U.S. 2010 World Cup Roster Reimagined: What If America's Best Athletes Played Soccer?

SALT LAKE CITY - APRIL 30: Chris Anderson #11 of the Denver Nuggets reacts after a call during their game against the Utah Jazz during Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals of the 2010 NBA Playoffs at EnergySolutions Arena on April 30, 2010 in Salt Lake City, Utah. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

It's no secret that soccer is not the sport of choice in America. But what if that changed? What if America's best athletes had played soccer their entire lives? SB Nation's Andrew Sharp and Spencer Hall tell us what the U.S. Mens National Team might look like in that parallel universe.

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...

Star-divide

We'll start with the strikers, and assume the U.S. will play the customary 4-4-2 formation...

Reggie Bush, RS

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

Deseanpercy_medium

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

Kobe Bryant, LCM

He already likes the game, having grown up in Italy as a fan of AC Milan, but what we want are his soccer skills along with his aficion for the beautiful game. Every team needs an aggressive tree-sized man capable of standing in the box and heading balls in, and in Bryant we have ourselves a skyscraper like Peter Crouch but with even better tangibles, a boatload of corporate endorsements, and the proper amount of accompanying scandal befitting an international soccer superstar.

He already makes ridiculous magazine covers and has odd celebrations; the thought of what he'd do when loosed with the irony-free European marketing community pushing him with sponsor money tantalizes the imagination. I'm calling a Prada campaign where he's riding an elephant naked into a sunset labeled VICTOIRE. — Spencer

 

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

Ron Artest, LCB

Watch Italy play as a national side, and you'll notice that even with all the flopping and theatrics one thing never wavers: their crew of gangsta-nasty defenders on the back line. Forever jersey-tugging, shin-kicking, and mobbing strikers off the ball with brute force, the Azzuri's back line commands respect the old fashioned way: with force.

The United States needs a kind of unhinged Oguchi Onyewu on the last line of defense to get out a table leg and start swinging it with authority. This is not metaphor. We need a lunatic capable of doing damage to opponents and making them fear for the integrity of their ACLs each time they step near the box.

And the man who can do that is Ron Artest. Ball-handling skills? Who cares.

Artest would be the first man to take the field shirtless for the US with his jersey name and number tattooed onto his back for reference, and no one would stop him for fear of incurring his wrath.

Players could not dive against him because with Artest there would be no "simulation." You'd be maimed, and out of the game, and we just dare your ass to pull one of those red cards out of your pocket, ref. Seriously. We're waiting. With a table leg in hand. — Spencer


Patrick Willis, RCB

Aggression applied directly to the ball: defending personified, and a good thing to have loads of in both a linebacker or a defender at the highest level of competition. Linebackers and defenders both work on keeping angles tight, making their tackles at the right moment, and keeping everything in front of them, which is why taking the leading tackler on the 49ers--and the best young linebacker in the NFL--and switching him to defender makes perfect sense here.

Willis can run for days, is capable of tackling Adrian Peterson savagely in the open field, and has the strength to muscle off strikers and midfielders with ease. While not as terrifying as Artest in manner, the results would be the same: fear, followed by dispossession and the ball headed the other way. Bonus: his backstory stacks up against anything the world can compare in terms of triumph over poverty and adversity. — Spencer

84352097_medium

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

Goalies need long arms and slightly unstable personalities, because no sane, short-armed person in the world would consider playing the position. Chris Andersen fits the bill by being the total opposite of that pairing. His shot-blocking skills translate to goalkeeping, while his hair, tattoos, and fondness for headbands throw him right into the soccer cultural milieu without a hiccup.

The wingspan and jumping ability are positively Petr Cech-ian, while his Birdman celebration ensure he's got a built-in FIFA-grade celebration in the event of a World Cup victory gathering at midfield. Past drug expulsions give the necessary edge of controversy, too. He's a bit WAG-deficient, but that's what British modeling agencies are for, and he can pick up a tabloid-grade lady in a matter of hours. May wear a protective helmet whether you ask him to or not.  Strictly for style. — Spencer

Birdman_medium

 

Star-divide

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.

 

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