Brace yourselves for the cliches. Come this Thursday, 32 countries across the world will gather in Russia to lay claim to the most prestigious sports championship possible. While football is king in the United States, the highest honor to quite literally almost everyone else on Earth is the World Cup. Since the United States Men’s National Team won’t be making an appearance after not qualifying, the soccer gods (me) have decided that an NFL team gets to send over it’s top collection of talent with a late-joining 33rd roster to join the fray.
In this instance, I was tasked with creating a World Cup team out of current Bears players. Seeing as how this is an endurance sport built on speed, occasional acrobatic ability, and the need to conserve energy over lengthy distances, not every Bear could make the cut for my bid to the official committee.
That means a tearful apology to most of Chicago’s offensive and defensive linemen, unfortunately. This isn’t a big man’s power game.
I needed 11 players for an official starting XI. In the most detailed of soccer terms, I decided to go with a 4-3-3 formation. That means four defenders, three midfielders, and three strikers, in addition to the inclusion of a goalkeeper. This is a formation focused on balance and taking the fight to the opposing team. I’ll grind the rigors of this scheme into the Bears, much like Nagy has with his football jargon. To climb soccer’s greatest mountain, they’ll have to master my plan.
Goalkeeper: Adam Shaheen
The ideal modern goalkeeper in soccer has length and can cover a great amount of space in little time due to his frame. It’s about reaction time and a generally respectable level of lateral quickness. No one is better suited for this than the 6-foot-6 Shaheen. He’ll not only be an intimidating man in between the pipes, he’ll also be someone the Bears don’t have to worry about faltering should their defense collapse. Plus, it’s a more sizable and crucial role than anything the Bears have planned for Shaheen in the NFL (half-kidding).
Left back: Kyle Fuller
A full back in soccer needs to provide passing options down their respective flank (left or right), while also covering ground to funnel offensive pressure to the outside. They are often more attacking players than actual defenders and thus are used in such a fashion. I could think of no one better for one of the Bears’ backs than Fuller: who has the range, athletic span, and talent to pinch in when needed.
Imagine Fuller coming up in run support like he does in football, but instead he does it to aggressively start an odd man rush. Chills, I know.
Center back (left): Leonard Floyd
Like goalkeepers, center backs (positioned in front of the goal) have become the physical freaks of soccer with length galore and a presence that bullies attacking players. To get past to the goalkeeper, you have to be mindful of these monsters that can cover space seamlessly and make you pay for entering their zone.
Floyd, in this respect, becomes the Bears’ defensive centerpiece and a world class defender that protects Shaheen from any chances. He’d be unstoppable on headers from corner kicks and continually clear out any offensive runs by using his 6-foot-6 frame and 4.60 40-yard dash speed. A terror on the back line. Ask Cam Newton.
1) See where Leonard Floyd is lined up— The Ten-Yard Line (@TheTenYardLine) October 24, 2017
2) Watch him engage & shed RT
3) Beats an interior lineman too
4) Runs down Cam Newton
Center back (right): Dion Sims
Here’s where the Bears can find a better use for Sims than as currently applied: helping anchor their World Cup defense. The bulky tight end isn’t as a terrific an athlete as Floyd, but has enough speed and size to hold his own in front of the goal. Think about it: the Bears never have to worry about Sims dropping a pass because you can’t use your hands in soccer. The perfect plan.
Right back: Bryce Callahan
Like Fuller, Callahan has proven to be an explosive and aggressive player when called upon. He’s a responsible defender that can occasionally make plays on the ball and in other capacities. That’s where he comes in as the Bears’ other full back to contribute in a manner that completes an excellent defensive unit. Honorable mention to Prince Amukamara, especially since he also isn’t required to catch passes.
Left midfielder: Eddie Jackson
Jackson is one of the few players the Bears have that can routinely make defenders look silly in the open field with the ball in his hands. He also possesses the best defensive range on Chicago’s roster in addition to his attacking proficiency. That makes the 6-foot and 202 pounder an ideal initiator in the Bears’ formation. Imagine him dribbling passes through defenders while also helping protect the back line’s integrity. The one Bears player capable of both ideals. The Carolina Panthers agree.
Center midfielder: Mitchell Trubisky
There was no way the Bears’ face of the franchise would be left off this squad. For a man with a selfless style of play, and the skill set necessary as both a passer and runner, he’s best deployed in the Bears’ midfield. Trubisky is more of an attacking midfielder and therefore would be the most apt at getting the ball to the Bears’ forwards, and or occasionally scoring on his own. Picture a run-pass option, but without the arm pass ... if that makes sense.
Right midfielder: Tarik Cohen
“Joystick’s” place with this Bears’ World Cup roster is that of another player counted on to initiate offense for Chicago. Together with Trubisky and Jackson in sync, there’s no reason to think Cohen wouldn’t wreak havoc in the right midfield. The give-and-gos he would have with Trubisky or any of the Bears’ forwards would be a sight to behold in creating space. That is, if you could see the blur of Cohen.
Left wing: Cody Parkey
While Parkey as a kicker in football doesn’t do anything besides place kick and kick off, he’s essential for a Bears soccer team. In fact, with his accuracy on kicks, I had to find a place for him as an attacking forward. I’m picturing set pieces with Parkey in the corner, or on free kicks, and seeing pinpoint assists on goals. If he can fit kicks in between small goal posts from 50 yards away, think of the possibilities with a soccer net. This is unquestionable logic.
Striker: Allen Robinson
In this scenario, while my team is offensively balanced and not overly reliant on anyone specifically, I want Robinson on the receiving end of most kicks from Parkey and Trubisky. The high-flying, explosive No. 1 receiver is the only person on the Bears’ roster that I want playing in front of the goal and finishing strikes. With the midfield and unstoppable defensive group I’ve established, Robinson gets the Golden Boot (awarded to the highest goal scorer) at this World Cup. The sheer amount of opportunities to score he’ll get is staggering. A 6-foot-3 specimen tailor-made for burying teams with his right leg, or in aerial assault.
Right wing: Taylor Gabriel
The most difficult decision as a world renown and respected coach I had to make was between starting Gabriel and Anthony Miller. After understanding that Gabriel is much more proven and one of the top one-touch players in football, he gets the slight nod over the rookie Miller. Sheer explosiveness allows “Turbo” to become one with Robinson and Parkey. And, more importantly on this big soccer stage, it is unlikely the Bears blow a 28-3 lead at any point. Because, well, soccer games aren’t designed that way.
There you have it. With my distinct coaching intuition and leadership, this is the ideal Bears’ World Cup squad. I have no doubts that I’d be able to have more success in the 2018 tournament than the prestigious US Men’s National Team has enjoyed in the last three decades. It wouldn’t be strenuous to actually get to the Round of 16 or Quarterfinals, after all. Trust in Robinson, Floyd, and “The Orange Devils.”
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.