The United States men's national team has experienced unprecedented success on the international level over the past two decades, including six consecutive FIFA World Cup appearances and a quarterfinals berth in 2002.
Homegrown stars such as Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard and Landon Donovan were all products of Major League Soccer and have developed their talents overseas at some point of their careers.
The American media is never shy about placing the "star" tag on young, promising soccer players. Unfortunately, not all have lived up to the expectations like their fellow compatriots have.
While the term "overrated" is commonly thrown around by media and fans alike, this article refuses to place such a title on the following players. Nonetheless, certain American players have disappointed on the international level when their futures seemed so bright at the beginning of their careers.
Let's take a look at five formerly promising American soccer talents who have disappointed over recent years.
At one point Brian Ching was expected to be an answer to the American scoring problem. The Hawaiian has had an incredible career in MLS with the Houston Dynamo, including 56 goals in 165 appearances since 2006. Ching won two MLS Cups with Houston, even claiming MVP honors in 2006.
At a time when the U.S. men's national team lacked a quality striker (i.e. an aging Brian McBride), Ching was arguably the best choice to fill the void up top at the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany. While named to the American World Cup squad in 2006, Ching never made an appearance, and the U.S. experienced a dismal World Cup in which the U.S. scored two goals the entire tournament—one of which was an own goal against Italy in Kaiserslautern.
Ching took part in a few meaningful international matches under Bob Bradley, including the 2007 CONCACAF Gold Cup final victory over Mexico and subsequent World Cup qualifiers for South Africa 2010. However, Ching was never truly a part of Bradley's plans for the 2010 World Cup as he was not named to the final roster after making the preliminary squad.
After he was left off the 2010 World Cup roster at the age of 32, it was clear that Ching's international career was all but done. While scoring 11 goals in 45 international appearances (about 25 percent goals per game average), most of his goals came from fairly weak opponents such as Barbados, El Salvador, Trinidad & Tobago, etc.
Ching had a fairly successful international career according to most. However, the expectations of the "Flyin' Hawaiian" on the international stage were never truly met after lighting up MLS for several seasons.
Much like Ching, Taylor Twellman was a premier MLS striker for the majority of the last decade. After college, Twellman decided to forgo the MLS SuperDraft by signing with German Bundesliga club 1860 Munich. After an unsuccessful stint with the Bavarians, Twellman returned to the States and was drafted by the New England Revolution in 2002.
Twellman had a superb career with New England, winning MVP and Golden Boot honors in 2005. He is currently the seventh leading scorer in MLS history with 101 goals. In 2008, Twellman rejected a move to England with second division club Preston North End. Unfortunately, Twellman's career was cut short due to a serious neck injury and subsequent concussion.
Twellman's international career never took off either for various reasons. Firstly, the timing was never right for the man from Minnesota.
His first cap for the U.S. men's national team came in November 2002 against El Salvador and had few opportunities to make a name for himself for the 2002 World Cup squad. Twellman scored six goals in 30 matches with the U.S. senior squad, including a hat trick against Norway in January 2006.
While his play had improved with the national team, he was left off the 23-man roster for the 2006 World Cup in Germany by coach Bruce Arena even though many believed he was a logical choice given his dominance in MLS. The career-ending concussion in 2008 essentially finished his international career.
While Taylor Twellman's story is a fairly sad one, there were very few American players who were so consistent at the domestic level during their careers like him. Still, Twellman has had a positive role on American soccer: raising awareness about concussions for young players by speaking at sports functions and coaching clinics.
Oh, and if you turn on the television every once in a while you may see him commentating a few MLS matches with fellow American international Alexi Lalas, a.k.a. the funniest duo in soccer.
Jeff Cunningham may be the greatest enigma in U.S. soccer history. Major League Soccer's all-time leading scorer with 134 goals made only 14 international appearances with the United States. The Jamaican-born striker gained American citizenship in 2001 and made his first cap for the Stars & Stripes soon after.
Cunningham was the MLS Golden Boot winner in 2006 and 2009, yet never chosen to a World Cup squad. He probably would have been chosen to the American World Cup roster in 2002 had he received citizenship earlier. He only played in five international matches prior to the World Cup in Korea and Japan, including no World Cup qualifiers.
