Who is the best US soccer player ever? Ranking top American … – Sporting News

The United States may not be a worldwide soccer power, but the CONCACAF giants have a long and storied history of players who have brought joy and elation to fans around the country and globe.
A part of the first-ever FIFA World Cup in 1930, the United States has taken part in 10 World Cup tournaments, with the latest in Qatar in 2022. Number 11 will come four years later when the U.S. plays joint-host to the 2026 World Cup alongside Mexico and Canada.
A host of great players have delivered memorable moments and spectacular victories over the years. The current generation hopes to build on that success, but they’ll have to provide plenty of reason to supplant those below who remain amongst the greatest players to ever put on a U.S. Soccer shirt.
With the best combination of club success, international brilliance, memorable moments, and career length, the following players are those deemed best by The Sporting News across the history of U.S. international soccer.
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Caps: 126, Goals: 17
This final spot was hotly contested, mostly between defenders. Eddie Pope is widely regarded as the best center-back in U.S. history, while Carlos Bocanegra could also make a case for a spot on the list. Yet neither of those players had the sustained club and international success of DaMarcus Beasley, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a more universally well-liked player than the Fort Wayne, Indiana product.
Beasley charmed fans across the country with a lengthy international career that refused to die, and he was successful around the globe. With multi-year stints at Dutch side PSV, Scottish club Rangers, German club Hannover, and Mexican club Puebla, plus a one-year loan stint at Manchester City, Beasley checked all the boxes on the international stage. He bookended his career abroad with lengthy runs at MLS sides Chicago Fire and Houston Dynamo, winning the U.S. Open Cup three different times.
But Beasley’s best moments undoubtedly came in a U.S. national team shirt. He won the Gold Cup an incredible five times, even winning the 2005 tournament’s Golden Boot award. Beasley excelled for so long at a full-back position of considerable weakness for the United States, consistently finding his way back in the U.S. team, and was even brought out of retirement for the 2015 Gold Cup by Jurgen Klinsmann who simply couldn’t find anyone else to do the job. He was one of just three U.S. players in history to be a part of four World Cup squads, and to this day remains a beloved figure in U.S. soccer lore.
Caps: 81, Goals: 8
Born in Uruguay before moving to the U.S. when he was 11, Tab Ramos was one of the best and most skilled two-way midfielders the U.S. has ever seen. Able to take on defenders one-on-one and also put in a tackle, Ramos could make magic with the ball at his feet.
The majority of Ramos’ club career was spent with the New York MetroStars, but he also spent time in Spain, first with second-tier side Figueres before moving to Real Betis where he would help the club to La Liga promotion in 1994, helping earn him CONCACAF Player of the Year honors. In 1995, Ramos became the first-ever player to sign with a Major League Soccer club, and he played for Tigres in Mexico while he waited for MLS to begin its inaugural season.
With the international team, Ramos was a central figure. His first international goal was a crucial long-range winner against Costa Rica in 1990 World Cup qualifying, and he later delivered the assist to set up Paul Caligiuri’s stunning goal against Trinidad & Tobago that would clinch a World Cup berth for the U.S., its first since 1950. Injuries would derail the latter stages of his career, but he had already cemented his place amongst the greats of American soccer.
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Caps: 112, Goals: 8
The son of Argentinian parents, Claudio Reyna embodied U.S. soccer throughout his career. Despite holding offers from European clubs, Reyna chose instead to play college soccer at Virginia under Bruce Arena, where he won the prestigious MAC Hermann Trophy as the best collegiate player in the nation.
That would launch Reyna into a wonderful club career that included time at German clubs Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg, Scottish giants Rangers, and English clubs Sunderland and Manchester City before finishing at the New York Red Bulls domestically.
While Reyna’s career was fraught with injuries that left him often unfulfilled, including a devastating hamstring injury that left him unable to be a part of the 1994 World Cup hosted by the United States, but while on the field he dazzled fans. Reyna captained the U.S. team for a significant time, including wearing the armband at the 2002 World Cup, where the U.S. progressed into the quarterfinals for the only time in its history at the tournament. 
Caps: 151, Goals: 17
At his best, Michael Bradley was the engine that made the U.S. go, an endless battery with which to gradually wear down an opponent until one of his signature deliveries from deep provided the knockout blow.
A midfield passing wizard, Bradley is one of just three U.S. player ever to eclipse 150 caps. He had a prolific European career, playing for German side Borussia Monchengladbach, and Italian clubs Chievo Verona and AS Roma. His time with Roma marked the height of his career.
