Friday, January 02, 2009

American player of the 1980s

First of all - Happy New Year! And what better way to ring in the New Year than by reminscing about the past?

So, I recently read a post over at one of my fav blogs, Joe Posnanski's blog, wherein the Poz tries to determine the best pitcher in baseball during the 1980s. Naturally, in the same vein, I wondered: who was the best American soccer player in the 1980s?

First of all, I'll tell you the first thought that crept into my brain: I have no idea. I was an 80s baby, but the only soccer I can vaguely recall is the indoor scene. And even then, my memories of that were obscured by baseball, football and fingerpainting. In retrospect, a couple of names swirled about: Tatu. Wait. He was Brazilian. Kyle Rote, Jr? He entered his prime in the 1970s. Ricky Davis? Hmmmmm....

Since Dave Litterer's History of American Soccer Archives is the closest thing soccer has to a Baseball Historical Abstract, I'm going to raise my argument for Ricky Davis based on the statistical information contained there.

An excellent case for the former Cosmo could be made. He joined the New York Cosmos in 1978, the heyday of the NASL, and played 129 total games between then 1984, when the league ultimately folded. Without a first division outdoor league, Davs turned his attention indoors, and played for the St. Louis Steamers in the Major Indoor Soccer League from 1983 to 1986. After a stint with the New York Express, he finished his indoor career with the Tacoma Stars in 1989.

Given one more shot to play outdoors, he managed to find playing time with the Seattle Storm of the Western Soccer Alliance in 1989, which afforded him a chance to land a spot on the Wolrd Cup roster. But after struggling to overcome hobbled knees, U.S. coach Bob Gansler never called up Davis for Italia '90. Davis hung his boots shortly thereafter.

Let's take a look at Davis playing stats:

1978-1984 New York Cosmos 129 games/15 goals
1983-1986 St. Louis Steamers 123/89
1986-1987 New York Express 23/7
1987-1990 Tacoma Stars 98/31
1989 Seattle Storm N/A

U.S. National Team
1977-1988 36/7

I think the most disguinshing aspect of this data is Davis' time with the Cosmos. He was a regular on a team that consisted of Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Bogie Bogicevic and Dennis Tuart. Often, he was the lone American on the synthetic pitch of the aptly-named Giants Stadium. But does this alone make him the best American footballer of the 80s? Not entirely.

To me, his 36 caps with the Yanks is the stat that sets him apart from his peers. At a time when caps were about as easy to come by as Cabbage Patch Kids, he set the bar for National Team consistency. During Davis' prime - the early '80s - the USMNT played a total of 21 matches from 1980-83. In fact, until the late-80's, the lethargy of the Yanks likely kept Davis from accumulating far more than his 36, many of which he skippered. Telling most of all is that by the time he collected his final cap in '89, he had set the benchmark for most caps all-time in U.S. Soccer history at the time.

So is Davis worthy of the distinction? I think it's hard to make an argument against him. His NASL stats aren't overwhelming, but in the same ilk, he was good enough to play with the Chinaglias and Tuarts, those very same players were often the ones who were instructed to score the goals, rather than Davis.

Now, his indoor days may somewhat hinder his consideration. But what could he do? The NASL lied. Soccer was not the sport of the 1980's - at least outdoors among professionals. The indoor game was where it was at. The outdoor game may as well have been played on the moon. Davis could do little to change that.

Overall, it's best to judge based on two criteria - the portfolio and the circumstances. Taking both into account, it's fair to say that Davis is very worthy of the title.

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