The United States has a surprisingly rich football history.
For instance, they finished third in the first ever World Cup in 1930. And during that 1930 run in Uruguay an American named Bert Patenaude recorded the first hat trick in World Cup history.
However, Team America’s success in the early part of the century diminished as they suffered through a humiliating 40-year World Cup drought.
It wasn’t until 1990 that the Yanks finally returned to the world stage.
Since then the beautiful game has made great strides in the USA. With their most successful decade starting in 2002—when they reached the World Cup quarterfinals in Germany—they have enjoyed a four-year unbeaten run against their arch rivals, Mexico, and surprised the world with a second place finish in the Confederations Cup.
Here are the best players to fill the traditional 4-4-2 formation. It wasn’t easy to pick the starting 11.
Some superstars fell victim to playing the same position as an established legend; others, although extremely talented, do not have enough years or consistency to be given this esteemed honor.
Brad Freidel, Casey Keller and Tim Howard. This is by far the most difficult position to fill.
Casey Keller and Brad Freidel fought over the US’s starting spot throughout most of their careers. Both keepers paved the way for Americans to play abroad and made a name for themselves in their respected clubs.
Tim Howard will probably be on the list when he decides to hang his boots. However, at 32, he is still relatively young for a keeper and has more years of service left for Team USA.
Freidel gets the nod because of his outstanding performances for Team USA and a consistency shown in the highest level.
Brad Freidel was dubbed “The Human Wall” after the 2002 World Cup, during which he saved two penalties during the U.S.’s run for a quarterfinal finish.
The keeper cemented his place in history during an away game versus Charlton Athletic by being the second goalie in EPL history to score a goal.
Paul Caligiuri will always hold a special place in US soccer history. His improbable goal in a World Cup qualifier against Trinidad & Tobago sent the US to their first World Cup in 40 years.
Caligiuri’s “Shot Heard Around the World” is arguably the most famous goal in US history. The defender continued to make history by scoring the first World Cup goal in 40 years during a 5-1 loss to Czechoslovakia.
Along with John Harkes, Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda, Paul Caligiuri was one of the stars of the 1990 and 1994 World Cup teams. He played all 90 minutes of every game during both tournaments. The talented defender was not afraid to take risks and he ended up starting America’s football renaissance.
Alexi Lalas is one of the most recognizable faces of US soccer. His shutdown defense, imposing 6-foot-3 frame and long fiery red hair made him a fan favorite during the 1994 World Cup.
After an impressive World Cup campaign, where he was named an honorable mention for the all-tournament team, Alexi Lalas became the first American to play for a Serie A team.
Lalas signed with Padova and quickly established himself as a quality defender. He anchored Padova’s back line and scored important goals against Seria A giants AC Milan and Inter Milan.
The charismatic defender promoted the game on and off the field. The ESPN analyst was the front man of a band called “The Gypsies” that featured a hit single, “Kicking Balls,” which was used for the movie The Big Green.
I guess every team needs a voice.
Marcelo Balboa wasn’t the fastest or most skilled player on the pitch, but he anchored the US back line throughout the 1990s.
Balboa set the standard for consistency by becoming the first player to reach 100 caps for Team America. The stellar defender was also the first player to play in three World Cups, along with Tab Ramos and Eric Wynalda.
The defender wasn’t afraid to move forward and help attack. Ironically, one of his most memorable offensive moments comes from not a goal, but a miss—an incredibly close bicycle kick against Columbia in the 1994 World Cup.
He redeemed himself years later scoring a bicycle kick for the Colorado Rapids in 2000.
Carlos Bocanegra doesn’t seem to care about where he plays as long as he is on the pitch.
Managers have used him as a defensive midfielder, a center back or a left back. He’s proven to be a valuable player no matter where he plays and his leadership qualities made him the captain of the 2010 US World Cup team.
Bocanegra shipped off to Europe after early success in the Chicago Fire, where he was the first player ever to earn the MLS Defender of the Year award twice.
Team USA’s current skipper signed with Fulham in 2004 and earned 124 caps for the London club. He was the second-leading scorer (behind Brian McBride) and was named captain in 2007.
His best moment with the US came in 2009 when he captained the team to a surprise second place finish in the Confederations Cup.
That run included “the Miracle on Grass” upset over Spain, which came into the game ranked first in the world and had a record 35-game unbeaten streak.
Cobi Jones was the face of US soccer in the 1990s.
The most passionate player to ever play for Team USA is also the most experienced soccer player in US history with 163 appearances.
