In the first Yahoo! Sports soccer column of 2008, we look at some of the people who are going to get soccer fans talking over the coming year – and why.
Don't be surprised if you see these names regularly in the headlines over the next 12 months.
Drew Carey. The new Major League Soccer franchise in Seattle, due to start playing in 2009, is not going to settle quietly into the league.
The heavyweight consortium that includes Carey and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen want to establish the organization as one of the leading lights in MLS. Expect Seattle to make plenty of noise in 2008 and probably clinch the signature of a big international name before the end of the year.
Ivan Gazidis. The deputy MLS commissioner is a deep thinker and has the future of the game in North America all mapped out inside his head.
In order to prevent continued expansion from diluting the league's overall talent pool, Gazidis will oversee increased talent identification programs in order to maintain the standard of play. You'll hear plenty more about his "Game First" blueprint as the year unfolds.
David Beckham. Again? Of course. Beckham was the story of 2007 in American soccer and guess what? He will probably be the story of 2008 as well.
Whether you like him or not, no one can deny that he puts butts in seats, sells shirts and increases interest in the league. But Beckham wants to be recognized for his play on the field more than those things, which is why he was so frustrated about being injured for most of his first MLS season.
Beware the man with a point to prove. Beckham has a track record of bouncing back from adversity, as evidenced by his efforts with Manchester United following the 1998 World Cup and his response to being dropped in his final season at Real Madrid.
Ramiro Corrales. Reliable reports from Norway reveal that the 30-year-old Corrales has been playing some of the best soccer of his career with Brann. And his efforts have been rewarded with a call-up by U.S. men's national team coach Bob Bradley for a training camp that begins Thursday in Carson, Calif.
Don't be shocked if Corrales puts up a serious fight for a place in the U.S. defense before 2008 is through.
Ray Burse Jr. Burse, 23, is improving fast, and he could be next in the long line of successful American goalkeepers. He should confirm his spot as the No. 1 keeper at FC Dallas this season, raising serious questions over Dario Sala's future in Texas.
Athletic and fearless, Burse reads the game well. If he ratchets up his play, European clubs will start taking notice.
Randy Lerner. Don't be surprised if Lerner's club, Aston Villa, becomes one of the stories of the English Premier League in 2008.
With the backing of the American billionaire (who also owns the Cleveland Browns) and the managerial skills of Martin O'Neill, Villa is likely to contend strongly for at least a UEFA Cup place. If everyone can stay fit – and Lerner opens his check book again – the Villans might even have an outside shot at fourth place and a Champions League berth.
Lerner has supported O'Neill's methodology of having an English core to his team, and he also backed his manager's big signings of John Carew and Ashley Young.
Steve Nicol. Losing in the MLS Cup final for the third straight year won't sit well with Nicol, especially after his New England Revolution lost its nerve at RFK Stadium and allowed the Houston Dynamo to overturn a one-goal deficit and claim a second straight title.
Nicol is certainly one of the best coaches in MLS, and it is remarkable that in the past six impressive years he has been unable to deliver a championship. Getting so close once again will only harden his resolve. It will be interesting to see what new ideas he has formulated to ensure the Revs go one better in 2008.
Tonya Antonucci. The reincarnation of a professional women's soccer league in the U.S. will begin play in 2009, and Antonucci, the league's commissioner, needs to drum up some early momentum.
Ambitions are at a far more realistic level than before the launch of the ill-fated WUSA, but Antonucci still faces a big task. A victory for Team USA at the Beijing Olympics would be a big boost. Problem is, Germany and Brazil – the finalists in the recent Women's World Cup – are now the teams to beat on the international stage.
Robbie Findley. This guy can play. He doesn't get as much attention as he deserves playing in the smaller market of Real Salt Lake, but he has the potential for a big MLS future.
Traded from the Los Angeles Galaxy along with Nathan Sturgis for Chris Klein last year, Findley took advantage of the extra playing time by scoring six goals. More than anything, his blistering pace makes him an offensive threat.
RSL can't be as bad as last year, and Findley should help the club climb at least a couple of spots in the standings while trying to get Bradley's attention.
Juan Carlos Osorio. The Red Bull company is not interested in being a middle-of-the-road organization and is determined to establish its MLS team as one of the league's leading lights. Enter Osorio – the man in charge of turning around the underperforming New York Red Bulls after walking out on the Chicago Fire.
Osorio did a solid job in Chicago, and his tactical style should suit main scoring threat Juan Pablo Angel. However, expectations will be high and Osorio will need a deep run in the playoffs to keep his paymasters happy.