2010 World Cup: 10 US Sports Stars Who Could Have Been Great at Soccer
Throughout my childhood, teachers, parents, and various other respected figures constantly told me that two European traditions would soon be adopted in the United States: the metric system and a nation-wide love of soccer.
Well, I'm no longer a child, and my ruler still reads in inches, not meters.
And soccer, while its popularity has been slowly blossoming, is still, at best, our nation's sixth favorite sport.
While listening to ESPN.com's Bill Simmons' B.S. Report podcast, Simmons wondered aloud how great certain NBA players could be if they stepped off the basketball court and onto the soccer field.
Interesting concept, right?
Well, with the World Cup less than 24 hours away, I found myself wanting to expand the idea past the NBA.
Who are the top athletes who could make United States soccer perennial World Cup favorites?
What athletes have the correct combination of speed, size, toughness, and coordination to create a great soccer player?
When pondering, these are the ten athletes that kept popping in my head...
Allen Iverson, PG/SG - NBA Free Agent
I almost didn't include A.I. on this list because he's not technically an active NBA player.
However, he's also not a retired NBA player either, so I allowed it. In addition, a list without the best potential soccer player is just asinine.
Iverson, despite his brash bravado and me-first attitude, played basketball like a soccer player. The unparalleled physicality and toughness that A.I. possessed on the basketball court would instantly translate into greatness on the soccer field.
Furthermore, A.I. is already a proven multi-sport athlete (Iverson was a star QB in high school), so we know that his athleticism transfers outside of the basketball court.
It also wouldn't hurt that Iverson would no longer be running into seven-foot brick walls every time he made a slashing move to the goal.
Chris Johnson, RB - Tennessee Titans
Most NFL players are far too large for any of their skills to translate over to a soccer field.
Luckily, Chris Johnson's greatest skill would transfer perfectly: his speed. Anytime Johnson would step on the soccer field, everyone would be on their toes waiting for a break-away.
It would be like the excitement Cristiano Ronaldo displays, but on crack.
In addition, Johnson's ability to avoid tacklers and weave through small holes makes him the NFL's best translation to the "other" football.
Derek Jeter, SS - New York Yankees (MLB)
Leadership transfers everywhere.
Whether it's on the baseball field, the soccer field, or the local YMCA rec league softball field, leaders always find a way to lead.
And there is absolutely no better leader in sports than Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter.
As I was narrowing down names for the list, Jeter became close to being cut because it's apparent to anyone who watches baseball that he has lost a step.
He's no longer the kid with the cannon arm and a bright future ahead of him.
Jeter is now the cagey veteran who can look God-awful for stretches of play, and then, in the next minute, show flashes of his former brilliance.
However, just as I was about to cut Jeter from the list, I remembered the first sentence I had typed: Leadership transfers everywhere.
Let's just consider him the past-his-prime-American-David-Beckham-without-the-diva-attitude captain of the squad.
Rajon Rondo, PG - Boston Celtics (NBA)
World-class speed. Freakish athletic ability. Unbelievable vision. Unquenchable defensive tenacity.
There is absolutely nothing about Rajon Rondo's basketball game that doesn't translate well to soccer. Well, other than his freakishly large hands. But still.
Rondo is the best point guard choice for a translation to soccer skills simply because of his willingness to bust his ass on defense (Rondo is probably the best perimeter defender in the entire NBA).
Because of the inherent beauty of a soccer goal, people often forget how important the defensive side of the ball is.
Rondo never forgets defense.
And his last name even has the potential to morph into a fantastic mononym.
What more could you want?
Jeremy Wariner, US Sprinter
When I began this list, I wanted a sprinter.
So why not the United States' best male sprinter and 2008 silver medalist in the 400M, Jeremy Wariner?
Why not indeed.
It's unknown what type of skills Jeremy possesses outside of his world-class speed (his high school bio says multiple-sport athlete), but his speed is an undeniable asset.
If you combine Jeremy's God-given speed and a lifetime of soccer training, he could easily have been a superstar.
Devin Hester, WR - Chicago Bears (NFL)
Hester, much like the aforementioned Chris Johnson, has a fantastic combination of speed, coordination, and elusiveness.
In addition, like Johnson, Hester has a body that could translate very simply to soccer.
Unlike his fellow speed demon, however, Hester does not have a great reputation for fighting through tackles.
His otherwise impeccable resume becomes inherently flawed, when looking at the toughness factor involved in soccer.
Much like in Chicago, Hester's flair for the fantastic in the open field would make him an undeniably great addition to a soccer field.
Americans need floppers too, right?
Carl Crawford, OF - Tampa Bay Rays (MLB)
If you don't believe Carl Crawford could have been a great soccer player, do some research about his athletic greatness in high school.
Even the laziest form of research (Wikipedia) will tell you the following: Not only was Crawford a second round draft pick by the Rays in 1999, but he was also offered a basketball scholarship to UCLA and football scholarships to Nebraska, USC, Oklahoma, Florida, and Tulsa.
And that's just scratching the surface of Crawford's greatness as an all-around athlete.
Had Crawford put all the pain-staking effort it takes to be a three-sport superstar, and instead placed it all into soccer, he very well could have become one of the best soccer players in the world.
Kobe Bryant, SG - Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
Imagine Kobe's size, toughness, tenacity, IQ, and will to win transformed into an attacking midfielder.
The man would be a menace to defend and would almost never lose a battle for a header.
In addition, Kobe's fantastic work ethic cannot be ignored here either.
Every off-season, Bryant works on his game feverishly to improve its every aspect. Now imagine that work ethic on a soccer field.
Kobe's new-found post moves would turn into new dekes and other moves. And Kobe's defensive prowess would also transfer fantastically over to "the beautiful game."
Despite Kobe's almost flawless hypothetical transition over to soccer, he may be one of the few people on this list that made the correct career choice.
Kobe is one of the best seven players ever to lace up their sneakers on an NBA floor.
Becoming a top seven soccer player of all-time is a much tougher feat.
Larry Fitzgerald, WR - Arizona Cardinals (NFL)
Can you say "greatest goalkeeper of all-time"?
Anyone feeling skeptical now? Hear me out.
If I were to send you into a lab to create the greatest goalie you of all-time, what traits would he have to possess?
Leadership and trust with teammates?
Fantastic ball awareness?
Great hand-eye coordination and catching technique?
Ability to make the "holy s---" save/catch?
Now name one of those traits Larry Fitzgerald doesn't have.
I'm not one who usually delves into mass-hyperbole, but I feel it is totally warranted when speaking of the possibility of Fitz as the United States' keeper.
LeBron James, SF - Cleveland Cavaliers (NBA)
So, I saved the best for last. Or the worst. I can't quite decide.
LeBron's freakish athleticism would instantly make him a force to be reckoned with on the soccer field.
On paper, it seems like you combine every great soccer player to ever live, add about ten inches and eighty pounds, and you have LeBron James.
But that's on paper. I find myself wondering whether LeBron has the grace or finesse of a great soccer player.
I also wonder if, at 6'8" 250 lbs. LeBron is actually too big to be an effective soccer player—most world-class players are between 5'7" and 5'11".
In addition, I also can't quite position him correctly on the field. He could be a fantastic defender, but does LeBron's personality have the patience required for greatness on the defensive end?
Either way, when evaluating LeBron James' soccer potential, there are only two real options: abject failure or best we have ever seen.
Sounds familiar when talking about LeBron, doesn't it?