Well, 2016 was, in many ways, a long ride down a short garbage chute. It just goes to show that sports are unpredictable and one moment you could be riding high on top of the world with a World Cup in your pocket while the next you get unceremoniously kicked out of the Olympics by Sweden.
The Olympic elimination wasn’t really all that unpredictable, though. From the roster choices to the play style, the team was wobbly going in and put together some scruffy performances throughout group. They might have advanced over Sweden if the ref hadn’t called back a patented “break glass here for Carli Lloyd” goal, but they still couldn’t really score beyond that, leading to what will hopefully become a renaissance period of callups for the team. New kids like Andi Sullivan and Mallory Pugh are starting to carve out important spaces on this team, which is not really something any of us would have called at the start of 2016 (okay, maybe the Mal Pugh thing), but we’re going to try and look forward to what 2017 might have in store for the USWNT anyway.
The WNT will go on strike
The USWNT is currently in the middle of tough labor negotiations with US Soccer over their collective bargaining agreement, which expires at the end of 2016. But they just let go of their Players’ Association counsel, which signals...something for negotiations.
Rich Nichols out as USWNT players rep just 3 days before end of CBA with US Soccer. Big news. (I verified this release is legit.) pic.twitter.com/ssUK9xaQUM— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) December 29, 2016
Switching streams this late in the game is an interesting development that could mean the team no longer aligns with Nichols’ aggressive style and just wants to get things settled before deadline. It might mean they didn’t agree with his methods anymore but they’re sticking to their original demands, whatever those might be. But if they do decide to strike, they have to give USSF 60 days’ notice.
SheBelieves dates haven’t been confirmed, but based on the French FA’s early announcement, the tournament is likely to run from March 1 - 8. That would give the WNT a pretty slim window in the new year to continue wrangling with USSF before they have to decide if they really want to go through with a strike, and SheBelieves is really the only good upcoming leverage they have. If they strike, they’ll have to decide soon. But not having a big tournament cuts both ways - they can’t sit out a huge attention-grabbing World Cup or Olympics, but it’s also much less scary to think you’ll miss a small three-team tourno that happens once a year as opposed to what could be your only shot at a World Cup or gold medal.
The new WNT CBA will be good enough to keep most of the team in NWSL
The WNT wouldn’t be going on 60 Minutes and saying things like “they don’t care as much about us as they do the men” if they weren’t angling for some significant improvements to their contracts. If they manage to get the necessary concessions from US Soccer, then Alex Morgan might not have that much company over in Europe as she joins Olympique Lyonnais for the first half of the year. There are still rumors that Crystal Dunn might also go to Europe, but if the new CBA includes NWSL in its financial bump (and as USSF pays the salaries of NWSL WNT players, you’d think that would be the case), then it could be worth Dunn’s while to stay on American shores. Of course, in Dunn’s particular case, there could be other factors, like tension with her club ownership at the Washington Spirit, but if she could wrangle a trade, there’s plenty of NWSL teams that would be happy to have her. As for other WNT players, plenty of them would get snapped up by European clubs, although not for Alex Morgan levels of money, so staying closer to home and getting paid more could paint a pretty rosy picture.
Hope Solo will not announce her retirement from international soccer
Solo has already publicly stated she wants back on the WNT if USSF and Jill Ellis will have her when her six-month suspension is up. But she also flat-out called her suspension a firing in all but name, and she seems to have run out of damns to give as she calls out USSF for intimidating WNT players in CBA negotiations. Plus the goalkeeper pool is finally moving again and Ellis may see no need to bring Solo back in purely from a roster composition point of view. So there’s a lot working against any eventual Solo return - but as Solo has aptly demonstrated, she’s on a never-tell-me-the-odds kick.
At least one friendly roster will be fully one-third new NWSL callups
Jill Ellis has already laid the groundwork for this one with her callups at the end of 2016. She’ll take it another step further in 2017 by having a roster that will have eight of its 24 names be new names from NWSL who have never been capped for the WNT. Some of this might also depend on how those CBA negotiations go - will the team ask USSF to change the way they treat “floaters,” or people who are called into camp but get paid peanuts until they’re rostered for a certain minimum number of games? If so, that could drastically alter the way head coaches can manage their callups.
Sydney Leroux will get a callup but ultimately won’t return to the team
Players who get pregnant are guaranteed a callup after they return from maternity leave, so we’ll probably see Leroux back at some point in 2017. But while she was gone the pool of forwards got deeper and deeper, and now she’ll be contending not just with Alex Morgan, Christen Press, and Crystal Dunn, but also Lynn Williams and Kealia Ohai with some Mal Pugh thrown in for good measure. There’s also whoever in NWSL might have a Williams-esque season in 2017. That’s not to say Ellis shouldn’t welcome Leroux back - good players are always adding to their game, and there’s no telling how Leroux’s has evolved, nor how she might team up with some of the newer names on the team. But barring some kind of melding through the Force with a strike partner, it’s hard to see Leroux elbowing her way back into such a crowded landscape.
So that’s it for another exhausting year. What are your bold predictions for 2017?