Best XI: Soccer's top new personalities of 2017

It was a wild year, good and bad, for American soccer. On the field and off, new personalities burst on the scene. Our list of the top new personalities includes five players, plus an MLS owner, an NASL owner, a mayor, a judge, an attorney and a lobbyist.

Megan Barry. A year ago, no one gave Nashville a chance of getting an MLS team. It wasn't until late January that plans for a stadium were introduced when the Nashville mayor went before the local Rotary Club to present her idea for a stadium at the Fairgrounds Nashville.

Local businessman John Ingram assembled the group that will operate the team, but Barry, who son died of a drug overdose in late July, was instrumental in rounding up public support for the stadium project, convincing Metro Nashville to approve a $275 million plan for a 27,500-seat soccer stadium in November. A month later, MLS awarded Nashville an expansion team, beating out 11 competitors.

Arthur Blank. A lot people deserve credit for Atlanta United's success in its first MLS season -- including club president Darren Eales and head coach Tata Martino -- but it all began with Blank, the co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the NFL Falcons. Indeed, no owner since Philip Anschutz has had a bigger influence on MLS than Blank, who took Atlanta United to new levels on and off the field.

Atlanta United averaged 48,200 people per game, the best ever for any MLS team, and set a playoff attendance record when it drew 67,221 for its game against Columbus. Blank opened his check book to approve spending on imports like Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez, changing the financial equation of MLS.

Margo Brodie. The native of Antigua was the first Afro-Caribbean-born appointed to a federal judgeship in 2012. She admitted she knew little about soccer when she was handed the NASL v. USSF case on which the NASL argued its future hinged.

The U.S. district court judge denied the NASL's request for a preliminary injunction that would have required U.S. Soccer to reverse the board of directors' decision on Sept. 1 not to sanction the NASL as a Division 2 league for 2018. The parties are awaiting a decision by a three-judge panel on the NASL's appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for 2nd Circuit.

Rocco Commisso. The former Columbia University soccer star saved the NASL, at least for one more season. "It wasn’t just the Cosmos who weren’t sure they were going to survive," Commisso said when he was introduced as majority owner of the New York Cosmos in January, "it was the entire NASL. That’s gotta be said up front."

The cable television mogul hasn't been shy about what he thinks. He quickly became an outspoken critic of the structure of American pro soccer and U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati and was the driving force behind the NASL suit against the USSF. The NASL's future might be in doubt, but Commisso insists he will continue the lawsuit against the USSF. About the only thing he has been shy about is his support of Eric Wynalda in the race for U.S. Soccer president.

Steve Gans. Few had heard of the Boston attorney who learned to love soccer from his German immigrant father and whose early forays into soccer included work as a teenager writing on the New England Tea Men for Soccer America.

But Gans was the first to enter the race for U.S. Soccer president, arguing that change was needed as far back as May, months before the USA's elimination from the World Cup brought a flood of new candidates, eight in all fighting to succeed Gulati.

Jonathan Gonzalez. The Californian convinced his parents to let him move to Mexico when he was 14, joining Monterrey, which had spotted him at a 2013 Alianza de Futbol event, where 13 Mexican clubs offered him a tryout.

At 18, Gonzalez got his break in July when he won a starting spot in preseason with the Rayados because central midfielder Jesus Molina was away with Mexico for the Gold Cup. Gonzalez held on to his starting job and was one of four Monterrey players named to the Liga MX Best XI, quite a feat in a league when young players struggle for playing time.

Catarina Macario. Stanford women's soccer has produced some great players -- Julie Foudy, Kelley O'Hara, Christen Press, Teresa Noyola and Andi Sullivan, the favorite to win the 2017 Hermann Trophy -- but before she is finished Macario could be the greatest Cardinal of all time.

Macario, who moved to San Diego from Brazil at the age of 12 with the goal of making it as a soccer player, finished her freshman season with 17 goals and 17 assists to lead the nation with 51 points. She assisted on all three goals as Stanford beat UCLA, 3-2, in the 2017 Women's College Cup final.

Josh Sargent. Americans have had standout performances at world youth championships before but never has a U.S. player starred at two youth championships in the same year.

The 17-year-old Sargent won the Silver Boot with four goals at the Under-20 World Cup and then scored three more goals at the Under-17 World Cup as the USA reached the quarterfinals in both tournaments. He will formally sign with Germany's Werder Bremen when he turns 18 in February.

Richard Suttle. Most soccer fans will have never heard of Suttle, but the high-powered Austin attorney has been working behind the scenes for months as the lobbyist for Anthony Precourt's Precourt Sports Ventures on his controversial effort to move Crew SC to the Texas capital.

The not so subtle Suttle made the pitch to Austin city officials they can get an MLS team without going through the expansion process. He specializes in representing businesses on land use, and his task is to secure a stadium site the sooner the better so Austinites can have a team of their own. Hopefully by 2019.

Weston McKennie. Just 15 miles from Christian Pulisic at Borussia Dortmund, McKennie has broken into the starting lineup at Schalke 04, playing 13 of 17 games in the first half of the Bundesliga season for the Royal Blues, second at the winter break.

Unlike Pulisic, who is an attacker, McKennie is more of a defensive midfielder, but  he was rewarded for his play with a new five-year contract. Perhaps the most impressive thing was that after back-to-back rough outings against Dortmund and FC Cologne, McKennie kept his place in the Schalke lineup.

Victor Vazquez. Toronto FC found a gem in the 30-year-old Spaniard, a former teammate of Lionel Messi's at Barcelona. Vazquez was unhappy at Mexican club Cruz Azul, but he and family quickly fell in love with Toronto after TAM funded his move to MLS.

That new-found happiness was evident in Vazquez's play. He finished the regular season with eight goals and 16 assists in 31 games and helped TFC win the Canadian Championship and Supporters’ Shield titles before it captured its first MLS Cup to complete the league's first treble championship.

1 comment about "Best XI: Soccer's top new personalities of 2017".
  1. Ric Fonseca, December 29, 2017 at 9:35 p.m.

    It'd behoove SA to add captions to identify the respective persons.... especially helpful to those of us who don't know who they are...?

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