Happy new year, everyone. Good riddance 2015, one of the worst years the United States men's national team has seen in quite some time. There's no need in recapping what happened. It was a steaming pile of mediocrity that bordered on embarrassing. It's over and done with now, a new year means new beginnings.
The USMNT get back to the grind in about a week and a half when the January camp commences on the 10th, with friendlies taking place against Iceland (Jan. 31) and Canada (Feb. 5).
To get ready for a new year, how about some fun predictions on what will transpire during this very important year for the men's program? All of these predictions are purely opinion-based and speculation.
The U-23's will qualify for Rio 2016 and perform surprisingly well
It's been an extremely frustrating cycle for the U.S. U-23 team. An uninspiring player pool mixed with even worse on-field results hasn't filled anyone with much confidence over the last few years. Even if the collective group isn't exactly impressive, there are some bright spots. Jordan Morris had a breakout year in 2015. While continuing to be a mainstay on the U-23 side, he received his first senior national team cap and scored his first goal. He also led the Stanford Cardinal to the NCAA Championship. If the U-23's are going to make it to Rio, he'll play a huge part.
The team plays Colombia in March in a home-and-home playoff series for a spot in the 2016 Olympics. Expect U.S. Soccer to push all-in on this playoff series by naming every possible U-23 eligible player to the roster for these two matches. This means John Brooks, DeAndre Yedlin, Jordan Morris, etc., no expense will be spared to attempt to get the U.S. into the Olympic spotlight. The commitment will pay off and the young Yanks will defeat Colombia and make the Olympics. There they'll get a favorable group and make it to the knockout rounds.
The USMNT will win the rest of their 4th round World Cup qualifiers
The last time we saw the USMNT in World Cup qualifying they played to a dull 0-0 draw away at Trinidad & Tobago. An uninspiring result at first glance, but when you realize this it's likely the most difficult fixture the U.S. will face in this round of qualifying it starts to look a little better.
Four matches remain. Two against Guatemala, one away against St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and one home against T&T. All four are extremely winnable matches. The away fixture against Guatemala will likely be the toughest, but the U.S. will grind out a narrow win and go 4-0 heading into the Hex in 2017.
The USMNT will crash out of the Copa America Centenario group stage
2016 will see the historic Copa America Centenario tournament between CONMEBOL and CONCACAF take place in the United States. While this year will be an improvement for the USMNT, this tournament will be their one black eye. The U.S. have struggled against South American competition recently and that won't change much in the Copa.
The lotto balls will haunt the USMNT once again and give them a very difficult group that they'll struggle to compete in. The effort and fight will be there, but fail to finish in the top two of their group and bow out of the competition after three matches.
2016 will be Clint Dempsey and Tim Howard's last year as USMNT players
Two USMNT legends will say goodbye in 2016. Whether it's Klinsmann pushing them out the door or them leaving voluntarily, we won't be seeing Clint Dempsey or Tim Howard in 2017 and beyond. Both are aging and regressing in form. Howard is the safer bet of the two to depart the team this year. He's struggling at Everton and is facing major questions about his starting job at Goodison Park. As sad as it is, he's just not the goalkeeper he once was.
Dempsey is the surprising possible departure. He turns 33 in two months and the constant strain of club and country duty over the last 12 years are starting to take a toll on his aging body. He scored 9 goals for the national team in 2015, but none in six matches since July. He's still a goal scorer, but his impact from the run of play is slowly declining. 2016 could be the year that the decline becomes really noticeable and sees his guaranteed spot on the team disappear.
Someone not named Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey will lead the USMNT in goals for the year
Unsurpsingly, Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey were the two top goal scorers for the U.S. last year. This year will be different. Bobby Wood and Jordan Morris are emerging as two very good striker options who are capable of filling the net. Then there's always the talented Aron Johannsson, who if he can stay healthy, is as lethal of a goal threat as the USMNT has. Also, don't forget about Juan Agudelo. The 23-year-old had his share of struggles with the New England Revolution and injuries in 2015. He appeared in two matches for the USMNT and scored once. If he can find fitness, form, and playing time he'll be in the plans of Jurgen Klinsmann in no time.
One of these young players will have a breakout 2016 and surpass Jozy and Clint as the team's go-to goal getter for the future.