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Greatest USMNT Players and the All-Time Best XI

| January 25, 2021 6:40 am PDT
The Greatest USMNT Players of All Time

Have you ever thought about which players would make it into the best USMNT starting line-up of all time?

Of course, the obvious names like Landon Donovan and Claudio Reyna spring to mind. But over the years, America has produced countless players worthy of being included in the conversation.

Below, I discuss my top ten US national team players of all time. After that, I share my take on the greatest USMNT XI in history.

Let’s get right into it!

Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan was the poster boy of American soccer for almost 15 years. Between 2000 and 2014, the forward racked up 157 international caps, netting 57 goals along the way.

Not only is he the second most capped USMNT player in history, but he also ranks first for goals and assists.

Donovan led his country to four Gold Cup triumphs, although his finest moments in a USMNT jersey undoubtedly came at the 2002 World Cup. He bagged an assist in the famous win over Portugal before scoring against Poland and Mexico, earning himself the Best Young Player award.

Eight years later, he scored against Slovenia, Algeria, and Ghana as the US reached Round of 16 at the 2010 World Cup. However, he was controversially left out of the 2014 World Cup roster by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

Throughout his club career, Donovan won MLS Cups with San Jose Earthquakes and LA Galaxy, as well as starring abroad for Bayer Leverkusen and Everton. But he is best remembered for his heroics on the international scene.

Clint Dempsey

Only three players have made more USMNT appearances than Clint Dempsey, while no man has scored more goals.

Dempsey made his international debut in 2004, eventually achieving 141 caps before playing his final game in 2017. During that time, he scored 57 goals – equaling Donovan’s all-time record.

But let’s not forget that Dempsey has a pretty impressive record of his own. That’s right – he became the first American to score at three different World Cups.

After netting against Italy and Ghana in 2006, he earned the US a famous draw against England in 2010. Four years later, Dempsey captained his country in Brazil, scoring twice in four matches.

The Texan’s undeniable talent saw him spend a large portion of his career in England, with five years at Fulham and a season with Tottenham Hotspur. He represented both the Revs and the Sounders back home, becoming one of America’s best-ever soccer players in the process.

Claudio Reyna

It could be argued that Claudio Renya is the most complete midfielder in USMNT history.

The former captain enjoyed a hugely successful club career across the globe, playing for Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Rangers, Sunderland, Manchester City, and New York Red Bulls.

Reyna first featured for the US back in 1994, coming on as a substitute in a friendly match against Norway. He went on to make 114 international outings, including ten World Cup appearances.

The midfielder shone at the 1998 and 2006 editions of international soccer’s biggest competition, although 2002 proved to be his best tournament. Indeed, he became the first American to make the World Cup All-Star team following his stellar performances in Japan and South Korea.

Best known for his tireless work-rate and pin-point passing Reyna is definitely one of the greatest players to ever represent the US.

Claudio Reyna

Cobi Jones

You simply cannot talk about the best American soccer players of all time without mentioning Cobi Jones.

Between 1992 and 2004, the Detroit native accumulated 164 caps for the USMNT, playing in three World Cups along the way. To this day, no player has eclipsed that record.

Jones started his professional career with English side Coventry City before having a short and uneventful spell in Brazil with Vasco da Gama. But after returning to his homeland in 1996, he subsequently enjoyed 11 fruitful years with the Galaxy.

As well as clinching two MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields with the Los Angeles club, Jones was part of the US team that won the Gold Cup in 2002.

The record appearance maker may have only contributed 15 goals across his international career, yet he offered so much more to the team. Jones’ dynamism made him one of the toughest midfielders of his generation.

Brian McBride

In terms of overall USMNT appearances, Brian McBride narrowly sneaks into the top 20. But when it comes to goals, he ranks fifth.

With 95 caps and 30 goals to his name, I couldn’t leave McBride off my list. Sure, he is by no means the most glamorous American player in history. But I’m sure you’ll agree that his record speaks for itself.

The former Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire striker made a name for himself in MLS, although he is best known for a four-year stint with EPL side Fulham. He enjoyed brief spells with English clubs Preston and Everton, too.

With four goals in five games, including a hat-trick against El Salvador, McBride won both the Golden Shoe and MVP award as the US secured the Gold Cup in 2002. Across a 15-year international career, he also featured in three World Cups.

As you can see from the table below, McBride scored at a rate of just under a goal every three games for his country.

BEST USMNT GOALS PER GAME RATIOS (95+ CAPS)
Player Games Goals Goals Per Game
Landon Donovan 157 57 0.36
Clint Dempsey 141 57 0.40
Jozy Altidore 115 42 0.37
Eric Wynalda 106 34 0.32
Brian McBride 95 30 0.32

Brad Friedel

America has produced numerous top-quality goalkeepers over the years. From past legends like Kasey Keller to more recent stars like Brad Guzan, the USMNT has been blessed with no shortage of notable shot-stoppers.

But in my eyes, one man stands out from the rest – and that man is Brad Friedel.

With 82 appearances to his name, Friedel is only the third most capped goalkeeper in USMNT history, behind Tim Howard (121) and Kasey Keller (102). But in terms of ability, Friedel is arguably the greatest gloveman to ever represent the country.

The former EPL star played 450 matches in England’s top-flight, appearing between the sticks for Liverpool, Tottenham, Aston Villa, and Blackburn Rovers.

