If you’re a regular reader of The Yanks Are Coming, or even if this is your first time here, you’re probably familiar with the “what if” blog post or column that publishes somewhere online once or twice every year, usually when soccer or the national team hits some sort of peak in relevancy to American sports fans. You know how it goes. “What if the best American athletes grew up playing soccer like they do in most other countries?” I’ve read countless takes on this prompt, some of them even on this website. I won’t knock those articles because that’s obviously a fun conversation to have. You go back and forth as to whether Kobe Bryant plays striker or centerback, and get to pronounce the team unstoppable at the end of the discourse.
That’s not what I’m doing today though. Today, I’ll flip that concept on its head and employ what we writin’ folks refer to as reverse construction. Basically, I’m going to take a United States Men’s National Team starting eleven of my choosing and assign them all positions in sports that aren’t soccer. Apologies if your favorite Yank doesn’t show up in this XI, sorry for partying.
Tim Howard – Goalkeeper – Mixed Martial Artist – Before I get into all the reasons Timmy would be a bad dude with a little training, let me acknowledge that Howard is a damn fine basketball player. He even brags about his high school hoops glory in the official U.S. Soccer media guide. I’ve been keenly aware of this for a long time, but this post isn’t about me doing research to find out if little Michael Bradley won a tennis tournament at age nine or if Landon Donovan was a great roller hockey goaltender in the California youth leagues. So there’s your precedent, I’m not taking actual experience in a sport into account.
Onto to the savage beatings at the hands (feet, elbows, and knees) of one of the world’s best goalies! Tim probably has the quickest reflexes of any American soccer player. He’s also built from head to toe, but not so much that any of his movements within the octagon would be impeded. Add those factors to the screw loose that any keeper at that high a level has to have, and the Tourette’s providing intimidation and you’ve got a great fighter! Pay-per-view numbers skyrocket but Tim still refuses to wear an over-stylized black tee shirt with sparkles on it. Good man.
Steve Cherundolo – Right Back – Basketball: Point Guard – He may stand a mere five foot six, but Stevie C’s a perfect point man for a team in search of a calming influence. He’s smart, he’s a leader, and he makes great decisions with the ball. Cherundolo starts the U.S. offense from the back more often than most fans realize, and his forward runs are always both helpful and responsible. Cherundolo wouldn’t be a shorter Steve Nash or anything, but he’s just crafty enough to notch a tailor-made dime (that means assist!) or two each game. The Miami Heat would probably win the NBA Championship this year if they started a Cherundolo-type at point guard. Or they can bring Allen Iverson back from wherever he is right now and pay him the veteran’s minimum, yknow, either way.
Jay DeMerit – Central Defender – Rugby: Lock – It’s got to be rugby for Jay. He’s a big bruising dude that loves the physical aspect of the game. I can clearly see him in a rugby kit inflicting damage on all those in his righteous path. But how did I pick him a position in a sport that I regrettably don’t know near enough about? Simply by consulting TYAC’s Pop Culture Guru and resident former collegiate rugby player, Puck! Enjoy the following dramatization of our phone call.
Puck: What’s up Levy?
Me: If Jay DeMerit played rugby what position would he play?
Puck: Umm, lock. Yeah, lock! He’d be a lock.
Me: What is that? Does he get in the middle of the scrum?
Puck: No. He’s a forward player that runs around hitting people and generally causing havoc. He also lays his shoulder into the mass of humanity and literally pushes the pile.
Oguchi Onyewu – Central Defender – Hockey: Defenseman – Twenty years ago this might seem like a ludicrous gimmick, but men of Gooch’s stature are the new prototype for the defenseman position. Guys like Chris Pronger who were about eye level with the 4th row of seats in the stands when they put on their skates used to be gawked at when they entered opposing arenas. Then they body checked the opposition into oblivion and unleashed 100 mile an hour slap shots from the blue line; now every team has to have at least one super-talented monster of a defender. Just try and tell me this isn’t a role Onyewu could get behind. Jared Borgetti knows. The Mexican’s just lucky they weren’t on the ice when Gooch gave him the now infamous staredown; he’d have been lucky to escape with a broken nose and his green shirt pulled over his head.
Carlos Bocanegra – Left Back – Baseball: Third Baseman – Perhaps more than any other sport, baseball is about programmed movements on the defensive side. If the ball goes here cover this bag. If it goes over there, backup the throw to the plate. Boca excels at programmed movements! He’s not the most instinctual defender, nor is he the most physical, but he’s been one of the best we have for a long time because he’s where he’s supposed to be, doing what he’s supposed to do. Time to go help in the box. Time to go back and cover the flank. Reliability is captain-making stuff. I’m not sure what Boca would bring to the plate, but given the amount of important set piece goals he’s scored, you probably don’t want the task of pitching to the skipper with a man on third and less than two outs. And hey, he’s really really ridiculously good looking, so that should buy him an extra week or two from the fans and media anytime he falls into a slump.
