Seltzer: Top 10 US national team players of the modern era

Tim Howard and DaMarcus Beasley - October 2019

It's not every day that two all-time greats from one national team hang up their boots during the same afternoon, but that's exactly what US national team fans saw when DaMarcus Beasley and Tim Howard played their final club matches on Sunday.

Given that occasion, we decided to tackle the thankless challenge of ranking the best players ever to suit up in red, white and blue, keeping the criteria as simple as possible. Only senior national team contributions counted, and only players from the 1970s and onward were considered. That's meant as no offense to Walter Bahr, Harry Keough and Bert Patenaude, among others, but that era's group have extremely short US résumés from eras with far less athleticism and much looser fitness regimens.

Before we dive into the top 10, let's pay tribute to some very honorable mentions: Jozy Altidore, Marcelo Balboa, Carlos Bocanegra, Michael Bradley, Paul Caligiuri, Thomas Dooley, Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola, John O'Brien, Christian Pulisic, Tab Ramos, Earnie Stewart and Eric Wynalda.

10) Cobi Jones

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Jones in action for the US against Brazil in the 1994 FIFA World Cup | USA Today Sports Images

The gutsy winger was the USMNT's dreaded play driver for a solid decade. Jones remains the team's most-capped man with 164, and stands third on the all-time assist list with 22. He had a hand in stirring World Cup runs in 1994 and 2002, and also played a significant part in a surprise bronze finish at the 1999 Confederations Cup.

9) DaMarcus Beasley

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Beasley's US career was incredible for its longevity. Pictured left, here he is playing against Mexico in a 2017 World Cup qualifier | USA Today Sports Images

The man they call Run DMB got his USMNT start as a thoroughly game left-wing lightning bolt back in early 2002. Less than six months later, Beasley had already celebrated the first of four Gold Cup crowns and played a part in the team's wild ride to the World Cup elite eight. He cemented his place on this list by re-inventing himself as a left-back to put in a very steady showing aged 32 at the 2014 World Cup, which made him the only US player to feature at the grand tournament four times.

8) Tim Howard

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Howard holds the FIFA World Cup record for saves in a match for his performance against Belgium in the 2014 round of 16 | USA Today Sports Images

Years from now, the shot-stopper will likely be best remembered for the meme-launching, record save clinic he put on against an uber-talented Belgium in the 2014 World Cup knockouts. Howard also earned two US Soccer Athlete of the Year prizes and a Confederations Cup Golden Glove award, as well as 25 victories (17 by shutout) across four World Cup Qualifying campaigns.  

7) Brian McBride

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Brian McBride was a crucial figure in the US' historic run to the 2002 FIFA World Cup quarterfinals | USA Today Sports Images

The numbers say McBride chipped in 30 goals in 95 US caps, but stats only scratch the surface of his influence on the team. For over a decade, he was the hard-nosed fulcrum of the USMNT attack. In the second of his three World Cups, the striker bagged all-important winners against Portugal and Mexico to spark the team's thrilling quarterfinal run.

6) Kasey Keller

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Kasey Keller is the US leader in cleansheets | USA Today Sports Images

The only netminder to win US Soccer Athlete of the Year three times, Keller also stands atop the Nats' all-time clean sheet chart with 47 (including 19 in World Cup qualifiers) and second among 'keepers with at least 20 caps with a sterling 0.82 goals-against average. He emerged victorious in two Gold Cup penalty shootouts on his way to three Concacaf titles and played the hero in one of the most famous USMNT wins of all-time, a 1-0 defeat of mighty Brazil in 1998.

5) Claudio Reyna

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Somehow, Claudi Reyna was never a US Soccer Athlete of the Year winner, despite being one of the team's most important players for a decade | USA Today Sports Images

The team's original "Captain America" was also the guy who set the USMNT standard for midfield metronome play. Reyna was another key cog in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal showing, and even starred out of position as a right wingback in the unforgettable "Dos a Cero" triumph over arch-nemesis Mexico in the round of 16. Believe it or not, the reliable build architect never won a single Athlete of the Year award.

4) Eddie Pope

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Eddie Pope is almost universally recognized as the best American center-back in history | Reuters

Few will argue that Pope was the greatest American center-back of all time, and many will insist he holds that title by a considerable margin. As cool as cucumber sorbet in dealing with the biggest of strikers, he was an important man in two of the electrifying USMNT episodes mentioned above: the 1998 shutout win over Brazil and the World Cup 2002 adventure.

3) Brad Friedel

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The US has had several exceptional goalkeepers, but only Friedel helped propel the Nats to the quarterfinals | USA Today Sports Images

The debate over who was the greatest US netminder of all-time will surely rage on for years to come, but it says here that Big Brad was the best. Friedel famously stopped two spot-kicks in helping the Nats reach the World Cup quarters in 2002, with that tourney to remember essentially earning him Athlete of the Year honors. He also helped the USMNT finish third at the 1999 Confederations Cup, with a vital group-closing shutout victory over Germany along the way.

2) Clint Dempsey

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In addition to his US contributions, Dempsey is arguably the most accomplished American-born European player in history | USA Today Sports Images

Good ol' Deuce has quite the international CV, headlined by a share of the all-time USMNT scoring record, three Gold Cup wins and three Athlete of the Year awards. Dempsey also took home the Bronze Ball after helping the team to a Confederations Cup final appearance in 2009. More than all of that, he gave the Nats much-needed swagger, gall and invention, with all three often rolled up together in his finer moments.

1) Landon Donovan

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The man they call LD was the author of several all-time great US moments, inlcuding famous World Cup goals against Mexico in 2002 and Algeria in 2010 | USA Today Sports Images

Who else could it be, right? Donovan's US locker is crammed with individual and team glory. The consummate one-man engine room netted 57 goals (tying Dempsey for tops all-time) and is the runaway record holder in assists with 58. He also won four Athlete of the Year citations, four Gold Cup crowns, a World Cup Best Young Player award (from the classic 2002 tourney run) and is far and away the all-time top Gold Cup scorer.