January 1, 2017
16 local soccer personalities to watch in 2017
By Michael Lewis
Can the Red Bulls' Bradley Wright-Phillips continue to be a menace to opposing goalkeepers in 2017?
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
The old year is out and the new year is in.
What will 2017 bring for local soccer? I have a lot of questions as the answers will come out over the next 365 days.
Here's a look at the 12 local soccer personalities to consider for the coming 12 months:
1. Jesse Marsch
After two superb back-to-back regular season performances, can the Red Bulls' head coach finally guide his team into MLS Cup? The Red Bulls have been to American soccer's promised land but once, and that was thanks to a Cinderella run in 2008, when they lost to the Columbus Crew, 3-1. They have known nothing but frustration and disappointment in their 21 years of existence. Can they get over the hump this year?
2. Patrick Vieira
After directing New York City FC to a surprising second-place finish in the MLS Eastern Conference, what can the head coach do for an encore in 2017? Can the French World Cup winner continue work his magic with the team this season? Will the 7-0 aggregate goal series loss to Toronto FC affect this year's team? Can he find a scoring partner for the great David Villa? When will he receive an offer from Europe he won't be able to refuse?
3. Bradley Wright-Phillips
Can he continue his incredible scoring run that has produced 68 goals over three seasons? Can he top the MLS-record tying 27 goals he connected for in 2014? Can he add a third Golden Boot to his collection (league-best 24 goals last season). And moreover, assuming the Red Bulls reach the playoffs again, can the English striker become a dominant player performer for the first time?
4. David Villa
Reaching an age when even the best strikers slow down a bit, can the 35-year-old Spanish World Cup champion (2010), continue to fill the net for New York City FC? Can City find an up-front partner in crime for the reigning MLS MVP who finished second in the Golden Boot race (23 goals)?
5. Giovanni Savarese
There are a pair of possible paths for the popular Cosmos head coach? Current path No. 1: can he find places for his former players on other teams, whether it is in the North American Soccer League, United Soccer, MLS or overseas?). Possible path No. 2: if the Cosmos somehow return, can the former Venezuelan international striker rework the team into an imposing force that saw it capture three of the past Soccer Bowls and the last two league titles?
6. Sacha Kljestan
Like BWP, can Kljestan continue his fine regular-season production as he became only the second player in MLS history to reach at least 20 assists in a season (Tampa Bay Mutiny's Carlos Valderrama finished with 26 assists in 2000). And like Wright-Phillips, can the former Seton Hall standout make a difference in the postseason, regardless of how he fares in the 34-game schedule? And will he play under U.S. national coach Bruce Arena during any of the eight vital World Cup qualifiers this year?
7. Sean Johnson
How will the presence of this U.S. international goalkeeper affect NYC FC's goalkeeping situation? Is the job his? Will Josh Saunders, who was benched for the final three games of the 2016, including both playoff matches, be traded? And what role will Eirik Johansen, the man who replaced Saunders, play in the upcoming season?
8. Luis Robles
Just how far can the 32-year-old keeper take his high standards and league-record 140-game streak of starting and finishing games? This veteran backstop has played with injuries in the past? And if and when he cannot play, how will his backup(s) fare if the likes of Ryan Meara is called upon?
9. Juan Arango
Will the man who earned North American Soccer League MVP honors return to the Cosmos after he and the rest of his teammates were released in November? Or will he play in his native Venezuela? The 36-year-old midfielder was the key attacking player for the Cosmos in their run to their second consecutive NASL crown and third in four years.
10. Jack Harrison
Can he develop beyond his promising rookie season? After missing the early part of the season with an injury, the English-born attacking player enjoyed a promising debut for New York City FC before hitting a wall late in the season. With Frank Lampard gone back to England, can he develop into an impact player.
11. Cosmos players
As of Sunday, three former Cosmos players have signed on with new teams after the two-time defending North American Soccer League champions ceased operations in November. They were forward Jairo Arrieta (Heredia, Costa Rica), midfielder Danny Szetela (San Francisco Deltas, NASL) and forward Lucky Mkosana (IFK Mariehamn, Finland). If the Cosmos don't come back, what other players will venture to new clubs? And if they do return under new owners, which players will come back and play for them.
12. Raquel Rodriguez
Can she become a major impact player for Sky Blue FC and not only boost the National Women's Soccer League side into the playoffs but towards the title match The Costa Rican international midfielder has enjoyed nothing but success in recent years. Finishing out of the money in the NWSL had to be a major disappointment for the talented 23-year-old.
13. Allie Long
After playing her best soccer of her career -- playing in the Olympics, a National Women's Soccer League Best XI selection and a league MVP finalist, the Northport H.S. graduate is far from satisfied. Can the versatile midfielder duplicate her performance this year, especially domestically with the Portland Thorns?
14. Seamus O'Brien
Assuming the Cosmos are sold or find new investors, just what role will he play in the organization? Will he be an owner? A mover or a shaker? Or will he take a background role? And if he isnít with the new organization, what will he do next?
15. Christy Holly
Will the fourth time be the charm for the second-year Sky Blue FC head coach? For the third consecutive NWSL season, Sky Blue finished out of the money in eighth place out of nine teams with a 5-8-7 mark and 22 points. With a year under his belt as the boss, can Holly coax at least a fourth-place finish out of his team to reach the postseason?
16. Dax McCarty
With Arena saying that McCarty will get an invite to the January camp in Los Angeles later month, can the Red Bulls veteran midfielder impress the coaching staff enough to secure a spot on the U.S. national team roster? And can he continue his play in the middle of the park for the Red Bulls?