Over the next couple weeks, the staff of 32 Flags will be counting down some of the top achievements and moments of this calendar year. 2016 has seen many things in the soccer world from the good to the bad and the ordinary to the extraordinary. Today, we are looking back on the biggest stories of 2016.
A lot as happened in the soccer world in 2016. The staff of 32 Flags looked back and we discussed some of the biggest soccer stories of 2016. These stories may not necessarily be the biggest stories but they were stories in which we personally felt impacted the soccer world this year.
We couldn’t possibly mention every story. Some notable stories over the past year include the rise of Christian Pulisic, the fight for equal pay among the USWNT and U.S. Soccer, the Chapecoenese plane crash, the USMNT’s ups and downs that culminated with sacking Jurgen Klinsmann, Cristiano Ronaldo’s incredible year winning Euro 2016 and the ongoing English soccer child molestation scandal that have hundreds of suspects (and counting) all over England, were some big soccer stories deserving mention.
Phillip Bupp (Managing Editor) – Copa America Centenario Final/Lionel Messi’s “retirement”
This sits a bit personal with me but it’s a night I’m not going to forget both as a soccer fan and as a writer. There was a time not too long ago that if you had told me I would be able to cover Lionel Messi attempting to win his first international trophy, I wouldn’t believe you. But here I was at MetLife Stadium for the Copa America Centenario Final.
The game itself had some chances but we all remember the penalty shootout. At least we thought. After being in the mixed zone and filing my story, I left for the long drive home assuming that was it. Ten minutes after I left, my phone blew up about Messi retiring from the Argentina National Team. So after pulling off at the next exit and parked my car, we somehow were able to get a story out and I was thinking that I found myself lucky I got to see Lionel Messi play for Argentina when I had the chance. Now we know that the retirement was so short lived that Messi didn’t miss any games but the news from that night showed me how great our staff is to react to sudden news like that and that I was there for Lionel Messi’s final game with Argentina. At least one of those things is still true today.
Harrison Prolic (Associate Editor) – The rise and controversy of RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga
When it comes to soccer, there are few things Germans prize over tradition. Considering that, it’s of little surprise that Bundesliga debutant RB Leipzig have been met with such hostility this season. Having only been formed in 2009, and funded primarily by the massive energy drink company Red Bull, the club shot up through the German pyramid and made enemies everywhere in the process. Their creation required some creativity in getting around some of Germany’s regulations. Their ownership model technically complies with the famous 50+1 rule, while their name is careful to avoid corporate sponsorship but still make clear where the money comes from.
For better or worse, they are here to stay and their start to the season has been unprecedented. They went unbeaten until matchday 14. The team clearly fills a void in the former East Germany for a top flight team, and for that there is some good in what they do. But their ascent has left many feeling uneasy about the future of the German game. Many smaller clubs might see Leipzig’s success as a reason to abandon the 50+1 rule and level the playing feel with heavy investment. That would be a hard sell in a country that values fan culture, but that might just be Leipzig’s lasting legacy off the pitch.
Jeff Snyder (Associate Editor) – Leicester City’s unlikely fairy tale ending
The biggest story of the year has to be Leicester winning the Premier League. It’s about as close to a literal fairy tale that we will ever see in reality.
The season before last, Leicester City were favorites to be relegated at the bottom of the league table. By the end of that season, they turned it around, but then over the summer, were hit by massive controversy again and sacked their manager.
They replace him with former Chelsea manager Claudio Ranieri, who many people doubted, only for them to string together a run of results. This is followed by everyone saying “this is great, but it won’t last.” Only it did. It lasted the entire season, and now Leicester has written their names in the history books. Undoubtedly the biggest sports story of 2016 and is probably in contention for biggest story of the decade.
Harrison Hamm (Staff Writer) – Nicolas Lodeiro’s midseason arrival in MLS taking Seattle to an unlikely title and pushing the league to a new era
The MLS Cup-winning Seattle Sounders’ midseason comeback from nearly last place in the Western Conference was fueled primarily by the July acquisition of Uruguayan playmaker Nicolas Lodeiro. The signing of Lodeiro — formerly a starter for Boca Juniors in Argentina — sets a new precedent for what MLS clubs look for in their Designated Players.
In 2015 and 2016, aging European superstars like Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, and Kaka were, unfortunately for the league, attracting the big bucks from MLS teams for their names and marketing value rather than younger players who bring more skill, effort, and longevity to the table. While some older DPs turn out to be successful signings (David Villa of NYCFC is a prime example), many last just one or two years and play minimally. Thus, the Sounders’ scouting and eventual signing of a player like Lodeiro — and then their remarkable turnaround with the 27-year old at the helm — will encourage organizations to look less for Beckhams and Drogbas and more for the next Lodeiro.
Already, the league is feeling the effects, as Atlanta United signed 23-year old Paraguayan Miguel Almiron and the Houston Dynamo picked up 20-year old Alberth Elis this offseason. These signings will help spur continued improvement in MLS’s quality of play and create a lasting impact on soccer in this country.
Pauly Kwestel (Staff Writer) – The meteoric rise of Marcus Rashford
In today’s age of advanced scouting and inflated transfer fees for youth players, it’s almost impossible for a player to truly come out of nowhere anymore. But that’s exactly what 18-year-old Marcus Rashford did. Thrust into the Manchester United starting XI in a must win Europa League tie, due to an injury suffered in warmups, Rashford introduced himself to the world and never gave us a chance to forget about him.
He scored a brace on Europa League debut, a brace on his Premier League debut, a hat-trick on his England U21 debut, and added goals on his League Cup and England senior team debuts as well. After forcing himself into Roy Hodgson’s squad for Euro 2016, he left France as one of England’s few bright spots. To put it simply, from February to September, no English player had a better stretch than Rashford. In January 2016, many Manchester United fans didn’t know Rashford’s name, by October they were calling for Jose Mourinho to start him over Zlatan Ibrahimovic. That’s quite the accomplishment.