Canales Daily: Speed Is In the Eye Of The Beholder

Cristiano Ronaldo versus Marvell Wynne in a dead sprint - how a recent friendly proved one theory on the outcome wouldn't happen.
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.

Looking 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."

"Of 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.

"Well," 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."

Even 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."

I 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.

After 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 more agreement.

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.

On 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.

But 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.

Sure, 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.

If 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 Wynne.

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 North America

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