America hates soccer.
America hates soccer so badly, we refuse to refer to it as football, and instead refer to our own abomination of a sport as football. We call our own rugby adaptation football, even though out of a roster of 53 players, NFL teams only have two players per team that are permitted to kick the football. It’s a game played in which players line up, one touches the ball with his hand, tosses it from the ground to another man’s hands, who in turn either hands it to another man or throws it forward, hoping that it is caught by another player…with his hands.
It’s astounding that the kicker, the one scoring player who is allowed to touch the ball with his foot, is actually relegated to a lesser role, even though the name of the sport seemingly identifies his speciality as a vital aspect of the game. People who throw or run in the game of football? SIX POINTS! People who kick it? “Eh…one sometimes…other times, give him three points. Maybe that will shut him up. Just kick the ball, sissy (yes, kickers and punters are routinely pointed out to be the weaklings/goofballs of a team…in the game of football).”
But back to the main point: America hates football. Our best athletes play basketball, football, baseball, and even hockey (regionally), among other sports. But what if that wasn’t the case?
What if our best athletes were as in love with soccer as Brazilians, Spaniards, the Dutch, and the British? What if we actually cared, instead of sending out our C-level athletes to represent our country in the World Cup? That might be insulting to American soccer fans like myself to think about, but let’s face it: Landon Donovan is debatably the greatest American soccer player ever, but there’s no way he’s in the top 10% of our nation’s athletes from the last 10 years.
So let’s imagine that soccer wasn’t just embraced by the middle/upper class in America. Let’s imagine for a moment that kids played soccer all across the country, whether they were from the suburbs, inner cities, rural farmlands, or metropolitan areas. Let’s imagine the modern crop of athletes that excel in the NBA, NFL, and MLB grew up idolizing Maradona, Pele, and George Best instead of Walter Payton, Joe Montana and Michael Jordan.
What positions would they excel in? Why? What particular gifts do they possess that would set them apart on a world stage? Admittedly, the inspiration for this idea comes from my favorite sports columnist, BIll Simmons, but it’s one I’d like to carry further. So let’s begin.
1. Allen Iverson (FW)
Iverson played the wrong sport. The best forwards in the world have a slightly selfish quality about them — Iverson made a career out of taking the ball from teammates, holding on to it too long, dribbling, shifting, dribbling, shaking, dribbling…and then jacking up a terrible shot. His 42% career field goal percentage gives you an idea of just how inefficient he was. But when his shots were falling, he was unequivocally brilliant.
Ball-hogging is a terrible quality in basketball, in which all five players surround the goal in a relatively small area. But in soccer, the entire point of the forward position is to wait around, contest for the ball a bit at midfield, then wait for your teammates to pass you the ball so you can work your magic.
Maradona’s “greatest goal of all-time” would have paled in comparison to what Iverson could have done with a soccer ball with his unparalleled quickness, agility, coordination, vision, and sheer determination.
(note: this pick is a total rip-off of previous Simmons opinions/articles)
2. Steve Nash (CMF)
The two-time NBA Most Valuable Player might actually be Canadian, but I don’t care. I still have to point out that he could have been an incredible central midfielder, which is the closest equivalent to a point guard that I can find in the game of soccer.
Did you know: Nash almost followed his athletically inferior brother, Martin, in the pursuit of the beautiful game.
Nash wasn’t the quickest or tallest on the basketball court (and certainly wasn’t the handsomest), but he has an uncanny knack for delivering the perfect pass, knocking down shots when the opportunity presents itself, and making his team better by the sheer force of his personality coupled with a staggering basketball IQ.
In short, this guy understands his sport. He knows where his teammates are going before they even begin to make their moves. He gets it. Just imagine how well Steve could manage a game from the midfield as their field general! Ugh, what could have been…
3. Derrick Rose (RW/RMF)
6’3″, 195 lbs, lightning quick, unbelievably coordinated/athletic, and completely willing to hustle 100% of the time? Rose could cover a ton of ground, and there’s no one that could keep up with him. Space would open up across the pitch because of the number of defenders that it would require just to keep up with him.
We haven’t seen many athletes like Derrick Rose, and the guy is still only 22-years-old. We have yet to see what he is capable of doing, and I’m 100% convinced that if he’d dedicated his life to soccer instead of basketball, Rose could be a top-5, world class soccer player. No doubt about it.
4. Larry Fitzgerald (GK)
I could agree with Bill Simmons and crown 6’8″ LeBron James as the best prospective American GK in our fantasy soccer world, but LeBron hasn’t shown at this point that he wants any part of the biggest moments, and Fitzgerald has. Add his incredible hands, jumping ability, quickness, and passable 6’3″ stature, and you’ve got a goalkeeper extraordinaire on your hands. LeBron would just charge headfirst into oncoming strikers and look confused as the ref presented a red card.
Wide Receivers have some of the quickest reaction times, fastest feet, and surest hands of any athlete in any American sport. They’d make absolutely perfect goalkeepers. Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Chad Ochocinco, all of them.
5. Hines Ward (CB)
A great center back has to be a team leader, willing to place his very life on the line for the team. He has to be doggedly determined that no one is getting past him, and will be willing to direct traffic as a show-you-how-it’s-done commander in arms. These qualities are what make English CB John Terry great, and they are why Hines Ward is not only his team’s best wide receiver, but also their most-feared blocker.
Ward is oft-criticized for hits like this, but his teammates are willing to go into battle for him, and it’s because they know he’ll lay it on the line. Period.
Sounds like a team anchor to me.
6. Kobe Bryant (CMF/AMF/FW)
If Iverson is Maradona, then Kobe Bryant is a cross between Pelé and Wayne Rooney. The basketball world has been asking, “Who is the next Michael Jordan?” even before he retired (the second time), and no one has come closer to that standard than Kobe Bryant.
What sets the greatest players apart is their incalculable competitiveness. Bill Russell had it. Bird had it. Magic had it. Jordan bled it. Kobe, love him or hate him, has it too.
That’s why he’d excel on the field, but I can’t quite decide where. He’d be terrifying on the attack, able to push through for goals either gracefully (Pelé) or with sheer determination (Rooney), so you’d think he’s a natural lock for the forward position. However, Kobe is also an undervalued defender, and there’s no one you could keep him from getting into scraps for the ball in midfield. Kobe would need to be an attacking midfielder, or possible even a central midfielder.
7. Phil Mickelson (LB)
8. Rajon Rondo (RB)
Speed. Coordination. Scrappiness. Passion. Rajon Rondo is perhaps the most under-appreciated basketball player in the NBA today. He’s an outstanding physical specimen with an untiring motor that would allow him to run for days. He could deliver a cross, dive in for a tackle, and keep pressure on any player, regardless of their athleticism.
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Get the idea? You could go on for days with this concept. If any of you have somehow made it this far in the blog post, why don’t you write in your own suggestions in the comments section?
MLB athletes need not apply.