By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Dec 26, 2017) US Soccer Players – The final week of December is a time to look forward to a new year. It is also a time to look back on the last 12 months. American soccer came to a crossroads in 2017. There was some negative, but plenty of positives to emerge from a sport that continues to gain in popularity. The question is no longer whether soccer will be mainstream, but how much more can it become embedded into the national sports landscape.
Dwelling on the negative will not grow the game in this country. Instead, it’s worth looking at the accomplishments and how to build on them. There were several outcomes that took place over the past 12 months – three of which we will examine further – that bode well for the game in this country. While the National Team embarks on a rebuilding process next month, the federation firmly has an eye on the future. They’ll elect a new president while trying to ensure that the North American bid wins the right to co-host the 2026 World Cup along with fellow CONCACAF neighbors Canada and Mexico.
Major League Soccer is also forging ahead. Toronto FC had the greatest single season in league history. They’ll try to push MLS forward in the CONCACAF Champions League. The league is also expanding. MLS added Nashville as an expansion team just last week and could name Miami as early as next month. Teams across the league have gotten better at building rosters and growing attendance.
With 2017 almost at an end, here are three highs from this year and three resolutions for 2018 to build on.
2017 Result: The MLS Cup champions went on an impressive run this past season with their historic treble. What’s next was the question even before the final whistle blew at BMO Field earlier in this month in what was a lopsided victory against the Seattle Sounders. It was revenge after Toronto FC lost the 2016 final to Seattle. The win also put the club into the conversation as possibly one of the best – if not the best – ever to play in MLS.
2018 Resolution: Toronto’s historic treble had the Reds in a frenzy. How an MLS champion manages the winter/preseason off the field is almost as crucial as it handles the summer/playoffs on the field. Over the next two months, coach Greg Vanney and the team’s front office will need to tinker with the roster just enough to build into 2018.
Remaining competitive next year means a few things. Winning the CONCACAF Champions League and repeating as MLS champs top that list. The Champions League’s new format could help Toronto FC reach the final. They’ll be trying to do what no MLS has ever done in the modern era of the tournament. Winning the whole thing is a tall order against talented, money-spending, and in-form Mexican clubs. That’s the challenge for Toronto in 2018.
Increase in TAM money
2017 Result: This is the one decision from the league office that will impact every MLS team. The boost in new discretionary money is major by MLS standards. $2.8 million for each team over two years. That should go a long way for MLS teams trying to build up deeper rosters that can compete on many fronts. It makes MLS rosters stronger and more competitive going into next season.
2018 Resolution: For Toronto, this money is also about retention and growing. For a team like the Colorado Rapids, who will face Toronto in the round of 16 this February in the Champions League, it will go a long way towards rebuilding. The Rapids finished the MLS season with the second-worst point total in the Western Conference. This is the kind of investment that can pay dividends for teams as they prepare for a new season.
“Can we bring in another striker, another defender, another midfielder? Within MLS terms, we were a team that was 14-15 deep; can we be 18 deep? One or two more guys that move into our starting 11 that bring this team to another level? We’re excited about the opportunity,” Toronto FC General Manager Tim Bezbatchenko told MLSSoccer.com earlier this month. “We’ve already been working on it, in terms of scouting. And once the mechanism was approved we brought it to another level.”
World Cup 2026 bid
2017 Result: A World Cup on American soil for the first time since 1994 with games in Canada and Mexico. The joint North American bid for the 2026 Wolrd Cup is about giving FIFA an easy decision to make in 2018. The tri-nation bid has it all, infrastructure, hotels, stadiums and fans. Of the 80 matches in 2026, 60 would take place in US venues and 10 apiece in the other two nations. The 2026 World Cup will be the first with 48 teams – an increase of 16.
2018 Resolution: Standing in North America’s way is a bid by Morocco. There’s also the risk that FIFA chooses neither of them, opening up the bid to the world but minus Morocco, Canada, Mexico, and the United States. North American officials are lobbying FIFA members hard. They can’t assume anything before the June 13 vote in Moscow by the 207-members of FIFA.
“We expect Morocco to put together a very good bid,” US Soccer President Sunil Gulati, who chairs the United Bid Committee on behalf of the North American effort, recently told reporters. “This isn’t going to be a computer-generated program that spits out an answer about what the best bid is. We’ve got to campaign.”
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2014. Find him on Twitter:http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi.
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