2022 World Cup Preview: Team USA Non-Soccer Starting XI

2022 World Cup Preview: Team USA Non-Soccer Starting XI

This article is part of our World Cup series.

With the Men's 2022 World Cup around the corner, we tasked some of our writers to create their best starting XI of non-soccer athletes for a Team USA squad. Following intense research and discussion (okay, maybe it wasn't that intense and we had some fun with it), RotoWire's AJ Scholz, Ben Novack, Liad Lerner and Ian Faletti filled out a lineup that includes players from the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB, along with an Olympic Figure Skating Gold Medalist. Formation wise, we landed on a 4-2-3-1 that we think will best highlight each player's talents. Of course, this is all for fun. We aren't expecting any of these guys to make a Chad Johnson/Usain Bolt-style move after their respective careers. Got better suggestions? Let's hear them in the comments below. - Scholz

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GK: Connor Hellebuyck: NHL, Winnipeg Jets

This one was about as straightforward as it gets. None of the other major U.S. sports utilize a goalie, so we had to turn to hockey to bring in somebody with experience protecting a net, albeit a significantly larger one without all the padding. You have to go back to 2014 for the last time the NHL sent players to the Olympics, which means Hellebuyck doesn't have a ton of international experience, though he won bronze with Team USA at the 2015 IIHF World Championships. Still, over the past three NHL seasons, only one player has more shutouts than Hellebuyck and it's not even close when you look at just the USA-eligible netminders. -Scholz

RB: Evan McPherson: Cincinnati Bengals (NFL)

Somewhere in this team we needed to find someone with the ability to deliver a good cross and get on free kicks, and well, why not the kicker who sent the Bengals to the Super Bowl? McPherson gets into the team at right-back and is the set-piece specialist. He can be on corners, free kicks and even goal kicks if Hellebuyck isn't comfortable taking them. The best part is that McPherson was a star soccer player growing up and only got into American football kicking to follow in the footsteps of his older brother, Logan. Kicking and soccer runs in this family's blood and he's a lock for the starting XI. -Faletti

CB: LeBron James: Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)

Imagine you're a forward making a bursting run through the center of the pitch only to come up against the imposing figure of Virgil van Dijk. Now imagine if Van Dijk was 6-foot-9 and 250 pounds but still had all of his speed and athleticism. At 37 years old with four NBA titles and four MVP awards, James' leadership and experience would make him a perfect fit in central defense. He still has the size and strength to overpower any forward, as well as the composure and ball distribution skills to pass his way through the opposition's press. -Lerner

CB: Draymond Green: Golden State Warriors (NBA)

If James brings stability and elegance to the back line, then Green is all snarl and tenacity. Green brings a take-no-prisoners, win-at-all-costs mentality to the table a-la Sergio Ramos that is invaluable to championship teams, as evidenced by his four titles with the Warriors. The seven-time NBA All-Defensive team member may not be the biggest or the strongest, but his mixture of defensive intelligence and a mastery of the subtle dark arts makes him the perfect center-back partner for the smoother, silkier James. -Lerner

LB: Mookie Betts: Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB)

Where do you put the guy that can do it all and will run for days? Possibly at left-back where he can make runs up and down the pitch, linking up with Tyreek Hill in front of him. Mookie Betts is one of the first five-tool players that comes to mind with agility, speed and overall footwork the most important attributes for a left-back. Betts is our all-action full-back, joining in the attack and making long, gut-busting runs to get back on defense, as well. -Faletti

DMC: Jonathan Taylor: Indianapolis Colts (NFL)

Originally an option at full-back, Taylor got moved into midfield to take advantage of his size, bringing muscle to the midfield, providing physical cover while others work their way into space. Though he's had a fumbling issue that dates back to his college days, Taylor doesn't have to keep possession of the ball for long. And when he does build up a head of steam, he'll be difficult to stop past the first line of the defense. -Novack

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DMC: Nathan Chen: U.S. Olympic Figure Skating

Watching Nathan Chen land five quad jumps en route to winning the gold medal at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing got us thinking about his potential prowess in the center of a soccer pitch. With the ball at his feet, the three-time figure skating World Champion could spin away from any and all challengers as he dribbles upfield, with the opportunity to recreate Diego Maradona's famous goal-of-the-century. Plus, the flair and excitement of his jumping ability would liven up every midfield aerial duel following a goal kick. -Lerner

AMR: DK Metcalf: Seattle Seahawks (NFL)

Normally, you would want size to be at striker or defense in order to win aerial duels, but for Metcalf, his hard-charging speed would provide more terror on the flanks where he can find space to run after the ball. As the rest of our front line is relatively small, Metcalf can play the role of a target man by regularly cutting inside, where he can utilize his route-running skills to throw off even the savviest defenders. Much like Marouane Fellaini was famous for in midfield by playing as a striker in last-ditch efforts, Metcalf can do even more thanks to his speed and use his size as an outlet for possession. -Novack

AMC: Lamar Jackson: Baltimore Ravens (NFL)

MVP quarterbacks do more than their fair share to earn a place in starring roles and that's exactly what Jackson can do in a Bruno Fernandes-like role Given how efficient he is both as a passer and runner, Jackson is the perfect man to place in control of the attacking work as much as possible. With the positional sense and speed to match, Jackson would be difficult to catch as he conducts the offense. -Novack

AML: Tyreek Hill: Miami Dolphins (NFL)

They call him Cheetah for a reason. According to the Washington Post, Tyreek Hill is the fastest player the NFL has seen since Next Gen Stats started recording speed data in 2016, reaching 23.24 mph on a kickoff return that was eventually called back due to a holding penalty in Week 2 of that season. Hill also led the NFL last season on plays in which he has hit at least 20 mph, with 14 (six more than anyone else in the league). The one-two punch of Cheetah and DK Metcalf on the wings would be a nightmare matchup for any opposing full-back. -Lerner

FW: Auston Matthews: Toronto Maple Leafs (NHL)

We needed a legit goalscoring threat and who better than the guy who scored the most goals in the NHL each of the previous two seasons? In fact, Matthews' 60 goals last season was the highest mark since 2011-12 and he is only the second USA-born player to ever lead the league in goals. Clearly, Matthews knows how to score goals and get himself into a position to do so. He may not be the tallest guy on the pitch, but at 6-foot-3 he should be able to get up for headers courtesy of McPherson's deliveries. -Scholz

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ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Ian Faletti
Ian Faletti has been a fan of almost all esports (and sports) his entire life. He has been writing about esports since 2012, with his work appearing on RotoWire, ESPN and other entities. Ian cheers for Fnatic, the Nationals, and the Capitals.
Liad Lerner
Liad Lerner started covering sports in 2017, joining RotoWire in 2018. In addition to RotoWire, Liad has written for the Columbia Missourian and The Maneater.
Ben Novack
Ben has been a writer focusing on Soccer since early 2018. He now awaits the day when he can see MLS in his hometown of St. Louis, Missouri when St. Louis CITY begins play in 2023.
AJ Scholz
Co-Host of PuckCast with Statsman and AJ and unabashed Penguins fan.
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