Eventually, Cunningham was overlooked in favor of Brian McBride and Clint Mathis for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, which was not exactly a failure since the dynamic duo inspired the Americans to the quarterfinals that year.
While his domestic career was one of the best in American soccer history, Cunningham never made himself a household name. To most soccer fans today, he is no more than a trivia question lost in the realm of insignificance. However, soccer analysts such as Alexi Lalas have praised Jeff Cunningham's contributions to the sport of soccer in America. Lalas wrote in a blog for Mirror Football:
He has always done his job: score goals. And he should be celebrated for that, for the historic number of goals he's scored, for his longevity and effectiveness. MLS history is still like a young red wine, but when you've got a good vintage, you revel in it.
Bob Bradley gave Cunningham a few opportunities to represent the United States late in his career, between 2009-10, when many believed his international career had passed. However, he was never selected to represent the U.S. in the World Cup or any other major tournament.
Unlike the other Americans on this list, Charlie Davies was actually receiving substantial playing time for the U.S. men's national team. Davies was the favorite choice up front for Bob Bradley (next to Jozy Altidore) between 2009-10, leading up to the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Davies signed for Swedish first division side Hammarby in 2006 and had a successful stint with the club, scoring 21 goals in 56 appearances. Ligue 1 one side Sochaux (France) was intrigued with the youngster and signed him in July 2009.
By this time, Davies became a regular with the U.S. national team, scoring some vital goals for the Stars and Stripes, including one against Egypt in the 2009 Confederations Cup that sent the Americans through to the semifinals, in which they beat defending European champions Spain. He also scored the opening goal of a FIFA World Cup qualifier at the Estadio Azteca against rivals Mexico. However, the U.S. went on to lose that match 2-1.
There is no doubt that Charlie Davies was guaranteed a spot on the American's World Cup roster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa. Unfortunately, Davies was involved in a car accident in October 2009 before a World Cup qualifying match against Costa Rica. One passenger in the vehicle died, while Davies suffered severe injuries.
In the subsequent weeks, Davies made a "remarkable recovery" in terms of his health but was unable to play for Sochaux for the rest of the 2009-10 season.
In May of 2010 Bob Bradley left Charlie Davies off the preliminary roster for the 2010 FIFA World Cup. While Davies made great strides recovering from his injuries, he was clearly not fit enough to play in the World Cup in June. Bradley decided to bring Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Robbie Findley and Herculez Gomez to South Africa as forwards.
After a loan spell with D.C. United, Davies signed for Danish club Randers FC, though he has yet to make a league appearance for the Danish side and has not been called up to the U.S. national team since the accident. The Charlie Davies story is without a doubt one of the more disappointing in U.S. soccer history.
Let's just get the "much Adu about nothing" jokes out of the way.
We all know the story. In 2004 the 14-year-old made international headlines by signing a contract with D.C. United. Adu was making about $750,000 annually between his Nike and MLS deals, even though he could not formally sign any contracts as a minor.
According to former Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl, American coaches expected Adu to start for the U.S. national team at the 2006 FIFA World Cup at the age of 17, much like Pele had for Brazil in 1958.
While Adu was fairly successful in MLS between 2004-06, he did not live up the excessive hype that the experts predicted. He won MLS Cup his rookie season with D.C. United and was selected to two MLS All-Star teams in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
In 2007, Adu signed with historic Portuguese club SL Benfica. He even made an appearance in a UEFA Champions League qualifying match with the Lisbon side. Unfortunately, Adu has not found much success at any club overseas, including stints in Portugal, France, Greece, Turkey and currently Brazil.
On the international level, Adu has appeared in 17 matches with the U.S. national team, scoring only twice. Adu became cap tied in 2006 during a friendly match against Canada at the age of sixteen.
Clearly, former U.S. coach Bruce Arena wanted to commit Adu to the Americans as soon as possible, since he could have technically declared allegiance to Ghana. Since then, Adu has been on the outside looking in with the U.S. national team. He has been left off World Cup rosters in 2006 and 2010 (and likely 2014) as his club situation remains unstable.
The jury is still out for Freddy Adu. At only 24 years of age, Adu could have a future with the U.S. men's national team. While he is not the "next Pele" like many pundits believed he would be at this point, Adu must find stability and rhythm at the club level before any national team coach will take a chance on him again.