WASHINGTON, DC (Nov. 25, 2005) USSoccerPlayers – It’s 1981 and George Best can be forgiven if he’s not that enthused about another summer in the North American Soccer League. For all the talk of commitment when his career with Manchester United began to wane almost a decade earlier, Best was always up for it when he was on the field. For all the talk of his excesses, his wasted potential, his game never believed any of that and rarely let him down.
On July 22, 1981, his talent decided to take his aching knee and show a league he’d watched go from big-time to small-time in a couple of years what world class meant. Best picks up the ball in the center of the field about thirty yards out. There are four Fort Lauderdale Striker defenders within ten feet of him, two of them closing. Behind them are three more, with his San Jose forwards playing to the far wings. He can pass, or he can run the ball at the defense. He runs.
He beats his nearest marker clean, taking another out of the play with the move. The third just stops rather than pursue. With two defenders closing, Best is level with the side of the arc twenty yards out. He runs to his right, drawing three Striker defenders. He shifts left, wrong-footing all three.
With space for a shot, he draws the ball back to his right, beating an extremely close mark and freeing space for a better shot. He doesn’t take it.
Instead, he goes to his left, beats another marker, and finally… inevitably… shoots the ball into the right corner over the diving keeper.
As the announcer says, ‘the greatest soccer goal I’ve ever seen.’
We leave him there. 35 years old, carrying the weight of personal baggage to a stadium in Fort Lauderdale playing out the string in front of an away crowd. We leave him book-ending a great career that no revisionist will be able to ruin for anyone who saw him play.
We leave him running back towards the center circle with his team, that same smile on his face. We leave him as we should remember him.
Rest in peace George.