In 1999, U.S. Soccer took a risk that would make or break the next decade and a half of the national program. As part of a $1.5 million plan to compete at that year's under-17 world championship, U.S. Soccer recruited its 20 best players to train together at the IMG Sports Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

Landon Donovan was a short California kid at the camp -- he maxed out at 5-8 as an adult.

This experiment was what Donovan and the U.S. needed.

Donovan was living with his brother, sister and single mother, Donna Kenney-Cash, a special education teacher, while playing for a youth club in Rancho Cuacamonga, Calif., called Cal Heat. He was not about to break through in the soccer world on his own.

American soccer itself was in limbo. MLS had 12 teams then and was about to start its sixth season. The U.S.'s three straight World Cup appearances at the time were three more than the program's total from 1954-1986, but the nation finished dead last in 1998. Executives, coaches and players were still trying to figure out the formula to create elite talent.

In Bradenton, Donovan was surrounded by the necessary talent to put him over the top as he played alongside future senior teammates DaMarcus Beasley, Oguchi Onyewu, Kyle Beckerman and Bobby Convey. It was a turning point for U.S. Soccer and Donovan, who announced his retirement in a Facebook post Thursday.

At that U-17 championship, the U.S. finished fourth -- ahead of Germany, Spain, Uruguay and Mexico. Donovan scored three goals and was named the best player of the tournament over such future stars as Ghana's Michael Essien, Brazil's Adriano and Spain's Mikel Arteta. Donovan and Beasley received two of the tournament's Adidas Golden Balls. At the youth level, the United States and Landon Donovan were on the world's radar.

Shortly after the tournament, Donovan was signed to a four-year deal worth $400,000 with Germany's Bayer Leverkusen. Donovan's Cali swag was curbed in the Bundesliga. He could not find his stride with Bayer Leverkusen and spent much of 1999-2001 bouncing around the club's second-, third- and fourth-division clubs. Despite living the supposed dream in Europe, Donovan maneuvered to be loaned to the MLS. He joined the San Jose Earthquakes for the 2001 MLS season.

Donovan rekindled that 1999 flame just before heading to the 2002 FIFA World Cup in South Korea/Japan. He netted two goals as the U.S. made a Cinderella run to the quarterfinals. He again won an award in an international tournament, earning the Best Young Player Award. Donovan left the World Cup as a household name in the United States -- rare for a soccer player -- and around the world.

For the next seven years, Donovan became as big of a celebrity as an American soccer star playing the United States could be. In MLS, he won an MLS Cup, an MLS MVP, an MLS Golden Boot and made three MLS Best XI squads. At the national level, he served as the face of the team for the 2006 World Cup and won the Honda Player of the Year six times from 2002-2009.

Off the pitch, Donovan moved home to Southern California when he signed with the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2005. He married a budding actress, Bianca Kajlich, and brushed shoulders with Galaxy import David Beckham. Donovan was the catalyst U.S. soccer needed. He had skills on the field and bought into improving the image of the sport off the field. Donovan's remaining in MLS was a plus for the domestic plight.

Perhaps most importantly, Donovan remained an athlete the average American could relate to. He was not a big guy, he did not walk around with an ego and he played the game with love and passion. Donovan was a California kid who grew up kicking around a soccer ball with his single mother. While he was known as "Landycakes" in Germany for his failed spells with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich (Donovan played six games in on loan in 2009 for then-coach Jurgen Klinsmann), Donovan remained the most recognized name in the United States. His presence in MLS encouraged rising soccer players to view the league as a destination. With Donovan's growth, MLS grew.

By 2010, Donovan was in now-or-never mode. His glow from the 2002 World Cup had faded and after failing to reach the knockout stage in 2006, U.S. Soccer was stagnant. At 28 and supplied with a supporting cast deemed superior than either of the previous two World Cup squads, Donovan had to deliver to cement a meaningful legacy in American soccer.

Donovan marked his territory. He scored three times in four games, including a firecracker in a 2-2 tie versus Slovenia and historic stoppage time goal against Algeria that sent the U.S. through the group. After all the mockery of his failed career in Europe and talk of a cop-out career in MLS, Donovan came through. With it, he inspired American fans and youthful American soccer players. He steered the nation in the right direction.

