USA Soccer's 11 Most Important Players in 2011

Andrew Jordan@@Andrew_JordanSenior Writer IDecember 29, 2011

USA Soccer's 11 Most Important Players in 2011

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    Both the men's and women's national teams achieved different forms of success in 2011. However, there were several players that were able to make a massive impact on the pitch for the Americans.

    Those important players will forever be synonymous with the squad that they were a part of, for better or for worse.

    Here are the 11 most important American internationals from 2011.

No. 11: Alex Morgan

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    She may have been the youngest member on the squad for the Americans in the Women's World Cup, yet Alex Morgan was unfazed and put together a fantastic tournament.

    Morgan scored the clinching goal as a substitute against France in the semifinal, before scoring a go-ahead goal in stoppage time in the final against Japan. Morgan also assisted on Abby Wambach's goal in regular time.

    In 2012, Morgan will look to star for the Americans in London in what will be her first Olympics. With Germany out of women's soccer in the tournament, the Americans will certainly be among the favorites to bring home gold.

No. 10: Carlos Bocanegra

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    He is the captain of the men's national side, and Carlos Bocanegra certainly was an important figure for the national team throughout 2011.

    Bocanegra helped to keep the side together after their stunning loss to Panama in the group stage of the Gold Cup, and his leadership was ever-present for the Yanks in their advancement into the Gold Cup final.

    After Jurgen Klinsmann took over the managerial spot for the national team, Bocanegra kept his spot as captain and was able to earn his 100th cap in the Americans 3-2 win over Slovenia in November.

    In 2012, Bocanegra will be an ever-present member of the national team in the beginning of their quest toward 2014 World Cup qualification.

No. 9: Timothy Chandler

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    Timothy Chandler first joined the national team in March's friendly against Argentina and immediately impressed. After strong performances against Argentina and Paraguay, it appeared that he would become a full-time starter for the national team relatively soon.

    Chandler did not participate in the Gold Cup in order to preserve his body for the Bundesliga season, and there were rumors that he would join his native Germany's national team in autumn.

    Thankfully for American fans, Chandler is here to stay and will probably grab a starting role in defense sometime in 2012.

No. 8: Jozy Altidore

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    Going into this season, Jozy Altidore was one of the most criticized players on the national team. He scored only two goals (both in meaningless friendlies) in 2010, and also struggled on the club level.

    However, Altidore started to fulfill some of his potential with some strong performances in the Gold Cup before getting injured against Jamaica.

    Altidore only continued to improve once he secured a move to AZ Alkmaar. Jozy has since scored six times in the Europa League and five times in the Dutch Eredivisie.

    Jozy has also impressed further under Jurgen Klinsmann and his system, and looks like he will be a major star in 2012 if he keeps up his spectacular form.

No. 7: Shannon Boxx

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    She is one of the best defensive midfielders the U.S. women have ever had, and Shannon Boxx had a fantastic tournament in Germany, where she was able to get the American women into the final.

    Boxx had been a part of three different American squads at the Women's World Cup, and she did not disappoint this time either, getting named to the tournament's All-Star team for her leadership and great play.

    Boxx will look to continue her play in the 2012 London Olympics, where Boxx can win her third Olympic gold medal after helping the American women win in 2004 and 2008.

No. 6: Tim Howard

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    He has been the primary starting goalkeeper since 2007, and Tim Howard put together a phenomenal 2011 for the Americans.

    Howard's strong performances started with the Yanks 1-1 draw against Argentina, where Howard made some great saves to allow the Yanks to secure the draw.

    In the Gold Cup, Howard went over 350 consecutive minutes without a goal and was a massive reason why the Americans advanced into the final before losing to Mexico.

    Howard's performances were weaker after Klinsmann became the new manager of the national team, but that shouldn't be a surprise considering the changes that are currently happening to the side defensively.

    In 2012, Howard will look to replicate the strong form that is expected from him once World Cup qualifying begins.

No. 5: Megan Rapinoe

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    In the 2011 Women's World Cup, Megan Rapinoe made a massive impact for an American side that needed her creativity.

    Rapinoe was able to contribute a goal and three assists in the tournament, including a fantastic cross to Abby Wambach in the dying moments of stoppage time to allow the Americans to tie their quarterfinal match with Brazil, before winning it on penalties.

    Back in 2008, Rapinoe was unable to play in the Beijing Olympics due to an ACL injury. However, the California native will look to win Gold for the Yanks in London.

No. 4: Landon Donovan

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    He has been the face of American soccer for close to a decade now, and Landon Donovan had another strong season for the red, white and blue in 2011.

    Donovan did help the United States obtain some strong results early in the tournament. However, it was his benching against Jamaica in the quarterfinals of the tournament that gained the most attention.

    It was the first time that Donovan started a match on the bench for the Americans since June 9, 2007, against Trinidad and Tobago (which ironically was also in the Gold Cup).

    In the semifinal, Donovan also started on the bench, but help to set up the winning goal for Clint Dempsey. In the final, Donovan scored the Americans' second and final goal, the only tally he had for the national team in all of 2011.

    However, Donovan will remain an important fixture on the national team in 2012 with the start of World Cup qualifying. He may no longer be an automatic starter, but Donovan will certainly remain a critical part of the American's squad for at least the next several years.

No. 3: Clint Dempsey

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    Clint Dempsey is now the most important player on the men's national team. After putting together a strong Gold Cup and some impressive performances under Jurgen Klinsmann's tutelage, there is no one but "Deuce" who will be more important in 2012.

    Dempsey is appearing to come closer to his peak ability now more than at any other time in his career. He scored 13 times for Fulham in the 2010-2011 season and has already contributed nine times this season, breaking the American mark for most goals in the Premier League in the process.

    In 2012, Dempsey will be expected to become a leader for the national team due to his increasing skill level and age (he will turn 29 next March).

No. 2: Hope Solo

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    She became an instant celebrity for her strong performance in the World Cup, and Hope Solo's impact cannot be underestimated in any way.

    Solo had the memories of the 2007 World Cup still hanging over her head, when she criticized then-USA manager Greg Ryan's decision to start Briana Scurry over her in the semifinal after Solo had three straight clean sheets.

    However, Solo did not allow her past to affect her play in the tournament.

    It was Solo who made multiple crucial saves to secure her spot as the best female goalkeeper in the world. Also, she was not critical of her own teammates and allowed them to reach their first women's World Cup final since 1999.

    In 2012, Solo will look to win her second gold medal after winning in Beijing in 2008.

No. 1: Abby Wambach

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    She scored the biggest goal for the American women since Brandi Chastain scored in the 1999 World Cup final, and Abby Wambach certainly put herself up among the greatest women soccer players to ever live with her performance in 2011.

    Altogether, Wambach scored four times in the women's World Cup, all of which were done with her head.

    However, no goal that Wambach scored was bigger than her goal against Brazil in the dying moments of their quarterfinal matchup.

    Wambach's goal propelled the Americans into a penalty shootout that they won. In her next two matches, Wambach scored in each but was unable to bring home the title of World Cup champions to a deserving American squad.

    In 2012, Wambach will attempt to lead the Americans to a Gold Medal in London, and to help keep the WPS alive after they were allowed to remain following U.S. Soccer's decision to give conditional Division 1 status to the league.

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