2013 was a great year for soccer in North America with the USMNT dominating the continent during the World Cup qualifiers, another year of significant growth for MLS, and with NBC's launching of their full Premier League coverage including games being televised on national television.

It was also a year of changes in international football as Bayern Munich dethroned Barcelona as the most powerful club in the globe after a spectacular Champions League title run in an all-German final, and Brazil humiliating the powerful Spain in the Confederations Cup final.

Jurgen Klinsmann did not have the best start as coach of the USMNT, but 2013 was definitely the year he consolidated himself as a leader and gained the trust of fans across the country. The return of Landon Donovan in March after his flash retirement started a controversy in which everyone asked themselves whether the national team needed him or not.

Klinsmann gave Donovan a chance to show his value again, and the star of the LA Galaxy made it pretty clear that his presence would bring more strength to a team that had already established itself as the best in the area.

For MLS it was another year of growth.

First, the league suffered a blow with David Beckham leaving Los Angeles to join PSG, but his absence was well covered by the new international players that arrived to the league and with Thierry Henry establishing himself as the league's ultimate superstar.

The addition of players with successful international careers such as the former Arsenal and Manchester United defender Mikael Silvestre (Portland) and Obafemi Martins (Seattle), plus the arrival of Diego Valeri (Portland) and Claudio Bieler (Kansas) from Argentina helped cover for the talent lost with the departure of David Beckham however, in regards to media impact, his loss was impossible to replace.

Although the league was not followed on television in great numbers, almost every team had sell out crowds of fans that demonstrated to be truly engaged with their respective local teams; and they had a reason to be passionate as the quality of football played in the league improved greatly this year as well.

As for soccer around the world, the most important international tournament was the Confederations Cup. It was here where Neymar proved he had the talent to be the face of Brazilian soccer for years to come leading his country to an astonishing victory over the favorites Spain with a convincing 3-0 score in the final. This was also the year in which the decisive stages of the World Cup qualifiers were played, which increased the amount of international games being disputed.

In Europe, it was Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund who took the spotlight in the Champions League final after they eliminated Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively in the tournament's semifinals. Despite both German clubs becoming the top two teams in Europe, the Bundesliga has still not received the attention it deserves. The arrival of Pep Guardiola to Munich also raised great expectation, but his presence has not been enough to make the German league as popular as La Liga, Serie A, and the Premier League are around the world.

It definitely was a positive year for soccer in the United States, but 2014 can be historic for our national team as they face a tough group stage in the World Cup, one that if they manage to escape alive from, can be the beginning of something bigger than any of us can imagine.

The World Cup will also be an opportunity for the host nation Brazil to become the best again and honor their great soccer legends. However, dynamic teams like the Netherlands and Germany are hungry for glory as they displayed some of the best football despite falling short in recent years. But above all nations will be Spain who will fight at all cost to hold their title and win their fourth straight major international tournament after winning the 2010 South Africa World Cup and back-to-back Euro Cups in 2008 and 2012.

Follow Part II of this series of articles in which we will be analyzing the best, the most improved, and the breakthrough players and coaches of 2013.

According to Brazil’s national team manager Luiz Felipe Scolari, his players have to appear regularly for their club teams or they won’t be considered for the World Cup squad. Scolari said he doesn’t care if it’s the lowest tier of football, but players need to play. The manager said he doesn’t want to see players transferring to big European clubs simply for the money and then sitting on the bench once they get there.


Basically, Scolari is telling his squad that they have to put their country first and money second or they could lose their spot on the national team. Scolari let his players know this on Aug. 13 when they got together for the first time since winning the Confederations Cup 3-0 over Spain at home this summer. The manager stated that there’s still a lot of work to be done to prepare for next summer’s World Cup and the Confederations Cup victory doesn’t guarantee success at the World Cup.


Scolari told the press, “A player who wants to play for Brazil has to think about the national team and not just think about the monetary side. The spirit we showed at the Confederations Cup was absolutely spectacular. But now it's over and we're on a new path. The athletes have to remember that a lot can happen - players not getting regular games, transfers, players dropping out of favor at their clubs."


Scolari claims that none of the national team players have a spot sewn up and everybody has to earn their place on the team, but this can’t be done if they’re sitting on the bench or in the stands for their club teams. One major player Scolari is worried about is goalkeeper Julio Cesar of Queens Park Rangers. The English team was relegated from the Premier League last season and Cesar has been trying to sign on with another top-tier club instead of playing in the Championship League.  


Scolari said he doesn’t care where Cesar plays though as long as he’s playing regularly and there are a few others on the Brazil team he’s going to be keeping his eye on.


