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5 under-the-radar soccer things that will rule 2023

The global 2023 soccer calendar just doesn't relent from month to month with the usual suspects (Premier League, Champions League, etc.) demanding and receiving our attention, but a few soccer-centric things have flown under the radar in the new year. 

Update your Google Calendar, set a reminder with Alexa or just make a mental note of these five happenings.

#1. The release of Taika Waititi's Next Goal Wins

Release date: Sep. 22, 2023 

What is it?

Many Americans are familiar with Thomas Rongen, who's become a mainstay of U.S. soccer by playing in the NASL, managing in MLS, working with the USMNT and providing analysis on beIN and CBS Sports. 

What's less known is his stint as manager of American Samoa during its 2014 World Cup qualifying campaign. The strange coupling was the basis of a 2014 documentary, but now it's getting the film treatment by celebrated director Taika Waititi. 

The New Zealander has never made a sports movie before, but he's shown incredible range with films like Thor: Ragnarok, Jojo Rabbit, Hunt for the Wilderpeople and What We Do in the Shadows

This could definitely be a Ted Lasso kind of success, and we're also supposed to get a third season of that television series in 2023.   

#2. The release of the UFL video game

Release date: Q3-Q4 2023

What is it?

You get the feeling there's no stopping FIFA, even though 2023 marks its brand change to EA Sports FC. Still, FIFA can feel stale and Konami's eFootball series only gets worse, so it'd certainly be nice to have something else to turn to on PlayStation and Xbox.

Enter UFL, which has been in development since 2016 by Strikerz Inc. 

We can only speculate on how it'll ultimately play, but the game's YouTube channel has kept everyone in the loop with some promising updates. The developers describe the game as "fair-to-play" with "a skill-first approach and zero pay-to-win options," so we're definitely anticipating UFL's release later this year. 

#3. The USWNT vs. the Netherlands

Date: July 27, 2023

What is it?

The 2023 Women's World Cup is just six months away. It's fair to say that the men's World Cup captivated the globe throughout November and December, taking away from some of the buildup towards Australia and New Zealand, but now it's time to get ready for an expanded 32-team women's tournament.

The United States opens its campaign July 22 against Vietnam, but the marquee matchup of the group stage is a rematch of the 2019 final. After losing friendlies against England, Spain and Germany at the end of 2022, the U.S. will enter the match against the Dutch facing some serious questions regarding their ability to three-peat.

This'll be one hell of an event stateside with kick-off on Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET. 

#4. The FIFA Beach Soccer World Cup

Dates: Nov-Dec, 2023

What is it? 

One byproduct of working at The18 is my conviction that of all the forms of foot kicking ball, beach soccer is by far the most underrated. A smorgasbord of bicycle kicks, goalkeeper bangers and last-second drama, watching the Beach Soccer World Cup is to experience the worst sort of FOMO — you'll want to be rolling around on the golden sand underneath life-affirming sunshine the second you start watching.

This year's 16-team tournament is being held in Dubai. Russia hosted and won the last Beach Soccer World Cup in 2021, but they're banned from the competition. The United States lost all three of its matches at that one, and qualification must first be secured at the upcoming Concacaf Beach Soccer Championship. 

#5. The Leagues Cup

Dates: July 21 - August 19, 2023 

What is it?

For 29 days between July and August, both MLS and Liga MX will press pause on their respective seasons to allow all 47 teams to contest this crazy-ass tournament that should provide some memorable moments. 

LAFC (2022 Supporters' Shield) and Pachuca (2022 Liga MX aggregate table) go straight to the Round of 32 knockout stage, but the other 45 teams have been placed in 15 groups of three. So each team is guaranteed two matches, and games that are deadlocked after 90 minutes go straight to a shootout. 

The top two teams from each group advance to the last-32 with LAFC and Pachuca, and from there it's single elimination until the final. All 77 matches will be held in either the U.S. or Canada (MLS venues).

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