Donovan retained his stardom in 2011, but went on a soccer sabbatical in 2012. He won a CONCACAF Gold Cup Golden Ball Award in 2013, but was dropped from the World Cup roster in 2014 when the final cut was made from 30 to 23 players. Klinsmann's decision to release the veteran was questioned by many, and perhaps the arguments will never end.

Despite the World Cup cut, Donovan has closure on his career. This was evident during Wednesday's night MLS All-Star Game, as all of Donovan's worlds seemed to collide.

It was fitting the match featured the MLS All-Stars, the best players from "The League Donovan Built," against Bayern Munich, one of his former clubs from the league that treats him like a laughingstock. The Klinsmann-Bayern Munich-USMNT connections only made this a bigger deal for Donovan.

Donovan entered in the 48th minute and made his presence known. He netted the game-winning goal in the 70th minute. He left the turf in the 71st minute and the MLS All-Stars held on for a 2-1 victory. Donovan earned the game's MVP Award -- his second such title–the first coming in his first MLS All-Star Game in 2001.

Meanwhile, questionably aggressive challenges by Will Johnson and Osvaldo Alonso overshadowed the result of the exhibition. Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola refused to shake MLS All-Stars manager Caleb Porter's hand and stormed into the locker room. Guardiola's sportsmanship was condemned by American broadcasters, including former USMNT players Alexi Lalas, Taylor Twellman and Kasey Keller after the match. The tackles may have been a bit heavy for an exhibition, but they were by no means vicious challenges.

After the match, ESPN had the MVP, Donovan, who also served as a network analyst during this year's World Cup, for on-the-field and desk interviews. It was poetic. European soccer, specifically German soccer, looked pathetic. Bayern Munich's whining was classless and belittled the MLS All-Stars' win. Donovan, the game's hero, and MLS' hero of the past decade and more, could only smile on his pedestal.

"I'm proud to be a part of this league," Donovan said after the match. "For many years, those of us that were in this league were sort of looked down upon for staying here and playing here.

"This was a big moment for our league. And we understand the game doesn't count for anything. We know Bayern are in their preseason and their best players didn't play. But they were still competitive and those guys wanted to win just like we did."

Wednesday night was representative of the league, the sport and the culture Donovan built in the United States. When the MLS All-Stars took the field, the demeanor was different than past years. With Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, Michael Bradley, Tim Cahill, DeAndre Yedlin, Bradley Wright-Phillips, Maurice Edu, Dom Dwyer, Graham Zusi, Matt Besler and Nick Rimando, along with Donovan (not to mention Jermain Defoe, Robbie Keane, Omar Gonzalez and Kyle Beckerman all sat out with injury), the MLS All-Stars have a different swagger. The MLS All-Stars have been playing European clubs every year since 2005. Never has the MLS had such a star-studded roster as it did Wednesday night. The confidence was evident.

The MLS All-Stars did not let Bayern Munich, featuring a plethora of World Cup champions from last month's tournament, push them around. They played to win whether Bayern Munich cared or not. Yes, play did get a bit chippy as the MLS All-Stars worked to prove themselves.

"We certainly didn't mean anything negative,'' Porter said. "Our players have nothing but the utmost respect for Bayern."

Donovan was right in the thick of things, captaining the squad during his 23 minutes on the pitch. For him, there was a bit of an extra emphasis on his performance and the result. He had a chip on his shoulder.

As for the messy aftermath of the match, there was something inspirational on the MLS sideline. In the United States, Americans could watch the game with confidence in the MLS players' action. The challenges in question were not clean, but far from malicious. In a nation obsessed with contact sports such as football, basketball and hockey, the physical play could be commended. It did not feel like the MLS All-Stars had done anything all that wrong. Although the game was an exhibition, this did not signal a lack of intensity to fans.

Last week, Paul George suffered a gruesome injury in an exhibition for USA Basketball. Exhibitions are necessary tune-ups for players and entertainment for fans, and injuries and physicality are part of the game. Guardiola's reaction was embarrassing and selfish. Despite all Guardiola's accomplishments -- he won two Champions League Finals at Barcelona -- his actions Wednesday were classless.

From an American perspective, this only encourages a devotion to American style of soccer -- which Donovan popularized -- with a physical nature and vertical movement. The U.S. is not going to play tiki-taka, a Guardiola staple, focusing on long, complex possessions.

Such comparisons can be made to other sports. In basketball, Spain, U.S.'s greatest challenger in recent years, plays spread out with constant movement. At the Olympics, the U.S. has asked LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul to fastbreak, go one-on-one and use power moves. This is more "American."

