It's shaping up to be an absolutely packed 2021 for the United States national teams. Looking at the stuffed schedule reminds us what players and fans stand to lose, though, if the country and the wider world can't get a handle on the coronavirus pandemic.
For the women, all attention is focused on the Tokyo Olympics. It's the just-slightly-lesser of the two major tournaments that the women play, one in which America has dominated, winning four gold medals in six tries. On the men's side, the Olympics could also be an important tournament for the country's passel of promising young players, since the men's tournament is contested by under-23 teams rather than full squads. That said, the men haven't qualified since 2008.
Beyond the Olympics, the senior men's team has three other competitions set for 2021. The four-team finals of the CONCACAF Nations League are scheduled in June, including a potential U.S.-Mexico final. The Gold Cup is on the docket for late July and early August, with a U.S.-Canada grudge match set for the group stages. And qualification for the 2022 World Cup, perhaps the most nerve-racking competition of all, is due to begin in March and run helter-skelter throughout the year.
And yet, it could easily all disappear. For once, the worst outcome for our national teams isn't that the United States misses out on gold, or on the 2022 World Cup. It's that no soccer happens at all.
• The semiannual leak of plans for a European Super League popped up again this week. Big-money financing is supposedly lined up for the top clubs in Europe to form their own Champions League, possibly breaking away from their domestic leagues in the process. I'll believe it when I see it, because I can't quite imagine Europe's clubs — greedy as they are — destroying everything just for the chance to finish in mid-table of a continentwide league.
• I count exactly seven soccer games from North America and Europe on broadcast and basic cable this weekend: three from England (not including Manchester City, Manchester United, Arsenal or Tottenham), one from Liga MX, two from MLS including the Loons game, and the USL Championship final (see below). Given that baseball, hockey and basketball are all in the offseason right now, to have so few games on TV is a testament to how much soccer has become a sport for online streaming packages in America.
USL Championship: Phoenix at Tampa Bay, 7:30 p.m. Sunday, ESPN. The second-division final pits Phoenix Rising against the Tampa Bay Rowdies, a team that longtime Minnesota soccer fans remember well. That the USL even pulled off a season amid the pandemic is impressive; watching the final seems the least we can do.
Writer Jon Marthaler gives you a recap of recent events and previews the week ahead. E-mail: email@example.com