There are 86 cards rated with the “Star” quality in the World Football Association Set A, but one card stands clearly above the rest.
The Universal Soccer Confederation might be the most ambitious upstart American professional sports league since the USFL. There is big money and big egos at stake as the new 20 team, 3 division pyramid of soccer is built from scratch.
When AS Fleur-de-Lis, the USC’s New Orleans franchise, won the random lottery that granted the first overall pick in the league’s inaugural draft, their Manager, French great Zizzou Azure, was meticulous in his preparation to ensure that the pick was used on a worthy player.
Rather than trust gut-instinct, Azure categorically ranked all 86 designated “Star” players eligible to draft from the World Football Association Set A ranks. Players were given 1 point for each Shot star, Assist star, offensive triangle, circle, and defensive square, as well as 1 point for each of the qualities they could boast (pace, touch, tactics, strong, hard, star) and one point for check marks (two for a check plus) in the head, kick, or card categories.
When scouting was complete, Azure found that there was a clear top-tier of talent: 17 players who were ranked more-or-less equally, each carrying between 14-18 points on Zizzou’s scale of quality. However, one player stood head-and-shoulders above them all. Atilano Ruiz‘s 21 points put his talent in a league of its own.
Atilano Ruiz is a pensive and quiet young man. At 23 years old, a footballer of Atilano’s great talent and creativity would be forgiven if he were perhaps a little petulant, impulsive, high-strung, or arrogant; Atilano has none of those characteristics.
In fact, should you meet Atilano outside the pitch you might find him to be shy, quiet, and polite to the point of obsequiousness. He makes no attempt at fashion, knows nothing of pop culture, has never been seen in lascivious company, and the young man shows no curiosity about these aspects of the modern footballer’s life.
He doesn’t carry a wallet. He doesn’t drive a car. His small and lithe frame are more reminiscent of Mahatma Ghandi than Diego Maradona, but Atilano Ruiz can dance with a ball at his feet like perhaps none other ever has. He is capable of explosive speed from dead stops, and he has made long graceful runs where his feet appear only to skim the tops of the grass like a dragonfly on the pitch. Like an ice-skater, sometimes he’ll spin his body 180 degrees without losing speed, tracking backward poised to strike out at his mark at any moment.
But who is Atilano Ruiz?
Zizzou Azure thinks he knows.
“Who is Atilano Ruiz?” Zizzou asks no one in particular. It’s dusk, it’s been a long day of preparation for the season. Most of the AS Fleur-de-Lis Starting XI has seen each other for the first time. Most of the conversation is about the young midfielder who ran circles around what are presumed to be some of the best players in the newly formed league.
“He is the greatest footballer the world has ever known.” Zizzou’s gaze lifts over the crowd of reporters. He wistfully ponders the horizon.
“He is The Dragonfly.”