In baseball, Japanese hitters focus on short strokes for contact and Japanese pitchers build a series of off-speed pitches for their arsenal. American hitters tend to feature a greater emphasis on power and American pitchers care more about velocity.

Landon Donovan brought the "American way" to soccer. Spending most of his career in the midfield, Donovan was the general of the USMNT, sending long passes and using his speed to push the ball. He got physical when necessary. Donvan's Algeria goal was a prime example of the American way. He powered the ball down the field, sending Jozy Altidore. Donovan, Altidore and Dempsey crashed the net at full speed. The sequence was not pretty, but it got the job done.

American sports fans want to see no nonsense from their nation's players. Donovan failed in Europe, was bashed by the media after a poor 2006 World Cup and Beckham treated him poorly in Los Angeles. Donovan always got back out on the field and pushed through. He was never known to take dives and was constantly referred to as a good teammate.

The American way, or the Donovan way, rubbed off on his teammates. When the USMNT went to Brazil this summer, even without Donovan, it had a distinct culture. While other nations riffed with the media, the U.S. kept it low-key. Despite all the talk of the U.S. having no chance to get out of the "Group of Death," the Americans prevailed. They did not flop when the going got tough, and they gained the respect of the world. More importantly, the team gained the respect of American fans.

In his post-game interviews Wednesday night, Donovan used words like "game," "field" and "soccer." He speaks in American dialect and furthers that American identity. Donovan is the USMNT's all-time leading goal scorer with 57 tallies and his 156 caps are second behind Cobi Jones.

ESPNFC's Alex Labidou tweeted Thursday asking if Donovan's likeness could be used for a new MLS logo. That would be fitting. No player represents the American domestic league more than the guy who legitimized it.


In Brazil, players wear No. 10 as a tribute to Pele. In Argentina, they wear it for Diego Maradona. In the United States, Americans will wear No. 10 for Landon Donovan.

Perhaps Donovan planned to announce his retirement in the moments after the MLS All-Star Game on Wednesday. The fitting glory of the MVP Award, win over Bayern Munich and maturity of the MLS team changed his plans. He needed to take it all in. The announcement could wait.

The night could also give Donovan closure on his career. No, he did not win a World Cup. No, he did not succeed in Europe. No, he did leave an international legacy.

But on Wednesday, Donovan could see what he accomplished. He built the foundation for American soccer. The National Team can compete with American style and American culture. MLS is a legitimate league, where legitimate players can play, and like Donovan, they do not need to wait for the twilight of their careers. American fans can get excited for a sport with an American identity. American children, no matter what background they hail from or what size they max out at, can become soccer stars.

Apparently, a lot of them are named 'Landon' too.


This is far from the end for Donovan. At the end of his retirement statement, Donovan says, "As we enter a transformative time for the sport, I will do everything I can to help the continued growth of soccer in the United States. I look forward to making a difference, pursuing my passions and meeting all of you along the way in this next phase of my life."

Do not think for a second Donovan is gone from the soccer spotlight. His desires to play the sport have clearly decreased, as seen by his sabbatical. To some, 32 may seem like a young retirement. To Donovan, it is enough.

Landon Donovan is a general just as much as he is a soldier. He may be tired of being on the ground, but he is excited to call the shots. Donovan built MLS and U.S. Soccer. His work as a player is done. His work as an executive, coach or entrepreneur is only beginning.

Wherever life takes him, he will do things one way: The American way. Of course, a synonym for that is The Donovan way.

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David Villa stood far from the hills of Spain. Last Thursday, when Villa scoped Macombs Dam Park in the South Bronx neighborhood of New York City, other than the familiarity of a soccer field, the view was different. He did not see the Mediterranean Sea, bullfighters or paella. Instead, he saw the concrete jungles of New York, the backdrop of Yankee Stadium and a group of American children.

After participating in a clinic with the youngsters from South Bronx United, Villa hosted a Q&A session. Half of the children asked questions in English with the other half in Spanish.

For Villa, who answered English questions with a translator, the Spanish-speaking presence could only be soothing. Villa, 32, is the all-time leading goal scorer in Spain National Team history with 59 tallies in 97 caps. He has played in three World Cups and started at center forward in the 2010 World Cup final against the Netherlands. After 15 professional seasons in Spain, the Spanish legend found himself in front of a new group of youthful fans an ocean away. But it did not seem so foreign.

