Big dreams for elite U.S. 'football' team
Sports hold a strange power within them. Just weeks ago, we were in London doing our first European concerts. The Detroit Lions were on "Monday Night Football" and were 4-0 and the Detroit Tigers were in the American League Championship Series.
Our hotel provided Internet only if you were in the lobby, so we sat up until 6 a.m. U.K. time rooting for our teams -- and beyond that, our city. It was a proud moment for us, and was further bolstered by the teams' matching victories.
Something that struck us as we watched the Lions' Monday night game there, though, was that the English hotel guests seemed to be far more knowledgeable about "American football" than we anticipated. They knew who Megatron is, and that the Lions are a team on the rise.
We came to the conclusion that the British interest in American football was likely attributed to this past weekend, when the NFL had its annual game at Wembley Stadium. It's something that is catching on all over the world, even as it has dominated the U.S. sports world for the past decade.
Josh (one half of our band) played college soccer in the United States, and was quite prepared to talk football (soccer) with the locals. We wondered if American football could ever overtake the local brand of football in popularity. We also wondered what the hell has happened to Arsenal. And if the billionaire owners of a few teams were inspiring the same amount of vitriol that the Yankees seem to evoke in a salary cap-free league.
At first, people were shocked that we were interested in soccer. We countered by citing a phrase we'd heard in an old commercial that ran around the time of the last World Cup -- "It's the beautiful game," we said.
But it wasn't until we saw a bit more of Europe that we truly understood what that meant.
While we were in Iceland for a festival, we drove around the country a bit. Iceland is a small country -- the size of Kentucky -- and has a population of 300,000. Most of the population resides around Reykjavik, which is the largest city in Iceland. As we drove around we kept seeing little field houses with stadiums. It was explained to us that each little neighborhood in Reykjavik has its own professional soccer team. The people in the towns show up at every game and cheer on their teams.
Iceland is not a powerhouse in soccer. In fact, only a few Icelandic players have ever been good enough to play in the top professional leagues in Europe. As Americans, we found it strange that anyone could root for a team that was so far from elite. It would be like rooting for a Class A minor league baseball team even though a Major League Baseball game was on TV.
But the Icelandic people get just as into their local leagues as we are into the Lions. They began asking us why soccer isn't bigger in America, and why it hasn't caught on here like it has everywhere else in the world.
Suddenly it occurred to us that our attitude was probably much like many other Americans, and that this might be precisely why soccer remains an also-ran in our country. Americans are used to seeing the best compete against the best, and our best athletes simply don't play soccer.
In Iceland and much of the world, the best athletes grow up playing soccer. It makes sense then that people are so consumed with professional soccer there, as it's the best against the best.
We started thinking about what American soccer might look like if all kids grew up playing soccer instead of football or basketball. What if Barry Sanders had been a central midfielder? What if former Olympic champion sprinter Michael Johnson had been a center forward, or Magic Johnson had been a goalkeeper?
Here's a theoretical list that we came up with, of what a current USA soccer roster could look like if all of our best athletes played soccer:
Goalkeeper: Dwight Howard -- He's giant and has a massive vertical. He could cover the net better than any active keeper in the world.
Defense: Charles Woodson, Ben Wallace, Rajon Rondo, Ray Lewis -- This would be the fastest, biggest and most athletic defense the world has ever seen. The depth we'd have would be astounding.
Midfield: Adrian Peterson, Maurice Jones-Drew, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade -- The foot skills that these guys possess in their chosen sports are incredible, and we believe that they would translate into amazing ball skill. They are all incredible athletes who would pose constant threats going forward with the ball on their feet.
Forward: LeBron James, Calvin "Megatron" Johnson -- You need guys who are fast and can get up in the air and head the ball at the net. This would be the most impressive group of strikers the world has ever seen.
The fact of the matter is that Americans don't typically see the beauty in soccer. Couple that with the fact that salaries are so high in baseball, basketball and football and it seems unlikely that our "dream team" scenario will ever come to fruition. But it would be a fun World Cup to watch if it ever did.
This season, as we watch the NFL and NCAA football games, we'll feel the comfort of being in the country we were raised in, and we'll constantly picture the players in Team USA soccer uniforms.
Joshua Epstein and Daniel Zott of Dale Earnhardt Jr. Jr. are contributing a bi-weekly sports blog for ESPN Music. The Detroit indie dance-pop -- or hip-hop folk -- duo just released "It's A Corporate World," and they might soon be making a pit stop in a town near you.
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