Bradley earned his first international cap at just 18 years old, and would grow into a critical component of the U.S. midfield for over a decade. He was, for a significant stretch, the first name on the U.S. teamsheet when constructing a lineup. He was key to the iconic upset over Spain in the 2009 Confederations Cup, and he scored a late equalizer against Slovenia in the 2010 World Cup to help the U.S. top Group C.
Bradley’s career is still filled with some what-ifs, particularly surrounding his 2014 departure from Roma to MLS, with many fans wishing he had remained in Europe a little longer. At the tail end of his international career, his possessional mistakes became more costly, drawing the ire of some supporters. Still, it’s impossible do deny what Bradley meant to the United States for such a sustained period of time.
Caps: 95, Goals: 30
A player who played without fear — fear of the opposition, or fear of injury — Brian McBride became known for leaving it all out on the field.
A seven-year stint with the Columbus Crew resulted in a move to Fulham, where in just four years McBride became a club legend in London, with his name now emblazoned on a restaurant and bar embedded in Fulham’s ground, Craven Cottage. As the club’s top scorer in the 2006/07 Premier League season, he was handed the captaincy, and he returned from a gruesome knee injury to save the club, scoring three goals as part of the 2007/08 relegation battle known around the club as the “Great Escape.”
On the international level, McBride was critical to the 2002 World Cup run to the quarterfinals, scoring against both Portugal in the group stage and Mexico in the Round of 16. His early opener against El Tri set the stage for “Dos a Cero” which still stands today as the only World Cup knockout stage victory in USMNT history.
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Caps: 82, Goals: 0
Whether you consider him the greatest American goalkeeper of all-time or not, it’s clear that Brad Friedel’s contributions to American soccer place him amongst the top players ever from his nation.
Friedel spent the most time at the club level with Blackburn Rovers, with 288 appearances across eight years of service. Also appearing over 100 times for Aston Villa before finishing his career with a four-year stint at Tottenham, Friedel was a longtime mainstay in the English top flight, finishing with the most Premier League appearances (450) of any North or South American player ever, and second only to Australia’s Mark Schwarzer in appearances by a non-European.
With three World Cup jaunts, he truly rose to international prominence in his final World Cup, dubbed “The Human Wall” as he willed the U.S. to the quarterfinals of the 2002 event. In that tournament, Friedel became the first goalkeeper since 1976 to save two non-shootout penalties at a World Cup, stopping efforts in a 1-1 draw with South Korea and a shocking 3-2 upset win over Portugal.
Friedel’s international career achievements are even more spectacular considering he had stiff competition from U.S. goalkeeping greats Tony Meola, Kasey Keller, and Tim Howard all throughout his time on the national team.
Caps: 52, Goals: 21
Just 23 years old, Christian Pulisic is already one of the top male American players to ever play the game. That’s true even as he has yet to record any truly memorable moments in a U.S. shirt.
In fact, at the present moment, Pulisic is best known for one of American soccer’s biggest failures — the infamous miss in 2018 where the U.S. failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia.
Yet his club achievements inspire hope, and even promise, that Pulisic can create moments in a U.S. shirt. The pride of Hershey, Pa., has already won a prestigious UEFA Champions League with Chelsea, scoring a critical goal and assisting another against Real Madrid in the semifinals to help the Blues hoist the trophy in 2021. With that, he became the only American to date to play in a Champions League final, and he is the top-scoring American player in the Champions League already. He has one more Champions League knockout stage goal (4) than all other Americans combined.
Pulisic, who did lead the U.S. to the 2019/20 CONCACAF Nations League title, is still awaiting his signature international moment. Even if it doesn’t come at the 2022 World Cup, there will be plenty more chances to win the hearts and minds of the American faithful, and his club achievements have already placed him amongst the U.S. greats.
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Caps: 121, Goals: 0
In a controversial pick, Tim Howard is, by this list’s definition, the best American goalkeeper to have played the game. He began his career with the now-defunct MetroStars in MLS before making a sensational move to Manchester United. His 45 appearances for the Red Devils saw his stock rise, and he switched to Everton where he would spend 10 years and amass 329 appearances.
Howard’s international career was equally as memorable, growing into a leader for the USMNT and appearing in two World Cups. Howard’s World Cup debut was a brilliant showing against England in 2014 to help the U.S. to a 1-1 draw, and he began the move that resulted in Landon Donovan’s game-winner against Algeria to advance through from the group. Four years later, his performance in the Round of 16 defeat to Belgium in 2014 is one of the most iconic performances in a U.S. shirt, setting the World Cup record for saves in a match with 16 and nearly putting the nation on his shoulders in a bid to reach the quarterfinals.
