As part of its centennial celebrations, the U.S. Soccer Federation conducted a poll to determine the best players who ever suited up for the red, white and blue. The result was a star-studded collection that is worthy of honor, but falls short of the stated goal.
Brad Friedel was the top vote getter at the goalkeeping position, with a backline of Steve Cherundolo, Eddie Pope, Marcelo Balboa and Carlos Bocanegra. The midfield consists of Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, while Brian McBride and Eric Wynalda were the voters' choices at the forward position.
These are all great players who achieved much during their time on the national team. However, the list only ...view middle of the document...
Would Landon Donovan be even up for consideration as the best player in U.S. history if he spent his prime years in the uniform of the U.S. Navy rather than the national team, as John Souza did?
Soccer's past is dominated by two World Wars and a global depression, while today's stars benefit from vast improvements in transportation and communication. In 2013, the U.S. men played 23 games en route to qualifying for the upcoming World Cup, with every kick viewed on television and instantly analyzed on twitter. That is the same number of matches the team played in virtual obscurity from the foundation of the Federation in 1913 to 1937. What is commonplace today took nearly a quarter-century to accomplish in the early days of the federation!
The Bora Milutinovic era is the most obvious example of this dichotomy. Six of the 11 players honored on the All-Time Best XI benefited from playing under Bora at one point in their career. In his four years in charge, the U.S. played 96 matches - more games than the U.S. played between the 1950 World Cup and the nation's bicentennial in 1976!
How many forgotten players of the past would be considered worthy if the federation gave them the same opportunity as today's stars? Advancements in modern technology and a different world climate have given today's soccer stars a leg up on players who should be legends.
There is an assumption that by virtue of athletic advancements today's players would be superior to those from past eras. It is more likely the stars of the past would have been even more successful if they had the benefits of today's modern training. They were successful for a reason.
Soccer has deep, yet hidden roots in the United States. There was a time in the 1920's and 30's that soccer challenged baseball and college football as an American past-time. The first soccer specific stadiums did not arrive with Major League Soccer. Rather they were located near one-time hotbeds of Fall River, Massachusetts and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
Who are these forgotten legends? There's Billy Gonsalves, who was so good that Brazil's Botafogo tried to sign him after the inaugural World Cup in 1930, as did many Italian teams following the 1934 World Cup. It...