Who is the greatest soccer player of all time?
And why do we get so wrapped up in a question that is ultimately unknowable?
Every time women’s soccer GOAT comes up among USWNT fans - international debates follow much the same pattern though - the debate between Mia Hamm and Abby Wambach, Michelle Akers and Hope Solo, Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, rages. But when you’re looking at different positions, styles and time frames, is it possible to account for all of the factors that go into a player's greatness?
It makes sense, the search for the single greatest player to play the game. Sports fans in general love to categorize. We like to look at players in different eras, positions and styles and put them on a continuum from the greatest of all time to merely great. Because it makes it all make sense, right? If 1,000 people played the game, one of them has to be the best. It helps give context to the player in front of us that we’re seeing.
But does it really?
How do you compare Hope Solo, a goalkeeper with 202 caps and 102 shutouts on the national team, to Mia Hamm, a midfielder with 276 caps and 158 goals? The realities of being the type of goalkeeper that Solo was for nearly 20 years, over different rises and falls in playing styles, is vastly different from Hamm’s different nearly 20 years as a midfielder at the very start of the United States beginnings. Even comparing Hamm’s 276 caps and 158 goals to Akers and her 153 caps and 105 goals ends up leading to frustration as you look as their influence on each other and who is the better player. Comparing two players to each other can be difficult, and, when you add in all positions, at what point is it just not worth the mental gymnastics required?
Instead I offer an alternative.
Instead of making GOAT a single person, make it a tier of player. Hamm, Akers and Solo are all among the greatest ever to put on cleats in women’s soccer. End of sentence, period. Splitting hairs to try to place them as 1A, 1B, 1C is a fool’s errand.
So instead of splitting the hairs and losing our collective minds trying to look up years of stats and put them into context, just … don’t. Don’t feed in to the idea there is a single player over 30 plus years of the USWNT or the grand history of women’s soccer who is better than the rest. Maybe there is, but maybe there is so much context needed to get to who that player is, that it just isn’t worth it. It’s not worth the mental gymnastics, and it’s not worth the shift in how the GOAT posts move with each generation.
If we use GOAT as a tier of player, if we allow it to be something where the greatest of the greats all can hang out together, it stops pitting great players against great players. It stops the false idea that a player in 1992 and a player in 2002 and a player in 2012 have the same levels of context around them.
Let there be a whole herd of GOATs.