For the past week and half, Euro 2012 has made Alexi Lalas and soccer relevant to the average American sports fan for the first time since the 2010 World Cup. The publicity for soccer has led analysts and fans to start mumbling about the state of the U.S. National Team in the 2014 World Cup.

People may wonder why the United States has not found the tools for a top-notch soccer team. What is the problem? In such a populated, democratic, wealthy nation, where are the soccer stars?

The answer is simple: Every other sport. The top U.S. athletes do not play soccer. They play basketball, football, baseball or another popular American sport with a higher price tag attached to it. In Europe, the top athletes go into soccer. In the United States, they do not.

But ... what if?

What if soccer was the most popular sport in the U.S.? What if the U.S. had a domestic soccer league that paid the highest salaries in the world? What if the top U.S. athletes began training for a professional soccer career in their youth rather than for another sport?

Well, it would look something like this. In a theoretical world, the following would be the 23-man U.S. National Team if soccer was the premier sport of the United States.

What If Best U.S. Athletes Played Soccer Slideshow


Striker: Kobe Bryant

It is well known Bryant played some soccer growing up in Italy. It also makes sense. Bryant has a good mix of quickness and strength to make him a threat on the soccer pitch. His thirst for scoring would also make him a talented striker, a position that requires little passing.


Striker: Wes Welker

At 5-9, Welker has a more traditional body than Bryant for a striker. His mixture of speed and height resemble that of superstars Lionel Messi and Carlos Tevez. The difference: Welker's weight. Messi and Tevez look like feathers compared to the 185-pound Welker. Given some foot skills, Welker’s speed and bulk would make a dangerous combination up front.


Attacking Midfielder: LeBron James

Think James is a freak on the basketball court? Imagine his a 6-8, 250-pound frame barreling down a soccer pitch. If the guy learned to dribble a basketball so well in his youth, why couldn’t he do the same with a soccer ball? As an attacking midfielder, James would have the ability to pinch up and score or set a play up for his forwards. Instead of double-doubles, he would have constant one-goal, one-assist games.


Right Midfielder: Russell Westbrook

Take Westbrook's speed coupled with some (soccer) dribbling skills and you have yourself a deadly winger. The point guard would be perfect for sideline runs and crosses. As a winger, he would be forced to focus on something other than shooting: passing.


Left Midfielder: Derek Jeter

A left-footed athlete could have gone in this spot, but Jeter brings something special to the position: An inside-out technique. For 16 and a half seasons, Jeter has made a Hall of Fame career out of inside-outing the inside pitch to right field. On the soccer field, Jeter could find ways to inside-out crosses from the left side.


Defensive Midfielder: Ray Lewis

OK, so Lewis is not exactly your typical lean-looking soccer player, but there are a lot of similarities between a middle linebacker and a defensive midfielder. Both play just ahead of the last line of defense (secondary in football) and both need to cover a lot of ground. Instead of tracking down opposing players and tackling them, Lewis would only need to take the ball away from the opposition. He would still look just as intimidating doing so.


Left Back: Darrelle Revis

In a righty-dominated world, the left back position is the most important defensive position on the field. For Revis, the transition would be easy: use feet instead of hands to break up passes. He all ready has the positioning down to defend, so Revis would just need to nail down the kicking aspect of the game ... if other teams even attempt to attack his side of the field. Revis Island-soccer would result in the opposition sending the vast majority of their attacks down the opposite side of the field.


Center Back: Kevin Garnett

Even the top scorers in Europe would have trouble getting by a foot-skilled KG. The nine-time NBA All-Defensive first-teamer would stop runs the same way he stops point guards penetrating the lane. Garnett would also use his height to head away dangerous balls in the box.


Center Back: Metta World Peace

Professional soccer in Europe is notorious for bad attitudes, dirty plays, in-squad fighting and hard fouls. In other words, why did Metta World Peace not pick up soccer a long time ago? He would be a textbook center back doing everything in his right mind to keep opponents away from the goal, whether he use legal or illegal techniques (based on both soccer rules and societal laws).


Right Back: Ed Reed

There are a few defensive backs who could have earned this starting job, but Reed is a special talent. With a good balance of speed and strength, Reed has a soccer body. He could use his free safety skills to shut down wide runs on defense, but he could also use his speed and agility to pinch up the sidelines on surprise rushes.


