One tradition I wish to carry over from Windy City Soccer is my “Big Broadcast” or preview of soccer in 2018 as I look into my magic 8 crystal ball and see what could be coming locally, nationally, and internationally.
FIRE: The team learned how to to get a big name midfielder (Bastian Schweinsteiger), learned how to get a goal scorer (Nemanja Nikolic), and learned how to win again (16 wins in 2017) and make the playoffs. What the Fire didn’t learn how to do was come from behind (only one win from a trailing position) and add depth (Christian Dean got injured almost as soon as he got here).
That is the next challenge for the Fire whose hand will be forced a bit as both Michael de Leeuw and Djordje Mihailovic are both out until at least June with ruptured ACLs. Re-signing Bastian Schweinsteiger is a must not just because he made everyone around him better, but also gives Chicago a share of the limelight in MLS. What the Fire do need is a new starting goalkeeper (Iker Casillas?) as Matt Lampson did not prove to be the #1 as well as an attacking central midfielder (Juan Quintero?) as both Schweinsteiger and Dax McCarty are holding midfielders. When he’s healthy, David Accam can compliment Nikolic up front very well.
The Fire built a lot of momentum in 2017 even though some of that was lost after the Gold Cup and especially when Schweinsteiger, and later de Leeuw, were injured. Now is the time for the Fire to take those remaining three steps to being a title contender after taking the first seven last season.
RED STARS: What will it take to get over that semifinal hump? The Red Stars also faded down the stretch though it was the place where we discovered Julie Ertz can boss the midfield as well as central defense. As of now, the Red Stars have six US National Team players in its ranks (Ertz, Alyssa Naeher, Casey Short, Christen Press, Sofia Huerta, and Morgan Brian). What more needs to be done to get over that hump? Someone who could compliment Press up front would be nice. If Ertz is in midfield, then the Red Stars need to add depth in central defense. It’s too early to see what could transpire now. We’ll see what happens as we get closer to the NWSL College Draft on January 18th.
MLS: A new team yet again comes into the league in LAFC. Will it make as much as an impact as Atlanta United did last season? Expectations will certainly be high given those who are part of the ownership group, who is coach (Bob Bradley), and their first designated player (Carlos Vela). Meanwhile, there is the matter of Columbus. Anthony Precourt may end up being the Robert Irsay of MLS owners if the Crew move to Austin which would be tragic. Those fans in Columbus will not become FC Cincinatti fans overnight if the Crew leave and it will leave a black eye on Major League Soccer despite just one relocation in the league’s history (San Jose I to Houston in 2005).
Fro all the things that are good about MLS, there are some fundamental flaws such as different standards as to stadia for teams and how teams who have been in the league since 2007 are getting more of the attention compared to those teams who were here for the first decade of MLS. Plus, how the rules regarding player transactions seem to be written in pencil and in Greek.
For MLS to be considered one of the elite leagues in World Soccer, the quality of how it runs its organization should be just as important as the quantity of teams and the quantity of fans in certain markets. Plus, its teams should be given the resources necessary to compete better in the CONCACAF Champions League.
U.S. SOCCER: The U.S. Women will likely qualify for France 2019 next year, but eight years ago, they nearly didn’t and had that home-and-home with Italy to make it to Germany (the home leg being at a cold Toyota Park the Saturday after Thanksgiving that year). I’ll leave it at that apart from the fact that they should be paid the same as the men. They certainly deserve to play in more quality venues.
As for the men, it will hurt once Russia and Saudi Arabia kick off on June 14th and will hurt for the next month. Last year was a total failure for the U.S. Men’s National Team despite the Gold Cup win (Mexico was also in the Confederations Cup). It’s also been a series of failures in getting qualified for the Olympics, advancing further in U20s, and developing talent not named Christian Pulisic.
Whomever becomes U.S. Soccer President in February needs to get all those who care about the sport in this country to come together and create a comprehensive vision that ensures that the U.S. does become a World Cup contender on both the men’s and women’s sides, ensure that the organization is professionally run, that quality youth soccer is accessible for those less fortunate economically in addition to those who can afford it now, and get groups from the anti-MLS crowd to those who spend five hours on social media doing the equivalent of targeting in college football to get off their high horses—let alone act like a certain part of said horse–and be part of the solution and not part of the problem. One of the biggest problems last year was that it was apparent that most people were out for themselves and there really was no vision for soccer in the US. That needs to change no matter who becomes in charge at 18th and Prairie in February.
FIFA WORLD CUP: While most everyone will be fans of Iceland (who actually had a plan to improve the sport in their country and followed through on it), Germany will enter as favorites though Brazil will be back as will Argentina. Another team to watch will be England as they won both the U20 and U17 World Cups last year and it would not be surprising if one of two make the trip to Russia and many more in the next two World Cups. Mexico will look to get to the quarterfinals of a World Cup they are not hosting; and the Netherlands, Ivory Coast, and Italy will be in the same boat as the US. There will be something special in the lead up to June.
That’s all for now. More later.