In the American jersey, he featured at two World Cups, keeping a clean sheet against Mexico as the US went all the way to the quarter-finals in 2002.

Michael Bradley

With 151 international caps already in the bank, Michael Bradley is only six behind Donovan and 13 behind Jones. Given that he is yet to retire from USMNT duty, we could have a new all-time record appearance maker before too long.

After making his debut in a 2006 friendly against Venezuela, Bradley led America to Gold Cup glory a year later. In 2017, he helped his nation to clinch the CONCACAF bragging rights once again, winning the Golden Ball award in the process.

The midfield maestro has travelled across the world throughout his career. But having played in the Netherlands, Germany, England, and Italy, he is now a Toronto FC legend.

Famous for his tough tackling and distribution, Bradley played a key role in the Reds’ MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield triumphs in 2017, further cementing his status as one of America’s greats.

With a number of World Cup qualifiers on the horizon, the 33-year-old looks set to pick up more international caps this year.

Michael Bradley

Jeff Agoos

Ranking fifth on the all-time appearance list, Jeff Agoos was at the heart of the USMNT’s backline for 15 years.

Between the late 1980s and early 2000s, the center-back notched up 134 international caps. He was part of the 2002 Gold Cup-winning side, and he even managed to chip in with four goals from defense.

Agoos was actually born in Geneva, Switzerland, before growing up in Texas. It’s safe to say that fans of American soccer are pleased that his family made the switch.

During his club career, the defender spent time with DC United, San Jose, and the Red Bulls. He won three MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields with the Black & Red, as well as being named in the MLS Best XI on three occasions.

In my opinion, there is absolutely no denying that Agoos is one of the best players in USMNT history.

Jozy Altidore

For whatever season, Jozy Altidore always seems to get overlooked when it comes to discussing the greatest American players of all time. However, I believe he has done more than enough to deserve a spot on my list.

I mean, you only have to look at his record to see why.

Only two players have scored more goals for the US than Altidore. With 42 strikes to his name, he may be 15 behind Donovan and Dempsey. But at the age of 31, he is arguably playing the best soccer of his career right now.

Following spells in Spain, England, Turkey, and the Netherlands, the powerful striker returned to Major League Soccer in 2015. Since then, he has been hitting the back of the net at a frightening rate.

If he can stay fit, he will almost certainly continue to edge closer to the all-time scoring record. Can he overtake Donovan and Dempsey? We’ll have to wait and see.

Tim Howard

The most capped goalkeeper in the history of the US national team, Tim Howard played 121 times for the States, representing his country between 2002 and 2017.

Howard’s transfer from the Red Bulls to EPL giant Manchester United shocked the soccer world in 2003. Granted, he enjoyed mixed results at Old Trafford. But when he signed for Everton in 2007, he established himself as one of the leading shot-stoppers of his generation.

After making over 400 appearances for the Toffees, Howard returned to MLS and eventually chalked up a century of matches for Colorado Rapids. He also has two Gold Cup winner’s medals.

Even at the ripe old age of 41, the iconic gloveman is still going strong. Howard currently plays for Memphis 901 in the USL Championship, where he is also a minority owner and sporting director.

Personally, I wouldn’t be surprised if he continues to shine between the sticks for many more years to come.

My All-Time USMNT Best XI

Goalkeeper

  • Brad Friedel

I loved watching Tim Howard in the EPL, while Kasey Keller was also a brilliant shot-stopper. But for me, Brad Friedel is the most gifted American goalkeeper of all time.

Defenders

  • Jeff Agoos
  • Eddie Pope
  • Alexi Lalas

Eddie Pope was pretty unfortunate to miss out on my top ten, but the center-back – who made 82 international appearances – makes it into my all-time eleven.

Joining Agoos and Pope is Alexi Lalas. The iconic defender featured 96 times for the USMNT, becoming a cult hero in the 1990s.

Midfielders

  • Cobi Jones
  • Claudio Reyna
  • Michael Bradley
  • Jermaine Jones

I couldn’t leave out Cobi Jones, Claudio Reyna, or Michael Bradley. I mean, can you image those three playing in midfield together?

To complete my midfield four, I’m going with Jermaine Jones.

The former Frankfurt, Leverkusen, Schalke, and Blackburn star only got 69 international caps, yet he is undoubtedly one of the best midfielders that America has ever produced.

Forwards

  • Landon Donovan
  • Clint Dempsey
  • Eric Wynalda

Of course, the joint-top USMNT scorers are in my forward line. Altidore and McBride are both unlucky not to make the cut, but Eric Wynalda thoroughly deserves his place here.

The prolific striker scored 34 goals in 106 international matches between 1990 and 2000, making him a notable exclusion on my top ten list.

Final Words

There are plenty of other players that I could have included in this post. Let’s be honest – guys like Joe-Max Moore, Bruce Murray, Eddie Johnson, and DaMarcus Beasley deserve a mention.

Whittling down the 600+ players that have played for the USMNT wasn’t easy. But ultimately, I’m happy with my top ten.

If you think any other players deserve a spot in the best XI, why not share your opinions in the comments section below.

For a look at some of America’s hottest prospects, make sure you check out the seven young USMNT soccer stars set to shine in 2021.

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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