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.