WASHINGTON — We enter the 2018 sporting calendar with plenty of uncertainty in the professional and amateur sports world on a local, national, and global level.
There are big questions about the future of some of the most recognizable faces in D.C. sports. And, of course, there’s the question of whether this might finally be the year one of our teams breaks through to quench the city’s title drought. The answers will unfold in due time, but for now, here are the most pressing questions we’re asking as we venture into the New Year.
What will the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics bring?
Believe it or not, the Olympics are nearly upon us once again. While the Games have always served as the backdrop (or, even, the catalyst) for major geopolitical events, the fact that the 2018 edition will take place on the Korean peninsula ties them to current world events as tightly as any we’ve seen in a generation.
Will anything happen between the US and North Korea in the next five weeks? Will our athletes — and the hundreds of American media sent to cover them — be safe in South Korea? Will Russian athletes face any backlash for competing, despite their country being banned? The world is always watching the Olympics, but it will have its eyes on PyeongChang for more than just skiers and skaters in February.
(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Where does Kirk Cousins’ future lie?
It has been a rollercoaster few years for the Washington quarterback, but the ride in Burgundy and Gold may well be finally coming to an end. Cousins has scrubbed any mention of the team from his Twitter profile, and has hinted at a possible future elsewhere.
Will he walk? Will the team suddenly shift gears and offer him the kind of long-term deal he’s coveted? Will they throw $34 million at him to franchise Cousins again, extending the drama for another year? If we’ve learned anything from Dan Snyder’s team, it’s this: Expect the unexpected.
(Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Patrick McDermott
Is this the end of the Nats’ window?
Bryce Harper will be a free agent at the end of the 2018 season. So will Daniel Murphy, Gio Gonzalez, Ryan Madson, and a number of other Nationals, all of which adds up to this looking very much like the final year of this particular highly competitive window. Oh, Mike Rizzo’s deal is up too, just for good measure.
But before you think that all that money coming off the books could just easily be used to pay Harper to stay, consider the team’s financial situation for next year. The Nats have more than $94 million committed to just three players for 2019 and over $107 million for the five players past their arbitration years. They’ll have to fill out the other 20 spots on the roster (seven of whom are under team control, in their arbitration years) with whatever remaining financial wiggle room they have after that. Even with all that money coming off the books, the payroll flexibility for 2019 isn’t as good as you might think.
(Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
Getty Images/Patrick Smith
When will Audi Field open?
D.C. United is officially done with RFK, but the Red and Black are still without a home for the 2018 season. Audi Field is under construction, with a hopeful completion date sometime this summer. But that leaves the “home” opener in March to be played at a to-be-determined location, along with other “home” games before the gates open in Buzzard Point.
What happens if there are construction delays? We’ve seen them at other MLS homes, from San Jose to Atlanta. When will United finally be able to set foot on its new field?
(Courtesy DC United)
Courtesy DC United
Will we have any local teams in the NCAA Tournament?
Both Georgetown and Maryland got off to promising starts this season, but each is staring down at a January reality that makes March seem an awful long ways away. The Terps have lost both Justin Jackson and Ivan Bender for the season and are suddenly very thin up front entering the Big Ten season. Meanwhile, the Hoyas rocketed off to an 8-0 start, but against a schedule so soft it gave Georgetown Cupcake a whole new meaning. They’ve started the Big East season with consecutive losses.
Howard, American and Richmond are all non-factors this year, while VCU, GW and George Mason appear to be middle-dwellers entering Atlantic 10 play (Navy looks … ok). Virginia looks the part of the perennial powerhouse, but might we be looking at an NCAA Tournament void of any D.C. area squads?
(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
Will anyone care about the World Cup?
The most dramatic USMNT moment in this World Cup cycle is already behind us, with the team’s epic collapse and failure to qualify from the Hex. With the excitement building around wunderteen Christian Pulisic squandered, will America care enough to tune in for the games this summer?
There are compelling stories, to be sure. Morocco’s in its first World Cup since 1998, Egypt in its first since 1990. Peru almost looked as though they wouldn’t compete, but now will, after all. Iceland will be everyone’s favorite longshot. But without the Americans playing, will America be watching?
(AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
Tiger Woods back, or Tiger Woods’ back?
Yes, really, here we go again. Tiger Woods is set to return to the PGA Tour after four apparently pain free and reasonably successful rounds late last year. At 42, he’s still young enough to envision a potential comeback and return to near-top form. But the thing holding him back is, well, his back. And backs are notoriously fickle, especially after they’ve already been surgically repaired.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour has moved on without him, a whole generation of 20-something young stars stamping their names on the game. Woods is set to return to the PGA Tour in mid-February for the Genesis Open at Riviera Country Club in Southern California. Will that be the start of a return to glory, or the beginning of the end?
(AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)
Can Frances Tiafoe become the face of American men’s tennis?
2017 was an exciting year for Frances Tiafoe. He broke into the Top 100 in the world, becoming the youngest player in the world to hold such a lofty ranking. He got his first major win in Australia, and two Challenger Tournament wins. But most of his big moments were near misses: a tiebreaker loss to idol Juan Martin del Potro, a five-set opening round loss to Roger Federer at the U.S. Open.
Tiafoe will turn 20 in three weeks. Will this be the year he breaks through and notches some wins against the old guard? Can he win an ATP Tournament? Will he make a deep run in a major? Can that success drive him to the forefront of the American sports consciousness?
(Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images for Laver Cup)
Getty Images for Laver Cup/Clive Brunskill
What happens next in football’s concussion crisis?
Forget NFL protests — the pressing, existential crisis with the power to end the sport remains the damage caused to its players’ brains. The league finally appears to be taking its own concussion protocol seriously, but that’s only the beginning.
Will the NFL continue to fund vital research, especially for younger players? Will scientists create a CTE test for living patients? Will the trend of parents keeping their kids away from the sport continue to snowball? Injuries such as those to Ryan Shazier won’t turn the hardcore fans away, no matter how gruesome. But definitive evidence that the sport is actively destroying its players’ brains might be too much for football to bear.
(AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith, File)
AP/Eric Christian Smith
Is this the year a D.C. team finally breaks through?
No long-suffering city has as many teams with championship potential as Washington. That’s what makes the title drought so especially frustrating, the metro area’s angst seemingly swelling to new sizes with each playoff failure. But the Caps, Nats and Wizards all ought to be playoff teams in 2018, meaning three more chances to break through. So, will it actually happen?
If it does for the Caps, it will be after their window had seemingly closed, finally bringing a title to pay off the Ovechkin era. If the Wizards break through, they’ll likely have to take down the Cavs and the Warriors (and probably the Celtics, too). It would mark a noteworthy run, but not an unforeseeable one. The Nats? They’re in the same spot as the Caps have been the past several seasons, with the talent to get it done, but without the needed postseason performances. They seem to be in the best position to win a title, but you just never know.
AP Photo/Alex Brandon