When it comes to soccer, the United States doesn’t have the same storied history as many of the more glamorous footballing nations of Europe or South America. Despite that, they have been slowly clawing their way into relevancy over the last three decades. After failing to qualify for every single World Cup between 1954 and 1986, the United States have been a part of every tournament since Italia ’90. They even hosted the 1994 World Cup, coinciding with the launch of their own domestic league, Major League Soccer. While the overall quality of MLS is still lacking behind the top leagues in Europe, it’s important to remember that those other nations had about a 100-year head start on developing players.
That’s not to say that the U.S. hasn’t had any good players wear their jersey — quite the opposite. America has produced a number of good — even great — players over the years, who would probably hold legend status if they had been lucky enough to be born in Italy, Spain, Brazil, Germany, or Argentina. Instead they are merely adored by the small (but quickly growing) segment of Americans who call themselves soccer fans. Here are our picks for the greatest American soccer players ever (males only, this time).
13. Alexi Lalas
You may think we only included Alexi Lalas on our list so that we could talk about his glorious hair/goatee combo that made his famously recognizable. But that would be a discredit to his on-field career, which was also quite good. Lalas played two seasons for Padova in Serie A before joining MLS in its inaugural 1996 season. He played for four different MLS sides, culminating in a handful of silverware with the Los Angeles Galaxy — a U.S. Open Cup in 2001, and both the Supporter’s Shield and MLS Cup in 2002.
On the national team, Lalas racked up 96 caps (with 9 goals to boot, which isn’t bad for a defender). He played every minute of every game for the U.S. in the 1994 World Cup on home soil and selected as the 1995 U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year by the United States Soccer Federation. These days, Lalas remains involved in the game, working as an analyst for MLS broadcasts on FOX Sports.
12. Omar Gonzalez
Omar Gonzales may very well up higher on this list by the time he hangs up the boots. The Dallas, Texas native has been a part of the national team since 2010 and isn’t even 30-years-old yet. He was drafted by the L.A. Galaxy in 2009 and became part of the first team almost immediately, despite being just 19 at the time. Playing alongside the likes of David Beckham, Robbie Keane, and Landon Donovan, Gonzalez was a crucial part of the defense that helped the Galaxy win three MLS Cups in four years (2011, 2012, 2014).
Gonzalez was such a good defender that he ended up being the first pure center back to earn a Designated Player contract from an MLS team. Shortly after that, he would be sold to Pachuca of Liga MX. where he would help lead the team to a league championship in his debut season. The future is still very bright.
11. DeMarcus Beasley
DeMarcus Beasley’s soccer career has taken him all over the world, playing for teams in MLS, the Netherlands, Scotland, England, Germany and Mexico. He’s won a bunch of silverware over the years, including two U.S. Open Cups, a Supporter’s Shield, two Eredivisie titles (plus a KNVB Cup), and two Scottish Premier League titles (plus four smaller Scottish Cups).
On the international side of his game, the left winger has been a part of four Gold Cup winning sides for the U.S. Even more remarkable is his longevity — he’s been a part of the national team since 2001 and currently sits 7th in all-time appearances, adding in 17 goals. He’s also one of just a short list of players to appear in four different World Cups (which happens to include two more Americans, who we’ll get to shortly).
10. Brian McBride
Striker Brian McBride sits fifth on the list of all-time goals scored for the United States, which is enough to earn him a spot on this list. He has played in three World Cups for the stars and stripes, and was the Gold Cup MVP when the United States won the tournament in 2002. He finished his international career just shy of the century mark, with 95 total caps (and 30 goals).
His club career was equally impressive, as it spanned almost 20 years and included a memorable five seasons with Fulham in the English Premier League, where McBride scored 33 goals in 140 appearances for the London side. He has also played for MLS sides Columbus Crew and Chicago Fire during his career, adding some legitimacy to the league during it’s crucial growing period.
9. Kasey Keller
The first of two goalkeepers to make this list, Kasey Keller played professional soccer for a remarkable 23 years. In doing so, he became the first American goalkeeper to become a first team regular in the Bundesliga, the English Premier League, and La Liga. He finished his career with the Seattle Sounders, winning three U.S. Open Cups and being named MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2011.
For the national team, Keller reached 102 caps and played in four different World Cups. He was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of Year on three separate occasions (1997, 1998, 2005) and helped the team to three Gold Cup victories. Keller’s international achievements are even more remarkable when you consider that he faced constant competition for the starting job from fellow keeper Brad Friedel, who deserves an honorable mention on this list of great Americans.
8. Eric Wynalda
Eric Wynalda was a pioneer for today’s American soccer players. His career began before MLS existed, although he would return to the league and score the first goal in its history while playing for the San Jose Clash in 1996. He was also the all-time leading goal scored for the American national team at one point, until being passed by a few players who will be mentioned shortly.
Wynalda was a short, quick striker who excelled at making off-the-ball runs and dribbling at defenders. He won MLS Goal of the Year, U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year, and the Gold Cup Golden Boot award, all in 1996.
7. Claudio Reyna
Claudio Reyna was a long-time captain of the national team, being selected to play for the men’s side from 1994-2006. The midfielder was known for his distribution and calming influence and is often considered one of most talented midfielders that America has ever produced. He scored eight goals in 112 appearances for the U.S.
