Recently, another footy site, The Shin Guardian, posed the question to the TYAC crew: “What one former USMNT player would you add to this year’s USMNT team? You would have to retain the same strategy on the pitch that Bob Bradley is currently employing.”
My response was: It has to be Brian McBride. I would love to say Claudio to add a calming presence but we have a glut of mids right now. We really need a solid target man who wins headers and can finish with either foot. Unlike the rest of the US frontman options, Bake is football smart and absolutely clinical. Nobody could mentally pick apart a backline like #20 could.
Before we open any debate on that subject, allow me to say that the US did groom a better striker than McBride. Yes, an American outfield player on the level of Pele’ and Maradona, born to wear the 10 shirt: double World Cup winner and Olympic Gold Medalist, FIFA Player of the Century Michelle Akers.
I am not here to squabble over the quality of the women’s game; rather, with all the talk of US lack of depth up top and questions of character in sport, I’d like to take a moment to address someone who has done it right. In the US we have a saying: The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The meaning, of course, is that if someone is out of line, then that person garners more positive attention. The Japanese have a saying for such a situation, and it goes something like this: The nail that sticks up gets hammered down. Meesh has done nothing but her duty for her country and for her sport without the need for any such external reinforcement.
As for her ability: she dominated. The inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 was all Akers, all the time. She beat defenders in the air, on the move, and would strike from distance if she got half a sniff of the net. She racked up ten goals en route to winning the Golden Boot, including 5 in one game and both in the 2-1 victory in the final against Norway. While most were merely trying to firm up a true understanding of the game, she pushed it forward with her strength and technical ability. There was no weak part to her play. More amazing is that before her team ever set foot on the pitch to fight for honors, Michelle had her own private battle with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
Regarding the women’s game and the game in general, Title IX did much for soccer in this country. The “Equal Opportunity in Education Act” passed in 1972 sought to create gender equality amongst institutions receiving Federal funding. This was fairly easy to balance in most cases: for baseball there was softball, basketball requires nothing more than a smaller ball, golf features closer tees, etc. But how were federally funded universities to solve the issue of gender-unfriendly gridiron football? Yes, soccer. So fields were built and coaches were certified; for which the American game, male and female, benefitted. And our women, on more than one occasion, were darlings of the sporting world.
For our protagonist, she retired and bought a horse farm. She originally settled just outside of Orlando, near where the US team would train in Sanford and where she went to college at UCF. But one rescue of an orphaned horse later and Michelle had to be Michelle. You can hear it when she talks: she’s not searching for the right words to grab a headline, she hasn’t prepped a sound bite; she is just honest. One could say there is no altruism, no truly selfless act; well then I’m thankful that Michelle’s selfishness means so much good for the world. And I’m proud to call her an American footballer.
Doug Beard is a staff writer for The Yanks Are Coming. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.