32 players to watch, December 2009

Player To Watch #27: Roque Santa Cruz

Number 27: Roque Santa Cruz

Country: Paraguay

Position: Striker

Club Team: Manchester City

American-Based Professional Sport “Soulmate”: Carson Palmer, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

Roque (pronounced “Rocky” just like your favorite fictional boxer or flying squirrel) Santa Cruz is a pure striker. He possesses a coveted blend of the talents which make him a versatile and powerful forward; a man that absolutely must be marked. He’s also never on the field.

The dude must love the rehab process because he’s on the shelf about as often as that can of lima beans in your pantry that you never use. Seriously, go check your pantry; you may have a ravishing Paraguayan goal scorer in there. Here at Yanks we marvel at our writer Raf Crowley’s ability to sleep so much that it’s become his normal state; he’ll take “awakes” from time to time and make chicken parmigiana or go to the bar. Mr. Santa Cruz is a similar oddity in that he’s normally injured, only regaining his health from time to time in order to get on the pitch and score goals in bunches.

Partially because they’re both so injury prone, Roque Santa Cruz is soccer’s Carson Palmer. But the analogy goes much further than training tables and physical therapy. The Bengals quarterback and former Southern Cal man is a physical specimen tailor-made to be a big time QB. He’s the right size, he’s got the arm, and he’s even got the mindset. Santa Cruz has a similarly sought after mix of striker skills. Six foot two and powerful, Roq is also fast enough to get behind the defense with a creatively timed burst and crafty enough to keep the ball at his feet when lesser players would have been dispossessed. But it’s really the word “quality” that always comes to mind when thinking about either of these two players (after the thought, “Isn’t he still injured,” of course). Palmer and Santa Cruz are both tremendously gifted with respect to placing the ball right where it needs to be. If Palmer’s receiver has half a step on a defensive back he can routinely drop the ball in over whichever shoulder provides the pass catcher with the most daylight ahead of him. Quality. Santa Cruz can cause chaos for Premier League center backs inside the box, and in the next moment he’s all of the sudden flashed out to the top of the 18, waiting to receive a pass which he can routinely shoot with a first touch that sends the ball just barely past the league’s best defenders and goalies and into the back of the old onion bag.  Quality.

And I couldn’t very well write a Roque Santa Cruz/Carson Palmer piece without acknowledging the “quality” that all the ladies are so attuned to. They’re both really good looking guys – what do you want from me? Carson’s a handsome California dude who’s piloting his NFL team to division title and Roque was voted sexiest man of the last World Cup by at least two publications. It does not suck to be them.

But venturing away from their looks for a second (sorry ladies, enjoy the pics!), right now it especially does not suck to be Santa Cruz or Palmer because they’re both in their primes at 28 and 29, and more importantly they’re both HEALTHY! Palmer has the help of a good running game and a real actual defense and could make a lot of noise with the Bengals in the playoffs this year if he can avoid another devastating injury like he suffered in his first visit to the NFL postseason. And as one of Blankcheckster City’s eleven forwards, each of which was purchased for approximately one billion dollars, Roque has been getting games and getting goals, notching a brace (that’s two goals for the uninitiated) against Sunderland in his last run out. With the help of Santa Cruz and their fifty other summer purchases Man City is looking to make a run at the Champions League spots.

If he can stay healthy, and that’s a big if, Roque Santa Cruz turns the Paraguayan national team into a very watchable team in next year’s World Cup. They already have technical skill and good service, and Roque provides his team with the option of getting the ball in to a dynamic target man. Italy, New Zealand, and Slovakia should be afraid, very afraid (except for Martin Skrtel). But not quite as afraid as Paraguay should be. Group F is relatively weak, but if Santa Cruz thinks Summer 2010 is a good time to be injured, his country’s most likely not making it to the knockout stage of the tournament.

Jon Levy