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USMNT: 25 Best Players in U.S. National Team History

Juan Carlos SalasContributor IIIOctober 27, 2011

USMNT: 25 Best Players in U.S. National Team History

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    I will start off by saying that ranking the best 25 players in United States Men's National Team history is one of most difficult tasks I've done. I wrote this with a bit of guilt, leaving out players who were also important, and whom some of you may believe belong on this list. 

    The United States has made strides developing talent since the mid 1980s. That talent further evolved over time, causing difficulty in ranking and even comparing all these great players that have worn the American crest.

    Nevertheless, it's fair to say that these 25 USMNT players deserve to be on a list as some of the best in history. Whether they are deserving of their ranking is subjective, and hopefully will create some interesting and fun discussions. 

    Therefore, enjoy.

25. Joe Gaetjens

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    He played three games for the United States, and only scored one goal. But Joe Gaetjens' only goal led to one of the greatest upsets in soccer.

    If you know your U.S. soccer history, Gaetjens needs no introduction. But, if you don’t, he was a Haitian-born immigrant who came to the U.S. to continue his education. He played for Brookhattan in New York after arriving in the U.S., and later was invited to join the U.S. 1950 World Cup squad. That was the same 1950 squad that upset World Cup favorites England, 1-0, in Belo Horizonte. And it was Gaetjens who scored the game-winner .

    He might not have played many games for the U.S.—eventually returning to his home Haiti—but Gaetjens will always be remembered for cementing the United State’s place in soccer history.

24. Carlos Bocanegra

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    Carlos Bocanegra has been the backbone for the U.S. defense since 2003, and is on the cusp of reaching the century mark for USMNT caps. Since departing the Chicago Fire in 2004, Bocanegra has played all over Europe. Fulham was his lengthy home for several years before moving his craft to Rennes, Saint-Etienne, and most recently, the Glasgow Rangers.

    Leadership qualities emerged for Bocanega, and he was rewarded in 2007 with the captain's armband, which he most often wears to this day. Since gaining the starting role as USMNT's center-back, Bocanegra has notched 12 goals in 98 games.

23. Frankie Hejduk

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    Frankie Hejduk, the California surfer, played for the USMNT for 13 years, during which he garnered 85 appearances. He represented the United States in both the 1996 and 2000 Olympic Games, and the 1998 and 2002 World Cup.

    He became a starter during the 1998 Gold Cup and his play progressed through the 2002 Gold Cup, into the 2002 World Cup. His duties as left-back during the tournament helped the U.S. reach the quarterfinals.

    Hejduk played into the qualifiers for the 2010 World Cup, but wasn’t chosen to represent the squad in South Africa.

22. Eddie Lewis

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    Eddie Lewis played on the left flank for the USMNT, slowly transitioning from left midfielder to left-back in the latter part of his career. He earned his first cap in 1996, and went on to have a 12-year career for the national team with 82 appearances, 10 goals and 12 assists. He’s tied with Eric Wynalda for fourth in the all-time assists category.

    Lewis suited up for the 2003 Gold Cup, the 1999 and 2003 Confederations Cup and the 2002 and 2006 World Cup.

    During the 2002 World Cup, he played both games in the knockout stage against Mexico and Germany, even assisting on the USMNT’s second goal against Mexico by sending a cross to Landon Donovan, which he headed in for the 2-0 lead.

21. Hugo Perez

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    Hugo Perez anchored the midfield between the mid 1980s and 1990s. He had 73 appearances for the USMNT and helped the United States qualify for the 1990 and 1994 World Cup.

    An injury hindered Perez from joining the national team in Italy during the 1990 tournament, but the head coach, Bora Milutinovic, called him up for the 1994 World Cup. 

    During his 10-year international career, he tallied 13 goals and was named Soccer Athlete of the Year in 1991.

20. Eddie Pope

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    An 11-year veteran, Eddie Pope's stellar career saw him in the USMNT back-line 82 times. He was a major contributor in the 1-0 victory over Brazil in 1998.

