Five soccer tournaments to look forward to in 2013

From World Cup Qualifying to MLS' 18th season, 2013 has a lot of soccer in store

Commerce City, Colo. - The World Cup in Brazil is next year!

Now that we're officially in the year 2013, that's one of the first things I thought about as I looked ahead at what's to come in the soccer world this year.

Here are the five soccer tournaments I'll be paying attention to over the next 12 months:

MAJOR LEAGUE SOCCER'S 18TH SEASON:

Here in Colorado, the primary story is obviously the Rapids, which will look to continue building on the foundation laid last year with an eye on the playoffs come October. But there are stories everywhere entering Major League Soccer's 18th season, too many to list here but that MLSsoccer.com will bring us on a daily basis. The season kicks off on March 3, with Colorado visiting FC Dallas.

FIFA WORLD CUP QUALIFYING:

Back in 2011, 203 nations began the quest to qualify for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. By December 2013 we'll know the 32 countries that will participate.

As host, Brazil is the only country with a berth in the Finals secured. The other 31 spots will be filled as follows: Europe will receive 13 places, Africa 5, South America 4.5, Asia 4.5, North, Central America and Caribbean 3.5 and Oceania 0.5.

Lucky for us, we have all kinds of media outlets available in our homes or nearby bars and restaurants so we can follow the qualifiers from all over the world.

CONCACAF WORLD CUP QUALYFING:

I'll be paying closer attention to our region. We know the six remaining teams: USA, Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica, Panama, and Honduras. The 10-game round-robin Hexagonal begins on February 6 and ends Oct. 15, 2013.

Three teams will get automatic berths into the 2014 World Cup. The fourth place team will play a two-game playoff' series against the winner of the Oceana Confederation for another spot.

I'll be hoping for three things:

  1. That the U.S. qualifies.
  2. That new Rapids forward Edson Buddle, a member of the 2010 U.S. World Cup Team, and midfielder Hendry Thomas, a member of Honduras' 2010 World Cup Team, get called up again. Or really, that any Rapids players get called up. Yes, they might miss games, but the honor of helping your National Team is the highest pinacle for a soccer pro.
  3. That the USMNT plays its March 22 home match against Costa Rica at Dick's Sporting Goods Park. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati said last month that Denver is a candidate to host one of the five games. With the U.S. scheduled to play Mexico at the famed Azteca Stadium in Mexico City on March 26 (altitude of 7,200 feet), what better way to prepare then by playing at 5,280 feet four days before?

CONCACAF GOLD CUP:

It's somewhat strange that in the same year that CONCACAF will determine who goes to the World Cup, the governing body will also stage the regional championship in the United States. The Gold Cup is the biennial nations championship for North and Central America and the Caribbean, and is the confederation's premier event. This is our region's equivalent to the European Championships or South America's Copa America. (BTW - Africa is also hosting their regional championship this year)

The U.S. and Mexico have dominated this tournament, with one or the other - or both - appearing in 10 of the 11 finals since the tournament began its current format in 1991. The only time the Gold Cup was won by a country other than the U.S. or Mexico was in 2000, when Canada defeated guest, Colombia.

The two regional powerhouses have made it to the last three finals, with Mexico winning the past two, including a 4-2 come-from-behind victory over the U.S. in the 2011 final in front of 93,420 at the Rose Bowl.

Thirty cities have bid to host matches, of which 13 will be selected for the July tournament. You gotta figure that Denver is a finalist for this, too.

FIFA CONFEDERATIONS CUP:

It's a mini-World Cup, of sorts. The year before the World Cup, FIFA stages the Confederations Cup in the same country that will be hosting the world's premier sporting event the following summer. It's kind of like a run-through - and for Brazil, it's especially important to prove to FIFA and the world that they are ready to host the big show in '14.

The 2013 tournament will be held in six Brazilian venues from June 15-30, pitting the regional champions from each confederations as well as the host country and defending World Cup champion against each other. Here are the participating nations (keep in mind these teams will also be playing in their respective WCQ and / or regional championships (like Mexico and the African representative):

· Brazi – Host
· Spain – 2010 FIFA World Cup champion
· Japan – Asian Cup 2011 champion
· TBD – Africa Cup of Nations 2013 champion (played in South Africa in February)
· Mexico – CONCACAF Gold Cup 2011 champion
· Uruguay – CONMEBOL Copa América 2011 champion
· Tahiti – Oceana Nations Cup 2012 champion
· Italy – UEFA EURO 2012 runner-up (since Spain won but is in as defending World Cup champ)

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Also, who will win the FIFA U-20 World Cup (June 21-July 13 in Turkey), will the U.S. qualify (February in Mexico), and will Rapids midfielders Shane O'Neill or Dillon Serna be involved? Who will win the UEFA Champions League? will an MLS side finally win the CONCACAF Champions League?