I was watching Croatia's 2-1 upset of Germany today (a terrific game if you're into such things) and I was struck by the Croats little midfielder Luka Modric.
No bigger than 5'9" he glides around the field, slipping in and out of tight spaces, distributing the ball excellently, and always seeming to be in control. He's a terrific soccer player, but as an American watching him play, I was struck with a different observation.
That guy would make a great point guard.
Obviously, we have no idea how Modric would be able to dribble or shoot a ball, and he would be undersized even at the point in an NBA basketball game. We'll never know how is quickness, vision, and body control on the pitch would translate to the hardwood.
But, it raises a bigger question: Do these European countries produce great soccer players because their populations are predestined to do so? Or is it because their elite athletes are pushed to play soccer from a young age?
It seems obvious to me that the latter is true.
Soccer is everything in most of the world, and great young athletes throughout the world are driven into one sport from an early age. It stands to reason, then, that the United States would struggle at the highest level of international soccer.
Although the US is without a doubt the finest athletic nation on earth, our national soccer team is made up largely of naturalized foreigners and kids who were too wussy to play football (Landon Donovan, I'm looking at you.) That's an unfair generalization, but we all know that the finest athletes born in our country are in the NBA, NFL, MLB, and so on.
Well, what if?
What if American kids grew up worshipping the Beautiful Game? What if today's athletes had idolized Eric Cantona and Manchester United rather than Michael Jordan and the Bulls? What if a US soccer manager had the chance to choose not just from the no-name scrubs of the MLS, but from all the bright stars of other sports.
I think there's a world class Starting 11 hiding out somewhere in America, and without further ado (or perhaps Adu) here's my hypothetical lineup:
GK: Derrek Lee, 1B Chicago Cubs
At 6'5" with a massive wingspan Lee has the frame to be a force between the goalposts. Considering he can read a screaming line drive off a bat and dive to either side to stop it—blocking a big, soft ball kicked off the boot of some greasy European should be a breeze.
LB: Floyd Mayweather Jr, Welterweight champion
Pretty Boy Floyd has about the quickest hands of anyone in the world. If his feet are half that quick he would an excellent ballwinner at left back. He's so quick the ball would be off the feet of an opposing striker before they saw it coming. Plus, wouldn't you be a little unnerved seeing Floyd Mayweather coming at you for a slide tackle?
CB: Ed Reed, S Baltimore Ravens
Being good in the air and able to break up crosses in front of goal is critical for central defenders, and few Americans are able to defend a pass across the middle better than Reed. Plus, if there's one position on a soccer field where an NFL player's hitting ability would come into play, its here, where you can get away with a lot of pushing and shoving so long as you're going for the ball.
CB: Ray Lewis, LB Baltimore Ravens
A little unoriginal I know, but c'mon, any preening foreigner would be absolutely terrified to see Ray, freaking, Lewis standing between them and the goal.
RB: Allen Iverson, SG Denver Nuggets
Always near the top of the NBA in steals, AI would surely be able to break up opposing attacks. You could be sure he would be able to come forward quickly to help out with the attack.
LW: LaDanian Tomlinson, RB San Diego Chargers
The shiftiest player in the NFL would be as untackleable in futbol as he is in football. In this hypothetical scenario I think we'd be debating whether LT is better than US World Cup legend Barry Sanders.
CM: Deron Williams, PG Utah Jazz
Central midfielders need to be able to distribute the ball first and foremost, and DWill's strength and poise would make him a great midfield general. I could see him and Chris Paul being the Steven Gerrard-Frank Lampard combo for the US. However, since those two always suck when they play together for England, I will go a different route.
CM: Tom Brady, QB New England Patriots
Another guy with great poise and accuracy to run the game in the middle of the field. Plus, this team needs a Golden Boy, not to mention a Token White Guy.
RW: Torii Hunter, CF Los Angeles Angels
He can cover a ton of ground, and if his great throwing arm can be translated as a great foot to cross the ball into the box he'd create havoc along the right side.
FW: Randy Moss, WR New England Patriots
With his 40-something-inch vertical leap and impeccable ability to find his way through multiple defenders to get to the ball, Moss would be the perfect target man. Plus, he looks a lot like Arsenal's Emanuel Adebayor, who is a terrific striker in his own right.
FW: Devin Hester, KR Chicago Bears
Oh come on, I had to put him somewhere.