    Four years later, in the 2002 World Cup, he started every game for the United States, which made its surprising run to the quarterfinals after defeating Mexico, 2-0.

    Pope was a recent inductee into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011.

19. Jeff Agoos

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    Jeff Agoos was probably the most capped USMNT player—at 134 appearances—while playing the least amount of World Cup minutes. Nevertheless, Agoos was an instrumental defender, helping the U.S. reach multiple World Cups. Yet, bad luck deprived him from excelling on the world stage.

    He was the last player cut from the 1994 World Cup squad, sat on the bench for the 1998 World Cup, and scored an own goal against Portugal before suffering an injury during the 2002 World Cup.

    Regardless of his minimal World Cup experience, Agoos is still considered one of the best defenders the U.S. has ever had. He is the most capped U.S. defender, and ranks third all-time for any player.

18. Bruce Murray

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    Maybe not as well known as other high-scoring USMNT players, but Bruce Murray did a lot for the national team during the late 80s and into the early 90s.

    He was a big player for the Americans during their qualifying campaign for the 1990 World Cup, and played a part in both goals the U.S scored during the tournament—one of which he scored himself.

    Murray’s career might have lasted only eight years, but, in that time, he earned 86 caps and is listed as the sixth best all-time goal scorer with 21 goals.

17. Tony Sanneh

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    Tony Sanneh missed out on the 1998 World Cup. But, when Bruce Arena took over as head coach, he brought Sanneh back into the loop to become a key player en route to the 2002 World Cup. 

    Both on the defensive and attacking side, Sanneh became one of the most important players for the USMNT during its run to the quarterfinals. He assisted Brian McBride on his goal against Portugal, and had several looks at goal in the 1-0 loss against Germany.

    After the 2002 tournament, injuries haunted Sanneh, and he was overlooked for the national team until the 2005 Gold Cup—which he helped the U.S. win. Soon after, he retired from international play with 43 appearances.

16. Marcelo Balboa

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    Marcelo Balboa was the backbone of the USMNT defense during the 1990 and 1994 World Cups. His performance in the defense garnered him the distinction of Soccer Athlete of the Year in 1992 and 1994, and he became the first national team player to reach the century mark in caps.

    Infamous for attempting bicycle kicks, Balboa ended his international career with 13 goals in 128 appearances.

15. Tony Meola

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    Goalkeeper Tony Meola was part of the unforgettable squad that took the United States back into the World Cup after a 40-year absence, and impressed the world four years later by helping the USMNT into the second round. 

    Meola's stats, 100 caps with 37 wins and 32 shutouts, is only second behind Kasey Keller. After trying the NFL, Meola never gained his starting position back, but sporadically was called up to the USMNT until 2006.

14. Ernie Stewart

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    Ernie Stewart played 101 games for the USMNT between 1990 and 2004. He was instrumental in the United States victory over Colombia in the 1994 Word Cup. He scored a goal against Colombia and was the target of John Harks’ pass that was eventually deflected by Andres Escobar into his own net. 

    The Dutch-born midfielder played in three World Cups (1994, 2008 and 2002) and retired from the national team with 17 goals and 10 assists. He was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year in 2001.

13. Tab Ramos

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    Tab Ramos had been involved in U. S. Soccer since his mid-teens, eventually earning his first senior cap in 1988. He was part of the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cup squads and won Player of the Year in 1990. 

    With 81 caps, Ramos displayed some memorable moments; the most disastrous one was the skull fracture he received from Leonardo when the U.S. faced Brazil in the quarterfinals of the 1994 World Cup. The prior year, Ramos assisted on both goals that gave the U.S. a 2-0 win over England in the World Series of Soccer, and helped the U.S. to a fourth-place finish in the 1995 Copa America.

    Ramos was elected to the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005, and finished his career with eight goals and 14 assists, tied sixth all-time with Joe-Max Moore.

