The 2018 FIFA World Cup is in full swing. Although there have been several thrilling matches thus far, I just can’t shake my disappointment that the United States failed to qualify for the tournament. Thus, I have created a replacement U.S. squad comprised solely of San Francisco 49ers players.
Jerod Brown of Ninerswire has already done such an exercise. I encourage you to look at both rosters and pick which one you prefer. I also want to note for the "Serious Sally’s" out there that yes, in real life, a collection of 49ers players would get smoked by any competent soccer team. But it’s excruciatingly slow in the summer so just enjoy this hypothetical. Besides, there’s no way that the 49ers could pull off a worse result against Trinidad and Tobago ¯_(ツ)_/¯.
Here’s my starting 11 along with a seven-player bench for a full 18-man gameday roster. While Brown went with a 3-3-4 formation, I opted for a more traditional 4-4-2 look (four defenders, four midfielders and two forwards).
Goalkeeper: Richard Sherman
This is the biggest commonality between my roster and Brown’s. And there’s good reason behind the selection. There were two essential traits that I wanted in picking my keeper: length and leadership. Physically, a keeper needs to be long enough to cover ground in goal and have the reflexes to react at a moment’s notice.
Mentally, you need the capacity to orchestrate your back line at all times as well as organize the entire defense against set pieces. A good goalkeeper is communicating constantly. Sherman checks all of those boxes.
Substitute: Jaquiski Tartt
Center Backs: DeForest Buckner and Adrian Colbert
The center backs need to be absolute enforcers. I picked two players who fit that bill while also providing different athletic profiles. Buckner’s towering 6-foot-7 frame would be dominant against set pieces. However, DeFo may be susceptible to getting beat over the top on a counter attack.
That’s where Colbert comes in. Colbert is used to covering ground both as a gunner on punt coverage and as the 49ers starting free safety. They don’t call that position “the eraser” for nothing. He’ll have a similar task on this soccer team. At 6-foot-2, Colbert is also more than capable of defending set pieces as well.
Substitute: Eli Harold
Outside Backs: Tarvarius Moore and Ahkello Witherspoon
I want my outside backs to be able to cover ground. They need the speed to assist in the attack while also having the ability to retreat in a timely manner in order to quell an opponent’s counter. Moore’s 4.32-second 40-yard dash will come in handy here.
Witherspoon is one player who we know has a soccer background, and he also posted an impressive 4.45-second 40 time at the NFL Combine. Both Moore and Witherspoon are tasked with covering speedy receivers on the outside of the 49ers defense, so they seem qualified for this job on the soccer pitch.
Substitute: K'Waun Williams
Defensive Midfielder: Reuben Foster
This is another enforcer-type role. Foster will be tasked with controlling possession in the middle of the field and putting an end to an opponent’s attack before it even develops. Defense will quickly turn into offense if Foster does his job well. Foster will lead the team in challenges and tackles, much like he did for the 49ers as a rookie in 2017. His skill set and athletic profile are a perfect fit for this position.
Substitute: Fred Warner
Outside Midfielders: Jerick McKinnon and Dante Pettis
I want these two players to have similar athletic profiles as my outside backs while having a more offensive mindset. At the same time, both outside mids will have to assist on defense at times as well. The versatility of McKinnon and Pettis will come into play here. They’ll constantly be the move, but give them an opening and they’re likely to find the back of the net.
Substitute: Jimmie Ward
Attacking Midfielder: Jimmy Garoppolo
This may have been the easiest choice on the roster. Garoppolo will be charged with orchestrating the team’s attack. The build up will always flow through him. That's where Garoppolo's high completion percentage will come in handy. In addition to being a distributor, Garoppolo will also have plenty of opportunities to score and may be the team’s primary option on set pieces. The 49ers quarterback showed he’s more than capable of that role when he called his own number against the Jacksonville Jaguars on a 1-yard touchdown run in Week 16.
Substitute: Jimmy better be ready to go the full 90.
Forwards: George Kittle and Marquise Goodwin
Similar to my center backs, I chose two players with the same job description while providing diverse athletic profiles. Goodwin’s speed will make him an absolute nightmare for an opposing back line. Long balls from Foster to Goodwin could prove to be a deadly counterattack.
The sheer athleticism of Goodwin will pair perfectly with Kittle. The tight end is more than fast enough to do the job, and his 6-foot-4 frame will make him the team’s top target on set pieces.
Substitutes: Cole Hikutini and Trent Taylor