January 1, 2017
16 national soccer personalities to watch in 2017
By Michael Lewis
Can U.S. national head coach Bruce Arena turn around the fortunes of the Americans in World Cup qualifying?
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
The new year is upon us and while we take pause and size up the year behind us, we must look forward to what is ahead of us.
Presenting the 14 national soccer personalities to watch in 2017:
1. Bruce Arena
Can the former and current U.S. national coach clean up the mess that Jurgen Klinsmann left in the wake of the German World Cup winner's sacking in 2016? The USA is in sixth and last place in the CONCACAF hexagonal in the quest for the 2018 World Cup. There are eight matches remaining as the six teams vie for three automatic spots and a fourth-place playoff berth.
2. Christian Pulisic
Can the 18-year-old midfielder-forward continue to progress with Borussia Dortmund (or whatever team he winds up with) and continue his progress for the U.S. national team? Let's face it, he is the best young player to emerge on the U.S. men's scene since Landon Donovan.
3. Clint Dempsey
Will his heart problems become part of his past and he will be able to play and be dangerous for the Seattle Sounders and the national team again? In the U.S.'s two opening losses in the hex, the Americans needed his presence and leadership on the field.
4. Jozy Altidore
And speaking of high-scoring strikers, will he be able to stay away from injuries and continue his goal-scoring feats for the national team and Toronto FC this year? Given the ladder the USA must climb, the former Red Bull will need to be at his best for the red, white and blue.
5. and 6. Mallory Pugh and Crystal Dunn
Can one or both players emerge as dominant players for the U.S. national team? They have showed signs of brilliance. Can they become imposing and impact players in every game for the national side? With Carli Lloyd at 34 (she will be 36 at the next Women's World Cup) and Megan Rapinoe, 31, (she will be 33 then), the team will need younger talent if it wants to defend its world championship and avoid an embarrassing repeat of what transpired at the Rio Olympics (quarterfinal elimination).
7. Jill Ellis
Can the U.S. national coach continue to rebuild her 2015 Women's World Cup championship squad in the wake of last year's disappointing quarterfinal finish at the Rio Summer Olympics. There will be no major international competition for the Americans until the 2019 WWC in France and the team while some of the over-30 players still have it, Ellis might have to find more new blood because two years is a very long time in international soccer.
8. Hope Solo
Can the U.S. international and Seattle Reign goalkeeper rebound from her suspension in wake of her controversial remarks after the U.S. was bounced from the Rio Summer Games. Solo endured a nightmare game in the 2-2 draw with Colombia in the group stage, allowing two soft goals. At the highest level of the game, goalkeepers cannot afford to allow that to happen.
9. Paul Riley
Can the Bay Shore, N.Y. resident pull off a first and direct the Western New York Flash to the National Women's Soccer League championship for the second consecutive year after his team's Cinderella finish in 201? The Flash is a young side and with the talent that Riley has, the upside is well, the sky.
10. Don Garber
How long will the MLS commissioner and his board of governors be willing to wait for David Beckham and company to find a home in the Miami area? There are many candidates for expansion teams and the Beckham saga has become an ongoing soap opera? While the commish said the 2017 post-season rules won't be changed, will they be tweaked for 2018 and beyond?
11. Landon Donovan
Will the (former) LA Galaxy and U.S. national team legend continue his un-retirement and sign with Real Salt Lake or with an unnamed Eastern Conference side? Donovan, 34, might not have the same speed or acceleration of the Landon Donovan of old, but he still can be an impact player in his old soccer age.
12. Michael Bradley
At which position will Arena deploy Bradley at to get the most out of him and for the teamís sake? In an attacking role that he was not always effective at under Klinsmann, or perhaps at a holding or defensive midfielder role. Interesting perspective: Bradley made his international debut under Arena in 2006.
13. Ashlyn Harris or Alyssa Naeher
If Hope Solo's days with the U.S. women's national side are numbered, who will wear her goalkeeping gloves? Will it be Harris (Orlando Pride)? Or maybe Naeher (Chicago Red Stars) will take command. Or perhaps another goalkeeper will get the call. Even if Solo returns, Ellis has to start looking for a successor for the 35-year-old Solo, who isn't get any younger or if she suffers an injury.
14. DaMarcus Beasley
He is soccerís version of the comeback kid. How many times will he make a return to the national team? With experienced left backs a rare commodity at the international level for the USA, Beasley keeps getting called in. Arena said that the 34-year-old defender will be invited to national team camp in LA this month. Will be play for the Americans in that Jan. 29 international friendly vs. Serbia Jan. 29 before he hooks up with an MLS club?
15. Lynn Williams or Kealia Ohai
Will Ellis give the NWSL co-goal-scoring leaders an opportunity to play regularly as she begins preparation for France 2019? They showed they should put the ball into the back of the net. Williams, who tallied 11 goals for the champion Western New York Flash, scored 49 seconds into her national team debut in a 4-0 win over Switzerland Oct. 20. Ohai, who did the same for the Houston Dynamo, did her one second better, connecting 40 seconds into her U.S. debut, a 5-1 victory over the Swiss three days later.
16. Curt Onalfo
With Bruce Arena taking all his coaching staff to the national team, his successor at the LA Galaxy will have some big shoes to fill. How will the Galaxy fare under new management? Will the team be able to continue to attract big names without a big-name coach?