12. Alexi Lalas

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    Alexi Lalas, well-known for his hippie-like personality and looks, anchored the USMNT defense in the 1990s. He was part of the 1994 World Cup and 1995 Copa America teams; scoring against Argentina in the 3-0 upset. 

    His success in 1994 led Lalas to a contract with Serie A club Padova, He played in Italy for two years before coming to the New England Revolution in 1996.

    He retired from national-team duty in 1998 with 96 caps, and was inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006.

11. John Harkes

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    John Harkes was one of the core players for the better part of the 1990s. He was a big player in the 1994 World Cup squad that upset favorite Colombia, and also reached the knockout stages. A year later, at Copa America, Harkes' performance earned him co-MVP honors of the tournament. 

    Heading into the 1998 World Cup, then-head-coach Steve Sampson named Harkes "Captain for Life", but took away Harkes' captaincy and left him behind from the 1998 World Cup squad.  

    Harks was chosen again to be part of the national team under his former college coach, Bruce Arena. He helped the U.S. to a third place finish at the 1999 Confederations Cup before retiring from national team duty in 2000. In 13 years playing for the U.S. National Team, Harks scored 6 goals and tallied 11 assists in 90 appearances.

10. Paul Caligiuri

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    He is the man that started it all, again. U.S. defender Paul Caligiuri only scored five goals in his 110 USMNT appearances. However, it was one goal that he will forever be remembered for.

    In November 19, 1989, Caligiuri sent a 30-yard bomb that gave the U.S. a 1-0 lead over Trinidad & Tobago to send the Americans to the 1990 World Cup for the first time in four decades.

    Caligiuri started and played every minute for the United States in both the 1990 and 1994 World Cup. He wrapped up his international duty in 1997, and will always be thanked for the wonder-goal that brought the U.S. back into the soccer map. 

9. Tim Howard

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    The New Jersey man has continued the tradition of solid U.S. goalkeeping by leading the USMNT to victory at the 2007 Gold Cup, and to a second-place finish at the 2009 Confederations Cup.

    Tim Howard sat on the bench behind Kasey Keller during the 2006 World Cup, but four years later, he became the starter for all four matches of the 2010 World Cup. He played a pivotal role in the last game of group-play against Algeria, where his 60-yard pass to Landon Donovan led to the game-winner that helped the U.S advance to the knockout stage as group leaders.

    Howard has been one of the few Americans that has steadily played for one of the biggest club teams in the world, Manchester United, before his loan and eventual permanent transfer to Everton. In his 70 starts for the United States, Howard has recorded 25 shutouts.

8. Cobi Jones

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    The most capped player in USMNT history with 164 appearances, Cobi Jones was a stellar midfielder who displayed speed and some impressive dreadlocks.

    He played for the United States during the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cup. Jones' performance in the 1995 Copa America made him a recognizable player, and led him to an offer with Vasco da Gama. Two years later, he returned to the U.S. to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy for the remainder of his professional career.  

    Jones is remembered for receiving a severe head-butt from Mexico's defender Rafael Marquez during the waning minutes of the US-Mexico second-round match at the 2002 World Cup. Jones finished his USMNT career with 15 goals and 22 assists.

7. Clint Dempsey

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    Clint Dempsey's notoriety has risen the last several years so that he is seen as one of the most prolific forwards for the USMNT. He won Honda Player of the Year in 2006, and three years later he won the Bronze Boot at the Confederations Cup for his work against Egypt, Spain and Brazi— all teams in which he was able to score against.

    In the World Cup the following year, Dempsey embarrassed England—mostly its goalkeeper, Robert Green—after allowing Dempsey's soft shot to slip between his hands and give the U.S. the tying goal. Dempsey is one of the few USMNT players to score in multiple World Cups (2006 and 2010), and has the fastest goal ever recorded during U.S. World Cup qualifiers—a 53-second goal against Barbados.

