Rah rah, siss boom bah, USA USA USA, CLINT DEMPSEY FOREVER.
Okay. Now that that’s out of the way, allow me to state a fact. It is a fact that every American who has ever watched sports knows, a simple and obvious and indisputable fact that forever tempers American soccer spectatorship. It is in back of all of our minds, a balm for our national ego every four years after Old World aristocrats and their colonial inheritors prance cruelly around our defeated national team on the World Cup pitch:
Our best athletes don’t play soccer.
Another fact: Our second-best athletes don’t play soccer. Our third-best athletes don’t play soccer. Our fourth—you get the idea.
I mean no offense, affront, or ill-will towards American soccer players, who have been doing the most with, well, not the most for two decades now. They do us proud. But, dude, just imagine. Imagine if we, a mighty nation of 300 million, raised our very best athletes, the stars of the gridiron and the hardcourt, on soccer. Put soccer balls in their cribs. Put lil’ goals in their backyards. Sent these fast-twitch, sky-high, Mountain-strong badasses to youth academies and development programs run by weird mustachioed autocrats dedicated to getting the very best from the very best, inculcating the movement, the culture, and the nuance of the world’s most popular game in our greatest athletes.
Look, I like Kyle Beckerman. I think it’s chill that he’s going for it with his hair like that. But Kyle Beckerman should be the guy watching the World Cup at a bar in Nashville with his chill hair telling stories to his bros like “Yeah man, I played youth soccer with Kobe. He was unreal man, unreal. Even back then. Another level.”
I get it. I get that our team is American because they never say die and they’re scrappy and they remind us of the way things used to be, when we were just a reedy teen of a nation with a bloody nose and a gym membership. But that’s not us anymore. The USA is the LeBron James of nations. We realized our potential, baby, and it’s huge. And just imagine what it would look like if we poured a thick glass of that potential all over the World Cup.
So I did. I dared to dream. This is the dream lineup for the American men’s national team, if our country gave one ounce of one shit about the beautiful game. It’s big. It’s bad. And it’s glorious.
Goalie: Calvin Johnson
The reality is that at 6’5”, with a 42.5-inch vertical leap and the best hands in the most hand-eye heavy position in sports, Calvin Johnson would literally never allow a single goal, ever. He might not ever allow a rebound, a second chance, unless he was bored. Calvin Johnson with six days of training would be the greatest soccer goalie of all time and it wouldn’t be close.
Center Back: Richard Sherman
Richard Sherman is fast, strong, smart, and the best cornerback in the NFL. What that means is Richard Sherman is the best person in the world at bothering other people. He plays head games with people who play head games with people. Not that he’d really need to: Soccer strikers are tied with NFL wide receivers as the most tempermental and immature primadonnas in sports. Even if Richard Sherman wasn’t already capable of physically dominating every single soccer striker in the world, he could literally reduce all of them to tearful paralysis with a few choice barbs.
Can you imagine what he would do with the slicked-back ball of ego confusion that is Ronaldo?
Center Back: Eric Berry
Eric Berry is the enforcer in this lineup. Eric Berry is the enforcer in every lineup. You might get a red card every game for awhile with Eric Berry marking opposing forwards, until you stopped getting red cards because opposing forwards stopped crossing midfield.
Right Back: Russell Westbrook
You hear a lot about fullbacks who leave their team exposed because they’re so fond of pushing forward in attack. This would not be a problem for Russell Westbrook, who is fast enough to make his trademark supersonic aggro jags up the flank while still being able to jet back and have time for a little espresso while he waits for the counterattack to arrive.
Also, can you imagine the hairstyles Russ would fuck with given the permissive European fashion standards of soccer? I can’t. None of us can. That’s why we’re us and he’s Russ.
Left Back: Lebron James
Lebron is nominally one of our fullbacks, and he could definitely do that and be the best in the world at it. Stay back and defend. Bomb forward and distribute. Pick cute passes. Whatever. I mean, if Lebron wanted he would be able to stay stride for stride with any opposing wing player and never allow them to actually step inbounds.
On our team, Lebron would have the special freedom to go anywhere on the field he wanted and switch positions with anyone he wanted, just by doling out a little butt slap. The slap means: “You are relieved. I will now briefly be the greatest person at this position to ever play, before I return to left back, and then the moon.”
Does this mean Lebron could pass to himself? Yes.
Left Defensive Midfielder: Chris Paul
On the cramped basketball halfcourt, Chris Paul sees space and predicts movement like no other player in the game. Give him the wide-open lanes of a soccer pitch and CP3 turns into Tiresias, an actual clairvoyant. He’d be Xabi Alonso with quicks, pushing Team USA from defense to offense in a heartbeat and never losing possession.
BONUS: Along with Sherman, Chris Paul gives Team USA a nightmarish combination of world-class shit-talkers/sack-tappers/nipple-twisters on defense. The Red White and Blue would frequently play 11 on 8, due to multiple frustration-induced red cards.
Right Defensive Midfielder: John Wall
Our “back 6” is already the fastest, strongest, most intimidatingly enormous group of people to ever guard a soccer goal. So I figure we round out the group with John Wall, a human Ferrari, who can cover whatever deficiencies in footspeed the aging Paul brings to the table, which are not many. Or, if CP3 decides to like, play Flappy Bird during the game, Wall, blessed with the vision of a Green Beret sniper, can drop field-length assists while doing the Dougie, as shell-shocked opposing defenders beg their fans for nerve-calming Gauloises.
