Monday, June 28, 2010

The Great None

Where is our great one?

Like a lot of Americans last weekend, I began to wonder why we aren't more competitive in soccer. After all, this is America. We don't really do a "participant" ribbon. If there's a prize to be won, we'd just assume take that thing.

I know it takes a while to field a side of 11 men who can get it done. After all, soccer is a team sport. And on top of that, to get really good those 11 men are gonna need to be surrounded by world-class competition here at home, not just in Europe.

But why hasn't the United States produced at least one world-class footballer? I don't mean "he plays for Man U." or "he's the third best player for AC Milan." I'm talking "he might be the best ever." The type of athlete who changes the way the game is played. The type of player who makes them change Augusta because he cranks the ball so far, ya know?

This is America. That's how we roll.

Of course there's the argument that "our best athletes don't play soccer they play football, basketball and baseball." True, but why hasn't just once a great athlete for whatever reason ended up—if even just accidentally—lacing up soccer cleats instead of football cleats or high-tops or spikes?

Where's our Beckham, our Messi, our Ronaldo, our Pele? It's bound to happen. So much so really that it begs the question: why hasn't it? Seriously. Think about it.

Here's a rundown of a few elite athletes the United States has churned out in non-major sports:

Michael Phelps (swimming) - 14 gold medals, gobs of world records, arguably the greatest male swimmer of all-time.

Lance Armstrong (cycling) - Hell, America loves cycling about as much as we do socialism but somehow a kid from Texas became the best there ever was. Seven straight Tour de France titles. A record that may never fall.

Pete Sampras (tennis) - 14 Grand Slam titles. The most ever until Federer came along.

Muhammad Ali/Mike Tyson (boxing) - Two of the greatest boxers ever to throw a punch.

Chris Evert (tennis) - Maybe not the best ever, but 18 Grand Slam titles. Not too shabby.

The Williams Sisters (tennis) - Currently dominating the game (7 Grand Slams for Venus, 12 for Serena plus 12 each in doubles) and I think we'd all agree that two African-American sisters don't exactly reflect the face of tennis over the last 100 years or so.

Eric Heiden (speed skating) - Won gold in all five events at the 1980 Olympic games while putting up four Olympic records and one world record in the process.

Michael Johnson (track) - the greatest long sprinter ever. See 1996 Olympic games (4 golds) and he still holds the records in both the 400 and the 200.

Ed Viesturs (mountaineering) - One of the best high-altitude mountaineers ever (one of only 22 to summit all 8000 meter peaks plus an impressive seven Everest summits).

Howard Hill (archery) - Arguably the greatest archer ever (I'm serious, that's his name. As much as I wish it weren't).

Secretariat (horse racing) - That horse was fantastic! And he was American!

Tiger Woods (golf) - On his way to being the best ever if he's not already there (I suppose you could add Jack or Anold to this list too). And a perfect example of a great athlete who for whatever reason ended up playing a golf instead of say baseball or football. Lord knows he probably could hit .300 in the bigs!

And look at those sports. None of them could really be considered "American." We play them of course but they certainly weren't invented here. Most of them were created and later dominated by Europeans, Africans and South Americans. Yet somehow, we've managed to produce one (if not more) elite, world-class champions in each and every one of them.

Statistically speaking, it's shocking that we haven't produced an elite soccer player by now. Think about this: what if Lebron James had grown up in a different neighborhood and decided to tend a soccer goal instead of a basketball one? What if Adrian Peterson had grown up in Seattle or LA and had decided to be a striker instead of a running back? Or what if Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan had decided to play midfield instead of being the best ballers to ever hit the court? What if any of the people on the list above had chosen something else—maybe even soccer—besides the sports they chose?

Speed, agility, vision, ball-handling. You can't tell me America doesn't produce those qualities in spades. There's no reason we shouldn't have already produced our great one.

Instead, we've produced the great none.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On to the next one!

Somehow I hope this is playing in the US locker room down in South Africa right now.

1-0. USA. On to the next one.

