are at best long shots to qualify. Publicity will not really begin to pick up until the third round begins in 2016, because that is when the U.S., Mexico, and all the other big dogs start competing. It is unknown how the Copa America Centenario will impact the World Cup qualification schedule.
Host Nation: All CONCACAF.
Television: ESPN and beIN Sports
Will the U.S. be participating?: Yes. They will be attempting to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.
Why should I watch?: Because the World Cup is the biggest sporting event in the world, and you want to take the journey with the United States from the very beginning. It is one thing to pick it up when the Round of 32 group stage begins, it is another to follow your country all the way from qualification and games against El Salvador and Guatemala through the Hexagonal and all the way to Russia. The journey makes the final experience all the more worth it, and given CONCACAF's tendency to really favor home teams (even if against higher quality opposition), not every apparently lopsided match is sure to end lopsided.
2017 Africa Cup of Nations
Dates: Some time in January 2017
Host Nation: Libya
Television: Not known at this time.
Will the U.S. be participating?: See 2015 AFCON.
Why should I watch?: See 2015 AFCON.
2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup
Dates: Sometime in May-June 2017
Host Nation: South Korea
Will the U.S. be participating?: See 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
Why should I watch?: See 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
2017 FIFA Confederations Cup
Dates: June 17, 2017 to July 2, 2017
Host Nation: Russia
Will the U.S. be participating?: If the U.S. wins the 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup or, if necessary, the play-off between the United States (2013 Gold Cup winner) and the 2015 Gold Cup winner.
Why should I watch?: Because as a tune-up to the World Cup, it may get you excited for the World Cup a year down the road. Other than that, the idea of the Confederations Cup is better than the execution. Take the host nation (Russia), the winner of the 2014 World Cup (Germany), the winner of the 2015 AFC Asian Cup, the winner of the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations, the winner of the play-off between the 2013 and 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup (or if the U.S. wins in 2015, the U.S.), the winner of the 2015 Copa America, the winner of Euro 2016, and the winner of the 2016 OFC Nations Cup, put them together, and you get a tournament that many fans feel is nothing more than a series of glorified friendlies. It sounds fun, but you end up with two groups with one of those groups containing a hopeless Oceania side. In the 2013 Confederations Cup, Tahiti lost 10-0 to Spain. The only Oceania nation ever really capable of at least holding their own is New Zealand, and even they will struggle mightily. But remember that beautiful stadium in Sochi during the 2014 Winter Olympics hosted the Opening Ceremonies, Closing Ceremonies, and that's it? It will finally host an actual sporting contest here.
2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup
Dates: Sometime in July 2017.
Host Nation: Very likely United States
Television: Not known
Will the U.S. be participating?: Yes.
Why should I watch?: See 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup
Dates: October to November 2017 sometime
Host Nation: India
Will the U.S. be participating?: See 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup
Why should I watch?: See 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, and forget about the whole convenient time zone thing.
2018 FIFA World Cup
Dates: June 8, 2018 to July 8, 2018.
Host Nation: Russia
Let's do this whole thing over again!