MLS: The Best American Players in the League
Independence Day is the USA’s birthday and a great opportunity to celebrate being an American.
Not all the best American soccer players play in MLS, and not all the best players in MLS are American. So in honor of this great nation, here is a starting XI of the best American players in MLS so far in the 2011 season.
The list features one goalie, three defenders, five midfielders and two forwards. To be eligible for this list, the player has to be eligible to play for the United States Men’s National Team.
Nick Rimando, Goalie, Real Salt Lake
Goalie is a position of strength for Americans, and MLS has its share of talented American keepers. Rimando is at the top of the class.
Compared to other goalies that have played in 10 or more games, the 5’8” net minder is third in winning percentage (43 percent), second in save percentage (79 percent), second in goals against average (0.64) and second in shutouts.
He missed a few games due to his inclusion with the USMNT in the Gold Cup, but with Rimando in net, Real Salt Lake is one of the stingiest defensive teams in the league. They currently have allowed only nine goals all season.
Omar Gonzalez, Defense, Los Angeles Galaxy
At 6’4”, Gonzalez towers over the opposition, and he uses his size and strength to his advantage. He is the defensive centerpiece for the Western Conference-leading Galaxy.
The team has allowed only 15 goals against—second in MLS—and is first with a plus-10 goal differential.
Because of his height Gonzalez can also be used in set pieces in front of the goal, registering one so far this season.
Jay DeMerit, Defender, Vancouver Whitecaps
He was the high-profile signing for the Whitecaps for their inaugural season and when healthy, provides great leadership for one of two expansion teams.
The captain, as he has his whole career, is aggressive and a fighter and that rubs off on his teammates.
The key for him is to just stay healthy, playing in only 10 games due to a groin injury. Still, when he plays he makes an obvious impact on the game.
Tim Ream, Defender, New York Red Bulls
National team duty is the only way the Red Bulls can get this promising prospect off the field.
Since joining the team as a second-round draft pick last year, Ream has played every single minute of every possible game he was active for. No injuries, no substitutions and no suspensions; the only reason Ream has missed time this year is because he was taken away to play with the USMNT in the Gold Cup.
Durability is not his only special trait. Ream has a great calmness on the ball and plays with much poise out of the back.
He is a crisp passer, and his ability to successfully begin the transition from defense to offense is not only perfect for the possession-obsessed New York Red Bulls, it is rare amongst most American centerbacks.
Benny Feilhaber, Midfielder, New England Revolution
The 26-year-old made a huge splash in the league when he was signed by the Revolution in April. Attendance at New England games has increased thanks to Feilhaber’s presence, but that is the only thing that has improved about this club.
In the seven games he’s played in, he has played every single minute. He has two assists this season, his first coming within his first 12 minutes of his debut.
He’s an offensive-minded player and he has helped the struggling Revolution do a much better job of moving the ball around and push the ball up the field.
Brad Davis, Midfielder, Houston Dynamo
Brad Davis may be the best-player you haven’t heard of.
The midfielder is a master of setting his teammates up. He has tallied 12 assists the past two years, finishing third in MLS last season and already has nine this season, first in the league.
He has two goals of his own this season as well.
He doesn’t get the headlines, he doesn’t get the individual accolades, but Davis is very good on the wing and does a lot to help his team get a victory. The number of assists he produces on a yearly basis is quite impressive.
Jack Jewsbury, Midfielder, Portland Timbers
The 30-year-old midfielder is having a career year. As captain of the expansion Portland Timbers, Jewsbury has already tallied six assists (tied for fourth in the league, second-highest total of his career) and four goals (tied for a career-high).
Portland is not high in the standings, but they are a competitive team—especially at home—and it has to do with Jewsbury’s emergence from role player to the main man in the middle of the field.
Kyle Beckerman, Midfielder, Real Salt Lake
The dreadlocked one has been a mainstay in the Real Salt Lake lineup now for the past four years. He serves as the team’s captain and is tenacious on the defensive end of the field.
It’s hard to imagine there being a 50-50 ball or a tough tackle that Beckerman has ever shied away from. He maintains a positive attitude and has a strong will to win.
He is the heart and soul of Real Salt Lake and a big reason for their transformation into one of, if not the most well-rounded team in MLS.
He hasn’t lost a step this season.
Brek Shea, Midfielder, FC Dallas
Always recognizable for his long blonde hair, Shea’s play has been just as noteworthy this season. He has a tremendous amount of talent, and this year he is doing a good job showcasing it.
Currently he is one of four players tied for the league lead in goals scored (eight). He has four goals in his past four games and is taking up the slack left behind by injured 2010 MVP David Ferreira.
He also leads the league with four game-winning goals. He puts a lot of pressure on opposing defenses, taking 42 shots this season, sixth in the league.
Shea’s dominance on the field has helped FC Dallas climb the standings to second place in the Western Conference, sitting only one point behind the Galaxy. He’s an early candidate for league MVP.
Charlie Davies, Forward, D.C. United
Every American soccer fan’s favorite story, someone it seems like everyone is rooting for, Charlie Davies is making a remarkable comeback for his first action on the pitch since that heavily publicized car accident in October of 2009.
He is tied for the league lead in goals (eight), even though he has only started eight games and played in 14. While his speed still may not be at the same level it was pre-injury, Davies is fast enough to get behind defenses and really cause trouble on the offensive end of the field.
For most, it has been fun to watch Davies resurgence. A number of his goals have come from the penalty spot rather than in the run of play and he still is not quite ready to make his return to the USMNT, but Davies is taking advantage of every opportunity he gets for D.C. and is enjoying a very good first season in MLS.
Landon Donovan, Forward, Los Angeles Galaxy
Landon Donovan is not only the face of the Galaxy, not only the face of MLS, but he is also the face of American soccer. His play on the field this year is once again top-notch and the perennial MVP-candidate is making another run for the trophy this season.
In only 11 games (missing time with the USMNT in the Gold Cup), he has eight goals, also one of four players tied for the league lead. He is the team’s captain, longest tenured player and its leader.
His team has the most points in the entire league and with no National Team matches coming up, he should be on the field for the remainder of the Galaxy games, creating goals.
He’s a versatile player, which allows him to slide up as a forward in this starting lineup. He only has one assist this season, which is unusual for Donovan, but with more games and more time to get acclimated with his teammates he should improve on his assist number.
Bench (Honorable Mention)
Kasey Keller, GK, Seattle Sounders; Todd Dunivant, D, Los Angeles Galaxy; Chad Marshall, D, Columbus Crew; Robbie Rogers, M, Columbus Crew; Jeff Larentowicz, M, Colorado Rapids; Teal Bunbury, F, Sporting Kansas City; Chris Wondolowski, F, San Jose Earthquakes