Left Attacking Midfielder: LeSean McCoy
A pocket explanation for the carnage of World War I is that military tactics had not caught up to advances in military technology. Man had invented the machine gun but hadn’t figured out yet that charging directly forward in a straight line was not an ideal way to gain territory.
LeSean McCoy moves sideways faster than almost any human in the world moves forward. Adding his lateral speed to soccer would be like adding a machine gun to 19th century warfare. People simply wouldn’t know what to do about it. It would be devastating, tragic, and unfair. It would cause non-Americans to question the point of soccer. I can almost hear the sound of European ankles breaking.
And it’s a question of kind, not degree. There are like three players in international soccer who can even move like McCoy, as I see it: Ronaldo, Neymar, and Arjen Robben. And they’re all massive superstars. McCoy is like that but a hundred times faster and he doesn’t fall over and cry every time someone boops him.
Center Attacking Midfielder: Johnny Manziel
Johnny Manziel would be so good as a central attacking midfielder that I’m not totally convinced he shouldn’t quit American football and just show up at Camp Nou and tell Xavi “perdete.” (Especially after the World Cup the Barca star just had.) And the thing is, Johnny’d do it. He’s a prick who doesn’t know better. He’s our prick who doesn’t know better.
Obviously, that’s what makes him great. He can scitter-scatter and elbow grease his way out of situations it would never occur to anyone else to enter. He’s an improvisational Jedi, a master distributor, a spatial-relations savant. And yet, he’s a team guy. He wants to win. Give him the ball. He might pass it. He might shoot it. The ball is ending up in the endzone. I mean, the goal. I mean, it doesn’t matter what you call it. Johnny Futbol is already dancing in it.
Right Attacking Midfielder: Kobe Bryant
Kobe takes a team already raging with frightening amounts of competitive ego to unprecedented, pathological new levels. Consider: for the past decade-plus, the Black Mamba has angrily dominated professional basketball despite the fact that it isn’t even his favorite sport. That would be soccer; Kobe grew up in Italy as a rabid Milan supporter.
One thing I can say with confidence is that the intensity of soccer-Kobe would be terrifying for everyone: opponents, teammates, fans, the ball. I imagine it curving just so into the upper 90 to avoid a humiliating torrent of Italian vulgarity regarding its manhood as a ball, its worth as an object, why is it not doing its job, vaffanculo. I imagine some forfeits.
Striker: Adrian Peterson
“And here’s the ball in from Manziel to Peterson! Peterson settles it down with a fine touch, his back to the goal. Peterson holds! Can Peterson turn? Peterson turns! Can Peterson beat his defender? The defender explodes! Peterson is covered in blood! Peterson heads into goal! Peterson has to shoot, doesn’t he? The goalie charges! The goalie explodes! Can Peterson see the goal? Peterson wipes viscera out of his eyes! Peterson dribbles into the goal! GOAL! The goal explodes!
50-0, USA! Halftime can’t come soon enough, can it!?”
The 4-2-3-1 above, populated by alterno-versions of these athletes who are devoted to soccer since birth, is obviously and inarguably unbeatable. Still, I couldn’t help but asking myself a few questions about this, the greatest soccer team ever assembled.
Would they ever lose a ball in the air?
Would they ever fail to score off of a set piece?
Would they ever allow a goal?
Would the soccer powers, embarrassed and afraid, devote their most precious resources to a new sport, perhaps jai alai or velodrome relay?
And most importantly:
Who, exactly, could coach this team? Who could coach this astronomically gifted group of athletes, multi-millionaire demigods who have reached the pinnacle of success on and off the field of play? What earthly power could command the respect, tame the egos, and guide the passions of these eleven golden uberbeings?
Surely, no mere coach could do the job. That means no Popovich, no Jackson, and no Belichick.
My original thought for the job of National Coach was President Barack Obama. The players have to look up to him: he’s President. Plus, he’s an inspiring speaker, a sportsman, a sports fan, and a noted hyper-competitive prick with a mean streak. Then I thought: he’s too much like my players, just another hot rod who’s convinced (rightly) that he’s the best. So I asked myself, Who does Obama respect? Who does he look to for guidance, for direction, for support? Who makes Barack, the most powerful man in the world, want to be better?
And then the answer became clear.
The coach of the American men’s soccer team should be Michelle Obama. She’s an intellectual force, a magnificent athlete and a fearsome competitor from a family of coaches. Most importantly, she gives this team of men who have achieved everything the only thing they’re missing: A mother figure; someone to impress. She gives our team the uncomfortably erotic psychological dynamics that turn great teams into legendary ones.
Michelle’s assistant coaching staff would comprise three well-trained and monstrous bald eagles named Bobby Knight, Vince Lombardi, and Tony La Russa, which the First Lady would wield Khaleesi-like to inspire and occasionally terrify her devoted charges.
Only one thing remains for Team USA, and that’s a symbol. A single image, representing all of the outrageous hope, all of the justified pride, all of the rich and viscous virility of our great nation.
I give you that image. I GIVE YOU TEAM USA:
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