|My starting eleven would look a good bit different|
This is a sore loser's attitude towards not being as successful in the tournament as many fans would have like to be, even if the U.S. did perform better in 2014 than most experts prospected before the tournament. Instead of accepting where we are as a nation, ranked solidly in the top 16 teams in the world, many Americans use this excuse as a band-aid to the real dilemma.
It will take time and money to build the infrastructure necessary to compete with the elite squads. Soccer is growing in this country, and the time may come where we are listed among the favorites to win soccer's highest prize. For now it's a dream we entertain every four years. And to be honest, we may never be at the same level as some of the teams such as Germany, Brazil and Spain.
Some of that is the lack of interest from American youth (though interest is growing with each passing generation), but most of that is cultural. Until the passion of soccer is ingrained into our beings as it is across other countries, we will remain standing like wallflowers while the cool kid favorites dance every four years.
In the mean time, what if we did put everything we had into the game? What if our top athletes did play the beautiful game? It's not guaranteed that our guys would have the skill set to play at the top level, but that's the fun in writing: I can be a dreamer. To be a professional athlete, you have to have a certain baseline amount of athleticism.
Here is the squad I would have taken to Brazil, assuming the top American-born athletes chose soccer instead of their respective sports.
Goalkeeper- There is arguably no better person on the planet to have in goal than the man who was the stronghold for this year's team. Tim Howard became a legend in the last month and for his performance against the Belgians should never have to buy a drink in an American bar again. But for his backup... I have long said Kevin Garnett is the perfect goalie because lanky people are good at sports. Also up for contention are Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis. Imagine any of these three's length and trying to put a ball in the upper 90 past them.
Defensemen- Typically on the outside of 4-4-3 lineup the leftback and rightback are a bit faster and smaller than their centerback counterparts. Give me two of the elite safeties in the NFL who already demonstrate defensive prowess: Richard Sherman and Eric Berry. Both run a sub-4.5 40-yard dash and posses quick hips required for turns to keep up with teams looking to make crosses from the wings.
The first centerback is one of the following tight ends from the NFL: Jimmy Graham or Rob Gronkowski. Jimmy Graham gets the nod because he has avoided injuries in his career. The second starting centerback is LeBron James, though coach Reaves would urge him to press forward as much as the game would allow.
With the Jimmy and James tandem, the two in the middle will force oppoents to get past over 13 feet and 500 pounds of defense if they were able to get the cross off or during set pieces (which would probably be more frequent with my squad. Increased size/strength = increased believablity in opponent's flopping.)
|Kobe with the strong left foot|
On the right side of the pitch is Cam Newton. Again his combination of height and speed, along with his growing vision is seeing the entire field while passing make him a sensible choice. Chris Paul's court vision, though smaller and a little slower, make him a viable backup option.
Kobe Bryant starts on the left side for my team. Born in Italy, he grew up around the game and has long been a supporter of the beautiful game. Because of his background of playing he makes an easier transition to setting up crosses and passes with his left foot than many other Americans. He also is the sort of leader you want on both ends of play.
In the middle is Andrew Luck, who has proven to be a natural athlete and leader in the NFL during his first two years, providing another big body to have in the middle during set pieces as well.
Forwards- Here is where our athleticism frustrates opponents to no end. Our front line not only is tall - good for finishing crosses with headers but also an envious collection of speed for all other countries.
The three starters: Falcons receiver Julio Jones (6-3, 4.39 40-yard-dash), Arizona Cardinal cornerback Patrick Peterson (6-1, 4.34) and Detroit Lions' Calvin Johnson (6-5, 4.35). And off the bench you have a choice of Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook and for short bursts of speed New York Jets running back Chris Johnson, who boasts the fastest 40-yard dash ever at the NFL combine (4.24 seconds).
As impressive as this team is, there are still spots up for grabs on the 23 man roster for the World Cup, but we just rub it into the rest of the world's faces by winning with only 16 players.