This was honestly a garbage fire of a year and I think most people are grateful it’s coming to an end, although that does mean we have an entirely new set of horrors to face in 2018. Let’s just try not to think about that, at least for a little while, and reflect on another year gone by for us and the US women’s national team.
First, let’s look at the bold predictions I made for 2017.
- The WNT will go on strike
- The new WNT CBA will be good enough to keep most of the team in NWSL
- Hope Solo will not announce her retirement from international soccer
- At least one friendly roster will be fully one-third new NWSL callups
- Sydney Leroux will get a callup but ultimately won’t return to the team
Some of these were playing it a little bit safe, to be honest. The writing was on the wall for Syd Leroux, and even though she got two caps in 2017, they were late subs during the Tournament of Nations and she hasn’t played since. And the Hope Solo one - all it takes is a passing familiarity with her stubborn personality to guess that she wouldn’t be giving US Soccer the satisfaction of dropping out of the international game.
Now, the WNT definitely didn’t go on strike, although it did seem to come down to the wire with their CBA negotiations, which did end up being good enough to help keep the vast majority of the WNT in NWSL. Crystal Dunn decided to experience the game in England with Chelsea, but that seems to have been as much a reaction to the tumultuous 2016 Washington Spirit season as anything. And as for NWSL callups - well there are still people out there with #StartColaprico drafts waiting to be tweeted, so that should tell you about that.
So where will the USWNT go in 2018? So far they’ve got three key events that people will be watching fairly closely for evaluation: SheBelieves in March, Tournament of Nations in the summer, and CONCACAF World Cup qualifying in fall. There will be another class of rookies trying to put their stamp on NWSL. And other than that, who knows. Just look at this NWSL offseason: anything can happen and probably in the most dramatic fashion possible. Let’s make some bold 2018 USWNT predictions.
The USWNT will win SheBelieves
It’s kind of depressing that this is a bold prediction, but let’s up the stakes here. The WNT, eager to dismiss the ghosts of yesteryear, will not only win SheBelieves, but they’ll do it handily. Forget about three-backs, coming last in their own tournament, or only scoring one goal in three games against France, Germany, and England. SheBelieves 2018 will be one of the better creative expressions the WNT has shown against top-tier teams in a while. They’ve done their weird formations and shifting players around and converting from forward to fullback. In 2018, the focus will be on carefully and deliberately building momentum towards summer of 2019, building cohesion and an identifiable style or styles.
One of the big factors in their projected win leads us right into the next prediction.
Morgan Brian and Rose Lavelle will get completely healthy
Both Brian and Lavelle spent huge chunks of 2017 trying to recuperate. It was probably worse for Brian, limping her way through the NWSL season when what she really needed was some solid, uninterrupted rest and rehab. But perhaps both of them will finally heal all the way during the offseason and re-emerge in March’s SheBelieves healthy and ready to get slowly lowered into the fishtank until they adjust. A fully healthy Brian and Lavelle in midfield could be a total gamechanger for the WNT, although the team has admittedly pulled off some nice 90-minute sessions with Julie Ertz, Andi Sullivan, and Sam Mewis. There’s still no true playmaker in that group, and 2018 could finally be Rose Lavelle’s year after her breakout in 2017 was cut short.
If not SheBelieves, then hopefully both of them will be healthy for the start of the NWSL season, allowing them to get their game legs before the Tournament of Nations, which will give them the confidence to ball out during World Cup qualifiers. CONCACAF won’t be the same challenge as SheBelieves or the ToN, but it will be the one tournament that truly matters in the year, and cementing two healthy, pivotal midfielders like Brian and Lavelle will be the team’s statement ahead of 2019.
Neither Alyssa Naeher nor Ashlyn Harris will be the #1 WNT keeper for CONCACAF qualifiers
2017 was kind of a weird year in terms of the WNT goalkeeping situation. Alyssa Naeher has quite clearly become Jill Ellis’ preferred starter, compounded by Ashlyn Harris’ mid-season quad injury, which required a couple months of rehab. But Naeher honestly didn’t look like a consistent #1 for the United States as she quietly carried her own injury through a good chunk of the year, while Harris had to share time with youngster Jane Campbell.
After years of stagnation, the WNT keeper pool has somewhat opened up again, with players like Campbell, A.D. Franch, and Abby Smith all ready and willing to nip at Harris and Naeher’s heels. One of these keepers will have a wowzer of an NWSL season which, combined with maybe one or two solid caps before qualifiers, will make her the new frontrunner by the time October rolls around.
Hope Solo will become USSF president
Look, when I said bold, I meant bold. Solo definitely is not an obvious frontrunner, but maybe something wild will happen. Maybe some candidates will drop out and endorse her. Maybe Kathy Carter will get caught in a huge scandal. Maybe Kyle Martino will get trapped in a peacoat and be unable to make the Annual General Meeting for the vote. But if soccer fans know anything, it’s that this sport is conducive to maximum drama on and off the field, and what’s more dramatic than Hope Solo becoming boss of the very organization that fired her? Talk about “thought you’d seen the last of me.”
There you have it, our bold predictions for 2018. Some of these are far, far more likely than others, but they’re all fun to think about. What are your bold predictions for the USWNT in 2018?