Looking at the year ahead...


By Simon Fudge/whitecapsfc.com

A New Year and a new decade is now upon us, and though our heads may still be adjusting from the Holiday season that has just come and gone, there is much to look forward to in the world of soccer in 2010.

In fact, there is a feast of events that many sports fans will be making the most of over the next 12 months. Locally, many are already preparing for the biggest sporting event to be held on the Lower Mainland, as the XXI Olympic Winter Games begin in less than six weeks, with the X Paralympic Winter Games to follow in March. The multi-sport events do not end there, as Canadian athletes will also attend XIX Commonwealth Games in Delhi, India, in October. As for myself, I will be looking forward to the 38th Ryder Cup golf matches between Europe and United States in Wales…I wonder if a certain Mr. Woods will be available for the three-day showdown at Celtic Manor Resort?

As for soccer fans around the globe, there is only one event that will dominate their thoughts. Come June 11, all eyes will be on South Africa for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, as the game's showpiece event comes to the African continent for the first time. Last month's group draw set up some intriguing first-round contests. While England and World Cup holders Italy have seemingly good draws, the likes Germany, Netherlands, and Brazil might have their hands full with their groups. Keep an eye out for Mexico and Uruguay in Group A, while a good campaign from Bob Bradley's USA squad would be a major boost to the game in North America (I state this, even though I am a Canada supporter). For me, the team to beat will be European champions Spain. Whoever is able to achieve that will likely lift the World Cup trophy in Johannesburg on July 11.

Fans of 'The Beautiful Game' will be given a preview of what is to occur in South Africa this summer, as well as a good idea of the tournament's African challenge, when the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations takes place in Angola later this month. Algeria, Cameroon, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, and Nigeria will look to build momentum towards the big show, while defending champions Egypt will try and win the title for an unprecedented seventh time.

January also sees Canada defend their title as CONCACAF Women's Under-20 champions, as Carolina Morace's young side will head to Guatemala later this month. It will be the first real test for the Italian coach, as Canada aim to qualify for this summer's FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup in Germany. Former Whitecaps defender Ian Bridge will look to achieve similar goals with the Canadian U-17 women this March, as Costa Rica will host the CONCACAF Women's Under-17 Championship. Those to qualify out that tournament will visit another CONCACAF nation in September, as Trinidad & Tobago will stage the second FIFA U-17 Women's World Cup.

Late March sees the return of Major League Soccer, with the expansion Philadelphia Union looking to emulate the likes of Chicago Fire and Seattle Sounders in having a highly successful inaugural season in the league. Much will also be expected of Toronto FC under new head coach Preki (Predrag Radosavljević), as the Reds look to make the MLS postseason before they share Canadian spotlight with Vancouver in 2011. Columbus Crew, meanwhile, will fly the MLS flag into the knockout stages of the 2009-10 CONCACAF Champions League this spring, as the Ohio-based outfit and three Central American clubs look to overcome strong representation from the Mexican Primera División this March and April.

Closer to home, 2010 provides soccer fans with an exciting build-up towards Vancouver MLS 2011, as the Whitecaps will play their 24th and final season at Swangard Stadium. Blue and White supporters are sure to feel nostalgic about a near quarter century of experiences at the Burnaby-based venue. For me, it started back in my high school days watching the 86ers win four-straight Canadian Soccer League championship titles in that very stadium on television, while more recently, the 2008 United Soccer Leagues First Division championship victory over Puerto Rico Islanders was a special moment to witness first-hand. Though it will be hard not to think about the exciting future that lies ahead, looking back at what has been achieved at Swangard remains a source of pride and foundation for the 'Caps and their fans. We wait and see if 2010 will add another memorable chapter to what has been a special era in the club's history.

For soccer and sports enthusiasts alike, 2010 offers a menu of events that are sure are to satisfy every sporting taste. We may only be days into the New Year, but I'm finding there is already a sense of significance to what will take place over the next 12 months.

I wonder how many 2010 memories will last a lifetime in all of our thoughts? We wait with anticipation…