Stories To Watch For In 2012

USA national team, soccer

By Clemente Lisi – MONTREAL, CA (Jan 4, 2012) US Soccer Players – There is nothing like the start of a new year to fill one with hope and anticipation.  For USA soccer fans, there's a lot to look forward to from the National Teams and Major League Soccer.  The senior side starts their road to Brazil with World Cup Qualifying.  This is an Olympic summer, with the CONCACAF Olympic qualifying tournament hosted in the United States in March.  Major League Soccer gets an early start with multiple teams in the CONCACAF Champions League, and MLS welcomes a new team in Montreal.

Former Chivas USA midfielder and National Team assistant coach Jesse Marsch is calling the shots as the coach in Montreal, putting an American at the forefront of the Impact’s expansion season.

“I am anxious about the job, but in a good way,” he said.  “We’re starting fresh and I’m excited about that prospect.”

After all, a new year is all about a fresh start.  With 2012 just a few days old, here's a look at 12 questions related to MLS and the National Team that I’ll be looking for the answers to over the next 12 months:

How will NBC work with MLS?

While things are looking up for MLS in terms of attendance, TV ratings remain rather flat over the past few years.  The League’s three-year deal with NBC Sports starts in March, replacing their previous deal with Fox Soccer.  It will be interesting to see how the Peacock Network handles covering a pro league and the National Team when they've only been known for the Olympic soccer tournament.  Committing to professional soccer is always welcome, but MLS on national television doesn't exactly have a storied history as a ratings winner

Will Montreal make an impact?

Canada adds a third team to MLS this season in Montreal with a franchise that is expected to rival Toronto and Vancouver in terms of fan support.  The Impact may be an expansion club, but it’s no stranger to pro soccer.  Like the Pacific Northwest teams, this is an MLS version of a promoted club.  They've shown what they can do in the lower divisions, and we all know how much of a platform that provided for Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver.  There are a lot of expectations for Montreal.

What now David Beckham?

The question is no longer whether Beckham will go to PSG.  He won’t.  The question is what Becks hopes to accomplish after helping the Los Angeles Galaxy win MLS Cup ’11.  Right now, what we have is a new series of rumors linking him with a return to LA.  Assuming that deal gets done, the rest of the League is left to wonder how to compete with the defending champions.

What new DPs will arrive?

The Galaxy showed that paying handsomely for Designated Players can win you a championship.  Beckham’s possible exit might have taken the headlines, but a number of players have also been linked with a move to North America.  Some of the same old names pop up (Ronaldinho) and some newer ones (Didier Drogba), but getting any of them signed is more difficult than the rumors would have you believe.

Will the Red Bulls finally win an MLS Cup?

Coming off a terrible 2011, the New York Red Bulls have nowhere to go but up.  Making the playoffs is no longer enough of a goal.  Winning MLS Cup in November is the only thing that can salvage the reputation of a club that talks a good game but can't back that up on the field. 

Will MLS finally announce New York?

For that matter, will MLS announce anything in terms of expansion this year?  A team for New York City that isn't the Red Bulls playing across the river in New Jersey has been almost taken for granted. Yet the issues with the Cosmos revival and the lack of news from other potential investors has the League talking about interested parties in other cities. 

Will the Galaxy win the CONCACAF Champions League?

LA truly dominated MLS in 2011 and will be looking to win the continental title this year.  Bruce Arena’s side has the talent and experience to compete against Mexican clubs who traditionally win the CONCACAF Champions League.  After RSL’s dreams evaporated in the 2011 final, this could very well be the year MLS reigns supreme in the region and punches its ticket to the FIFA Club World Cup.   Long-time MLS fans can go ahead and add 'for the second time' to the end of that sentence.  The Galaxy were supposed to compete in the second Club World Cup that FIFA cancelled in 2001. 

Will an American player win the Europa League?

This is fast becoming the place for American players to shine as more and more of them sign with competitive European clubs.  In an anticipated encounter, Jozy Altidore’s AZ Alkmaar and Sacha Kljestan’s Anderlecht will meet in the Round of 32.  The May 9th final in Bucharest may very well feature an American.

Will an American coach excel outside North America?

American players in Europe are nothing new, but a US-born coach is.  Former US National Team and MLS veteran Gregg Berhalter will coach Swedish club Hammarby IF this season, giving an American the unique chance to excel on the sidelines in a league outside MLS.  Berhalter is a trailblazer who could very well lead the club to its first domestic title since 2001.  On the international stage, Bob Bradley's Egypt will also draw the attention of US fans.

How will Landon Donovan do at Everton?

Another chance to watch Donovan at the Premiership level after his successful stint with the Toffees two years ago is shaping up to be one of 2012's early highlights.  Donovan will use the loan spell to stay sharp ahead of the busy summer months, seeing a style and speed of play not normally found in MLS along with weather that's anything but a North American summer.  If it's anything like last time, he'll also leave Everton fans wondering why they can't make his deal permanent. 

Will the USA contend for a medal at the Olympics?

The Summer Games in London will give the US Under-23 team a chance to show the world that it is a country loaded with budding young talent.  Before the Americans can play in London, however, the team has to first qualify for the Olympics come March.  Should the US emerge from CONCACAF, anything – even contending for a spot on the podium – is possible.

How will Jurgen Klinsmann do in World Cup Qualifying?

While the U-23s fight for a medal, the senior side will embark on Qualifying for Brazil 2014.  The US should have little trouble in the semifinal round against the likes of Antigua and Barbuda.  For Klinsmann, it should be the chance to grab some wins and build team confidence before having to take on Mexico and the other regional heavyweights in the final round.

Clemente Lisi is a New York-based writer. Contact him at: CAL4477@yahoo.com. Follow him on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/ClementeLisi

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