There are only 559 days left until the start of the next World Cup, but it’s never too late to thinking about soccer.
Actually, it’s almost always too late, or early, for me anyhow. While I adore this game, and every summer try to watch it during major international competitions, I just can’t seem to find much attention to it during college football season. Once November hits, along with my favorite sport basketball, soccer ends up pushed even further into the recesses of my mind.
To the point where I just had to Google “winner MLS 2012” to confirm that the LA Galaxy won a few weeks ago or whenever that game was.
Honestly, I feel guilty. Here I am, caring about soccer and realizing that it’s the second-most popular sport among American 12-24 year olds (only behind the NFL), and yet I can’t manage to cut down my football or basketball watching time during the non-summer.
And so, in an effort to absolve myself, I offer unto you something from the reliquary:
The following was originally published in Sync magazine on June 16, 2010:
Pop quiz, sports fans: Who’s the best soccer player ever? Sure, Pele’s as good an answer as any. Okay, try this one, World Cup watchers: Who’s the finest soccer player the United States has ever produced?
Old heads go with goalkeepers Kasey Keller and Brad Friedel, or midfielder Claudio Reyna, while new school candidates include Tim Howard and Landon Donovan. Yet Saturday in the Americans’ opener against England, it seemed God was tipping his hat to Clint Dempsey. In the first half, the Texan saw his easily catchable 25-meter shot inexplicably roll out of the English goalie’s arms and into the goal, notching the match at what would become the final 1-1 score.
Okay, my soccer-savvy reader, I’ve got one last question: Who’s Arkansas’ best all-time soccer player?
Wow. I had forgotten how horrendous a vinyl record screeching to a halt sounds.
Unfurrow that brow — you’re in the same boat as approximately 99.998% other Arkansans who have no clue what kind of elite soccer talent has played in their own backyard.
So, as this week’s conversation inevitably drifts to South Africa, stun your friends, shock your parents, and blow the minds of your office mates by bringing up some of Arkansas’ more obscure sports legends — who merely play the world’s most popular game.
Caveat: Go ahead and get your teeth grit on. Yes, the two best male players to have played in our state left to complete their high school careers in the Dallas area. But that place is a soccer hotbed, and you can’t blame a brother for wanting to raise his game.
1. Domenic Mediate, 5’9’’ midfielder/forward — Mediate grew up in Southlake, Texas, but as a young teenager moved to Northwest Arkansas, where he played for the Arkansas Comets club team from 1995 to 1998, according to a website of a soccer camp he runs in Springdale. In 1999, before his junior year of high school, Mediate returned to Texas, where he dominated at Southlake Carroll High School before playing at the University of Maryland.
As a senior he was chosen All-ACC, a conference as well known for quality soccer as the SEC is for good football. He helped the Terrapins to three consecutive Final Four appearances. In 2005, Mediate was drafted by the Columbus Crew with the 23rd pick in the 2005 MLS SuperDraft, making him the only Arkansas-affiliated player to have played in Major League Soccer, according to local soccer authorities. After a season in Ohio, he played for D.C. United for a couple of seasons, in which he suffered various injuries. He recently retired.
2. Kaoru Forbess, 6’0’’ midfielder — Forbess grew up in Japan, but moved to Arkansas in 2003. He attended Benton High School, and in 2005 became the first freshman to make the All-Arkansas high school boys soccer team after he finished with a Benton High-record 22 goals and 10 assists in 13 games. He also played in various age groups of the U.S. National team, becoming the first Arkansan to play on a soccer national team.
In 2006, Forbess was selected to Adidas’ 36-man Elite Soccer Program All-star team. He then moved to a Garland, Texas, high school, where in 2007 he was a Parade All-American. By his senior year, ESPN Rise magazine had tabbed him the nation’s No. 3 player. Like Mediate, he attended the University of Maryland, and helped the Terrapins win the 2008 NCAA national championship. He is entering his junior season as a starter.
Curious as to who’s the most decorated longtime Arkansan soccer player? Try 6’4’’ forward Brett Bolton of Harrison, who from 2003-06 tallied a state-record 53 goals, according to the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. He knocked in 22 goals his last season, and was chosen as part of the NSCAA 75-member All-America team. Sheldon Shealor, an ESPN soccer reporter who has been involved with the selection of the NSCAA, Parade and Gatorade soccer prep All-America teams since the late 1990s, said he couldn’t recall any other Arkansas selections to those squads.
This one is fairly easy.
1. From a pure winning standpoint, the Bill Russell of Arkansas female soccer is Kelli Wilson, who helped Fayetteville High School absolutely own the late 1990s. The dominance culminated in Wilson’s senior year, when her undefeated team (which produced four Division I players) had outscored opponents 131-5 through the quarterfinals of state tournament.
That year, the program won its second of four consecutive state championships. Wilson also won four consecutive state tournaments with the Arkansas Comets, and was selected as the Gatorade Player of the Year in each of her last two high school seasons. She played at Northwestern University 1999-2003. But the 5’5’’ defender never regained the dominance she’d shown against high-school foes.
2. Julie Williford scored Mount Saint Mary’s only goal in that Little Rock school’s 3-1 loss to Wilson’s Fayetteville juggernaut squad in 1999, but would find greater success in college. She played for the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville from 2000-2003, and became the school’s all-time leader in points (40) and goals (17). Her success at UA is only rivaled by Honey Marsh, who in 1994 became the only Razorback soccer player so far to be named SEC Player of the Year. Williford now plays for the Colorado Force of the USL W-League, the first and longest-standing women’s league in North America.
Wilson and Williford may have some serious competition in the coming years. Look for ultra -ccomplished high schoolers such as Taylor Estrada, Alex Carter and her younger sister Marin Carter to soon challenge for one of these spots.