By Charles Boehm – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 29, 2017) US Soccer Players - Yes, this was a strange, vexing year for the USMNT and those who support them. Every turn of the calendar provides a chance for renewal, and none more than this one as both program and Federation enter an extended period of transition.
We’ve heard a great deal about what’s gone wrong and/or what needs to be fixed lately, not without reason. Now 2018 is days away. So in a time of the season where fresh hopes and resolutions are preferred to old recriminations, what can we actually look forward to? Here’s a rundown of some signposts worth noting.
Sports Illustrated, citing US Soccer officials, reports that the USMNT’s annual January camp will open today. It will involve “roughly 30 players” who will work under ongoing caretaker coach Dave Sarachan for two-plus weeks at StubHub Center in Carson, California, highlighted by a friendly vs Bosnia & Herzegovina on Sunday, January 28.
Even under these unusual circumstances, the usual January camp caveats apply. It won’t be a full-strength USMNT due to club duties in Europe and Mexico, nor will B&H bring their full cadre of stars. Sarachan can only do so much while positions further up the command chain are in flux.
Still, every game is a chance to reconnect with a hurting fanbase. And this figures to be another solid opportunity for younger generations to stake a claim or two.
What was long known simply as “NSCAA” and is now dubbed the United Soccer Coaches Convention unfolds in midwinter as usual. This year, it's in downtown Philadelphia.
Beyond the MLS and NWSL drafts and a range of other formal activities, the largest gathering of coaches on the planet is a key place to meet, learn, and schmooze for nearly all facets of the American soccer ecosystem. Networks and relationships are built and maintained alongside the deals.
This is also where the way forward for the program, in a wider sense, will begin to take shape. Candidates, voters, and influencers in February’s USSF presidential election will mingle here, looking to clinch alliances and corral coalitions as the home stretch beckons.
The US Soccer Federation’s annual general meeting, dominated this year by the election to replace longtime president Sunil Gulati. It takes place over a long weekend a long goal kick from SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.
Eight candidates are on the ballot. They represent a wide range of backgrounds and agendas, including former USMNTers. It’s unclear who, if anyone, is the frontrunner at this stage. The eventual winner will undoubtedly possess influence over the direction and outlook of the program, starting with a prominent role in conducting the search for the next USMNT head coach. The fed is reportedly, and understandably, in no hurry to hire a coach before a new president is in place.
The vote itself takes place on Saturday, February 10. That’s also the date of the induction ceremony for this year’s National Soccer Hall of Fame class, Briana Scurry (Player Ballot) and Dr. Joe Machnik (Builder Ballot).
The 2018 MLS season opens today, lifting the curtain on another long domestic season. This concerns the club fortunes of USMNTers past, present, and future, of course. It also naturally re-opens the conversation on the relationship between MLS and the national team – as well as the federation at large – and whether it’s working for all parties.
It's a FIFA fixture window, so expect the USMNT to play at least one and perhaps two friendlies, likely against nations ramping up their Russia 2018 preparations.
This is the first opportunity of the year for Sarachan or whoever succeeds him to call in a full-strength roster. That’s always a meaningful moment for the US.
It's the second and decisive leg of the 2018 CONCACAF Champions League final in this window. Can US-based teams finally muscle aside Mexico’s long-running dominance in the North American region’s top club tournament? Even though CCL’s scheduling has and continues to catch MLS teams in preseason mode, results are a litmus test for the status of the domestic game.
If Liga MX triumphs yet again in the first edition of the competition’s reconfigured format, the doom-and-gloom narratives will set in yet again, too. This is one hurdle that has embarrassed MLS over and over again through the years.
The nation’s next big soccer-specific venue will make its debut, as LAFC christen Banc of California Stadium with the expansion side’s inaugural home game, a visit by the Seattle Sounders.
With a swimming pool, luxury suites and art deco accents, the $350-million downtown facility looks as lavish as anything this country’s pro leagues have ever seen. It will surely host a USMNT game soon enough. The person coaching the ambitious home side is former USMNT boss Bob Bradley.
This Wednesday brings us the first round of the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup, the all-too-easily-overlooked gem of American soccer. Though USMNT faces don’t usually feature until MLS teams enter in the fourth round, this tournament should be a treat for most every US soccer fan. Laden with history and prone to wild games and euphoric upsets, the Open Cup is pure grassroots soccer bliss whether you’re watching in person or via an unpolished online viewing stream.
From pub teams to trophy-chasing pros, a wide spectrum of our sport’s gloriously messy domestic scene rubs shoulders in this knockout journey towards a century-old title.
It’s been widely reported but not yet official – a friendly tangle with mighty France in Lyon is on tap this Saturday.
For some fans, these meetings with World Cup-bound opponents will be a painful reminder of what the US isn’t doing in Russia. In a deeper sense it’s a rare and useful opportunity for the USMNT’s youth movement to stand toe to toe with a member of the global elite, and on their soil to boot.
The FIFA Congress in Moscow will be a closely-watched occasion for the US. The governing body is set to vote on hosting rights for the 2026 World Cup (it’s the US-led North American bid vs. Morocco) one day before the 2018 World Cup begins.
Will the World Cup return to American shores three decades after the game-changer that was USA 94? If so, what will that mean for the sport here, to say nothing of the USMNT’s chances of a deep run?
After more than a decade of fits, starts and false dawns, the nation’s capital will finally debut its new soccer stadium, D.C. United’s Audi Field, around this time.
The intimate, tightly-arranged urban ground sits less than two miles south of the U.S. Capitol and represents an assertive new presence near the halls of power for the beautiful game. If it’s anywhere near as welcoming as its predecessor RFK Stadium was over the decades, the USMNT will soon make this a comfortable, winning home.
This is the date of the championship final for Russia 2018. Watch it to see not only who lifts the game’s most treasured trophy, but who the US and the rest of the world will be comparing themselves to for years to come.
Calling in their first-choice squad, the US and the rest of CONCACAF will chart a course into the unknown with the debut of the new three-tiered Nations League. We don't know yet how this will work, with CONCACAF yet to announce the schedule and structure. Regardless, the USMNT can expect to have "league" games vs CONCACAF's 40 other member teams take up most of their non-World Cup qualifying international dates in the years ahead.
This is the next FIFA match window. Who and where will the USMNT play?
The domestic scene will look to Frisco, Texas on this particular Saturday as the new National Soccer Hall of Fame opens in the south end of Toyota Stadium, home of FC Dallas, ending the hall’s years-long homeless stint.
The final FIFA window of the year before winter sets in again.
The MLS Cup final crowns the league’s champion, and signals the de facto close of the US season. We’ll see by then whether Michael Bradley, Jozy Altidore and the rest of Toronto FC can repeat some or all of their historic treble achievements of 2017.
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