"He's very well-aware of the Hispanic community in New York," says Claudio Reyna, New York City FC Sporting Director, an American of Argentine and Portuguese descent. "He's here to play soccer, but obviously there's the addition of him being really recognized and a top player."

Villa signed with NYCFC on June 1 to become the club's first player. Just eight days earlier, he started at center forward in the UEFA Champions League Final for Atlético Madrid. Villa's 185 goals are 11th all-time in La Liga, the first decision in Spain.

Villa walked away from one of the world's top teams in one of the world's top leagues to come to a club with no history whatsoever. He moved to a city far from the likes of Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and the other Spanish cities Villa starred in, and he did it with his talent still on the table.

Yet, there Villa was standing in front of a stadium known for béisbol, not fútbol.

"You can't really second-guess it," Villa says. "The attraction to the project from the beginning was being one of the first players."

It is no surprise Villa calls NYCFC a "project." Along with Reyna, head coach Jason Kreis, fellow European hero Frank Lampard and a marketing message of being New York City's next big thing, NYCFC is a remarkable work in progress. Villa and Lampard are more than just two players coming to play soccer. They are coming to build the sport in the most populated city of the world's wealthiest nation. NYCFC will debut in the 2015 MLS season.

"I want to make NYCFC start off with a winning legacy," Villa says. "That's something important. I will do whatever I can to make it happen."

Villa has an obvious barrier to American media and fans: Language. After spending his entire career in his home country of Spain, Villa lacks communication skills in the United States. For the time being, he needs a translator.

Between NYCFC's two current megastars, Lampard, an Englishman, will be the louder voice by default. Two weeks ago, when announced as NYCFC's fourth player, Lampard stared down the media, both English and American. He declared his desire to turn NYCFC into a winner while showing respect for his old English club, Chelsea. It was the kind of opening press conference only legends formulate.

But Villa's intensity can convey a message despite his lack of English.

"David's fiery too," Reyna says. "He was the most competitive guy on the Spanish National Team. He'll start a fight over a game of cards."

Reyna says management will keep the Spanish-speaking reporters close to Villa. On Thursday, a variety of reporters made their way to the park just to watch the Spanish star knock around a ball with kids.

"He's going to learn English, but for right now, he'll be doing more of the Spanish press. I think that'll naturally happen," Reyna says.


Reyna commends Villa's professionalism and commitment to NYCFC. During the Lampard press conference, Reyna and Kreis explained they look for both on and off-the-field characteristics in their signees. Lampard and Villa both passed their tests. Both come with the maturity to focus bringing the team wins and bringing the club public recognition. After all, Villa was the usual center forward for one of the greatest soccer dynasties of all-time: Spain's 2008-2012 team.

On Thursday, Villa was asked to engage with children in Macombs Dam Park. He was not hesitant to spread the NYCFC name to the youngsters.

"I was a child. I know how important it is to give back and teach them from the beginning the right way to play," Villa says.

Although Villa is not from Latin America, as many of the Spanish speakers in New York City, and specifically the Bronx, are, he understands the common language makes him a role model.

"He's beloved in Spain because he's a kid who worked his way up," Reyna says. "I think you'll the human side of him. He'll be able to connect to the Hispanic community. He's one of them. He's humble. He wants to meet them. That's what's great. He's here to not only play, but also part of the reason why he wanted to come over was to help build the club."

There is no doubt Villa could have found a home in Spain or any other major European league. While he may not be the striker he once was, the footballer can still strike gold more than most other forwards..

But Villa wanted something different. After all, he had accomplished nearly everything possible in Spain. The U.S. brought new challenges. He is in a new setting with new players, new supporters and new on-field expectations.

Most importantly, he is the first player for a new super sports franchise.

“The vision of City Football Group was enticing, but to be the first player in that vision was even more so,” Villa said. City Football Group, which owns Manchester City F.C. and a majority stake in Melbourne City F.C., owns 80 percent of NYCFC. Yankee Global Enterprises owns the other 20 percent.

Such a statement does not make Villa is arrogance. His emotions were recently seen as he sobbed to the sidelines in his final game as a Spanish national in the 2014 World Cup. Villa announced he would retire from international play after the tournament.

Villa was asked if he has consulted anyone on what it means to be a star athlete in New York. He shuddered.

