Rafa, Sergio and Dwight have soccer in common

Sergio Garcia dribbles through the defense as if soccer, not golf, is his natural calling. He nimbly passes to Rafael Nadal, who serves it to Dwight Howard towering in front of the net. Howard heads home the ball.


Fantasy for sure. Yet all three of these athletes — and many others from a wide spectrum of sports — have visions of World Cup glory.

And while some of them will be busy with golf's U.S. Open or Wimbledon, they'll be paying attention to the planet's most popular sporting event.

"I love football," Nadal says. "Sure, I'm going to watch the World Cup."

And root, of course, for his native Spain which, like Nadal, is a favorite in any tournament. Nadal and top-ranked Roger Federer of Switzerland, whose mother was born in South Africa, plan to see as many matches as they can — in between their own matches, including Wimbledon later in June and early July.

"I think Spain has an unbelievable team, a complete team: the goalkeeper, the defenders, and the attack is unbelievable. We have a chance to win," Nadal says. "But at the same time, when you play matches ... anything can happen."

And when it does, Orlando Magic center Howard, the NBA's defensive player of the year, will be watching. Perhaps even in person.

"I went to Africa last summer and I had a chance to see where the teams are going to be playing. It's going to be great. It should really be a lot of fun," says Howard, who traveled to Africa with the NBA's Basketball Without Borders program last summer.

Would Howard make an imposing striker, particularly on headers, given his 6-foot-11, 265-pound frame and his athletic ability? Or perhaps he fits best guarding the net?

"One time, I was running around by myself one day and some guys were having a soccer game and they needed a goalie, sort of like a pickup game," he says. "I had never played. They said, 'Hey, you want to play goalie for us?' I played and let in, like, five goals."

Howard could team up with the 6-3, 300-pound Ndamukong Suh, the No. 2 overall NFL draft choice in April, by the Detroit Lions, and Tennessee Titans offensive tackle Michael Roos (6-7, 315) to form an imposing trio on the pitch.

Suh has been to a World Cup match, in 1994 when the United States hosted the tournament. He won't be getting to South Africa, though.

"It's definitely exciting. I wish I could go out there and check it out. But unfortunately I'll probably be training," he said.

"That's going to be amazing. I'll definitely watch it on TV when I get the chance. I don't know if I'll be up late at night watching; I'll probably have to get the reruns."

He has a special rooting interest. Two, actually.

"My World Cup pick is definitely Cameroon," says Suh, whose father is from that African nation and whose first name means House of Spears. "The U.S. is a close second."

For Roos, a second-team All-Pro last season, the plan was to go to the World Cup and follow Italy. But he found the planning logistically impossible and decided to stay home to watch on television.

Born in Estonia, Roos became a soccer fan playing the game as a child before his mother moved her family to Vancouver, Wash., in 1992. Roos doesn't play anymore.

"I still enjoy watching it. It's not as mainstream here in the U.S. as it obviously is in the rest of the world," he says.

"I'll definitely try to watch as many as I can. I don't know if I'll watch any at 4 a.m ... but there's obviously a lot of good teams in there. I don't even know if they've set a time for the U.S.-England game, but I'm sure I'll watch that regardless of where I'm at."

The time is 1:30 p.m. in Nashville on June 12, Michael.

Trevor Pryce, someone Roos has had to block many times, certainly will be watching. Pryce, a defensive lineman for the Baltimore Ravens, is from a Jamaican family, so soccer has been a primary sport for him and his relatives. His sister, Nandi, was an All-American at UCLA.

Like Garcia, Pryce regularly plays in pickup games in Denver, and he talks so much about the sport that he's gotten many NFL teammates interested, including Ravens star safety Ed Reed.

"There's always soccer balls in the locker room now," Pryce says with a laugh. "I play with some Somolian guys, and they play real hard. They refuse to speak English to me, and they don't pass me the ball."

Pryce says he has three teams to root for: the U.S., England and Ivory Coast. He laments the opening matchup is between the Americans and English.

"Yeah, U.S.-England, I wish it wasn't in the first game, but those are three teams I am kind of pulling for," Pryce says. "I don't think any of them will win; there's only a handful of teams that can win it.

"But it's not so much about winning the World Cup for the U.S. When we got to the (quarterfinals) in 2002, that was such a great showing. Non-soccer countries that are able to do well is a victory itself.

"I will watch every game I can. Whoever is playing and whatever, I am watching."


AP Sports Writers Howard Fendrich in Paris, Teresa M. Walker in Nashville, Larry Lage in Detroit and Antonio Gonzalez in Orlando contributed to this story.