By Andrea Canales
Sitting in the press box before a U.S. Men's National Team game at the
start of the year, I was engaged in the sort of idle, story-swapping
chit-chat that many use to fill the time before a match.
over the starting roster, I mentioned to my conversation partner, a
long-time media veteran of many USMNT matches, that I believed the
velocity of one particular player, Marvell Wynne, could affect the
match versus Sweden.
"Yeah, Marvell is plenty fast," was the response, "But this isn't exactly Sweden's best out there, either."
course not," I agreed. "But although Marvell can't match up in
technique with a lot of skilled players, I'd put his speed on par with
anyone out there."
I didn't realize I'd made such an earth-shattering statement, but my companion stared at me, agape.
"You mean anyone in MLS, right?" He clarified for me.
I shook my head. "No, I think Marvell is up there with any soccer player in the world, speed-wise."
The look on the face of this press box acquaintance changed from surprise to one of pity.
he said carefully, "You haven't covered enough games abroad, then. You
don't get a sense of how fast these top European players are from the
television. They're incredible. Cristiano Ronaldo is amazingly fast.
He'd leave Marvell in the dust."
Now it was my turn to be
skeptical. "Really? I mean, of course Cristiano Ronaldo is faster with
the ball at his feet than Marvell in the same situation. Ronaldo's ball
control is awesome. But in a game, if Ronaldo has the ball at his feet,
Marvell doesn't, so he can catch him, or at least stay with him."
as I spoke, I suddenly had the feeling that by starting to lean on
unprovable hypotheticals, our debate was sinking to "My dad can beat up
your dad" territory.
Yet my opponent wasn't averse to that.
"Let me tell you," he stated. "If they ran a fifty-yard dash, Cristiano
Ronaldo would beat Marvell Wynne by five yards. You think Wynne's
really fast because all you see him against is MLS competition. You
just haven't seen enough of what top soccer is really about."
turned to my laptop, a classic technique to segue from an unproductive
conversation to something else. I managed a feeble, "Five yards? I
don't think so," but otherwise didn't belabor the point.
all, without specific statistics to prove either of us wrong (50 yard
dash splits for both Wynne and Ronaldo, timed by an objective electronic starter on a day with no wind), we were both going by our
own human observational sense and judgment.
What puzzled me
was that there could be such a large discrepancy between the two in an
area that seemed less open to interpretation. I can understand why
people argue endlessly, for example, over whether Maradona was better
than Pele, because not only were the two players of different eras, but
also, so much depends on personal preference of their various styles.
However, in assessing something as basic as speed, I'd have expected
One point I had to concede was that yes, I do
watch a lot of MLS games. However, I've seen soccer live in matches in
many different countries, including the World Cup. I didn't think I was
deluded in my evaluation of either Wynne or Ronaldo's speed.
the other hand, could a veteran watcher of international soccer be so
off in his assessment? Perhaps the MLS label added such a handicap to
his estimation of players that they seemed substantially slower.
the odds that I'd feel any vindication depended on either those timed
runs, or Wynne and Ronaldo playing against each other, which didn't
look to happen any time soon.
Except it did last night.
I watched the friendly between Real Madrid and Toronto FC for many of
the reasons that thousands of others did - to see how the new
galacticos were meshing. Kaka, Karim Benzema, Raul, Cristiano Ronaldo
and others on the Madrid squad were amazing to view. Their technique
was far above that of the Toronto squad, as their combination passes
befuddled the defense repeatedly. Especially for preseason, the
athleticism of the Real Madrid players was also impressive.
However, I had my eye on one match-up in particular. Again and again, Wynne defended against Ronaldo.
anyone who watched the game last night believes he'd ever be left
behind by five yards in a short sprint race between the two, they are
absolutely blinded by MLS hatred.
Ronaldo has an impressive
bag of tricks in his arsenal, and versus Wynne, he had to rely on the
ones other than speed, because he simply couldn't use that to shake
Yes, of course the top players in Europe are far
superior to those in MLS in many, many ways. Also, there is much more
to soccer success than the physical factors.
Yet I know how
the Toronto fans felt when their one scrappy goal went in versus Madrid
in the otherwise comprehensive 5-1 win for the Spanish squad. They
celebrated a feeling, however slight, of victory, irrespective of the
bigger picture. At least in one aspect, their team had been competitive
and made a mark.
As for me and the Wynne/Ronaldo conundrum,
well, I realize that some really do see MLS with such distortion that
it is a fun-house mirror skewed vision. There are a lot of areas where
the league needs to improve, but to discount how far it has come or to
discredit the quality that does exist is not awareness of a higher
level of the sport.
That's one reason why I don't think these
exhibition friendlies are worthless, because sometimes, it opens a few
eyes up to see MLS alongside these top squads. Despite my conviction
about Wynne being at least as rapid as Ronaldo on the field, I didn't
really know if he was.
Now I know, and knowing is half the battle.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com North America
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