The 2008 TIME 100

Heroes & Pioneers
Daniele La Monaca / Reuters

Kaká

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From the first time I played soccer against him, it was obvious Kaká was something special. Late in a semi-final game during the 2003 CONCACAF Gold Cup, our U.S. team was up 1-0 against Brazil. But the world champions came back, and Kaká proved decisive. The Brazilian scored first, and his team went on to win in overtime. It was clear that he had the tools to become one of the world's top players.

He has not disappointed. Named both FIFA World Player of the Year and European footballer of the year in 2007, Kaká, 26, helped his club, Italy's AC Milan, to European and world titles last year. He's an attacking midfielder with tremendous technical ability and great size, and is good in the air. He is the total footballer.

There is, however, more to him than sport. In 2004, Kaká became the U.N. World Food Program's youngest ambassador. And he is devoted to his faith. An evangelical Christian, Kaká has talked publicly about becoming a minister when he retires from the game. After winning the European Champions League final last year, he took off his jersey to reveal a T shirt that read, "I Belong to Jesus".

I might question whether soccer stadiums are the right venue for promoting religion, but in an age in which many professional athletes care more about cars, women and controversy, it's refreshing to see one who is committed to having a positive impact on the world around him.

Keller, a four-time World Cup goalie for the U.S., plays for the English club Fulham

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