MB 90 – Central Midfielder – Boxer – The coach’s kid is always accruing yellow cards and red cards and getting kicked out of games, but not because he’s some brat. Yes, he does have an anger problem, but the MB90’s favorite player growing up was Manchester United central destroyer Roy Keane. What’re you gonna do? He’s an intense guy in need of an outlet, and boxing is where it’s at! The sweet science has its ins and outs, but there aren’t nearly as many variables to account for as in other fight sports like kickboxing or MMA. At the heart of it, boxing is punching another dude in the face (or body, especially in the early rounds if you’re smart) until he falls down and can’t get up. I’m going to make the assumption that Bradley sees the beauty in that. After a boxer realizes he’s eventually going to hit the canvas in this line of work, will power becomes as important as any other one skill. The will to get up, the will to keep going. Have you ever seen Michael player a soccer match? I think Pantera’s Phil Anselmo put it best, “no one can piss on this determination.” I’d have to cofound a boxing blog and start referring to him as MB12 or MB36 if I wanted to stick with minutes instead of rounds.
Maurice Edu – Central Midfielder – Tennis Player – This is sort of unfair to Mo because he’s such a great all around athlete that putting him in one sport precludes him from playing others. He’s quick and rangey, which makes him a tough man to get one by on the court. But it also bodes well for his career as a center fielder. He’s both tough and powerful. He’ll need both attributes to keep up with the other heavy hitters on the tour. He’d make good use of those skills as a division one strong safety as well. He can seemingly run for days without getting tired, and he may need to do so to survive back-to-back marathon day matches at the U.S. Open. This is also a useful trait for, um, a midfielder in soccer!
Stuart Holden – Midfielder – Golfer – Holden is a perfect fit for this new breed of golfer that the four letter network keeps shoving down my throat, presumably because they’re having some measure of success. These guys all look just a little older than pop music disgrace Justin Bieber, and they’ve usually got some sort of silly haircut. They tend to dress preppy, but that’s their job as golfers I think. I always thought Happy Gilmore’s Bruins jersey worked well. Oh and these guys tend to have a little goofball factor thrown in. See? Stu fits perfectly! He can go hang out with Rory McIlroy and all those guys now. Also Stu’s Scottish. So is golf! I’ll leave the soccer set piece to golf shot analogies to you guys.
Landon Donovan – Wing Midfielder – Football: Quarterback – Lando would be a quarterback in the mold of Doug Flutie or Jeff Garcia. He’s undersized but creative, and will never back down in the face of a hard hit or a giant defensive player. He uses guile, heart, and skill to make up for a lack of size and strength. As USMNT and Boston College fans can attest, special players like this are often the authors of brilliant sometimes unforgettable moments. Sadly for quarterbacks in this mold, they constantly have to prove themselves no matter how effective they’ve been because prototypical size (wrongly) always gets the benefit of the doubt. Good thing he plays soccer, it’s tough to be a Bruce Gradkowski fan when he has to win the job every year.
Clint Dempsey – Attacking Midfielder/Forward – NASCAR Driver – I’ve heard the term “rubbin’ is racin’” before, and I’m pretty sure that’d be Clint’s motto on the track. Think about what Deuce’s game looks like when he’s on it. He’s got the ball and he’s going fast. He’s on the ground. He’s on his horse again, going for goal. And he’s back on the ground. At some point in there he’s either bleeding, getting into it with an opposing defender, or both. But no matter what, he’s going right back to going fast and going for goal. Got to shove it right up that defender’s ass with a goal that’ll keep him up at night for years to come right? I’m not a NASCAR fan, but I love Dempsey, and he plays his best games with a mentality and a style that the sport would be proud of. And he’s from Texas! I can see Clint putting in big time performances complete with some hoppin’ out of the car post-race bust ups at tracks like Daytona and Talladega, but you know he’s phoning it in and finishing at the back of the pack when the circuit heads to Bristol (or whichever race isn’t as big a stage, I’m not looking this crap up).
Jozy Altidore – Center Forward – Football: Wide Receiver – He’s an uncommon athlete, and one that has the potential to make heads turn at the NFL combine. He’s really fast, agile, strong for his size, and I’d wager he can jump out of the gym so to speak. The only thing holding him back from being a number one receiver prototype is his height. Six foot one is prototypical height for a cover corner, by my man’s gotta score, we all know that. I see Jozy as a receiver in the mold of a Devon Bess or Devin Hester (another tremendous athlete that calls Florida’s Palm Beach County home). He’ll line up in the slot and serve as a primary option even if he isn’t lined up as the true number one receiver. Before anyone knows it Altidore’s doing the Stanky Leg with his teammates in the end zone, and getting flagged for it. This sounds pretty good, I’ve got no idea if he can catch though. Could be a problem.
Well that’s my starting eleven and their alternate sports and positions! I had fun, and that was kind of the point. If I got any of these wrong just let me know down in the comments section, and don’t hesitate to pick new sports and positions for the Yanks who didn’t make it into the article!
Jon Levy is co-founder and Senior Writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follow him on Twitter at @TYAC_Jon.