In advance of the 2010 World Cup, I've been playing a lot of EA Sports' FIFA 2010 lately. Sort of like hockey video games, you don't have to fully understand the sport to enjoy playing the video game. And that's me.
I don't totally love soccer, but Fifa's completely awesome. And over the past few weeks, playing with some of the best international teams, there's one thing that consistently drives me crazy. Teams like Spain, England, Argentina, France... They all have athletes that make U.S. players look woefully out of shape and inferior. Their ratings in the game are just so much higher than anyone on the U.S. squad.
By all accounts, this isn't the video game's fault. It's just a reflection of what happens on the field. When the U.S. Men's National Team plays the best teams in the world, they're generally outclassed in every aspect of the game, including athleticism.
But it's not a reflection of America's athletes, right? I mean, sure, the US National Team may look inferior next to a bunch of West Africans starring for France, but what if the U.S. really brought out the big guns for all this? In most of these countries, soccer's THE sport. The best athletes play soccer from an early age, get all the girls in high school, and grow up to sign $50 million contracts and become world famous.
In this country? Not so much. Kids play soccer for the first 10 years in life, maybe, and then they realize that football's the sport with 10 times the glamour, and 90% switch over from "the pitch" to "the gridiron." Not saying that's a good or bad thing, but... It's definitely a thing.
Most this country's best young athletes either ignore soccer entirely, or grow out of it once they're old enough to choose a sport for themselves.
But what if they never switched? What if America's best athletes played soccer all their lives?
Obviously, I'm not the first one to wonder about all this. But with this afternoon's announcement of the final, 23-man roster for the U.S. Men's National Team, fellow SB Nation writer Spencer Hall and myself were talking about this, and agreed that yes, if some of the best athletes in America played soccer, we'd totally kick ass. So, in the truest spirit of ignorant, self-absorbed Americans, we decided to break it down, and explain what the U.S. Men's National Team would look like in an Alternate Universe, where Americans actually cared about soccer.
But first, the parameters:
Any U.S. athlete counts. Whatever their chosen sport, if they're American, we'll consider them.
- Age matters. For instance, Michael Vick and Allen Iverson would have been unstoppable five years ago, but in 2010, they'd be less significantly less invincible.
- Relax, soccer purists. We're not saying, "Percy Harvin could leave Vikings minicamp and dominate the World Cup this summer." Obviously, we realize that it takes a lifetime to learn the skills necessary to excel at a world class level. But what if Percy Harvin had played soccer all his life?
- Personality matters. Some guys were clearly born to play football, basketball, or whatever sport they wound up with. Others, though, could legitimately fit with soccer.
- A lot of this is hypothetical. Obviously, it's impossible to tell whether an NFL player would have good touch, so we're taking a leap of faith on this front.
- Measurables matter. The reason you can make a legitimate case for many of America's athletes potentially being dominant soccer players is that they grade out faster, quicker, and stronger than some of the very best players in the world. If Thierry Henry's speed makes him unstoppable, than theoretically, someone that runs a 4.3 forty could be just as dominant.
- This is all a joke. But seriously...
We'll start with the strikers, and assume the U.S. will play the customary 4-4-2 formation...
There are certain athletes where you get the feeling, no matter what sport they played, they'd be completely f'ing dominant. And with athletes like those, it's a question of which sport could maximize his skills. Reggie Bush is one of those athletes.
Football's been pretty good for him, but so far in the NFL, he's been a little too "pretty" to really kick ass as much we'd expected. In soccer, though? Who's stopping this guy?
Let's see... He's got unbelievable footwork and lateral movement. World class speed. He's an NFL running back, so we know he's stronger than about 90% of the soccer players in the world. And he's even got a famously whorish girlfriend, David Beckham-style. Had he played soccer instead of football for his entire life, there's a pretty good chance that Reggie Bush would be the most unstoppable player in the world.
Put him in the midfield, up top, whatever. If he can make NFL linebackers look ridiculous, he'd have no trouble leaving John Terry's jock on the field, and outrunning entire defenses. With Reggie Bush leading the charge up top, the US Men's National Team becomes about 10 times more explosive. — Sharp
Desean Jackson/Percy Harvin LS
We could choose either one of these guys as a starter, and we'd be in pretty great shape. Still, let's look at the credentials here: Harvin was used in a variety of ways at Florida, and excelled at pretty much everything. And then last year, as a rookie, he pretty much took the NFL by storm, unfazed by migraines and/or persistent marijuana use. Throw in his absurd speed and ability to make defenders look like idiots, and Harvin would be a perfect fit up top.
