"Oh, right, the centennial," was what I thought after three or four days of lying awake at night wondering where all these US all-time teams were coming from. I thought people were being all shock talk radio host or something. "That's a good enough excuse. Now I can pick my own team, and no one will accuse me of trying to get cheap attention!" Although it's going to be hard to top Hope Solo carping at Julie Foudy's picks. (Sorry about the obligatory ad the Worldwide Leader always sticks on its videos.) There are plenty of reasons that this is a wonderful, amazing time to be an American soccer fan, but near the top of the list is the privilege of watching Hope Solo's ongoing journey into a truly, hilariously horrible human being. The only advice I can give Hope is to commit her inevitable multiple felonies while she still has the money to afford a good lawyer. The way she's going, she's not going to want to be met at the bottom of the hill by a public defender.
But I digress. A few weeks ago the Total Soccer Show had an all-time US draft, and I thought about challenging other bloggers here to a similar draft. Except (1) you don't end up with a best XI, some of the best players and guys you're settling for, and (2) there are going to be formation issues. There would be anyway, but when there's a run on wing backs and you're down to Burns or Agoos - well, that's an empty feeling.
And once things started going wrong for me, I'd draft Gat Miller and the rest of the Boston Oneida team, then spend the rest of the draft going "Never lost a game. Never gave up a point. Never gave up a goal. My team is invincible," until someone finally told me they didn't actually play soccer, and then I'd just pout the rest of the day.
So I'm just gonna pick some dudes. I'm going 4-4-2, because that was the position we used in 2002, and anyway going 2-3-5 just because it's easier to pick forwards isn't the cowboy way.
Goalkeeper: Oh, this is the other reason I'd be bad in a draft situation. We're SO DEEP at keeper, is the conventional wisdom. But I need Brad Friedel. If you look at World Cup success, and Friedel's 2002 performance is so overpowering, I can't settle for the single game heroics of Borghi, Keller, Howard and Meola. I must have Friedel. I don't care about his accent. I don't care that I was there for Keller's game in LA over Romario. I don't care that Borghi and Meola beat England. I don't care that Friedel recommended Carlo Cudicini to Bruce Arena. But drafting Friedel first is a great way to make sure that a lot of my faves at thinner positions are gone almost instantly.
Left back: Paul Caligiuri. See, if I don't draft Cal, and draft his ass early? I'm down to Bocanegra playing out of position, Hejduk (whom I love, and would be a good pick, but best of all-time?), or sticking one of the 1950's team into a position that didn't exist. Much easier to just order these guys to report to my team. Which, as longtime Crew fans will attest, is exactly how Caligiuri wants to be treated.
Central defenders: Marcelo Balboa and - crap. I was so, so set on Alexi Lalas out of sheer defiance. He was so good in 1994 and 1995, and so much better in big games than people remember. But...Eddie Pope, man. Or Harry Keough. Screw it, I'll die on Lalas Hill. I know Lalas would still be on the board late in a draft, though, as everyone rushed to get Bocanegra because soccer didn't exist before 2007.
Right back: I'm kind of reaching and cheating here...but odds are, so are you, if you're not picking Cherundolo or Hejduk. One of the things I strongly believe is that the best player of one era would be at least as good in another era, because that same player would have had the same positive (or negative) environment. I also don't think that comparing World Cup records should trump the achievements of the great players in earlier eras. I think if, say, the best player of the 1950's would have come up in the MLS era, he'd be amazingly famous. And even though this position didn't really exist in 1950 - they played a 2-3-5 against England - I think right midfield is close enough for government work. So I'm putting Walter Bahr here. Otherwise I'd have to pick another captain, wouldn't I?
Left wing: Go and read some of your fellow posters. A LOT of people are putting Dempsey here, which I regard as cheating. Alexi Lalas put Tab Ramos here, which, c'mon. Although maybe they're not playing a 4-4-2. I should get off their case. Anyway, I really see the temptation. I'm picking Cobi Jones, our all-time caps leader, and feel like I'm settling.
Defensive midfielder: Oops. Can I get away with Claudio Reyna, or do I need to pick a proper defensive midfielder? I can't, can I? Wow, I'm being a hypocrite. One of the things I detest about best XI teams is how they have no one in the middle who plays any defense, which means that on the field they would end up like - well, how did Joe-Max Moore and Tab Ramos do against Iran? Okay, well, this is where I'd put Michael Bradley, who I don't quite have on the field otherwise, and that'll fend off some criticism. (EDIT - except for people who want to criticize me for not having Dooley here.)
Central midfielder: Crap, crap, crap. Reyna or Ramos. I'm already going to - well, hold on one second.
Right wing: Landon Donovan, because he can play anywhere. He and Cobi can switch around, even. I'm going to need to keep Cobi on the field, probably, because I don't think any of the other nominees for AM could co-exist, and I'm trying to pick a team that could actually win a game. Getting back to the draft situation - I don't know what the hell you do if you don't have the number one pick overall and you don't stick Landon here to cover the hole. I suppose you could bareface Bahr or Hugo Perez, or move an AM over here and hope for the best. But this is where Landon lined up against Mexico in 2002, so this is where I'm putting him.
Central midfielder: Ramos, Reyna or Dempsey. I forgot about Dempsey, he deserves consideration. I don't really think I could stick any of these guys in Cobi's position. Tab Ramos was so, so damn good once upon a time. If Leonardo misses with that elbow, this is a much easier pick. Claudio Reyna wasn't an "attacking" midfielder, but I think he probably controlled the game better than anyone else in US history. Right up until his leg gave out against Ghana. I think he's the smartest choice here. Clint Dempsey is too streaky, and I'd like to that the Seattle Sounders for making this opinion a lot more defensible.
Forward: Finally, an easy pick. No, I never saw Billy Gonsalves play. I'm sure he'd do just fine. Although maybe he was just Patenaude's caddy - Bert was the World Cup hat trick hero, after all. Until someone starts streaming old ASL games so I can actually compare, I'm going with Babe Ruth.
Forward: Boy, am I glad Eric Wynalda doesn't read my blog. But I'd even rather face Waldo's wrath than bench Brian McBride.
Only four Galaxy players. I think I showed admirable restraint.
Oh, a women's team. Hope Solo is right about a few things. The 1999 team is overrated, and should not be used as a measuring stick. The 1996 Olympic team should be. Midfield of Akers, Hamm, Foudy and Lilly. That'll do for starters. I love Shannon Boxx more than anything, but she'll understand. It also gives me room up top for both Wambach, who I really can't justify leaving off for April Heinrichs, despite the huge temptation, and Jennings-Gabarra, who gives me an excuse not to buy into the Morgan hype or delve into old Milbrett controversies. Chastain, Rampone, Fawcett and Overbeck can be my backline (with apologies to Kate Markgraf, but Overbeck was also a starter on the 1991 team, which also doesn't get enough love), and...
...I think Hope Solo was a better goalkeeper, because she had similar success with slightly less accomplished players in front of her. We'll never know if she could have beaten Brazil in 2007, but she was astonishing a year later in the Olympics - and that team didn't even have Abby Wambach. If I was actually building a team, I'd take Scurry, but since I don't have to worry about locker room harmony, I'll pick Solo.
And I will regret it.
I already kinda do.