The book has closed on another decade of international soccer, a passing marker that has compelled us to cobble together the finest possible US men's national team side out of the pool of players from the last 10 years.
Let's set parameters for the exercise, with the idea that there's one monumental do-or-die game to be played against a worthy foe and we need a fully functional lineup for tackling the challenge. There is no minimum requirement for games played or any such statistical marker to meet for inclusion. Performance in high-pressure competitive matches tends to hold more weight in judging, but it's not the only consideration (as you'll see soon enough).
Finally, rather than use the totality of achievement metric, we're going to use the peak powers rule. That means we're taking each of these players in their prime form of the decade. And as such, we believe the team assembled would be capable of testing, if not besting, any opponent on its day.
Before we roll out the XI, let's introduce our very versatile, very useful bench. Brad Guzan is the capable back-up netminder. John Anthony Brooks offers modern center back play, while Geoff Cameron can ably cover three different positions. Maurice Edu is our designated relief gatekeeper, with Alejandro Bedoya and Jermaine Jones the all-action midfield options off the pine. Fabian Johnson can operate up or down either flank. To torment tiring defenses, we've brought along Jordan Morris and Bobby Wood.
And now, your starters...
Of course, the USMNT shot-stopping legend will forever be remembered for his heroic, record-setting, meme flood-inspiring stand in the team's World Cup 2014 knockout loss to Belgium. His long lead throw to start the winning play against Algeria at the 2010 tourney should live on as long. In all, Howard posted 23 wins and 17 clean sheets in competitive matches during the decade.
This was a tough call, but in the end, Cherundolo's cool defensive presence and possession support took the spot. He was a solid performer at World Cup 2010, and I often wonder how the 2011 Gold Cup final might have turned out had he not departed early with an injury.
Oh, there will be some jeers about his nightmare in Couva, but that doesn't change the fact that no US center back put in more strong shifts than Gonzo over the past 10 years. The dedicated air marshal went the distance in 14 competitive shutouts (tops among all US back liners for the decade) and was excellent in slim losses to scary foes Germany and Belgium at World Cup 2014.
The Sporting KC mainstay also enjoyed a solid World Cup 2014 (at least up until Romelu Lukaku steamrolled him wide in the round-of-16 extras). The calming, well-rounded Besler also was the only USMNT player to start both of the team's victorious Gold Cup finals, and finished second among center backs with 11 competitive clean-sheet participations.
The best of DaMarcus Beasley in MLS
Run DMB had already transitioned to left back for the Nats by the time the decade started, but he spent the first few years out on the edge of the frame. He rose from the near-dead in 2013 to help notch big World Cup qualifying shutouts against Costa Rica and at Mexico before captaining the team to Gold Cup glory that summer. Beasley then continued his surprising rebirth as a shut-down defender with a splendid World Cup 2014 showing.
This is the only guy in the lineup who didn't actually play a competitive match during the decade, so some might consider this a wild swing. I'll live with any such scrutiny, because at his fit best Adams is the perfect guy to man our No. 6 role. He breaks up rushes for breakfast and then morphs central park turnovers into offense.
I'm in the crowd that thinks Bradley spent far too much time over the last 10 years playing either too high or too deep in midfield. When properly used as a No. 8, he was a gut-busting, traffic-directing force to be reckoned with for several years. He topped all with six Futbol de Primera Award top-three finishes and shined at two World Cups. He even pitched in with a few of the biggest US goals of the decade.
Thanks to a certain infamous selection decision, the Nats' all-time joint top scorer actually played less than four years worth of US matches. Nevertheless, Donovan remained a vital play-driving cog until the end. He scored three goals at World Cup 2010, including the last-gasp shot heard 'round the world against Algeria, and added another half-dozen on his Golden Ball way to the 2013 Gold Cup crown.
The first of three players in our side to take home two US Soccer Player of the Year prizes during the decade, Deuce brought a blend of fire and verve to attack on a scale we may not see for a while. Dempsey scored 40 goals during the decade, with 30 of those coming in competitive matches. While wearing the armband in 2014, he became the first USMNT player to score in three World Cups.
We're not going to run a conventional No. 10 with wingers setup in attacking midfield. I figured we'd just let the reigning US Soccer Player of the Year interchange at will with Dempsey and Donovan. It sure would be fun to see what the Chelsea attack engine could accomplish with running mates of this caliber to share the attention of defenders. His elusiveness on and off the ball would only multiply.
The Toronto FC ace was the team's top scorer during the decade, with 24 of his 42 strikes coming in competitive matches. Altidore is also arguably the most complete striker the US has ever had. In particular, his passing game when facing goal is a highly underrated boost to the offense. It's just a shame that an untimely injury and the monster World Cup qualifying letdown of two years ago limited him to just 23 World Cup minutes during his prime years.