Managing Spain doesn’t appear to be such a hard vocation, not with all of the talent available. Vicente Del Bosque has obviously done a decent job of it over the years as the team is the current world and European Champions. The squad also lost for the first time in a competitive match after going 29 games without a defeat. They did manage to drop a game 1-0 to England at Wembley back in 2011, but that was just a friendly. Spain’s last loss in a competitive match came in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa when they dropped a 1-0 decision to Switzerland.


But honestly, you or I could probably manage this team. You’d really just need to pull names out of a hat and could probably be successful most of the time. But there’s more to managing than this. A good manager needs to know how to act and react when adversity strikes. When Spain was humbled 3-0 by Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final last week it appeared that Del Bosque has become so used to winning that he doesn’t have a clue what to do when he’s behind.


Some fans may question his starting 11 against Brazil. Yes Fernando Torres had scored five goals in the event, but four of them were at the expense of Tahiti. Should he have started the final before Cesc Fábregas, David Villa, or Roberto Soldado? But it wasn’t his starters that bothered me, it was his substitutions. They just didn’t make any sense at all when you’re trailing in a one off, do-or-die cup Final.


It was already 2-0 at halftime, so putting César Azpilicueta on the pitch for the second half didn’t make much sense unless the player he replaced, Álvaro Arbeola, was injured. Brazil expanded their lead to 3-0 shortly after the break, but Spain could have climbed back into the game if they had converted their penalty kick soon after. For some reason Sergio Ramos stepped up to take the kick. Was this Del Bosque’s decision. If not, he has to take the blame for not appointing a penalty taker.


The worst was yet to come though when Torres was taken off and replaced by David Villa in the 59th minute. The manager already made another puzzling substitution in the 52nd minute when Juan Mata was taken off and replaced by Jesús Navas. Now putting Villa on the pitch was a good move as he’s Spain’s all-time leading scorer. But taking Torres off at this point was a ridiculous decision. When you’re losing in a cup Final you go with your top guns and roll the dice as there’s nothing to lose. What is Del Bosque worried about, defending a 3-0 deficit?


You have to go down fighting in pro sports, not concede a cup Final by keeping your top scorers on the bench. Deservedly Spain lost the match after some odd moves by their manager and when the final whistle blew attackers Fábregas, Santi Cazorla and David Silva were still sitting on the bench while Torres had been yanked off the pitch. Del Bosque definitely didn’t give the Spanish fans his best shot, he was more worried about losing 4-0 than he was in making a game out of it.


The fans have spoken and they came up with what would be the Confederations Cup's dream team. The 11 selected are mostly from the Selecão, with the inclusion of three Red Fury players and only one Azzurri.

The most notable absences would probably be Iker Casillas and the Uruguayan strikers. Also the inclusion of Fernando Torres might come as a surprise to some.

Anyways, this is the final line-up, what do you think?

Goalkeeper: Júlio César
Defenders: Dani Alves, Sergio Ramos, Thiago Silva and David Luiz
Midfielders: Andrés Iniesta, Andrea Pirlo and Paulinho
Forwards: Neymar, Fernando Torres and Fred
Manager: Luiz Felipe Scolari.


Neymar helped Brazil do what they had set out to do in the Confederations Cup. They went undefeated, winning every single game they played, and did so without needing extra time or penalties at all. Neymar had the weight of an entire nation on his shoulders and he stepped up to the plate in a big way for the Samba kings. He now must perform under the scrutiny of the world as he joins Barcelona for the new campaign, and what he did in June 2013 will quickly be forgotten if he doesn't do it all over again in July 2014.

Neymar proved many of his doubters wrong as he was the star of the Confederations Cup. Brazil looked impressive in all their matches, especially against the Italians and Spain in the Final. The current World and European Champions had nothing on Brazil, and Neymar was a huge part of that victory. He demonstrated his class, skill, and ability to finish in front of the entire world. While many question the relevancy of the Confederations Cup, there is no denying that talent that was involved in the 2013 edition, and nobody can suggest that players don't want to win the tournament.

Neymar is exactly what Barcelona need. He is a versatile and mobile striker that will help them find the back of the net. He is clinical and decisive and will force Barcelona to take more shots. The fact that he will be playing with the likes of Xavi, Iniest, and Messi is a scary thought for any of their rivals. However, there will be tremendous pressure on the young Brazilian to deliver in Europe, especially after his performance in the Confederations Cup. He will have even more pressure when the season wraps up and he heads back home for the World Cup. Despite the expectations that will be on Neymar throughout 2013 and 2014, don't be surprised to see this kid continue to flourish for club and country. 


If Spain effectively has had, one day, an adjusted football gear, it definitively stopped to work in the mythical ground of Maracanã.


Everybody who had the privilege of watching, live, the 2013 Confed Cup final, testified the frolicsome Brazilian squad dismantling every and each joint, plunger, gear, hinge, valves and screws of the Spaniards.