"I don't consider myself a star," he says. "I consider myself part of the team. I'm ready for whatever comes my way."

With Villa and Lampard in a New York State of Mind and other international stars moving to MLS -- Kaká, Jermain Defoe and Robbie Keane to name a few -- the league is in a good place. Soccer is rising in popularity in the U.S. thanks to television access, American success at the World Cup and video games.

Villa calls Lampard a "legend" who he is excited to mesh styles with. The duo will likely be joined by a third designated player by kickoff 2015. One name rumored to ponder a move to NYCFC is Xavi, Villa's former teammate with Spain and FC Barcelona. Another is former Spain teammate Fernando Torres, who also played with Lampard at Chelsea.

Villa actually spoke to Torres last Wednesday, but not about soccer.

"We're family friends, so it was more of a family matter," Villa says. "We're great friends though."

The influx of international names into the MLS mix only encourages each of the team's to try to one-up each other. This friendly competition is boosting the level of play and brand name of MLS. Each team has to keep pace to compete.

As a sporting director, Reyna is excited by this. He believes the players are into it too.

"The level of players that they are, they want to beat the other teams with those players. There's a competitive drive," he says.

Villa considers himself a fan just as much as he considers himself a player. He claims to follow leagues outside of Spain with an eye long watching MLS.

Now, Villa has entered that new world outside of La Liga. His potential is high -- to be a trailblazer for Spanish players and non-English-speaking stars in MLS -- but he also has the potential to be a bust, a past-his-prime international who cannot get acclimated to the foreign flavor of MLS. Villa has mind focused on goals, physically and figuratively right now.

"I want to leave a winning legacy and one of hard work and determination that will make people remember the name David Villa," he says.

With the 2015 MLS season still seven months away from opening, Villa will go on loan to Melbourne City. On Wednesday (today), NYCFC announced Lampard will go on loan to Manchester City. Both will be back in January to join NYCFC.

While the stars focus on staying fit at their temporary clubs, Reyna, Kreis and NYCFC management will remain focused on building a roster. The club still only has five players and has a long way to go before March.

With that said, the dreams are big. NYCFC has a city of $8 million at its fingertips and is starting play at the mecca of baseball venues. When introducing Lampard, Kreis said he wants NYCFC to not only be a competitor in the United States, but at the world level.

Reyna's mentality is similar. He grew up in nearby Livingston, N.J., and the concrete jungles inspire him.

"With our name and New York City -- it's the world's capital -- there's something special about this city," Reyna says. "This club if we're going to be recognizable, we have a way's go. I believe our dream is to one day be a team that competes at the international level. I think there's such an interest in New York City. There are big dreams, but what it comes down to is what we do on the field."

What NYCFC does on and off the field will start with its center forward. David Villa is one of the greatest players of all-time and now, the Big Apple is his playground.

"I'm ready to play," he says. "I'm ready for the hard work. I'm dedicated."

He needs to be all of those things and more if he wants to build a legacy in American soccer. If he succeeds, NYCFC will become an internationally-recognized name.

And David Villa's name will be one to remember.

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There's a simple reason that very few of the busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame are smiling.

Blair Buswell, the Canton, Ohio, institution's chief sculptor, told the New Yorker that it's quite difficult to carve out lifelike teeth. When he tried to do it for John Elway in 2004, the Broncos legend complained that his pearly whites looked like Chiclets.

But Michael Strahan, the former New York Giants sack master and current co-host of Live! with Kelly and Michael, was insistent on having his mega-watt grin included in his bust. Strahan's smile, of course, includes perhaps the most famous tooth gap in sports.

“If I close my mouth, people won’t know who it is," Strahan told the New Yorker.

Buswell allows players certain liberties with their likenesses -- a fuller head of hair, for example -- but normally he discourages players from having a smiling bust. But Strahan's gap tooth has become part of his persona, and he was set on including it in the bust.

"I want to be the smiling giant," Strahan said.

Buswell complied with Strahan's request and went about crafting Strahan's bust with the gap. Buswell, who lives in Salt Lake City, traveled to New York City in March to measure Strahan's face. Strahan sat for four hours as Buswell worked to perfect each detail of his face.

And much to the relief of everyone involved, Buswell's work came out splendidly.


