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Thursday, June 10, 2010
Picking an AFC South World Cup goalie

By Paul Kuharsky

Dallas Clark, Vince Young and Andre Johnson
Which of these AFC South stars -- Dallas Clark, Vince Young or Andre Johnson -- would make the best soccer goalie?
A while ago on Facebook, regular reader and contributor Nathan Cherolis posed an interesting question for downtime in the NFL with the World Cup approaching.

It went something like this: If you could take one guy from each AFC South roster to train intensively for one year to be a World Cup goalkeeper, who would it be?

I called on soccer coaches who are familiar with the four NFL teams we’re working with for some input. And while they didn’t choose any shockers, I thought some of the rationale and conversation was interesting.

I also had a chance to speak with two of the chosen ones about how they feel they’d do.

So if you’re anticipating the opening matches Friday and the US-England game Saturday as I am, here’s a little football/futbol post for entertainment purposes only.

Dominic Kinnear of the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer is the lone top-level professional coach at work in our territories.

He’s familiar with the Texans and the Colts, and said he’d pick Houston receiver Andre Johnson (“He’s got incredible hands, and plucking balls out of the air is a necessity”) and Indianapolis tight end Dallas Clark (“Same thing, incredible hands, brave, not afraid to get hit going through traffic”).

“I don’t think it would be that far off because these are great athletes,” he said. “A lot of goalkeepers now are great athletes first. You look at the guy who plays for the United States, Tim Howard, the one thing that people marvel about with him -- especially in England [where he plays for Everton] -- is how good of an athlete he is.

“On the athletic side as far as shot stopping, timing of coming out to collect crosses, I don’t think it would take too long for those guys, because it’s kind of the same thing they do. They are big guys, they are going through traffic. Having a bit of contact in the air when they are catching the ball, it happens all the time. So I don’t think the timing of that would be that difficult for them.”

Kinnear said the biggest challenge for the sort of high-level NFL players we discuss would be bringing their feet into play. When a teammate passes the ball back to the keeper, he has to operate as a field player, controlling it and distributing it with his feet, sometimes with a pesky forward closing in. That could be more difficult to master than angles and defending the goal with the full use of hands.

When I told Clark that Kinnear designated him as the Colts' selection for this exercise, he was pleased.

“Nice, I’ll play, I’m in,” Clark said. “I’m not going to take anything away from what goalies do and how athletic they are and say I could do it. It’s like when people look at basketball players and say, ‘He has a good frame, he could be a tight end.’ It’s like, ‘Whoa, maybe so, but it’s not just the body. There are a lot of people out there that look the part, but a lot of things go into it.’ So I’m not going to say just give me a year and I’d be great. I might be OK, but I might stink, too.”

Small-town Iowa didn’t offer Clark a big soccer setting growing up, he said.

He doesn’t want to compete with Johnson for the goalie job. He thinks Johnson would be a good field player, so he wants to be teammates.

Johnson laughed when I told him he was Kinnear’s selection. He’s never played soccer.

“If it was something I worked at, if it was something that I trained for and dedicated myself to, I think I could do it,” Johnson said. But he might lean with Clark’s suggestion. “I don’t know where I would fit in. I’m an offensively-[minded] guy. I think I would like to touch the ball and have chances to score.”

To talk Titans, I went to Earle Davidson, who coaches the men’s team at Belmont, an NCAA Division I school that plays in the Atlantic Sun Conference. With his assistant Bryan Johnson, he quickly ran through three candidates: quarterback Vince Young, cornerback Cortland Finnegan and receiver Kenny Britt.

But when Davidson had a second to really consider, he easily jumped to his conclusion.

“Vince Young,” he said. “It’s kind of a no-brainer; he’s such a spectacular athlete. As much as it would be changing gear with the nature of the sport, he’s big enough, he’s got great hands, he’s quick, he could cover the whole goal. It’d be about technical training, playing the angles properly, the timing of when to come out and when you don’t.”

I missed Mike Johnson, the coach of Jacksonville University which plays in the same conference as Belmont. I’d think about tight end Marcedes Lewis (probably TOO big) and cornerback Derek Cox, but be swayed by Rashean Mathis, regarded by many as the best athlete on the team.

To coach an NFL player like Young to be a goaltender, he’d have to learn to dive with his shoulders and chest facing the ball -- to be big rather than making a Superman style dive that covers less space, Davidson said.

“How good is he in a year? I would imagine really quite good,” Davidson said. “MLS? Yeah. World class? I don’t know if he could do that in a year, just because of the technical development and the type of movements he’s used to making. But with a couple years of experience, there is no saying.”

No offense to Clark or Mathis, but I’m going with Young or Johnson.

Who’s your choice?