The "tiki taka" was left in the cloakroom and it is still unknown by the Brazilians.


Between the fans that crowded Maracanã it was commented, making fun, that the Spanish coach missed huge in not calling Messi to the team.  


Brazilian victory was complete. Beside the three goals, there was much more to the delight of Brazilian style admirers.


There was a tiki taka semi goal of Pedro miraculously saved by David Luiz at the goalmouth. And there was also a  penalty cockeyedly kicked away by Sergio Ramos for the ecstasy of the crowd. There was Shakira's Gerard Pique being red-carded after putting Neymar down in front of the goal. There were still other two last line fouls that the referee didn't whistle.


And, talking about Brazil, there were Fred and Neymar, admirably well matched and pestering the opposing defense.


Neymar doesn't need more comment. Everybody is talking about him. With respect to Fred, he had a flawless tournament. Five goals in five games (and there were not against a Tahiti defense…). And there was the first goal against Spain, which he scored from the ground.


After the game, the witty Fred stated:

"In my life, I have already done marvelous things lying down, it was only missing a goal. Now it is done, over Spain…"


Spain was dismissed and defeated quite easily by a brilliant Brazilian team in the Confederations Cup Final. The host of the Confederations Cup dismantled the current World Champions and embarrassed them 3-0 in front of their loyal supporters. This is the third consecutive Confederations Cup that Brazil has won and yet another trophy to add to their collection. 

However, while I continuously hear pundits and soccer "experts" write-off Spain and their Tika-Taka ways, what I don't hear is the fact that Spain lost to the United States in 2009 before going on to win the World Cup in 2010 and the Euro Cup in 2012. Spain may or may not be victorious at next year's World Cup, but until then I refuse to listen to anyone telling me that "Spain is finished".

Spain was once the lovable losers that everyone liked to cheer for despite the fact they would find a way to screw something up and lose somehow. Those days are long gone and Spain is currently enjoying a dominant run that included back-to-back European Championships and a World Cup victory in between. In that time, Spain has competed in two Confederations Cups and have failed to win either. 

The loss in yesterday's final has people suggesting that Spain are no longer the team to beat and that a new king has emerged. This was the same thing many were saying in 2009 when Brazil won their second consecutive Confederations Cup. Spain was far from finished then, and I don't anticipate them being done now.

Until Spain are eliminated from next year's World Cup, I will see them as the favorites to win it all. Whether you are a fan of their style of play or not, the fact of the matter is they have earned the right to be called the best with 3 straight major tournament victories. 

While a Confederations Cup for Spain would have been great, it is not the trophy everyone aims to win and has already been forgotten by many. Maybe teams have figured out how to play against Spain and defeat them, but until it's done when the real show is going, I refuse to believe it to be true. 


Sergio Ramos was quite clear when speaking to 'Telecinco' television reporters: "Nothing turned out right for us. With the distances between us, we left quite a few gaps, and all we can do now is congratulate them."

The Real Madrid defender analysed the main causes of Spain's defeat: "When you lose, conclusions are drawn that are not mentioned when you win, but maybe it was evident that we went into it worn out - but that's no excuse. They had also had a demanding match, they got over it better and played a better game."

It was a game to forget for 'La Roja': "It's one of those days when nothing turned out right for us. Personally, I felt very confident standing at the penalty spot. I waited until the last moment, and tried to squeeze the ball into the very corner of the goal, and it went wide. That's football, though. In this sport we can't always win."

The atmosphere at the Maracana was amazing: "It was an advantage for them. Always when I've had the crowds against me it's been a source of motivation, but that doesn't explain why this team hasn't been on its best form."

Spain leaves Brazil empty-handed: "In the end, the day had to come when we wouldn't win, because we're not machines. We gave our all in order to come away with the title for our country. It didn't turn out that way as we had a better team playing against us, but we have our consciences clear knowing that we gave it our best shot."


Brazil star Neymar won the accolade of best player at the Confederations Cup after his starring role in a competition which culminated in Sunday's 3-0 stroll over Spain.

Neymar scored four goals, including one in the final, but his all-round play suggests he can live up the hype as potentially Brazil's greatest star since Pelé.

The silver ball award went to Andres Iniesta, who struggled in a Spanish midfield which never found its game in the final - the usually incisive Barcelona star and his teammates could not conjure their usual dominance and seemed to have left too much out on the turf in edging Italy on spotkicks in the semi-final.

Brazil midfielder Paulinho, who headed a semi-final winner against Uruguay, landed the bronze ball.

Fernando Torres netted another Spanish consolation prize as top scorer for the golden boot ahead of Brazilian duo Fred and Neymar.