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Gordon Bombay and his motley crew of a hockey team called the Mighty Ducks entertained many children in the 90s. Goldberg's clumsiness manned the net. Charlie Conway was the impeccable leader. There was the knuckle puck, the triple deke, the flying V. The movie inspired many young kids to try ice hockey, and that included Nathan Walker.

Did we mention that Walker grew up in Australia?

His older brother was already playing hockey, which got him interested in the sport. But Walker said his love for the game came after watching The Mighty Ducks when he was 4.

"Mighty Ducks had a big role in it," Walker said. "The movie had a big influence."

From watching the Mighty Ducks in Australia to playing in the NHL for the Washington Capitals ... how that's for Hollywood? Well, Walker is close to pulling this off.

On the second day of the 2014 NHL draft last month, the 20-year-old Walker waited eagerly on the couch as he watched the selections. Then at 2 a.m. -- he was in Sydney -- Walker got a message from his agent. In the third round, the Capitals were selecting Walker, the first ever Australian drafted in the NHL.

"The roof in the house pretty much blew up," Walker said in a press conference at the Capitals development camp. "Mom and Dad were both crying. It was a special time."

Walker joins a very rare collection of professional hockey players with Australian ties. Tommy Dunderdale was born in Benalla, Australia, and played in many professional hockey games in Canada in the early 1900s. Dunderdale is the only Australian in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but he played before the official formation of the NHL. Jason Elliot, a Canadian, suited up as a goaltender in the Australian Ice Hockey League. Elliot was also the third goalie for the Detroit Red Wings in their 2002 Stanley Cup championship season. Though he was awarded a Stanley Cup ring, Elliot never played a single NHL game.

"This is a historic event for the sport Down Under," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly said. "And having Nathan drafted, we look forward to seeing many more Aussies in years to come."

Walker began his career in the New South Wales Ice Hockey League, where he struggled to find serious competition. In 2007, playing in an under-14 league, Walker scored 77 goals and 25 assists in just 14 games. Walker continued to play competition that was much older than him, and continued to dominate. To continue his growth as a player, Walker had to find better competition.

At just the age of 13, Walker moved to the Czech Republic to advance his hockey career. Although it was a hard decision, Walker felt it was necessary, and had the right support system to help him along the way.

"It was difficult, going to a place where you don't speak the language, a different culture," Walker said. "Everyone pushed me through it. All of my friends and family back home were really supportive. It was really good that I had the support."

Walker learned to speak Czech and became comfortable in his new country. Walker hooked up with the HC Vitkovice Steel club in the Czech Extraliga. By the 2011 season, Walker was the youngest player in the league, and the first Australian to play professional hockey in Europe.

Walker began to attract NHL scouts. Eligible for the 2012 draft, Walker was the 21st ranked European prospect, but was not selected. He continued playing hockey, leading up to the 2013 draft, and was again skipped over. Walker never lost faith.

"It just gave me more motivation to want to get drafted the next year," Walker said. "It gave me a lot more motivation to work that extra bit harder and push myself that little bit harder."

In both 2012 and 2013, Walker was invited to the Washington Capitals development camp. Walker participated in preseason games in 2013, and continued to work with the organization. But Walker was barred from signing an NHL contract, due to an NHL rule that states that any player that played in Europe within the last year and is under the age of 20 cannot do so. He was, however, able to sign an American Hockey League contract, and joined the Capitals' affiliate, the Hershey Bears. Walker played 43 games and recorded five goals, six assists and 40 penalty minutes.

In his final year of draft eligibility, Walker wasn't even projected in the top 100 players, according to The Hockey News. But the Capitals wanted to bring Walker back, and traded their two fourth-round picks in exchange for the New York Rangers' third-round pick to prove it.

"It's a big thing," Walker said. "It means they have confidence in me, and I really appreciate that."

New assistant GM Ross Mahoney knew Walker well, and didn't want to risk losing him.

"Once you've targeted a player, you want to make sure you get him," Mahoney said in a press conference at the NHL draft. "We would rather do what we have to do in order to move up and make sure we get the player that we want rather than sit back and hope that that player is still there."

Walker's achievement has already been received welcomingly by Australians, and some believe he will quickly become a role model for Australia's youth.

"For a competition such as the NHL predominately made up of Canadian, American and European players, a 20-year-old Australian being drafted is an inspiration to young athletes across the country," Minister for Sport and Recreation in Australia Stuart Ayres said. "The people of Australia are going to quickly realize the magnitude of Nathan's achievement."

