From Zlatan to the 2026 World Cup: The top 10 things U.S. soccer fans should be thankful for this year

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It's been an ugly year for 'The Beautiful Game' in the States but it hasn't been all bad, as Goal outlines below...

Thanksgiving is a day to look back on things that are worth being grateful for and, while there has been plenty of pessimism surrounding the state of U.S. Soccer in recent days, it's worth noting that 2018 had some high points as well. 

Sure, there was the entire summer where we had to watch a World Cup that did not include the USMNT. On top of that, arguably the two best players in the history of the country – Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan – called time on their storied careers. 

But it wasn't all bad. So, if you're one of those fans struggling to find the silver lining on 2018, we're here to help. 

Below, Goal runs through the top 10 things in the U.S. soccer world that you should give a bit of thanks for while you're sitting around the dinner table on Thursday. 

  1. Getty Images

    #1 The World Cup is coming!

    Sure, 2026 is a long way out, but that shouldn't kill the excitement. 

    In June, we learned that the 'United Bid' had won the rights for the United States, Canada and Mexico to host the 2026 World Cup. 

    The news helped soften the blow of not being present at Russia 2018 and, maybe as importantly, gave plenty of people a reason to continue investing in the sport in the States. 

    Winning the hosting rights for 2026 is, without question, the biggest thing for U.S. fans to give thanks for this year. 

  2. Jonathan Daniel

    #2 Zlatan in MLS

    "You're welcome."

    That's how Zlatan Ibrahimovic announced himself to Los Angeles in a full-page ad back in March. Since then, he's given us more than enough reasons to say thanks. 

    From his stunner against LAFC in his first outing to his ninja-kick 500th goal, the big Swede lived up to the billing in LA and brought more than a little joy to fans of the game in the US. 

    His time in MLS may prove to be short-lived, but his 2018 season with LA was, both in terms of quality and entertainment value, among the best individual seasons the league has ever seen. 

  3. Ronald Martinez

    #3 The USWNT is still really, really good

    We know, not having a team at the World Cup in Russia hurt.... It hurt bad. It's among the many reasons the U.S. soccer fans are feeling a little down right now. 

    But there is some good news: there's a World Cup next year in France, and this time the U.S. will not only be there but will go in as a favorite. 

    Yep, the 2019 Women's World Cup is right around the corner and there is no reason to believe the USWNT can't win it all. 

    The U.S. women's team went unbeaten through 20 matches in 2018. They racked up 65 goals, gave up only 10, won three tournaments and 18 matches, finishing the year unbeaten for just the fourth time in team history. 

    It may be little consolation to some after the year the men experienced, but USWNT was a dominant force throughout the year and looks primed to carry that into 2019. 

  4. PHILIPPE DESMAZES

    #4 A draw with France

    The biggest result the USMNT earned in a year where the matches mattered little, the 1-1 draw against future World Cup winner France is worth remembering.  

    Forget that the French dominated the game, or that the U.S. had handed the Republic of Ireland a rare win just days earlier. The draw against France just got better throughout the summer, and for that moment there was hope that this young U.S. team could potentially compete with some of the best teams in the world. Even a win over Mexico in a post-World Cup friendly wasn't quite as sweet.

    The closing run of the year – losses to Brazil, Colombia, England and Italy – were a sharp reminder of just how much this team needs to improve, but for that one day in June they hung with the best in the world. 

  5. Getty Images

    #5 Matt Miazga, the villain we need

    The USA vs Mexico rivalry has produced more than a few flash points to help fuel it, and Matt Miazga made sure the latest clash would have a villain. 

    It started when Miazga and Mexico's Diego Lainez were chasing a ball over the top. The Nantes defender, on-loan from Chelsea, won it and was fouled by the Club America teenager.

    The two players got into each other’s faces, with Miazga then gesturing to the much shorter Lainez about the teenager’s height.

    The win over Mexico was one of the bright spots of the year, but these types of moments are what keep a rivalry going. 

  6. Derik Hamilton

    #6 A new day is dawning

    It's been over a year and the USMNT still doesn't have a permanent boss, but it feels as though that wait will come to an end soon. 

    Dave Sarachan did his best to tend the shop and keep the program moving forward, but he's admitted that his time is done. 

    A new manager will be appointed in the near future and, for the first time in more than year, USMNT fans will be able to hear from the coach who will actually lead a young group of players through the next World Cup cycle. 

    Real competition returns in 2019 and finding out who will be steering the ship gives a fanbase that has been searching for some hope something to look forward to.

    Here's hoping Earnie Stewart and U.S. Soccer don't keep us waiting much longer. 

  7. Patrick McDermott

    #7 D.C United gets a stadium... and Wayne Rooney

    It was a long time coming, but Audi Field was worth the wait. 

    D.C. United started out the season in poor form, but the opening of their new digs, and the signing of a big-name star in the form of Wayne Rooney to go along with it, vaulted the historic franchise back into spotlight it had been out of for so long. 

    United may have come up short in the MLS playoffs, but having the league's first real power franchise back fighting it out with the best in the league is a good thing. 

    And Rooney produced a bit of magic along the way. 

    In the 96th minute of a mid-August match against Orlando, the former Manchester United star produced what was arguably the single best play of the season in MLS, running down Will Johnson, sliding in to win the ball and bursting forward to deliver a game-winning assist. 

  8. Roy K. Miller

    #8 The U-20s are Concacaf champs

    The night before Thanksgiving brought a bit of good news.

    The U.S. Under-20 national team took a 2-0 win over Mexico to claim a second-straight regional title and just the second ever won by the USMNT. 

    It's a step in the right direction. Alex Mendez, who won the Golden Ball, looks like a star in the making and that the win came over El Tri makes it just that little bit sweeter.

    There will be big expectations for this side at the Under-20 World Cup in Poland next year, and their dominance of CONCACAF competition bodes well for the future.

  9. #9 Mexico having struggles of its own

    There was a lot of talk about backing El Tri heading into the World Cup, and the win over Germany brought plenty of excitement to fans in the United States. 

    But there is really nothing worse than watching your rival thrive while you're at your lowest point. Congrats were in order to Mexico for a decent World Cup, but the fourth game proved a stumbling block once again.

    And, while El Tri supporters have every right to gloat about being in Russia, Juan Carlos Osorio's departure and poor run to close the year has Mexico heading into 2019 with plenty of questions that need answering. 

    Mexico clearly had a better 2018 than the U.S. on the senior men's level, but early in the year it looked as though that could be the case for many years to come.

    Now? Not so much. 

  10. Kirk Irwin

    #10 The Crew are staying put

    For a long while it looked as though the Columbus Crew would be moving to Austin, Texas, but a new ownership group has stepped in and it's looking increasingly likely that the club will be staying in Ohio. 

    Why should you be thankful if you're not a Columbus Crew fan?

    Columbus is as close to a real home as the U.S. national team has ever had, and the city is really the home of Dos a Cero. 

    Austin will likely still get an MLS team, but the loss of another of the MLS originals and the homefield advantage Columbus traditionally supplies would not have been a good thing.