The year 2017 is upon us, which means it’s time for my annual predictions—some of which might actually come true!
Here's a set of 10 predictions for what will happen on Planet Fútbol in the 12 months ahead:
Doling out the silverware
If there’s one summer of ho-hum tournaments in the four-year World Cup cycle, it’s this one with what will probably be the last edition of the Confederations Cup (which the U.S. isn’t involved in) and a B-team Gold Cup that takes a back seat in importance to A-team CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. (Let’s hope this is the last B-team Gold Cup, too, hopefully to be replaced by future combined Copa Américas.)
With that, here are my predicted winners of 2017: Germany (Confederations Cup); USA(Gold Cup); Algeria(Africa Cup of Nations); Germany(Women’s Euro 2017); Barcelona(Champions League); Chelsea(Premier League); Real Madrid(La Liga); Bayern Munich(Bundesliga); Juventus(Serie A); Monaco(Ligue 1); FC Dallas(MLS); Chicago Red Stars(NWSL).
The U.S. will qualify for World Cup 2018
Despite a brutal 0-2 start in the Hex that resulted in Jurgen Klinsmann’s firing, the U.S. will rebound enough under Bruce Arena to finish third and qualify for Russia 2018 (and narrowly avoid having to travel to Uzbekistan for a playoff in November).
Colombia will be the odd team out in crazy-competitive South America, with Argentina rallying to qualify for the World Cup.
Over in Europe, the surprise team that fails to qualify is 2014 third-place finisher the Netherlands (which somehow will have failed to reach both Euro 2016 and World Cup 2018).
Sacha Kljestan makes his USMNT move
The New York Red Bulls star takes advantage of Arena’s arrival as U.S. national team coach and becomes the linchpin of the U.S. midfield attack. Meanwhile, two U.S. teenagers join Christian Pulisic turning heads in Europe. Joshua Perez gets U.S. fans excited as he has a breakthrough into regular first-team action for Fiorentina. Keep an eye, too, on U.S. youth national-teamer Nick Taitague (tie-tuh-gwee), who will sign with Schalke as soon as he turns 18 in February.
LAFC lands Zlatan and Bob; St. Louis, Sacramento, Miami land MLS teams
The MLS expansion team that debuts in 2018 in Los Angeles is going to have a fancy new stadium and tons of buzz, and the main reason for that will be Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who announces in 2017 that he’ll join LAFC in the summer of ’18 after he finishes the 2017-18 season with Manchester United. But LAFC will also make news on the coaching front with its hiring of Bob Bradley in a deal that makes him the highest-paid American coach in MLS.
In other MLS news, St. Louis and Sacramento will officially be named the league’s 25th and 26th teams, while David Beckham will at last finalize plans for his own MLS team and stadium in Miami.
USWNT reaches a labor deal
The U.S. women’s national team players agree to a new collective bargaining agreement with U.S. Soccer in which several aspects of their compensation become equal to the U.S. men (like per diem and business-class travel). Meanwhile, U.S. Soccer’s continued financial support of the NWSL, including paying the salaries of all USWNT players, means the new women’s CBA isn’t exactly equal to that of the U.S. men’s team (whose salaries are paid by their clubs).
Mia Hamm will become more of a public figure again as an owner of LAFC with a particular emphasis on running the NWSL team that LAFC will also plan to start in 2018. Hamm has been relatively private in recent years as she and husband Nomar Garciaparra have been raising their children in the L.A. area, but the U.S. soccer community is a better place with Hamm around, and her influence (and renowned competitiveness) will be welcomed.
Hope Solo won’t be back (on the USWNT)
The 35-year-old Solo will return to the field and be the best goalkeeper in the NWSL, but U.S. coach Jill Ellis won’t call Solo back into the national team, saying that she needs to groom a younger goalkeeper for the 2019 World Cup. A fiery public back-and-forth exchange will ensue between Solo and Ellis.
Video Assistant Referees will be a hit
When the history books look back at 2017, the long-awaited move to video review will be what stands out the most. Just as goal-line technology moved into the realm of “Things That Improved the Game Instantly,” Video Assistant Referees will arrive in official games in 2017 and make you wonder why they took so long. The key is the design. VARs will be used to review only four types of cases: goals, penalty decisions, red card incidents and mistaken identity. There won't be challenge flags or other time-consuming nonsense.
The most important calls in a game will have a much better chance of being right—and that’s great for the sport.
Gianni Infantino’s FIFA gets busy
In January, Infantino will push through his plan to expand the World Cup in 2026 from 32 teams to 48 (with 16 groups of three teams each). FIFA will also discontinue the Confederations Cup after 2017 and announce in its place a new men’s Club World Cup taking place during June the year before a World Cup with 32 teams.
At the same time, FIFA will announce the plans to start a women’s Club World Cup to increase the profile of women’s soccer during the three years that pass between the Olympics and World Cup.
For its part, U.S. Soccer will formally announce that it’s bidding to host World Cup 2026, and the U.S. will decide to go it alone without sharing with Mexico or Canada.
Soccer cord-cutting hits critical mass
For hardcore U.S. soccer fans, there will finally be enough good soccer rights on legal digital video sources like Sling TV, FuboTV and other outlets that large numbers of fans here will cut the cord. That’s good news for consumers—and a concern for cable providers.
Enjoy 2017, everyone—I can’t wait to experience it all with you.