As for Desean Jackson, he earns the nod for all the same reasons as Harvin, plus: He sure seems like an ornery little bastard, doesn't he? Not in a bad way, either; but he's got a serious case of the Napolean complex, and we can use that our advantage.
You think Desean Jackson is going to take sh— from some uppity Italian defender? Bitch, he's from L.A. Desean will wreak havoc on whoever the Euros throw at him, and he'll do it while talking endless amounts of trash, cheap shotting on every header, and whining to the refs like a seasoned pro. Come get some, Italia. — Sharp
Carl Crawford, LM
For one thing, the Tampa Bay left-fielder bats and throws left-handed, which works nicely for our midfield purposes. For another, in case you were unaware, this dude is a FREAK.
He was recruited to play PG at UCLA and as an Option-QB at Nebraska. That's not just, "Yeah, he was recruited to play other sports in college. Kinda cool." That's, "He was recruited to play other sports at the highest possible level in college, and realistically, he probably could have played any sport he wanted. Jesus."
Is there even a question that he would have been outrageously good at soccer, too? He's got great speed, too, as he once stole SIX bases in a game against the Red Sox. On the left side, this left-footed freak of nature would be pretty deadly. — Sharp
Rajon Rondo, RCM
Really, we could choose from any number of NBA point guards for this spot, but Rondo wins because he's probably the fastest guy in the NBA. That, and his freakish, gangly frame--combined with ridiculous instincts in the passing lanes--makes him a perfect choice as a defensive midfielder. Throw in skills as a distributor, and he's really a can't-miss prospect.
More importantly, can you think of a better name for a soccer player? "Rajon Rondo" sounds like some 15 year-old Brazilian phenom... He could even drop "Rajon" and do the whole one name thing. Who's the best all-around midfielder in the world? RONDO. — Sharp
Andy Roddick, RM
Another instant qualifier on so many fronts. Already suited up with a proper WAG in Brooklyn Decker. Already coated in a brahsome patina of endless sports camps and free sports goods accumulated from a lifetime of sponsored athletics. Already bearing the kind of mongoose-on-the-loose look most midfielders in full froth have on their face while working through traffic. Already a genius at arguing demonstratively and ineffectively with officials.
He also qualifies on the basis of his talent, too: a midfielder has to understand and dictate flow, something tennis players understand all too well. Roddick won't be the star of the team, but he will take the ball, see the striker hauling ass down the line, and put the ball on his toe a step ahead of the defender and in perfect position for a goal. If we haven't sold you on him completely, consider two other selling points: superb conditioning and what you know will be an amazing propensity for dramatic dives. We smell a roster spot opening up here. — Spencer
Darrelle Revis, LB
Come on. You knew it was coming. Of course we'd put Revis on here. He's perfect. For one thing, the name "Revis" sounds like it could belong to any number of pasty English footballers, and for another, he's the best athlete of all, at a position that features some of the best athletes in all of sports. Speed, quickness, lateral movement, jumping, mental toughness--Darrelle Revis has it all.
When it comes to "marking" people, Wayne Rooney shouldn't be too much of a challenge after you've blanketed Randy Moss for 60 minutes. — Sharp
Troy Polamalu, RB
With his hair, there's really no debate: the guy should be playing soccer. And can you imagine having him on the backline? He's displayed preternatural instincts in the Pittsburgh secondary for his entire career. You're saying that wouldn't translate to playing defense in soccer?
He's faster and stronger than anyone the U.S. has now, and he's experienced with "marking" some of the best athletes in the world. If he'd grown up in "boots" instead of "football cleats," we'd be looking at a faster, stronger version of Spain's Carles Puyol, complete with a questionable hairstyle that goes completely unquestioned in soccer. Yeah, that'd be an upgrade over Jon Bornstein. — Sharp
Chris Andersen, GK
And there you have it... That's the squad. Do you really think England or France could touch that roster? ... What's that? You think we're just a bunch of ignorant American sports fans with no appreciation for the beautiful game? WHAT'S THAT WE CAN'T HEAR YOU OVER THE MUSIC.