This was a fun project. For each MLS team, I’ve chosen a key contributor and tied his playing style to a literary luminary I respect in some fashion. It’s essentially pairing the playing style with a mix of writing style and lifestyle, which is imperfect but ended up lining up surprisingly well in some cases. Some of these are more absurd than others, but all are rooted in how I tend to view these guys when I watch them.
In the same way that coders sometimes view the world analytically, I tend to view it in words. Here are a few.
Mike Magee (Kurt Vonnegut): Compact and whimsical, there’s frequently a hard, malicious edge underneath what sometimes appears to be a carefree veneer. Prolific. Donning a keeper’s jersey to save LA’s bacon was Magee’s Cat’s Cradle. Once you stopped laughing, you saw the seriousness in it. Absolutely zero pretension.
Dan Kennedy (Jack Kerouac): Surrounded by degradation and madness at nearly all times. Surprised to not see him descend into an ether-driven insanity based on his work environment, some of which was chosen and some innate. Incredible talent slowly bitten away at the edges by vultures in his inner circle without the wherewithal to have his best interests in mind. Dharma Bum.
Shane O’Neill (Jonathan Safran Foer): Ascended to tall heights incredibly early in his career. Everything is illuminated. Mixed heritage adds to the richness and diversity in his style. Can be a polarizing figure among critics due to his age and relative lack of international acclaim. Probably a genius, but the jury’s out. Younger brother may actually end up being better than he is.
Federico Higuain (Gabriel Garcia Marquez): Maybe the best in his league, but injuries and the brief interjection of ordinary in the midst of unbelievable genius occasionally tears down the wall of his invincibility. Turns convention on its head by taking Latin flair and making it hard-bitten and real. Weaves intricate webs over the course of 90 minutes and sometimes you merely shake your head with the misunderstanding of awe.
Luis Silva (Joseph Conrad): In the heart of darkness itself. A titan of industry among the withered palm fronds and strangling, thorned vines of the jungle. From smog-choked industrial England to malarial Congo, no relief despite a transfer in scenery. Better than his contemporaries probably realize, but bound to have his genius edged off by averse conditions.
George John (Nikos Kazantzakis): His is the story of a young Greek born outside his mother country attempting to find his place in the world. Schellas Hyndman is his Zorba. Paired with a mysterious, boisterous coach, a sense that he’s needed elsewhere pervades his thoughts until Zorba leaves him for good. Has the ability and want-to to some day depart for the mainland when he’s ready.
Brad Davis (Gertrude Stein): Destined to be The Forgotten One of a great generation despite latent talent. Operates best as a facilitator, housing younger, more sharpened skill while buttressing it with modest ability of his own. Provided an assist to an entire nation he did not necessarily care for, allowing it the comfort of knowing its great tradition will carry on on the biggest stage. Big ears.
Landon Donovan (F. Scott Fitzgerald): Arguably the greatest American of his ilk ever, certainly the greatest at what he did in his time. Unbelievably cerebral, tackling some of the great mysteries of our age with an immense vocabulary and a small bit of compactness amidst a constellation of genius. Left his shores but struggled with bouts of depression and restlessness until returning home. Beautiful and damned.
Marco Di Vaio (Salman Rushdie): Could rest on his laurels the rest of his career based on his earlier exploits, but continues churning out meaningful work at an older age despite detractors. Offside continually, but best when he’s flirting with the line between what’s accepted and what is generally not. By pushing the boundaries, he creates new space for conversation and, most importantly, adds spice.
New England Revolution
Juan Agudelo (J.K. Rowling): Wows onlookers with visions of vast unexplored realms within a country used to far more staid, boring patterns. Still, there’s plenty to critique about his style, which tends to pander to a younger audience and lacks a dash of maturity. Currently defined by potential and rapid, early success. It remains to be seen whether the follow-up will show literary growth.
New York Red Bulls
Thierry Henry (Oscar Wilde): There is whimsy and genius at play here, and he knows it well. The acknowledgment of his greatness is in fact one of his most disarming tools, allowing him to play uninhibited and without reservation. Flamboyant, glittering and utterly impossible to miss. Had the ability and the power to screw over the Irish with one hand.
Jack McInerney (Jack London): Talented kid rushed out for the gold fields and had some success before developing scurvy and being forced to scale back his expectations. Maybe not scurvy exactly. A young slump? Possesses a fighter’s spirit and overcomes lack of intricate vocabulary and razor-sharp wit with determination and ruthlessness in front of goal. Will probably never win over everybody, but enough to carve out a niche.
Will Johnson (Stephen King): Something about his face tends to piss people off. Still, unbelievably prolific and can incite the characters around him to do both horrifying and magnificent things. Unbridled leader despite lacking the real literary gravitas of some of his peers and his more lyrical forebears. Not afraid of mixing things up and arguably the most stable presence in the American game today.
Real Salt Lake
Kyle Beckerman (Ernest Hemingway): Not an ounce of artifice here, and his brilliance is immediately recognizable to those who find beauty in spare prose. No word is out of place, no step is unmeasured and no thought is wasted in the midst of his slavish opposition to ornamentation. The lack of flair and flash can leave some wanting more, but operating within this framework there are perhaps none better on these shores.
San Jose Earthquakes
Chris Wondolowski (Hunter S. Thompson): Depraved perhaps of the kind of talent and self-promotion that might have otherwise made him a bigger crossover hit, he’s nonetheless one of the most uniquely productive Americans of our age. Has his pulse on the cultural zeitgeist and can often dictate a game simply by being in it. Unfortunately, after a brief spurt of incredible productivity, age and natural limitations eventually took their toll.
Clint Dempsey (William Faulkner): A genius who was tempered by and came of age in the south. Unbelievable foresight and vision, an endless supply of words and an ability to use his stream of consciousness like a weapon. Which has occasionally been the problem. An acute awareness of his talents often leads him to overuse them and become bogged down by their weight. When he’s not being verbose, there are few (if any) better.
Sporting Kansas City
Aurelien Collin (James Joyce): There are times when he seems to make little sense, and he can tend to tire out your cerebral core with threads that seem to tie themselves in knots. But ultimately he is razor-sharp (sometimes with a bit too much bite), and while his works tend at times to fly beyond the realm of understanding, they are generally productive. One tends to wear funny things in real life. The other wears pimp gear in a meme.
Camilo (Homer): What beautiful poetry. His play is hardly just prose, instead imbued with the kind of lyrical fancy and delicate silk that crafts entire worlds with a mere touch. Some of what he does seems to be from a different time, and he can tend to wrap his stories in so much rosewater that the real graft of it can be lost in translation. But he can transport you to a different place entirely, which is a rare gift.
*pick one* (Cormac McCarthy): A bloody mess.