Goalkeeper: Dwight Howard

Just imagine. The dude's got a wingspan of nearly 7-5 and can move. That means he covers nearly a third of the 24-feet wide net standing still. The three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year winner has all ready shown he can swat balls at will. Teach Howard how to punt and he's a world-class goalkeeper.


Reserve Forward: Kevin Durant

Durant does not quite have the speed to make an impact for 90 minutes, but he can be a super-sub with his height and athleticism. Bringing Durant in on late corner kicks to hop over defenders for clutch goals would be KD's specialty. He could be used as the American version of Peter Crouch or Edin Dzeko.


Reserve Forward: LeSean McCoy

No running back in the NFL looks lighter on their feet than McCoy. Although he has no soccer experience, McCoy has the lateral movement to be a dangerous attacker on the pitch. His speed combined with the strength training of a running back would be an intriguing mix.


Reserve Midfielder: Derrick Rose

A healthy Rose would mean another speedy playmaker in the lineup. Rose could be used to start the rush at attacking midfield or down the sideline as a winger. He would also pass more, as Rose would find himself with some offensive help for once.


Reserve Midfielder: Chad Ochocinco

Ochocinco is the reason this team is actually realistic. In March 2011, during the NFL lockout, the wide receiver had a four-day trial with Sporting Kansas City of MLS. Ochocinco, who played in his youth, performed well enough to be offered a chance to train with the reserve squad after his contract expired. Now imagine if he had trained on the soccer pitch his entire life.


Reserve Midfielder: Carl Crawford

Maybe his awful 2011 season was a message: Crawford should not have been a baseball player all along. He would have made an unbelievable soccer star. With his speed and ability to cover ground in the outfield, Crawford would make a great midfielder. He would be especially useful as a left midfield sub making runs down the wing. Crawford would be a Gareth Bale-like left-footed spark off the bench.


Midfielder/Striker: Tyson Gay

Pretty simple reasoning here: Gay is the fastest man in the United States. Put his U.S. record of 9.69 seconds in the 100 meters on a soccer field and you've got a star. Imagine if Jamaica put little Usain Bolt on a soccer field in his youth instead of a track. Dude would be a stud.


Defense: Sebastian Janikowski

Born in Poland, Janikowski was a childhood soccer star named to Poland’s Under-17 national team at age 15. The placekicker also left a multi-year, multimillion-dollar contract in Argentina on the table to play college football at Florida State. If Janikowski would not have moved to the U.S. as a teenager and been dragged into the American football scene, he may have been a European soccer star. Although there is a gray area as to whether Janikowski would fit FIFA's standards to play for the U.S. National Team, for the sake of this theoretical team, we will say his left-footed boot is allowed on the squad.


Defense: Matt Kemp

Kemp's power numbers make it tempting to put this great ball of athletic prowess up front, but the outfielder is a born defender. His height and ability to defend center field display the key ingredients for a center back.


Defense: Shane Battier

While LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh get all the glory for the Miami Heat, Battier does the dirty work to keep the team in ball games on the defensive end. He could be a crucial piece to a soccer team at right or left back, shutting down the opposition's top wingers. Battier can also surprise opponents with shots from the back line, the same way he has surprised the Thunder with his three-point shooting in the NBA Finals.


Defense/Midfield: Devin Hester

Hester has speed and versatility. The return specialist/wide receiver/cornerback can play virtually anywhere on a football field. He could also be useful as utility man on a soccer pitch. Who wouldn't want to see the guy dribble a ball from goal-to-goal to score?


Goalie: Jonathan Quick

All right, so maybe he is a bit smaller than Howard (ten inches), but Quick proved in this season’s Stanley Cup playoffs he is one of the best hockey goaltenders in the world. Why not believe he could be the same in soccer? Change all that junior training from getting pucks shot at him to getting soccer balls kicked at him and you’ve got the same blocking skills without a stick.


Goalie: Michael Phelps

Like Howard, Phelps has an enormous wingspan at 6-7. Although Phelps has never proven himself in a land sport, there is no reason to believe the most athletic body on the planet would not be able to find a spot on this team. No opponent would be able to push him around inside the box.


Manager: Phil Jackson

American soccer is all about creating triangles on the field. Therefore, the most suitable coach would be the master of the Triangle Offense. There are also no Knicks on this team to be clumsy.

previous next