View Full Version : Restoring the pride: Building a U.S. team for a fictional football World Cup

06-16-2006, 08:06 PM
Hey guys. I'm sure some of you already read this, but I decided to put this here for those who might've missed it. Have fun with reading and post your opinions as I'm most interested in. :wink02:


You hated it, didn't you? You got all fired up to watch Team USA take on the Czech Republic in its World Cup opener on Monday, and five minutes in you realized that despite the pregame hype, our shrimpy, wimpy boys in blue were overmatched on international sport's grandest stage.

Playing hooky from work to watch Americans get punked is hardly a worthy enterprise, and unless something changes in a hurry against the supremely skilled Italians, it's time to swallow that national pride and start showing some pro-continent love for our friends south of the border.

In the meantime, you can't help but fantasize. What if there was a World Cup for football, rather than f?tbol? Who would we send, and how dominant would we be?

As your one-man selection committee, here's a 40-player squad that could restore American sporting honor while overcoming powerful foes like Canada (Jesse Palmer back to pass, Nate Burleson going deep ... oooh, it's Steve Nash on the end around), England (Osi Umenyiora coming off the edge, Wayne Rooney barreling up the middle) and Nigeria (Samkon Gado and Christian Okoye as split backs).

Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Matt Hasselbeck. Brady starts and finishes every big game, and Manning will obviously get his snaps, but who do we throw out there for that opening-round clash with the United Arab Emirates? With Carson Palmer rehabbing and Donovan McNabb coming off an injury-marred '05 season, I'm tempted to take Jake Delhomme to give this team a little Cajun attitude. But instead I'm going with Hasselbeck, to show the world that like Ronaldo, Zidane, Koller and so many others, bald Americans can ball, too.

Running Backs
LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams and Mack Strong. Running behind the aptly named Strong, LT will have his choice of Panama Canal-sized lanes, and the smooth, versatile James is the ideal third-down back. But we need a beast to get the tough, inside yards, and instead of going with Jamal Lewis (looked washed up in '05), Shaun Alexander (lost me with his towel-waving, post-concussion giddiness during the divisional playoff game) or Larry Johnson (needs to prove he's not a one-year wonder), I'm recalling Williams from Canada. Then again, maybe I should see if Barry Sanders is up for playing.

Wide Receivers
Chad Johnson, Hines Ward, Marvin Harrison, Steve Smith, Keyshawn Johnson. The first guy I'm picking is Ward, for two reasons: to keep him from becoming South Korea's star quarterback, and to infuse the offense with some serious attitude. Chad Johnson gets the other starting nod, partly because he's amazing, and partly because I can't wait to see the touchdown celebrations he tailors to each opponent. (For the Romanians, perhaps he'll swing from the crossbar as if he's Nadia Comaneci.) Harrison stretches the defense and serves as Manning's personal touchdown target, while Smith works triple duty as the return man on kickoffs and punts. Keyshawn is there to make the tough catches and to maul people on the backside of running plays. As for the exclusion of T.O. and Randy Moss, isn't there already enough ill will toward us in the international community?

Tight Ends
Antonio Gates and Alge Crumpler. While Gates is more formidable in the air than a Czech forward (oops, sorry to bring up that mess again), Crumpler is the rare tight end who blocks as well as he catches. And he's great in the locker room. So, to recap: Alge, yes; Moss, no.

Offensive Linemen
Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Olin Kreutz, Alan Faneca, Kyle Turley, Jonathan Ogden, Mike Wahle. I realize I've excluded three great Kansas City linemen (Willie Roaf, Will Shields, Brian Waters) while including a recent signee who may not even crack the Chiefs' starting lineup in '06. But Turley is a pure right tackle who would rather chew off his arm than let down his country, and I'd love to see him debate world politics with the folks across the line of scrimmage. As the Chinese are sure to find out, the underrated Wahle is simply great.

Defensive Linemen
Dwight Freeney, Richard Seymour, Casey Hampton, Michael Strahan, Jason Taylor, Marcus Stroud. With this crew in place, the line of scrimmage is one U.S. border that will need no extra patrolling, and I can promise that Bruce Arena won't be accusing the Freeney-led pass rush of lacking aggressiveness.

Joey Porter, Brian Urlacher, Derrick Brooks, Keith Brooking, Ray Lewis, Keith Bulluck. Playing the Charles Barkley role to the hilt, Porter flattens a pipsqueak tight end from Angola, then trash-talks as the officials call for a stretcher. Just for good measure, Porter gets in the face of his own teammate, Lewis, on the way back to the huddle. It's awfully hard to leave Lofa Tatupu, Zach Thomas and Shawne Merriman off this team, but this group provides the perfect combination of savvy and savage intensity.

Defensive Backs
Champ Bailey, Chris McAlister, Troy Polamalu, Ed Reed, Ronde Barber, John Lynch. Bailey can man up against the best sprinter Jamaica has to offer. McAlister is a physical pest, and experience gives him the edge over DeAngelo Hall. Barber, meanwhile, is the classic Cover-Two opportunist. And don't even get me started on my trio of safeties: One hit from Lynch could transform an opponent's game plan from high-tech to Third World.

Adam Vinatieri. Canada takes Mike Vanderjagt, we take his replacement in Indy, who just happens to be the most clutch kicker in NFL history. Ah, Vinatieri. Smells like ... victory.

Todd Sauerbrun. When he forced that fumble on a kickoff return in the playoffs against the Patriots, it pretty much clinched his spot.

Coaching Staff
Here's where it gets brutal, so we're parceling out the big jobs (as opposed to Parcells-ing them out, which we don't think the world can stomach -- no pun intended.) Mike Shanahan handles the offensive game plans, Bill Belichick the defense, with each man granted full autonomy. Joe Gibbs, the nominal head coach, handles clock management and crucial in-game decisions, with Jeff Fisher serving as his ubiquitous understudy. And quality-control coach Bill Cowher gives the speeches and roams the sidelines spitting instructions to his charges. Throw in Jon Gruden (quarterbacks), Herm Edwards (running backs), Mike Martz (wide receivers), Ken Whisenhunt (tight ends), Alex Gibbs (offensive line), Donnie Henderson (defensive line), Marvin Lewis (linebackers) and Tony Dungy (defensive backs), and our Cup runneth over.

Other Thoughts on the Globe's Greatest Sporting Event
As disheartening as the U.S.A.'s opening-game flop was, the commentary that followed on ESPN2 was refreshingly bold and stark. Watching Julie Foudy, Alexi Lalas and Eric Wynalda go after Arena and his players in a reasoned and pointed fashion made me ponder how woefully inadequate some of our prominent NFL analysts would likely be under similar circumstances.... How come every time Italy's Luca Toni makes a run at the goal, my taste buds tingle and my stomach starts to rumble?... Of all the dudes I would love to party with on the streets of Asunci?n next month, Paraguay defender Carlos Gamarra would rank last on my list.