Like most people, I have been watching The Last Dance and reveling over just how good Michael Jordan was. Living in Ireland Basketball wasn’t that big of a sport and I want to say my first sighting of Jordan was from a poster my cousin owned. He had gotten into the sport somehow (probably the 1992 Olympics) and had a picture of Michael as a Chicago Bull lining his bedroom wall. It wasn’t something that grasped my attention for long though as I probably returned to my soccer filled life.
Actually, if memory serves, I think I was more aware of Dennis Rodman due to his publicity stunts with World Championship Wrestling and becoming a part of the infamous New World Order. Back then I was a huge WWE fan and remember a friend showing me this ‘other’ company with Diesel, Razor Ramon, and Hulk Hogan amongst others. The one that stuck out though was the guy with the piercings whom I’d never seen before and didn’t look like a ‘wrestler’. Turns out it was Rodman.
As I’m watching The Last Dance though something clicks with me. Soccer is not big in America because they haven’t had (and still don’t have) a Michael Jordan. Let me clarify a little bit. They don’t have a ‘greatest to ever play the game’ character like Basketball, Baseball, or Football. Sure you can debate who it is depending on what era you grew up in or who your personal favorite was but ultimately the player you are thinking of would be at least in the top ten.
With soccer players, I find it difficult to place any of the USMNT past or present in a top ten. I can’t even find a place for them in the top 100 and I’m clutching at straws to get them in the top 1000. I have excluded the USWNT as they could take over the top ten women soccer players by itself. However there are few who are household names outside America and until the women’s game gets the recognition it deserves with equal pay they will continue to be undervalued.
The best the US has to offer at the moment in regards to ‘greatest’ is Landon Donovan and despite all the records he may have set for the Men’s National Team to put his name in the same breath as Pele, Diego Maradona, Johan Cruyff, Marco Van Basten, Franco Baresi, Paul Scholes, Franz Beckenbauer, Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo or Xavi is a disservice to the game.
Christian Pulisic could be the great hope but let’s face it he’s already behind Kylian Mbappe, Marcus Rashford and Frenkie De Jong in his own age class never mind having to then knock off Kevin de Bruyne, Eden Hazard and Neymar. He’s good and will only get better but when it’s all said and done will he be in the top 100 greatest players? Most likely not.
If America ever produces that quality of player, which is unlikely until the way the game is set up changes, the sport could explode in this country, and maybe in years to come we’ll be watching that player’s documentary. I’m just not holding my breath.