One of the biggest complaints of American soccer fans is the fact that the best athletes in America don't go on to play soccer, so we'll never know what could have been had some of the best stars in American sports decided to kick around a ball as a kid rather than choose their respective sports.
Freakish athletes like Calvin Johnson and LeBron James might look a bit out of place on a football pitch, but imagine the sort of things they could do if they were trained and molded into footballers of the international variety. And that got me thinking... what if the Bucs were a soccer team?
I don't really know much of anything about how the members of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers actually play soccer, but using the things they do well and their athletic traits we see on display, here's an attempt to assemble a squad using members of the 2014 Bucs.
Goalkeeper: Gerald McCoy
He might not have the perfect build for a soccer player, and especially not to play in goal, but if you want a player with a uniquely good first step and short-area quickness, Gerald is your man.
Last season, there were several instances where McCoy seemed to know the snap count of the offense better than the linemen he lined up against, shooting gaps and getting a head start before the quarterback even started his drop back. It's this quick-twitch awareness and ability to predict and anticipate that would make McCoy the perfect keeper.
He's got good enough height, and he might need to shed a few pounds to be nimble to every corner of the net, but I feel good about McCoy's ability to react to any shot that comes his way, and get his big, strong hands on the ball.
On the outsides of the defense, we'll have Johnson and Foster, and for similar reasons. Both players are at their best on the outside, where they can get downhill and use their tenacity and quickness to track down the ball or make a run forward.
Johnson starts on the right, obviously, so Mason would play on the left, allowing both to stick to the side of the field and not have to worry as much about lateral movement. Both are quicker than the average defender, so they'll be able to get up the field and join the offense as well as tackling opposing players coming down the flank.
Seferian-Jenkins and Gholston man the middle of the defense, and will have slightly different roles. Seferian-Jenkins will play similar to David Luiz of Chelsea, and be allowed to roam forward a bit and use his athleticism to help start attacking moves. Gholston, on the other hand, will be a limited defender who serves as the last line of defense. Both players will be strong when called upon to defend anything in the air, and are quick enough to keep up with shifty strikers.
It may seem odd to put the lanky, slow Glennon on the soccer pitch, but this is more of a mental decision than a physical one. My preference in soccer is to see a team hold onto the ball for as much as possible, and make the other team chase and defend for as long as possible. This is what Spain do on the national level to great success, and it's led to club success for Barcelona for years.
So Glennon will play the deep-lying midfield role, where he'll get the ball from the defense, and make a smart, safe pass to continue the offense. He'll be the primary outlet for passes going forward and backward, and he'll simply be asked to make the simple, easy pass as often as possible to make sure the ball stays in our possession. He won't have a ton of other responsibilities, as he'll be asked to help out the defense, but mainly his job is to be available to make a smart, low-risk pass to keep the ball moving.
The other midfielders will bring a spark to the team and provide more options going forward. Lavonte David will be the box-to-box midfielder, chasing back to help against a counter attack one minute, and sprinting forward to make a run towards goal the next. He's got the vision and quickness needed to be a menace moving in either direction.
Doug Martin, on the other hand, will be more of an attacking threat, looking to find the big play and the killer pass or run to break down the defense all at once. He's short, tough, and has an eye for the huge moment, so he'll be asked to bomb forward whenever he spots an opportunity.
Wingers: Robert Herron and Alterraun Verner
I think it's obvious why Robert Herron is here. He's fast. Really, really fast. Any player on the team could just lob the ball out in front of Herron and allow him to chase it down, creating instant offense for the team. He's able to change direction well, too, so he can step inside when he has the ball and bring an extra element to the position.
Verner, on the other hand, will be more of a versatile winger, roaming inside and outside and facilitating the offense more. He's capable of doing a lot of different things as a corner, and would be a quick study for this hybrid winger role as more of a playmaker than a pure speedster. He'll play more like a David Silva or Pablo Hernandez and less like a Theo Walcott, for instance.
Striker: Mike Evans
I don't want a timid striker. I don't want someone who will hesitate or be scared for even a moment. And that's why Mike Evans is the obvious choice to play up top on this team. He's big and strong, but he's also confident and cocky. When the ball is in the air, he knows he's going to win it. When the ball is at his feet, he'll be sure that he's going to score.
He's quick and strong enough to be a threat in every aspect of the attack, and I struggle to see how a team would defend him once he learned how to keep possession of the ball in a different sport than football, where he has very sure hands.
- Dashon Goldson and Mark Barron both have the size and strength to play defender or defensive midfield when the team needs a bit of extra help at the back.
- Adrian Clayborn and Demar Dotson would also be available to come in and play central defender, as they're both strong enough to hold their own, but might not be quick enough to handle a full game of chasing down strikers.
- Vincent Jackson is the ideal striker to come off the bench, as he would bring a veteran presence and a good size/speed combo to replace Evans in a crucial moment.
- Johnthan Banks could play any of the outside positions (winger or fullback) as he's somewhat quick and somewhat strong, but doesn't have any strengths at either spot. A good, versatile backup.
- Josh McCown would be the backup goalkeeper, as he's shown to be surprisingly athletic, and he'd be a field general, keeping the defenders in line and keeping the team organized.