Walker, whose nickname in Australia was "Stormy," says he models his game after Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand, a speedy, gritty player who tries to get under his opponents' skins.

"It's been going great," Walker said during his time at the development camp. "It's a great bunch of guys. The coaches and staff are great. I'm learning a lot on the ice, which is the main thing with the development camp. So far, it is going really well."

While his hockey career has already been filled with Australian firsts, Walker's ultimate goal is to accomplish one more, becoming the first Australian to play in the NHL. He took a step closer toward that goal when he signed a three-year entry level contract July 25. His annual salary will be $70,000 if he stays in the minors with the Bears in the AHL, but his rate will jump to $575,000 by sticking with the Capitals.

"Obviously, the main goal is to stay and play in the NHL," Walker said. "Obviously, that doesn't happen overnight or in one year. I'm prepared that I'm going to be in Hershey for another couple of years, developing, and then we will just take it from there."

The Mighty Ducks were a bunch of kids who you would never figure to succeed in anything on the ice. But, against all odds, each player was able to accomplish something great. This young Australian would fit right in.

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Though there was no election, the town of Comfort, Texas, had a new mayor for the day last week. And even if there was an election, few would vote against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees.

But Brees also found out that moving the ball downfield in politics isn't always so easy.

"I tried to eliminate taxes right away," Brees cracked. "But that got shutdown. I kinda overstepped my power, I guess."

Brees' success was in changing the name of the town for the day, turning Comfort, Texas into Advanced Comfort, Texas, as part of a promotion with his sponsor, Wrangler Jeans.

Wrangler, with the help of Brees, was trying to help Comfort into becoming "The Most Comfortable Town in America." Wrangler donated new seat backings to the local high school football stadium, and passed out more than 5,000 pairs of its brand new Advanced Comfort jeans for the men and boys. They also made sure to bring some gifts for the women of Comfort too, as well as a $10,000 donation to the town.

Brees also was in charge of the "Comfort Challenge." Wrangler claimed that the jeans were so comfortable, that they could be worn in any sort of football drill.

"We put that to the test," Brees said. "We did about 15 minutes of ladder drills and cone drills and other kind of things. We proved that theory."

Wrangler’s goal is to try to make towns across America more comfortable, starting off with the blue collar town in Texas. Brees, who grew up in Texas, was happy to help out those within his community, and he had fun doing it.

"At the end of the day, Wrangler stands for hard work, integrity and family values," Brees said. "And if you think about a small town like Comfort, Texas, they have a lot in common. That’s what people in this town stand for. It made perfect sense to be able to come here and obviously have fun with the name, and then put the town through the challenge out on the field and outside the stadium. The high school football team was out there running the drills as well. We had a good time."

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Seahawks safety Earl Thomas, a perennial Pro Bowl selection, had no trouble ranking the top three defensive backs in the NFL. Even when pressed, Thomas offered up no honorable mentions.

Looks like Thomas shares the same sensibility as Patrick Peterson of the Cardinals.

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After playing the first six years of his career with the Chiefs, cornerback Brandon Flowers has relocated within the AFC West. Flowers made the Pro Bowl for the first time last season, but salary-cap considerations led to his release in Kansas City. He signed with San Diego and is eager to prove himself to his new teammates.

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Veteran defensive back Antonio Cromartie is fired up for the chance to play with talented youngsters Tyrann Matthieu and Patrick Peterson in the Cardinals' secondary. Here's how he sizes up the group:

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Richard Sherman got the Madden cover. Joe Haden got the richest contract. Depending on whom you ask, neither may be as good a cornerback as Patrick Peterson. And don't overlook veteran Darrelle Revis when discussing the best at the position.

The important thing for each player, according to Peterson, to believe he is the best. He says he respects that competitive mentality.

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The World Cup gave another huge boost to soccer popularity in this country. But sustaining growth in the next four years will require more than just compelling soccer action. It will take intriguing and magnetic personalities in the same way that Tiger Woods turned some people into golf fans simply because they were drawn to his story.

For soccer, the man for this job might be Omar Gonzalez.

The Texas native has had great on-the-field success by winning an NCAA championship at Maryland and earning MLS defender of the year in 2011. And he can generate some buzz off the field as he did during his appearance Monday with Conan O'Brien. Among the topics discussed is Gonzalez's nude modeling for the ESPN Magazine "Body Issue."

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