That’s not Howard’s only iconic moment, however. Everton fans will remember the sensational goal he scored against Bolton from 100 yards away, and whether it was intentional or not — the driving wind caught Adam Bogdan off guard on what appeared to be a routine goal kick — it goes down as one of the most memorable goalkeeper moments in Premier League history.
Caps: 118, Goals: 47
If there’s one word to describe Clint Dempsey, it’s “swagger,” but that does unfair justice to his actual football abilities, which were memorable.
“Deuce” wasn’t the most consistent player, and would disappear on occasion at both the club and international level. He often needed to fit a system to be most effective. But at his best, Dempsey was unplayable, carving opposition defenses to shreds and rising to the occasion. Bruce Arena perfectly described Dempsey in three simple words: “He tries sh—t.”
His breathtaking 2010 goal for Fulham against Juventus in the Europa League capped one of the most historic upsets in European football, and perfectly encapsulated what Dempsey was as a player — audacious. On the international level, he holds the fifth-fastest goal in World Cup history with his opener against Ghana in 2014, and he remains Fulham’s all-time Premier League top goalscorer with 50 top-flight strikes.
Now a member of Fox’s soccer analysis team, a man once known for his love of seclusion has ripped off his hard outer shell and brought his swagger to the broadcast world, and U.S. fans today are much better for it.
Caps: 157, Goals: 57
Few would argue that Landon Donovan is the greatest American male soccer player in the nation’s history. He had everything you can want from a player: club success, iconic national team moments, career length.
Donovan broke out for the national team in the 2002 World Cup, earning the tournament’s Best Young Player award after the historic U.S. run to the quarterfinals. He played mostly for the LA Galaxy during his club career, but checked the Premier League box with a pair of loan moves to Everton in 2010 and 2012. Donovan’s goal against Algeria in the dying seconds of the 2010 World Cup group stage is one of the most iconic moments in American soccer history.
His career came to a screeching halt when Jurgen Klinsmann controversially left him off the roster for the 2014 World Cup, in a moment that will go down in infamy. As a rising star in the coaching ranks, we haven’t seen the last of Landon Donovan.
Cobi Jones — It would be impossible not to make mention of the man who holds the appearance record for the most caps in U.S. history with 162. Known for his versatility and grit, Jones was an ever-present figure for the U.S. national team and a critical component of many World Cup squads and CONCACAF battles. His club career, however, left much to be desired, as he spent almost all his playing days with MLS side LA Galaxy, failing to test himself at the higher levels.
Eddie Pope — Many consider Eddie Pope as the best defender in U.S. history, and for good reason. He had every skill in the toolbox, including a knack for the back of the net, scoring the winning goal in the first-ever MLS Cup final. He was the anchor of the 2002 World Cup defense that stifled many of the world’s best teams. He, like Jones, however, failed to test himself in Europe despite many opportunities to do so, instead spending the entirety of his playing career domestically.
Eric Wynalda — Clint Dempsey embraced swagger, but Wynalda was the pioneer. One of the first American players to test himself in Europe, playing for German clubs FC Saarbrucken and VfL Bochum, Wynalda had an incredible eye for goal, especially from set-pieces.
Kasey Keller — Keller is only left off the list thanks to the presence of other great U.S. goalkeepers at a position of strength for Americans throughout recent decades. Playing abroad for Leicester City, Tottenham and Borussia Monchengladbach at the club level, Keller had iconic moments in an international shirt, including his memorable performance against Italy in a 1-1 draw in the 2006 World Cup.
Carlos Bocanegra — Earning 110 caps for the U.S. national team while testing himself at the club level in England, France, and Scotland, Carlos Bocanegra is one of the best defenders in American history. He became a fan favorite at Fulham alongside McBride, and captained the U.S. in the famous 2009 Confederations Cup run as well as at the 2010 World Cup.
Alexi Lalas — A gritty midfielder known as much for his flow as his skills, photos of Lalas in the iconic stars & stripes U.S. kit at the 1994 World Cup have become synonymous with that era of U.S. Soccer. Lalas played two seasons in Serie A with Italian club Padova before spending the rest of his career domestically, and has since become a popular yet infamous pundit with Fox’s soccer coverage.
John O’Brien — O’Brien couldn’t possibly earn a place on the list given the short length of his career, where thanks largely to injuries he would earn just 32 caps, but during his time on the field, he was nothing short of sensational. He spent seven years with Ajax in the Netherlands, and became a central figure at the 2002 World Cup where he scored the opening goal in the 3-2 upset of Portugal. O’Brien is one of the biggest “what if” stories in U.S. lore.


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