On the heels of a disastrous 2017 campaign, supporters of the United States men's national team are no doubt looking forward to 2018 with excitement -- except that 2018 looks pretty dismal, as well. No Stars and Stripes at the World Cup. No games that matter. No excitement. No thrill. Gosh, that's depressing.
But it's not entirely accurate. While the Americans will miss the biggest tournament next summer and don't start qualifying for the 2022 edition until 2019, there are some reasons to be hopeful about soccer in 2018. We found one for each month. It wasn't easy, but we got all 12.
January: 'Camp Cupcake'
The U.S. drew Portugal 1-1 on Nov. 14 in their first match since The Night That Shall Never Be Named in Trinidad and Tobago, but the traditional January camp will be a more interesting experience. It will give the coaching staff (whoever that might be) a longer chance to look at some up-and-coming players.
This is Sebastian Lletget's time to shine. And Tyler Adams from the New York Red Bulls. Call guys like Cristian Roldan, Wil Trapp, Marky Delgado, Sean Davis and Zack Steffen to see what they have. Give 17-year-old rising star Andrew Carleton a shot. Heck, invite the entire U-17 U.S. squad. Let's widen the pool as far as possible.
February: The United States Soccer Federation presidential election
Here's the thing: It doesn't really matter who wins the top spot at the USSF. Whoever comes out on top isn't going to make wholesale changes to the system, nor will they have the power to do so even if they wanted to. (The whole problem with the position of president under Sunil Gulati is that he got too powerful; attempts should, and will, be made to limit that power in the future.) But it's still going to be interesting and potentially cathartic to watch this play out, to see who can talk a good game and create a winning coalition.
March: The World Cup 2026 Bid Committee submits its bid
While we won't know the winner until a pre-World Cup vote in June, we should have a pretty good idea of where the combined U.S.-Canada-Mexico bid stands by the time United Bid Committee executive director John Kristick hands a large, long document to the FIFA Council in March. The bid has to be a heavy favorite over Morocco, the only other competitor, but FIFA being FIFA, who knows?
Will FIFA president Gianni Infantino look to penalize the U.S. and Gulati for failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup? (I doubt it; if anything, it would seem that having Gulati land softly as head of the organizing committee would benefit Infantino's FIFA power play.)
April: Major League Soccer gets real
The domestic league starts in early March, but that first month is usually spent shaking off the rust, figuring out your team's best starting 11 and generally getting a sense of the season. The action picks up in earnest in April, with squads battling for positioning, exciting rookies starting to make their names and a plethora of high-profile new signings finding their legs. Plus, the newly revamped CONCACAF Champions League might be taking place, as well; the adjusted calendar helps, as MLS clubs will finally be playing in the heart of their season.
May: Pre-World Cup friendlies
The Americans won't be playing in Russia. Sad face, sad face, sad face. The silver lining, if you squint (or maybe close your eyes and dream) is that plenty of international superpowers will be looking for matches against countries that aren't contesting the 2018 tournament. And, hey: The red, white and blue fit that distinction. The U.S. should be able to play a few games during the period before 32 squads travel to the World Cup. When the Stars and Stripes win, all the American supporters can sit back and think what could have been.
June July: The World Cup
The biggest thing to happen to soccer every four years deserves two months of attention. If you can't be excited about 64 matches over the 32-day period from June 14 to July 15, what's the point of being a soccer fan? Pick a new, temporary favorite national team -- you better believe every publication on the internet will have a decision tree helping you do so -- and root for them. Or just enjoy the beautiful game. It comes around too infrequently (as American supporters lamenting the fact that they won't see Christian Pulisic at the World Cup until he's at least 24 years old know all too well).
August: European soccer returns
The Pulisic Goes to Bayern Show?!? We can dream.
September: The first post-World Cup friendlies
Now we're getting somewhere. By September, the U.S. men's national team should have a new coach. He and his staff will be in charge of continuing to expand the pool, while also refining it for upcoming matches that matter. In September, we'll start to see what the future actually holds and how the team is going to shape up going forward.
October: Soccer peaks
The 10th month of the year might be the best one for sports, and it's definitely the best for soccer. The MLS playoff chase kicks into high gear, then the road to MLS Cup starts with gusto late in the month. The European calendar is chock-full of domestic matches and Champions League affairs. World Cup qualifiers might even be in the offering, although probably not involving the U.S. national team.
Get acquainted with your couch. 'Tis the season for sitting.
November: The U-17 Women's World Cup
Let's hear it for the women. While the Women's World Cup is a year away, the teenagers take the field in Uruguay from Nov. 13 through Dec. 1. Catch the future stars of the game before anyone else knows their names. Is there another Mallory Pugh in the making?
December: Looking into the future
You made it! The reward is that 2019 is a whole different story. There's qualifying for the U-17 and U-20 World Cups and then the tournaments themselves. The Gold Cup takes place over the summer, a chance for the Americans to hoist that strangely shaped trophy. Qualifying for the 2022 World Cup heats up. Important matches are coming. There's always more soccer.