Reyna appeared in three different World Cups, although he tragically was forced to sit out the 1994 tournament in his home country due to a hamstring injury. His club career saw him play in some of the biggest leagues in the world, including the Bundeliga with Bayern Leverkusen, the SPL with Rangers, and the EPL with Sunderland and Manchester City.
6. Tim Howard
The second keeper on our list, Tim Howard began his pro career in the U.S. before making a stunning move to Manchester United in 2003, one of Europe’s biggest and richest teams. He played at well times for the Red Devils, but was inconsistent. A move to fellow Premier League team Everton would come in 2006, where he spent 10 seasons playing in one of the best leagues in the world.
He is the most capped goalkeeper in the history of the U.S. national team, with 113, and appeared in the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. In the 2014 Round of 16, Howard put in one of the most stunning performances in goalkeeper history, making a record-breaking 16 saves in what would eventually turn into a 2-1 extra time loss to Belgium.
5. Jozy Altidore
For some reason, soccer fans in America just can’t seem to get on board with Jozy Altidore. The New Jersey native burst on to the scene as a 16-year-old, playing for the New York Bulls in the inaugural MLS season. A move to Europe quickly followed, when Spanish side Villareal bought him for $10 million. He struggled in Spain, spending most of the next few years on loan. But was a memorable two seasons with Dutch team AZ, where he scored 39 goals in 67 appearances, that made him a star again.
After a forgettable spell with Sunderland, Altidore came home to (North) America, playing for Toronto FC in the MLS. Together with Sebastian Giovinco, Altidore is part of one of the most deadly strike forces in league history, and helped TFC make it to the 2016 MLS Cup (although they would lose the championship game in penalties).
His resurgence in Toronto has also helped his performances for the national team. Since the beginning of 2015, Altidore has 12 goals in 26 appearances for the United States.
4. Cobi Jones
Cobi Jones played the majority of his career with the L.A. Galaxy, scoring 70 goals in 306 appearances. Along the way, he won two MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields, and two U.S. Open Cups. The attacking midfielder regularly piled up goals and assists for the Galaxy, and even had his number 13 retired by the team.
Jones began his international career in 1992, and appeared the next three World Cups for the United States. His attacking play and unique hairstyle made him an immediate fan favorite. To this day, he is the most capped player in American soccer history with 164. He was also a member of the Gold Cup winning team in 2002.
3. Clint Dempsey
It won’t be much longer, and Clint Dempsey will have the most international goals in United States history. He’s currently one behind Landon Donovan on the all-time list. He has appeared in three different World Cups (becoming the first American to score in three different editions of the tournament) and helped the United States to two Gold Cup victories (2005, 2007).
He’s also a bit of a club legend at Fulham, were he scored 50 goals in 184 appearances from 2007 to 2012. A disappointing move to Tottenham followed, before Dempsey returned to MLS as a member of the Seattle Sounders. He made an immediate impact for the Emerald Green, scoring 36 goals in 76 appearances (so far) and helping the team win a bunch of trophies — a Supporters’ Shield (2014), a U.S. Open Cup (2014), and a MLS Cup (2016).f
2. Michael Bradley
You won’t find Michael Bradley’s name on the score sheet very often, but that’s not his job. The current national team captain excels at controlling the game in the center of the park, earning a reputation as one of the best box-to-box midfielders that America has ever produced. During his time with Chievo and Roma in Serie A, he was given the nickname “The General” by fans, in honor of his cool and calculated play, and his leadership on the field.
In 2014, Bradley made a surprise move to Toronto FC (just like fellow New Jersey native Jozy Altidore would one year later). He immediately became Toronto’s most important player and was soon named the captain of that team as well.
Bradley, who has been a part of the U.S. system since he was 16-years-old, is slowly creeping up the leaderboard when it comes to total appearances for his country. He’s currently fourth all-time, and could end up as the new leader by the time he retires. He won a Gold Cup with the national team in 2007 and was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year in 2015.
1. Landon Donovan
Who else could it be? Landon Donovan was the face of the men’s national team for 15 years. He’s second in all-time appearances (157) and first in goals (for now), with 57, and first in assists. He’s won the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year award a record four times, won the Gold Cup four times, and appeared in three different World Cups (and was controversially left off the 2014 World Cup roster by head coach Jurgen Klinsmann).
Donavon spent the majority of his career playing in MLS (although his brief stints with Bayer Leverkusen and Everton were productive enough), as a member of the San Jose Earthquakes, and later the L.A. Galaxy. His combined MLS silverware is impressive — six MLS Cups (2001, 2003, 2005, 2011, 2012, 2014) two Supporters’ Shields (2010, 2011), a U.S. Open Cup(2005), one MLS MVP (2009), two MLS Cup MVPs (2001, 2014), and won the 2008 MLS Golden Boot.
He retired in 2016 as the all-time leading scorer in MLS history, in both goals and assists. The league immediately renamed their regular seasons MVP award to the “Landon Donovan MVP Award.” Without a doubt, when you combine his accomplishments for club and country, Donovan is best American soccer we’ve ever seen.