If 2015 didn't have enough highlights for American soccer fans, then 2016 should offer a welcome improvement. No, we still don't know whether the U.S. national team will improve on a lackluster year, but what we do know is that there are enough other events and milestones for soccer fans in the U.S. to find joy, even if Jurgen Klinsmann's team doesn't turn things around.
This year boasts the Copa America Centenario, being played on American soil, and the Olympics and European Championship. There will be more World Cup qualifiers, and even an Olympic qualifying playoff series to give U.S. fans something else to be excited and nervous about.
2016 also will allow us to see the continued evolution of players such as Darlington Nagbe, Wil Trapp, Matt Miazga and Gyasi Zardes, while introducing us to new faces who will capture our imagination.
Above all, there are plenty of important questions that American soccer fans will find the answers to this year. Here are 10 questions for 2016:
You can try to spin the positive friendly results, and the influx of new faces into suggesting 2015 wasn't a bad year for the U.S. national team, but you will be hard-pressed to find many American fans who came away from last year feeling good with how the squad fared.
That has Jurgen Klinsmann feeling some heat as he begins what is his sixth calendar year in charge. He will have some good early opportunities to set the tone for a successful year, with World Cup qualifying and Olympic qualifying in March. The summer's Copa America will be a big factor in determining how Klinsmann's 2016 is ultimately judged, and a debacle in that tournament could provide the impetus for a change. That said, a strong showing could help give Klinsmann a smooth path to leading to the U.S. in the 2018 World Cup.
The U.S. Under-23 team fell short in its quest of qualifying for the Olympics last fall, but a playoff against Colombia gives Andi Herzog's team a second chance to atone for that failure. Colombia will be far from a pushover, but the Americans boast a talented group that is capable of getting the job done.
The two-legged playoff will offer the U-23s a perfect showcase to see who can perform under pressure, and see who might be ready to take on a bigger role with the senior team. Jordan Morris will be in the spotlight the most, but players like Wil Trapp, Matt Miazga, Emerson Hyndman, and potentially age-eligible senior team options DeAndre Yedlin and John Brooks must step up as well. If the Americans succeed in qualifying, then the Olympics will become a perfect showcase for a promising generation of talent. But if the U.S. fails? Klinsmann will face even more heat.
The scenes of Carli Lloyd's heroics in the final and the ticker-tape parade in New York City won't soon be forgotten, but the U.S. women already have a new target in their sights, and must now carry the label of world champions to the Olympics.
The U.S. must cope with the retirement of Abby Wambach, the torn ACL of Megan Rapinoe, and various other absences and roster turnover. It will be up to Jill Ellis to find the right solutions yet again, and it will be up to Lloyd to try and conjure some Olympic magic for the third time in her career.
Orlando City and New York Cty FC enjoyed some successes in their first seasons in MLS, but the expansion class of 2015 has found the offseason a tumultuous one. NYCFC's firing of Jason Kreis turned heads, as did the hiring of Patrick Vieira as his replacement. That wasn't as surprising as the turn of events in Orlando, where general manager Paul McDonough walked away after the club essentially hired someone to take over the bulk of his role. Armando Carneiro didn't last very long, though, resigning for personal seasons, and leaving Orlando City in a state of flux.
Now, instead of wondering which of these teams will make the biggest improvement in 2016, the question surrounding the duo is: Which of them will be the biggest dumpster fire this year?
Jurgen Klinsmann isn't shy about forcing out older players who he no longer feels are useful (see Landon Donovan), and one subplot to watch is what Clint Dempsey's role is on the U.S. in 2016. He has made playing in the Copa America a priority of his, but he will reportedly skip the January training camp after having been left out of the November qualifiers.
Dempsey turns 33 in March, and Klinsmann may want to start grooming younger attackers with the 2018 World Cup in mind. That said, Dempsey has been such a key player for the U.S. that you have to think he will make his way back into the team this year, especially if he tears it up in MLS play come the spring. A determined Dempsey may be tough to faze out of Klinsmann's plans, but it will be interesting to watch that play out this year.
Put together hastily after a multitude of delays, countless arrests and a federal investigation into corruption that threatened to cancel it, the Copa America Centenario appears ready to go on as scheduled. We know when it will be played, and where, but it remains to be seen just how smoothly the event will actually run.
There is still so much uncertainty surrounding the event. Will the South American powerhouses bring their very best players? If the likes of Lionel Messi, Neymar and James Rodriguez aren't in attendance, it will be a big blow to an event with plenty of promise. Then you have questions about venues, temporary grass fields, public demand for tickets, and whether CONMEBOL and CONCACAF can pull off a smooth operation in the midst of so much controversy, and so many arrests of executives.
The Copa America is loaded with potential, but it also has the potential to fail miserably.
Every year we have new players emerge to get U.S. national team fans excited about potentially finding the next American star. Darlington Nagbe closed out the year looking like he could potentially a breakout talent.
Who will it be this year? Jordan Morris enjoyed a bit of a breakout in 2015, but now he's ready to turn pro and could be in for a big year with both the U.S. Under-23s and the senior national team. U.S. Under-17 standout Christian Pulisic, recently promoted to Borussia Dortmund's first team, is one to watch as well.
The Portland Timbers made memories that won't soon be forgotten in Portland when they won the 2015 MLS Cup title, but now Caleb Porter and Gavin Wilkinson have to figure out how to stay on top after getting there.
A bit of a roster shakeup was inevitable — it always is for MLS Cup winners — but the Timbers still have plenty of talent to attempt a repeat. Darlington Nagbe, Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi lead the attack, while Nat Borchers, Liam Ridgewell and Alvas Powell anchor a stingy defense. The Timbers will need Lucas Melano to really shine in 2016 if they are going to make another championship run.
It wasn't long ago that the Galaxy were a dynasty with three titles in four years, and a fresh stable of designated players. A disappointing 2015 was enough to spark a roster shakeup, and gone are Omar Gonzalez and Juninho. Bruce Arena will be banking on Giovnai dos Santos and Steven Gerrard faring better than they did in their MLS debut seasons.
As far as roster reinforcements go, the Galaxy have lined up Jeff Larentowicz and are reportedly close to bringing back Mike Magee, as well as signing Ashley Cole. They will need to find a top-end defensive midfielder to do the heavy lifting behind Dos Santos and Gerrard, as well as a central defender to offset the loss of Gonzalez. It is going to be a different-looking Galaxy team in 2016, and given Bruce Arena's track record of success, it's tough to bet against his roster makeover yielding another title contender.
Tim Howard is back, but Brad Guzan hasn't gone anywhere. Will Jurgen Klinsmann really stick with rotating goalkeepers, or should we expect one of the two English Premier League veterans to take control of the starting role?
Klinsmann doesn't appear to have a favorite at the moment, but Howard was looking like the more solid option in the fall, and has the swagger of a man who plans on earning his old job back. Guzan is stuck in an awful club situation, as his Aston Villa looks destined for relegation, leaving his own starting role for the Villans in question.