July 2 – 2007
If you are a reader of sportsblogs, you have no doubt been exposed to Adidas’ new “football vs. futbol” ad-campaign. You know the one: an impossibly ripped Reggie Bush tries his hand at free kicks and goalkeeping, while an impossibly effeminate David Beckham tugs at Bush’s belt and plays dress-up in full pads. Adidas seems to hope the spot will leave American viewers with a joint appreciation for these games that share a name and little else. But “futbol,” with its slight build and peroxide hairdo, exits the encounter looking mostly gay.
Why Adidas wants to throw its ad dollars into the chasm that separates soccer and football is beyond me, and I won’t try to dissect the American soccer-psyche’s need for approval from American football. But the occasion of the Becks-Bush video allows me to address the following, evidently false premise regarding soccer and football:
- If America’s best athletes chose to play soccer instead of football (or basketball), the US would win the World Cup.
My sample includes two of America’s best athletes who decided to play soccer: Oguchi Onyewu and Marvell Wynne.
After watching these paragons of American athleticism through one Gold Cup and 1/3 of a Copa America qualifying round, I have come to the following conclusion: they are not very good at soccer. Or rather, they are not so good as the clearly less athletic defenders at the disposal of Bob Bradley, including (but not limited to) the skinny Jewish kid and the oafish 30 year-old.
The promise of sprinter-like speed, Herculean strength, and delicate skill was supposedly the grail of American soccer. US Soccer coaches, especially, waited with crown and sceptre to corronate the would be wide-receiver who left hash-marks for touch-lines. That moment is upon us, and behold: the sheer clumsiness of it.
Both Onyewu and Wynne look desperately in need of a game that is less dynamic (I don’t mean that as a slight, yet we can all agree that the permutations for a given play in football are less than an equivalent time in soccer). It’s not that the game is too fast for these gentlemen, but rather that it is too fast in too many directions. Gooch simply comes away looking too large, too strong. Wynne, on the other hand, will have you marveling at his speed…as he chases the player who just worked his way behind him. Both of these gifted athletes are serious liabilities when the game turns technical.
For further proof of our misplaced hope, turn an eye towards the underfed, positively brilliant backline of Argentina. What’s Heinze’s “forty” time? How much can Ayala bench? Who cares, for they are at all times organized and technically superb.
The idea of the football player cum footballer is a nice one, but for every Titus Bramble there is…well…a Titus Bramble – sheer brilliance canceled out by utter disaster. Perhaps the world class soccer player who can carry ball for the Chiefs is out there, but I am closer to doubting it. Adidas can force Becks and Bush to flirt all day and the fact won’t change: Becks would not last until 2nd down and Reggie would go nowhere really, really fast.
Our game is a funny one and, strangely enough, Gooch and Wynne may yet succeed – by becoming less athletic. But that won’t sell shoes…so, until then, maybe Adidas can give Gilbert Arenas a call.