Predicting 5 Breakout Stars in MLS in 2017
The second the 2016 Major League Soccer season ended, the full focus of the league shifted to the beginning of the 2017 campaign, which starts in late February for some sides.
Transactions within the league and transfers from abroad have already been made by some, and the number of them will ramp up once the January transfer window opens.
A lot of attention will be centered on the additions to MLS, but there is already a bounty of young talent in North America ready to break out on the national stage.
Last season saw the emergence of Jordan Morris as a key scorer for the Seattle Sounders and Keegan Rosenberry as one of the top full-backs in the league for Philadelphia.
We've predicted five players who will follow in the footsteps of Morris and Rosenberry and become the breakout stars of the 2017 MLS campaign.
Cristian Roldan, Seattle Sounders
Cristian Roldan received plenty of hype when he entered the 2015 MLS SuperDraft out of the University of Washington. He somehow fell to the Seattle Sounders at the 16th overall pick.
Just like some predicted on draft day two years ago, there are 15 clubs kicking themselves because they didn't pick the American midfielder.
Roldan emerged as a key contributor during the second half of Seattle's run to MLS Cup, but he should reach a higher platform in 2017 as the main man next to midfield bulldog Osvaldo Alonso.
The 21-year-old has the potential to be the future of the United States men's national team alongside his good friend Jordan Morris.
For Roldan to take the first big step on the international stage, possibly at the 2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup, he needs to continue to display consistency next to one of the best defensive midfielders in MLS history.
Justen Glad, Real Salt Lake
There will be few familiar faces left at Real Salt Lake by the time the season opener rolls around in early March.
Center-back Justen Glad will be one of the returning starters for the Claret and Cobalt as they try to get younger while moving back into contention for a spot in the postseason.
The 19-year-old defender started the regular season in good form, but he drifted off the radar as RSL faded down the Western Conference standings.
Glad will be tasked with leading a back line that has already lost Jamison Olave's veteran presence. The young American will receive help from goalkeeper Nick Rimando in terms of leadership, but 2017 could be the year Glad emerges as a key figure at RSL himself.
Sean Davis, New York Red Bulls
At some point in the near future, youth will replace experience for good in the New York Red Bulls midfield.
Sean Davis, 23, proved during Dax McCarty's injury absence in the summer that he is more than capable of filling the shoes of either the Red Bulls captain or Felipe when the time comes.
Davis is one of many homegrown players making their way through the ranks at the club, with Alex Muyl and Connor Lade already locking down positions in the starting lineup.
If he impresses manager Jesse Marsch in the preseason, Davis should be a fixture in the middle of the park during the Red Bulls' busy fixture list that includes the CONCACAF Champions League knockout round at the start of the campaign.
Zack Steffen, Columbus Crew
Zack Steffen's name has been floated around in American soccer circles for a few years, but not many people have seen him play stateside.
That could change in 2017 if Steffen wins the starting goalkeeper job with the Columbus Crew. That position appears to be Steffen's to lose after Steve Clark's contract option was declined.
Steffen was the first-choice goalkeeper during the United States' run into the quarterfinals at the 2015 FIFA U20 World Cup in New Zealand, but he failed to gain enough club experience with Freiburg in Germany before moving to MLS.
The 21-year-old has the potential to be the best player in the crowded field to replace Tim Howard and Brad Guzan, but he's currently behind Ethan Horvath, Bill Hamid and a few others.
Steffen's stock will immediately rise if he can earn some playing time in Columbus and shine as the Crew attempt to regain a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs.
Alphonso Davies, Vancouver Whitecaps
If you aren't acquainted with Alphonso Davies yet, it would be a good idea to do so before March.
The 16-year-old Canadian phenom signed a first-team deal with the Vancouver Whitecaps in July, and he impressed during the few occasions he took the pitch at the end of the year.
The Whitecaps are in need of another creative player to partner Kekuta Manneh in the final third, and if Davies avoids the pressure-packed hype machine that will inevitably surround him, he could turn into a valuable weapon for Carl Robinson's side.
Davies won't likely begin the season in the starting lineup. He's a player whose role will grow once he proves his worth on a consistent basis for a decent stretch off the bench.
Joe Tansey covers MLS for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter; @JTansey90.