(Thanks a lot, Big Cat Music. Thanks for letting us see the video. No seriously. Now my post looks stupid.)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 17, 1994

I watched that "30 for 30" documentary on ESPN about June 17, 1994 last night and was just blown away. No other way to put it.

For those who don't remember, that day was a remarkable and surreal day for sports and ultimately American culture. All of the following happened that day:

• The World Cup kicked off at Soldier Field in Chicago
• The NY Rangers held their parade on Broadway after winning their first Stanley Cup in 54 years
• The NY Knicks took on the Houston Rockets in game 5 of the finals at MSG (Ewing vs. Olujawon)
• Arnold Palmer played his final round in a major at the US Open
• Ken Griffey, Jr., hit his 30th homerun (weeks before the all-star break—and this was back when the thought of getting to 60 homers was still considered a feat)
• Oh yeah, and after the LAPD put out a warrant for OJ Simpson's arrest the famous white Bronco slow-speed chase took place with OJ in the back threatening suicide while a negotiator talks him down and the media basically begins to eulogize him as the killer (then again who would act like that if they hadn't done it?)

Just wait—oh man, just wait—until the press conference where Robert Kardashian reads OJ's suicide note. It will freaking blow your mind.

Of course, all this happened in that pre-cell phone, pre-internet, pre-TMZ period so what the documentary really does well is take everything that happened and compile it to show how crazy that day was.

I still remember exactly where I was that day as it happened. I bet you do too. I mean for a while there, as far as we knew one of the greatest football players of all time had killed himself. After killing his ex-wife and her boyfriend of course. Cra-zy.

Find it on ESPN this weekend, record it and watch it. It's an insanely riveting hour of television.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Watch and learn

Also, it's "flesh out" not "flush out." Just sayin'.

Monday, June 14, 2010

An American describes the soccer game

What an awesome game! We totally tied it! Here’s what happened:

Ok, ok, so the English team came out and after like only four minutes had gone off the clock they kicked a goal and so the score was one to nothing.

But our team hung in there and made some good passes and stuff. Seemed like there was a lot of running because the field is like huge! Has it always been that big? And sometimes it seemed like the players would pass the ball to no one. Or backwards. Or out of bounds. On purpose. Oh yeah, and when they shoot the ball they miss the goal A LOT. I don’t mean by a few inches either—I mean by like several feet. Not even close! Do they practice at all? Who knows.

Anyway, I totally forgot that our goalie totally got hurt and almost died not long after the England goal! The dude got hit with a cleat and was writhing around in pain and so I figured "oh crap, he's never gonna play again." But then a miracle happened because all of a sudden he sprang back up and was totally fine! I’m told that happens all the time in soccer—the players’ legs make incidental contact and they collapse in a heap and to judge by the looks on their faces you'd think the pain must just be unimaginable. But no, seconds later they’re off following the play down the field at full speed!

Beautiful game indeed!

Oh yeah, then just before halftime our guy kicked the ball past their goalie. Despite wearing huge gloves he totally couldn’t catch it! So the game was tied!

And I mean, who doesn’t love a tie! It’s like everyone wins. Hooray for both teams!

Then there was the second half which involved more kicking and passing and wildly off-the-mark shots and stuff while I wondered "why didn’t we start that Beckham guy who's married to that chick and plays for a team somewhere here?" No one scored for like 15 minutes and that weird “whirring” noise from the TV was making me loopy so I changed the channel to see how the Yankees were doing.

Turns out Jeter hit two dingers and Posada had himself a grand slam! The Yankees win! Theeeeeeee Yankees win!

It was a great game.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Let's win this thing

We beat them once before when it mattered. Let's do it again.

Friday, June 04, 2010

World Cup fever. Catch it!

I always thought our Directv "fourth wall" ads were pretty well done but this little Adidas number my old friend Evan Brown and the folks at Sid Lee did kinda snakes them all...Star Wars style. And it's got Daft Punk in it. So there's that too.

Touche, Adidas. Touche.