As you may have heard, the World Cup begins today. Every four years the world's most important tournament takes over the global sports scene (and leaves most NFL fans confused as to what the fuss is all about). The World Cup kicks off today as Croatia takes on host country Brazil, a heavy favorite to win it all.
While I'm obviously a diehard NFL fan and and rabid supporter of the Minnesota Vikings, I have a confession to make: I'm also a gigantic soccer fanatic. (Just like my fellow Daily Norseman writer Ted!*) I started playing when I was 6, kept playing through high school and college, and still play at least once a week in both men's and co-ed leagues in the Twin Cities. I regularly watch English Premier League games on Saturday and Sunday mornings. I closely follow the European Champions League. I even watch MLS games, even though the stateside professional soccer league is a step down from the higher quality across the pond. (But it's getting better! Plus I have to keep watching in case we get a team in Minnesota in a few years.)
* = Ted actually detests soccer and can't understand why everyone is getting so excited for the World Cup. He would also like you to vacate yourself from his lawn.
But when it comes to my passion for soccer, everything pales in comparison to the US Men's National Team. Something about the mix of patriotism and my favorite sport to play always gets me. I fell in love with the denim-clad 1994 World Cup team as a 13-year-old and haven't quit since. (I even had a custom Alexi Lalas jersey made to wear for this year's World Cup.) How big of a fan am I? Put it this way: if I had to choose between seeing the Vikings winning a Super Bowl and the USMNT winning a World Cup, I'd have to think long and hard before making my decision.
Sadly, it doesn't look like either is in the immediate future. The Vikings are probably at least a couple of years away from contending and the US team likely doesn't stand a chance in their "Group of Death". Even if they somehow manage to make it out of their group that consists of superpowers Germany and Portugal (along with Ghana, the team that has eliminated the US from the past two World Cups), they would still have to win four more games against teams that would all be heavy favorites. It would basically be like asking the 2013 Texans to beat the 2013 Seahawks six straight times. Possible? Sure, but we all know it isn't happening.
Instead of dwelling on the respective minuscule chances of my two favorite sports teams winning it all, let's try something a little more fun: what would the Minnesota Vikings look like if they fielded a World Cup soccer team? Before we can theorize about where Vikings players would line up on a soccer pitch, I'll give you a crash course on how soccer teams line up in the first place.
The most common formation in soccer is the 4-4-2, which is four defenders, four midfielders, and two forwards. It's pretty straightforward. Four men in back on defense, four midfielders who cover most of the field, and two forwards up top for the attack. It looks like this:
(image via www.soccer-training-methods.com)
But for this hypothetical Vikings lineup I'm going to go with the formation that my beloved US Men's National Team is likely to go with for most of the tournament: 4-2-3-1. The four defenders across the back are about the same, but the midfield is much more versatile. There are two "defensive" midfielders in front of the defense, followed by two outside midfielders and an attacking center midfielder that plays right behind the lone forward:
(image via www.soccer-training-methods.com)
There are advantages and disadvantages to every soccer formation. But since the 4-2-3-1 requires more unique talents that's what we're going with when we translate how the Vikings would field a World Cup squad.
(Soccer note: The USMNT may also use a 4-1-2-1-2 formation depending on how coach Jürgen Klinsmann feels about his team's chances against the world-class teams. But I think you've probably had enough of a soccer lesson on this NFL site for one day.)
Of course every soccer team needs a goalkeeper, so that's where we'll start:
Harrison Smith, Goalkeeper. The goalie is your last line of defense. He has to be athletic, fearless, and willing to sacrifice his body to keep the other team from scoring. He better be the first one to the ball every time it's in his area, or at least make sure nobody on the opposing team gets to it. That sounds just like the responsibility of the Vikings safety, doesn't it?
Xavier Rhodes and Captain Munnerlyn, Outside Backs. In the 4-2-3-1 formation, the outside backs have to be quick and willing to take on the opposing team's biggest threats one-on-one. If they get beat on the outside, you're in big trouble. But if they manage to take the ball away, the outside backs need the speed and awareness to start their team's attack. So in other words, the outside backs are just like cornerbacks. (As a matter of fact, since I play left back in soccer most of the time, I think I'm just going to refer to myself as a shutdown corner from now on. And when I take the ball away from an opposing forward I'm going to yell out "Interception!")
Matt Kalil and John Sullivan, Center Backs. The center backs are the anchors of the defense. If they aren't taking care of business, everything else surrounding them crumbles. Center backs are usually among the largest players on the field yet they still need to be athletic enough to keep up with the speed and agility of the opposing attackers. Oftentimes if the center backs are having a great game, you'll barely take notice of them because they're doing all the dirty work and allowing the rest of their team to shine. This is why Kalil and Sullivan make perfect center backs for our theoretical soccer team.
Teddy Bridgewater and Matt Cassel, Defensive Midfielders. Defensive midfielders rarely score themselves but they are crucial to distributing the ball into places where their teammates can. They need to be able to see the field and make the right decisions since they have the ball a lot. If they can't hold onto the ball, it's likely that the other team is going to dominate both the time of possession and the score. Of course you'd never start two quarterbacks in the NFL, but since defensive midfielder translates so well to quarterback and we're not sure who will start in Minnesota, I decided to use both Bridgewater and Cassel here. (I could also have used a middle linebacker, but that position is even more uncertain for the Vikings right now.)
Cordarrelle Patterson and Everson Griffen, Outside Midfielders. The outside mids usually need to cover the most ground on the field, so speed around the edges is a must. They need to be able to make big plays when called upon even though they might not always get the ball as a result of their runs. And who better to wreak havoc on the outside than the über-athletic combo of Patterson and Griffen?
Greg Jennings, Attacking Midfielder. The attacking midfielder, or "number ten" role as it's often called in soccer, is one of the most crucial positions on the field. They need to be a scoring threat, but more importantly they need to know exactly where on the field they should be at all times. The attacking midfielder makes big plays and makes sure his teammates are in position to do the same. Jennings is a veteran presence and crucial cog to the Vikings offense, similar to USMNT number ten Michael Bradley.
Adrian Peterson, Forward. This was the easiest choice of the bunch. In the 4-2-3-1 formation, the forward carries the biggest burden when it comes to scoring. They are often outnumbered on the attack but it's their job to hold the ball, wait for their teammates to fill in, and strike at the perfect time. The best forwards in the world make the impossible seem ordinary with a rare mix of world-class athleticism and unfathomable agility. The other ten players on the field can be playing great, but without a forward to finish it off the best you can usually hope for is a scoreless draw.
In another life, Adrian Peterson probably could have been one of the best soccer forwards in the world. As a matter of fact, is it too late to trade out Jozy Altidore and put AP in his place? I'd like the USMNT's chances in Brazil a lot better if Peterson was flying around the pitch.
Do you think other Vikings players would be better suited in certain positions? Let us know in the comments. And if you want actual World Cup coverage, be sure to check out SB Nation's amazing World Cup Hub Page.