    Dempsey has been capped 79 times, tallying 23 goals, making him the fifth highest goal scorer in USMNT history 

6. Joe-Max Moore

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    Joe-Max Moore was once one of the most lethal forwards on the U.S. National Team. He earned 100 caps and scored 24 goals during his 10-year career. 

    His goal tally makes him the USMNT's fourth-best goal scorer of all time.

    Moore represented the United States at the 1994, 1998 and 2002 World Cups, and was inducted into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006. 

5. Kasey Keller

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    For most, Kasey Keller has been the best keeper to ever protect the goalmouth of the USMNT. Even after his 17-year stint with the national teem that ended in 2007, Keller still leads goalkeeper statistical categories in appearances (102), wins (53) and shutouts (47).

    Keller was Tony Meola's back up in the 1900 World Cup and was ignored for the 1994 tournament. Thereafter, he re-emerged in an eight-year keeper battle with Brad Friedel. Keller won the starting spot for the 1998 World Cup, but was Friedel's reliever for the 2002 World Cup. Keller lead the U.S. to a 2005 Gold Cup championship and was later given the nod to appear in a fourth World Cup for Germany 2006. 

    With all the accolades, Keller is best remembered for the shutout, 1-0 victory against Brazil in the 1998 Confederations Cup. Tallying double-digit saves, Keller denied Brazilian legend Romario time and time again with impossible-like saves.

4. Eric Wynalda

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    Eric Wynalda was one of the many USMNT members that helped bring United States soccer and its national team back into the international spotlight. The former San Diego Aztec is a three-time World Cup veteran (1990, 1994 and 1998) and held the title of lead goalscorer in USMNT history (34 goals) until 2007.  

    He earned 106 caps for the U.S. and was chosen U.S. Player of the Decade as well as for CONCACAF All-Decade Team in 1990s. After scoring against Chile and Argentina, Wynalda earned all-tournament team honors at the 1995 Copa America. 

    In 2004, Wynalda was elected into the U.S. Soccer Hall of Fame.

3. Brian McBride

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    Brian McBride epitomized the American blue-collared-player mentality during his 13-year career on the U.S National Team. His 30 goals in 96 appearances has him listed as the third highest USMNT goal scorer of all time.

    McBride is a veteran of three World Cups (1998, 2002 and 2006) and was the first American to score in multiple World Cups (1998 and 2002). McBride was always a tough striker, never giving up on any play, and risking his body for the ball. The most dangerous example of that was during the 2006 World Cup when he received a cut under his eye from a Daniele de Rossi's elbow.

    Soon after the tournament, McBride retired from the national team, but still played with the U.S. Olympic Squad as an overage player in 2008

2. Landon Donovan

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    Currently Landon Donovan is the poster-boy for U.S. Soccer. He's the most recognizable player wearing the American crest, and is respected both in Latin America and Europe.

    Landon is the best offensive player in the USMNT, notching 46 international goals, and ranks second in appearances with 138. 

    Donovan is known for his explosive speed with the ball, a trait that has helped the U.S. to plenty of success. Most famously in the 2010 World Cup, when he scored the game-winner against Algeria, sending the U.S. to the knockout stages as group leaders.

1. Claudio Reyna

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    The original "Captain America", dubbed by the British, Claudio Reyna was one of the most cerebral players the USMNT has ever had. He has been one of two players called up for four world cups (1994, 1998, 2002 and 2006), with his most notable performance coming in the 2002 World Cup.

    After not playing the United States' inaugural game against Portugal, Reyna helped the U.S. tie South Korea, and he was a key player in the defeat of Mexico in the second round. Reyna's 2002 World Cup performance gained him the honor of being the only player in the USMNT's modern era to earn a spot in the World Cup all-tournament team. 

    He retired from international play after the 2006 World Cup with 112 caps, 8 goals and 19 assists, which lists Reyan as the third-best assist leader.

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