Despite being one of the shortest guys on the field, the quick winger always seemed to make a big impact. He became a fan favorite during the 1995 Copa America, where Latin commentators nicknamed him “El Escobillon,” or the Swab because of his dreadlocks.
Success with the U.S. National Team in the '94 World Cup and '95 Copa America gave him the opportunity to try his luck abroad in England, Germany and Brazil.
His success did not materialized abroad, and he returned to the US and joined the LA Galaxy for the MLS’s inaugural season.
Cobi Jones quickly became the first star of the MLS by winning two titles with the LA Galaxy and helped lay the foundation that made the league what it is today.
Cobi’s No. 13 is the club’s only retired number and he still holds the records for most appearances and most assists.
Claudio Reyna is considered one of the best, if not the best player to ever come out of the US. Known to many as Captain America, a team of U.S. All-Stars would be incomplete without him.
The defensive midfielder first played in Europe after the 1994 World Cup. He flourished with the German club VfL Wolfsburg and established himself as a dominant force in the midfield.
Reyna quickly cemented himself into the starting 11 and became the first American to captain a European club.
Reyna’s best time with the US was the 2002 World Cup, where he captained Team America to a quarterfinal finish.
Captain America was a key factor in the overtime win over Mexico in the round of 16. He became the first American to be voted to the all-tournament team in over 50 years.
John Harkes was one of the key players behind U.S. soccer’s resurrection in the 1990s. Once named “Captain for Life,” Harkes was the backbone of the American midfield in the 1990s and became the first American to play in the EPL by signing for Sheffield Wednesday in 1990.
His goal in 1990 against Derby County’s Peter Shilton (who was England’s starting keeper at the time) is remembered as one of Sheffield Wednesday’s best goals of all time.
That year, he became the first American to win a League Cup Final when Wednesday upset Manchester United, 1-0.
Harkes had an impressive 1995 Copa America, leading the Stars and Stripes to a surprising 3-0 defeat over the former champions, Argentina. His impressive performances earned Harkes the title of tournament co-MVP.
Although Harkes helped push US soccer to the next level, his legacy will always be a little tarnished by his controversial exclusion from the 1998 World Cup team. Harkes allegedly took one out of the John Terry handbook and had an affair with the wife of then-teammate Eric Wylanda.
Landon Donovan is the most talented player to ever put on a US jersey. He has had so much success with Team USA that he is hated for it in some parts of the world.
Donovan was a key figure in the US’s five-year unbeaten streak against their bitter arch rivals, Mexico. He infuriated Mexican fans by peeing just off the pitch during a game in Jalisco after the Mexican keeper allegedly insulted his mother.
His antics and success against El Tri have made Landon the most hated athlete in Mexico.
The quick winger is the U.S’s all-time leading scorer and the only man to be named the U.S. Soccer Player of the Year four times.
Landon Donovan made a name for himself during his first World Cup in 2002, where he was named Young Player of the Tournament by helping upset Portugal and reaching the quarterfinals.
Landon Donovan is the global ambassador of US soccer. His speed and creativity make him a dangerous weapon against any opponent and when it is all said and done he will be the best player to play for Team USA.
Brian McBride was one of the toughest guys to play for the Team America. The six-foot-tall aerial threat was never one to shy away from a 50-50 ball and scored many of his goals with his head.
Most Americans will always remember McBride’s blood-stained face in the 2006 World Cup when he got elbowed to the face by Daniele De Rossi, only to come back in and finish the game with three stitches above his eye.
His high work rate and complete disregard for personal safety helped him score 30 goals for Team USA, putting him at No. 3 in the all-time scoring list. It also made him a fan favorite while playing for Fulham.
McBride scored 41 goals in six seasons for the Cottagers, and was named team captain in 2007, after being the team’s top scorer.
Fulham fans hold Brian McBride in such high regard that they renamed a bar in Craven Cottage after him in 2009.
Eric Wynalda was the leading scorer in US history until 2008, when someone named Landon Donovan came along. The quick forward scored 34 goals in 106 games for the USA.
Perhaps his most memorable goal was the free kick he scored against Switzerland in the ’90 World Cup. That goal helped the US earn their first World Cup point in 40 years. He then became the first American to play for a Bundesliga club when he signed for Saarbrucken in 1992.
One of his finest moments came in the 1995 Copa America in Uruguay. The U.S. surprised South America by finishing atop their group ahead of Argentina and ended up winning fourth place.
Wynalda played extremely well in Uruguay, scoring goals against Argentina, Chile and a penalty against Mexico earning all-tournament team honors.
Eric Wynalda was the most dangerous weapon US soccer had to offer in the 1990s. It is no surprised he was named to the CONCACAF team of the decade.