We don’t often show you behind the curtain here at The ‘Bag, mainly because it’s not often very interesting. But I do have a confession to make: The ‘R’ key on my laptop has been malfunctioning for some time. This week the folks at work gave me a USB keyboard, but it’s too big for my shoulder bag, and so I’m now walking around New York City carrying a desktop keyboard in my arms, kind of like a musician carrying his guitar.
Never have I felt more like a Keyboard Warrior.
(This also reminds me of a story. Back in 2009, with two weeks left before the deadline for filing my book manuscript, I got some moisture on my laptop keyboard. So I borrowed my wife’s hairdryer and turned it on the keyboard, only for a half-dozen laptop keys to literally start melting before my eyes. Apparently the temperature of a hairdryer is a lot hotter than I realized. Anyway, two of the keys that died were my period key and the command key. I was on leave from SI and living in South Africa, so for the last two weeks before my book deadline I ended up doing a manual cut-and-paste for every period I wrote. So think about that the next time you read the last 30,000 words of The Beckham Experiment!)
Anyway, time to open The ‘Bag for the last time of 2016…
Any word on how USWNT CBA negotiations are going? January 1st is coming up fast.(@samsalvisburg)
Everything has been quiet publicly, but talks between U.S. Soccer and the U.S. women’s national team players union have been ongoing ahead of the Dec. 31 expiration date of their collective bargaining agreement. I’m told that nobody is panicking and that a number of options are on the table, including a strike, a new deal and an agreement to continue using the old CBA until a new one can be signed in 2017.
As you would expect, U.S. Soccer has moved a bit, but not far enough yet to suit the players. What might happen? Well, since the national team players’ NWSL contracts also end on December 31, you might see some well-known U.S. players sign with clubs outside the United States.
How far back would it set the WNT if they didn't play next year (rumors of a potential strike have been floating around)? (@ldock93)
Given the lopsided nature of the women’s soccer calendar, in which 2017 and ’18 will be without any major international tournaments, I’m not sure a significant work stoppage would cripple the USWNT. That said, these are important years for coach Jill Ellis to identify and test new talent, and missing out on that opportunity would hurt the U.S. in relation to its competitors. Everyone, especially in women’s soccer, is always getting better, all the time.
What's probably the biggest surprise to you that's happened in the soccer/football world this year? (@edpham)
Leicester City winning the Premier League is the biggest surprise of not just the year but the decade. It’s fascinating to me how we’re responding to Leicester’s struggles in the current Premier League season. To me, they make LCFC’s title run seem even more stunning. But instead it feels like we’re now at the end of the year looking back at 2016 and not saying enough about how Leicester City’s 2015-16 was basically the best thing ever.
Best soccer-related Christmas gift you've seen this season? (@justinbarton_)
I will go to my grave saying you should stop buying soccer uniform jerseys, which look kind of ridiculous on adults, and start buying soccer uniform shorts. They’re the perfect length for going to the gym—not too long like basketball shorts, not too short like running shorts—and they’re different while still being subtle in terms of the badge. Also keep an eye on cord-cutting. Soccer-friendly packages are getting better than ever with outfits like Sling TV and Fubo.
Assuming health, what's your best guess for Bruce Arena's starting 11 vs Honduras in March? Who, if any, are locks?(@Lee70476026)
Here’s one man’s guess:
Tim Howard (assuming health); DeAndre Yedlin, Geoff Cameron, John Brooks, Eric Lichaj; Christian Pulisic, Michael Bradley, Sacha Kljestan, Fabian Johnson; Jozy Altidore, Bobby Wood.
Most likely USMNT starter to lose their spot in the lineup in 2017?(@faid2black)
If we consider Timmy Chandler a starter based on recent games, then I would say Chandler (though Arena did visit Chandler in Germany, which says he’s at least interested).
Arena has also said Jermaine Jones has a future with the national team, though I do wonder if Jones’s automatic starter days are now behind him.
Who is a good bet to break out in the January camp? (@_AlexRendon)
I’ll take a stab at this and say Seattle’s Cristian Roldan. He’s just 21 and he’s had a breakthrough season in MLS with the champion Sounders. Plus, Arena sounds like he’s a Roldan fan, and I think he’ll give Roldan a shot during the January camp.
Short corner kicks drive me nuts! Are there any analytics proving their value over traditional corner kicks?(@camtheram97)
If you want to see an analytical argument against traditional corner kicks and in favor of short corners, I’ll direct you to the book The Numbers Game by David Sally and Chris Anderson, where they make a pretty good case that traditional corner kicks are a waste and short corners might be the way to go.
How will MLS survive once the expansion fees are no longer in play?(@GlennAuve)
The MLS owners are also the owners of Soccer United Marketing, the league’s marketing arm, which is already a profitable business in a way that MLS teams themselves are not. I would also note that few sports teams in any leagues run an operating profit on an annual basis. The main value of NFL teams, for example, is in their resale value. I don’t think MLS’s continued existence is dependent on expansion fees.
I understand the excitement of MLS expansion, but doesn't it ultimately dilute the product?(@dougadams25)
The biggest on-field challenge of expansion is just that, the talent dilution that can result. As MLS moves from 20 teams to 28 in the next few years, teams will have to do a better job developing more American talent while also looking more to the global player market to make up the difference. I could envision more foreign players being allowed per team.
Would Guardiola do better to play a pile of stones at center back rather than John Stones? (@SamPapworth)
Honestly, if Barcelona is still interested in Stones, I would go ahead and sell him to Barça while he still has significant market value.
Barça or Madrid who wins the La Liga?(@Ronaldo10Lopez)
The way Real Madrid has been playing, it’s hard to see Barcelona overtaking their rivals in the league at this point. I love that Zinédine Zidane has had so much success early on as a manager in one of the highest-pressure gigs in sports.
When can I expect to stop seeing Frei's save of Altidore's header in my nightmares? (@KrisBorgOlivier)
Sorry, man, you’ll be seeing it in MLS video montages until the end of time. And that’s as it should be. Never seen a better high-stakes save in MLS.
Which will happen first: MLS Cup final ratings beat Champions League final ratings or we colonize Mars?(@disportif)
Probably the wrong year to get snarky on this topic, considering it was the most-viewed MLS Cup final ever in the United States. Fox nearly doubled its expectations with an average audience of 1.4 million, and UniMás averaged 600,000, while Canada’s TV audience combined to give the game a total average audience of 3.5 million. Growth is what matters in the TV business, and in those terms this was a good year for MLS. Imagine what the audience might have been if the final had been a better game!
The poor MLS final has been blamed in some circles on cold weather. Any plans on reverting to warm neutral location? (@ChelseaMatt33)
I’m not hearing anything right now about a potential return to neutral-site finals. The atmospheres for finals have been a lot better with the host being one of the participating teams. Personally, I would prefer for the playoffs to end before the November FIFA date for a number of reasons, one of which is that outdoor finals in mid-December are problematic for a number of MLS cities when it comes to the cold affecting the quality of the game.