The New Year slides in on Wednesday, replacing an eventful 2013 in MLS and holding out the hope for even more intrigue in the next 12 months.
That’s one of the best things about Major League Soccer: as a still-emerging, budding league, each new season has a better-than-even chance of being more exciting than the last, as new teams, new stadiums and new players arrive, and new milestones come into view while the circuit continues to carve out its history.
Dozens of storylines are already teed up for next season, from the top of the league (Can SKC repeat? Can Portland, Real Salt Lake and New York continue their upward momentum?), to the bottom (Can Chivas USA finally right the ship? Will D.C. United get back on track after a disastrous 2013? Can Toronto produce a playoff team for the first time in their history as a franchise?).
The middle ranks are also packed with cliffhangers: How will Seattle fare with Clint Dempsey in the fold from the get-go? Ditto for Chicago and reigning league MVP Mike Magee. Can Colorado’s young stars build on a promising 2013?
- BEST OF 2013: Take a look at MLSsoccer.com's year-end series
Those are just a few of the many developments to look forward to as we head toward March.
But this week, the Postgame takes a look at the year’s kickoff event, the opening of the transfer window, and it’s centerpiece, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
First up, the Top 5 MLS transfer rumors:
5. Frank Lampard and Ashley Cole – Ah, December: snow on the ground, a chill in the air, and Lampard-and-Cole-to-MLS rumors clogging the interwebs.
4. Tomas Rosicky – The slick 33-year-old playmaker recently told the press he wants to finish his career at Arsenal, but if that doesn’t work out, he said, he’d like to come Stateside. You can bet his former teammate on the Gunners, Thierry Henry, wouldn’t mind having him threading passes to him in the final third at Red Bull Arena.
3. Jorge Bazán – A talented 22-year-old winger, he’s rumored to be headed to MLS to provide speed and attacking options to an unnamed team in need of both. D.C. United were once reportedly in pursuit of the Alianza Lima product.
2. Gastón Fernández – Is MLS about to land the second Gastón in league history, after former Chicago Fire striker Gastón Puerari? Fingers crossed. This one, a pacy skillful striker, is from the same town as Timbers attacker Diego Valeri, and is rumored to be on his way to Portland.
1.Jermain Defoe – Some outlets have reported that Toronto FC’s bid for the England and Tottenham forward is a done deal. Will the Reds make it official this week? And will Drake be involved in the introduction?
As the MLS regular season gets under way in the spring of 2014, and leagues around the world barrel toward their conclusions, the year’s big event, the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, will come squarely into view.
In years past, the US have had a handful of late-blooming players, guys who weren’t necessarily on the radar during qualifying but who joined the team in time for the tournament and provided either an increase in depth, a spark off the bench, or, in some cases, a reliable starting role.
Here’s a Top 5 of candidates for a late-developing role on the US World Cup team:
5. Daniel Cuevas – Anyone who watched the US at the 2013 FIFA U-20 World Cup would agree that Cuevas was one of the best, if not the best, performers on the American side: technical, strong, quick, and solid in possession. One report said that he opted to stay in Mexico this season (over a move to MLS) to take advantage of Liga MX’s January start, which would give him a longer competitive run-up to the tournament.
4. John Anthony Brooks – The 6-foot-4, 20-year-old center back landed in the doghouse at Hertha Berlin earlier this month, even drawing a public reprimand from his coach, who said he needed to “become an adult.” But he is big and athletic, the US backline needs help, and he has had a brief look with the team. Don’t rule him out just yet.
3. Eric Lichaj – In November, Klinsmann told reporters, “Our right back is Brad Evans, he has that position locked down. But behind Brad there is some space.” Steve Cherundolo could get healthy and contend for the spot, or Geoff Cameron, who plays right back for Stoke, could claim it – or the speedy, aggressive Lichaj, who is getting regular minutes for Nottingham Forest, could build his case in the next few months.
2. Terence Boyd – The 6-foot-2, 180-pound striker (above) has seven goals in 17 appearances for Rapid Vienna this season, and 20 goals in 47 games during the past two. He’s in better form than Jozy Altidore at the moment, and his size, skill, and athleticism are formidable. Boyd has 12 caps for the US, but made only four substitute appearances in 2013.
1. Mix Diskerud – The Norwegian-bred playmaker was instrumental in the US team’s 2013 Gold Cup triumph, and he featured with the first-choice side in several matches in 2012 and 2013. But Diskerud is still behind a few players on the crowded US depth chart in central midfield. That could change at Brazil 2014, where Diskerud’s game-changing ability as a skillful, dynamic attacking midfielder could make him a breakout performer.
Also noteworthy: Icelandic-American striker Aron Johannsson has shown enough in his six US appearances that most observers have him penciled in for the trip to Brazil – if not starting up top.