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U.S. women's team and FIFA led soccer's highlights and lowlights in 2015

U.S. women's team and FIFA led soccer's highlights and lowlights in 2015
The United States women's team hoists the World Cup Trophy in celebration. (Ronald Martinez / Getty Images)

It has been a year of celebration and controversy in world soccer. The U.S. won the largest and most competitive Women's World Cup in history but FIFA, the sport's world governing body, was embroiled in chaos after the U.S. Justice Department unsealed 41 indictments against high-ranking soccer and sports marketing officials.

Here's a look at some of the key events of the last year and what to look forward to in 2016:

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U.S. women win World Cup

Carli Lloyd's first-half hat trick lifted the U.S. to its first Women's World Cup title in 16 years, making Lloyd one of three finalists for FIFA's player-of-the-year award and U.S. Coach Jill Ellis a candidate for the FIFA coaching honor. About 27 million TV viewers watched the women's final in July, a U.S. record for a soccer game.

FIFA scandal

It was a bad year for FIFA and its president, Sepp Blatter, whose scandal-plagued 17-year reign is over after the organization's ethics committee suspended him and UEFA President Michel Platini for eight years. The suspension, which both men are challenging, stems from a $2-million payment made by Blatter to Platini in 2011 and comes at the end of a year in which the Justice Department indicted dozens of current and former soccer officials, charging them with fraud, bribery and corruption, among other crimes.

Blatter was not part of the U.S. indictment but is the subject of a criminal investigation by Swiss officials. Blatter announced in the spring that he would step down in 2016, six months after being reelected to a fifth term as FIFA president. The suspension ended the need for his resignation.

Galaxy, U.S. men fade down the stretch

Buoyed by the midseason additions of former Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard and Mexican national team star Giovani dos Santos, the Galaxy entered the final month of the Major League Soccer season with the best record in the league. But it didn't win again, giving up 10 goals in its final three games en route to a first-round exit from the playoffs.

The U.S. men's national team followed spring victories over Mexico, the Netherlands and world champion Germany with its worst Gold Cup performance in 15 years, losing to Jamaica and Panama. The U.S. then lost a CONCACAF Cup playoff to Mexico at the Rose Bowl.

Copa America coming to the U.S.

The 100th anniversary edition of Copa America, the world's oldest major international soccer competition, is coming to the U.S. for the first time. At least three games in the tournament, the most important men's event to be held in this country since the 1994 World Cup, will be played at the Rose Bowl.

U.S. women to chase history at Olympics

With a fourth consecutive gold medal in Rio de Janeiro, the U.S. would become the first country to win a World Cup and Olympic title in consecutive years. But the Americans will have to do it without Abby Wambach. The most prolific scorer in international soccer history, male or female, announced her retirement in October.

World Cup qualifying

Despite its recent struggles, the U.S. men's team is a virtual lock to get through the current round of World Cup qualifying and earn one of six spots in the next round, which begins in November. The degree of difficulty there will increase considerably as the U.S. tries to secure a spot in the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

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What's next for FIFA and Blatter?

FIFA will end the year without a president and with few untarnished candidates to run for the newly opened job. And two rounds of federal indictments have shown the organization to be so riddled with corruption that saving it could be impossible anyway.

Elections to choose a successor to Blatter were scheduled for February, and FIFA executives had been scheduled to meet to discuss much-needed reform before many of those same executives were indicted and charged with committing some of the acts that had led to call for reform in the first place. Even before all that, major commercial sponsors had begun running for the exits. With the next World Cup 2 1/2 years away, FIFA has a lot of work to do and little time to get it done.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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