David Villa will try to break the 20-goal barrier for the third consecutive season — as a 36-year-old striker. (Dennis Schneidler/USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
Just who are the 12 soccer people to watch who are from or play in the New York/New Jersey metropolitan area in 2018?
Let’s take a look:
1. Sam Kerr, Sky Blue FC
Can she surpass her accomplishments in 2017? Kerr certainly will be a hard act to follow after smashing Sky Blue FC and National Women’s Soccer League records last year. Don’t bet against her. The Australian international striker just might be the best women’s player in the world at the moment. Anyone want to argue?
2. David Villa, New York City FC
Can the New York City FC captain keep filling the net as a 36-year-old striker? He showed very little signs of slowing down last season as he cracked 20 goals for the second successive year. But as we have seen with other strikers who played into their 30s in New York — Juan Pablo Angel and Thierry Henry with the Red Bulls, for instance — losing half a step can force the very best to change their game as their scoring ability wanes.
3. Bradley Wright-Phillips, New York Red Bulls
Can BWP show that his 17-goal season in 2017 was an aberration and not a reduction in his production? No doubt that Wright-Phillips, who will turn 33 March 12, has spoiled many Red Bulls fans with his production through the years (86 goals in 139 Major League Soccer regular-season matches). An interesting factoid: since Wright-Phillips started playing full seasons with the Red Bulls, he has followed a 17-goal season with a superlative one ((27 in 2014 and 24 in 2016).
4. and 5. Jesse Marsch/Denis Hamlett, Red Bulls
Can this dynamic duo – Marsch is the head coach, Hamlett the sporting director — rebuild a Red Bulls team that slid from second to sixth place in the Eastern Conference? And given the team’s philosophy of not signing a big-name players, can they do it without spending millions and millions. With the team dispatching Sacha Kljestan to Orlando City SC, no one is same to return. And that even includes BWP.
6. Patrick Vieira, NYCFC
Can Vieira find a way to boost New York City FC past its nemesis, Toronto FC, in the regular season and playoffs? And can he coax City past the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time after two consecutive failures? Vieira has turned City from a drab expansion team into an exciting side. And while Vieira loves living in New York with his family, will there be a First Division European team that will make the French World Cup winner an offer that he could not refuse?
7. Rocco B. Commisso, New York Cosmos
At this time last year, Commisso was not on anyone’s list because he was an unknown in pro soccer. He was in the background, making a move to purchase the Cosmos. Will he be in a position to make headlines and to cause some controversy again, depending on how the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit rules. If it is in the North American Soccer League’s favor, he, the league and its teams will have to move quickly get its act together this season.
8. Luis Robles, Red Bulls
Will he be able to continue one of the most enduring streaks in MLS history while keeping healthy and at the top of his game? Since stepping into the Red Bulls’ goal in 2012, he has played in 174 consecutive matches — from start to finish. And will he be named Red Bulls captain and then suffer the same fact as Dax McCarty (2017) and Kljestan (2018) in getting traded, if he is?
9. Giovanni Savarese, Portland Timbers
Can Savarese duplicate his remarkable success in the North American Soccer League to Major League Soccer as coach of the Portland Timbers. The stakes are a lot higher in the MLS, and there are many more teams. Savarese has a history of recruiting the perfect players for the Cosmos. He will have to convince more players closer to their prime to come to Portland.
10. Sacha Kljestan, Orlando City SC
Will he come back to haunt the Red Bulls in the regular season or playoffs? Despite his league-leading 17 assists last year, Kljestan struggled at times to run the team. If he rediscovers his mojo with Orlando City SC, Dom Dwyer, who signed a three-year contract with the club Wednesday, Canadian international Cyle Larin, could be in a position to fill the net. And we all know how much Larin loves to play MLS teams named New York.
11. Yangel Herrera, NYCFC
Can Herrera play a full season with City and continue be an influential player? When he wasn’t performing for Venezuela and not recovering from an injury, Herrera was a top defensive midfielder. Also, let’s face it, if Herrera sparkles, he won’t be long for NYCFC. Herrera, who turns 20 Sunday (Jan. 7), is on loan to NYCFC from Manchester City and it seems it’s only a matter of time before he is playing in the English Premier League.
12. Paul Riley, North Carolina Courage
Can the Long Island resident reach a women’s pro championship game for the third season in a row and for the fifth time in nine years? In 2010 and 2011, Riley guided the Philadelphia Independence to the Women’s Professional Soccer final. In 2016, Riley directed the Western New York Flash to the National Women’s Soccer League championship. And in 2017, he coached the Courage (the Flash moved to Carolina) to the NWSL title game. 2018?