Happy New Year! Hopefully the fog of last night – and 2016 in general – continues to recede for you as the first day of 2017 continues on. We’re all hoping for a brighter 365 days, and since I’m feeling hangover-free and thus extra Pollyanna-ish, let’s look forward to some stuff!
Here’s a list of a few key points I’m looking forward to in the game this year. It’s in no particular order and in no way exhaustive, because why limit your potential sources of joy?
January USMNT camp
This is traditionally the camp in which young or new guys get a look, and with Bruce Arena at the helm, it’s likely to prove more interesting than last year. Arena hasn’t been shy about wanting to lean heavily on MLSers for his squad; he’s name-checked guys like Keegan Rosenberry and Kekuta Manneh as potentials. What a time, etc.
World Cup Qualifying
The USMNT took a pretty devastating L in Columbus this November; the fact that it came at the hands of Rafa Marquez, in the freezing cold, only added an element of tragedy to the whole thing. The loss to Costa Rica right after that probably only added to some fans’ nihilism.
But blue skies might be ahead! The US aren't headed into the Hex with the best footing, but I believe in Bruce's ability to at least get us through qualifying.
MLS Opening Weekend
Look at these storylines already sizzling. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I’m especially looking forward to seeing a match-up between FC Dallas and the LA Galaxy. Atlanta United will also face a serious test against the Red Bulls.
Orlando's new stadium
One of the centerpiece matches of the league's opening weekend will be a literal opening: the inauguration of Orlando City SC's new stadium, which will see the Lions host New York City FC on Sunday, March 5. Can't wait to see a "purple wall" in full effect.
Away days at Atlanta
Well, they’re home days for Atlanta fans. But I’m looking forward to any reason to visit. Supporters there are already showing up hard for their city and their team – just look at the throngs at the jersey reveal! Also, this:
FYI to other MLS fans/teams this is what you can expect when you arrive and depart ATL. https://t.co/D0KHl8eePc— Footie Mob (@FootieMob) December 29, 2016
The Cascadia Rivalry
The Sounders and their fans are still celebrating their MLS Cup, and the banter from Portland’s still been pretty great. This leaves Vancouver as the only team in the region without a Cup. Will this fuel them? How will the Sounders follow up their amazing late 2016 run and title?
Chicago and Houston have made some moves to shore up their squads and rebuild for 2017. Will any of it pay off? On the other end of the spectrum, too, the LA Galaxy are going through a major shake-up in both line-up and coaching staff, though several key players, like Gio Dos Santos and Jelle Van Damme, are returning. But how will they fill in the gaps?
The rise of Latin Americans
The era of first looking to Europe may be over for MLS. Many of the most exciting signings recently are coming from Central and South America, where coaches can find world-class players at great value. Costa Ricans, especially, will likely continue to thrive in the league, as will Argentines, Uruguayans, and folks from other countries throughout that hemisphere.
Minnesota United, in general
Here’s a team that’s already battle-tested and comes read with devoted supporters, boasting a group with an especially cool name – the Dark Clouds. A lot of any potential roster moves remain a question mark, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the team draws on its existing traditions and squad.
LAFC’s continued roll-out
By the same token, LAFC’s got a year to start really building its squad, and given their marquee roster of owners, that’s definitely got to include a super-flashy signing (or two or three).
FC Dallas’ dominance
We said this last year, but will this finally be the year Dallas get the domestic treble? They certainly have a shot it, especially now that they've filled that Mauro Diaz-sized playmaking hole with a guy who wrote the book on being a modern MLS No. 10. They’re poised for a good run during CCL, too.
This year’s Gold Cup
The tournament always provides some of the best CONCACAF-y fireworks on the field, and inarguably the best tailgating and parking lot snacks. But even more importantly, matches are coming to some key markets, like Nashville and Tampa. Both of the latter are currently pushing for MLS expansion sides, so this is one of their big moments to show strong local support for the game.
All of the current cities hoping to enter future expansion rounds are showing out. But who will come out with one of final slots? Maybe 2017 will point towards an answer.