Top 10 US men's soccer players of all time
Ahead of the 2022 World Cup, Alex Buck ranks the top 10 greatest US men's soccer players of all time.
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The 2022 World Cup is upon us, and the US men's team will field a young squad out in Qatar, with high ambitions for the tournament. With the development of soccer in the US, the MLS has seen significant growth and interest in recent years, which is great news for the future of America’s international stars.
Best Current American Soccer Players
Christian Pulisic is the face of the US men’s soccer team in 2022. He will head for the World Cup with 52 international caps worth of experience and is expected to be a key contributor at the tournament. Pulisic led the team in goals during qualifiers, netting five in seven starts. Pulisic is the third American star to score 20+ goals in the English Premier League, joining legends Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride on that exclusive list.
The team has some great experience in the squad, including midfielder Weston McKinnie, who plays his domestic football for Italian giants Juventus. He is joined by Sergino Dest, a right back who has played for Barcelona, and now stars in Italy with AC Milan.
Going forward, the US certainly has dangerous outlets. Giovani Reyna is a budding young star who became the youngest American to ever start in a Champions League game, playing for German side Borussia Dortmund. Jordan Morris has the most international caps amongst the team's front men, but keep an eye on Tim Weah, who plays his club football in France with Lille.
Lastly, Leeds midfielder Brendan Aaronson is expected to bring some magic from midfield. Aaronson led the USMNT in 2021 with four goals and three assists.
Famous American Soccer Players
Christian Pulisic is the biggest US men’s star that is still currently active. He is the poster boy for the soccer squad, and you’ll see his jersey everywhere during the World Cup. Pulisic has played on the biggest stages in Germany and England, and has featured multiple times in the Champions League.
That said, you don’t get much more famous than Landon Donovan, who will appear later on amongst the top 10. Donovan is second all-time in US men's international caps, and is tied for the No. 1 spot for international goals, netting 57 times for his country, a record he shares with fellow legend Clint Dempsey.
Ranking the 10 Best US Soccer Players of All Time
10. Michael Bradley, Midfielder
Born: July 31, 1987 - Princeton, New Jersey
Years Active: 2004-Present
Teams: MetroStars, Heerenveen, Borussia Monchengladbach, Aston Villa (loan), Chievo, Roma, Toronto FC
Awards: 1x USA Footballer of the Year, 2x Gold Cup Winner, 1x MLS Cup Champion
Michael Bradley made 151 appearances for the US men’s team, and was a regular captain of the side. He is just the third American to reach 150 caps for the international team behind Landon Donovan and Cobi Jones. He scored 17 international goals with 23 assists, playing as a box-to-box midfielder.
The savvy midfielder played under his father, Bob Bradley, who had been a manager at club level before taking over the US international team. He was a regular starter in midfield for many years, with an international career spanning between 2006 and 2019, winning two Gold Cups.
Bradley played for a wide range of clubs in his domestic career, spending time in the Netherlands, Germany, England (briefly), and Italy, where he played at his prime for Italian giants Roma, before returning to the MLS, where he is now the captain of Toronto FC.
9. Cobi Jones Midfielder
Born: June 16, 1970 - Detroit, Michigan
Years Active: 1994-2007
Teams: Coventry City, Vasco de Gama, LA Galaxy
Awards: 1x USA Footballer of the Year, 1x Gold Cup Winner, 2x MLS Cup Champion, National Soccer Hall of Fame
Cobi Jones is the current international caps record holder for the USMNT. He reached 164 caps, having played for the national team between 1994 and 2004, including three World Cups, in 1994, 1998 and 2002.
Jones was known for his impeccable work rate and presence as a hard-working midfielder. He made key contributions going forward and became one of the icons of the sport in America throughout the 90s and early 2000s. Many American youngsters looked up to Cobi Jones, wanting to be just like him.
The midfielder spent the first year of his career in England playing for Coventry, before a brief spell in Brazil. He returned to the US to support the growth of the MLS, which had only just started to take shape, having been founded in 1993. Jones played for the LA Galaxy from 1996-2007, helping them to two titles in 2002 and 2005.
8. DaMarcus Beasley - Winger
Born: May 24, 1982 - Fort Wayne, Indiana
Years Active: 1999-2019
Teams: LA Galaxy, Chicago Fire, PSV, Manchester City (loan), Rangers, Hannover 96, Puebla, Houston Dynamo
Awards: 4x Gold Cup Winner, 2x Dutch Eredivisie Champion, 2x Scottish Premiership Champion
Left-footed winger/left wing-back DaMarcus Beasley is one of the most capped US players, with 126 appearances for his home nation. He made his debut when he was just 18 years old, and a year later was selected for the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan.
He was selected for four World Cup squads in a row, making the team in 2002, 2006, 2010 and 2014 and, having played in all four tournaments, became the only US player to ever represent his country in four separate World Cup tournaments.
Beasley scored 17 international goals during his career for the USMNT, while having a 20-year club career. He started out in the MLS, spending five years with the Chicago Fire, before spells with PSV Eindhoven in the Netherlands, Premier League side Manchester City on loan, Scottish club Rangers and Puebla in Mexico, before returning to the US where he spent the final six seasons of his career with the Houston Dynamo, making 124 appearances.
7. Brad Friedel - Goalkeeper
Born: May 18, 1971 - Lakewood, Ohio
Years Active: 1995-2015
Teams: Brondby, Galatarasary, Columbus Crew, Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, Tottenham
Awards: 1x USA Footballer of the Year, 1x English League Cup Winner, National Soccer Hall of Fame
Brad Friedel spent several years trying to sign for English football clubs, being repeatedly rejected for a work permit ahead of potential moves to clubs such as Nottingham Forest, Sunderland and Newcastle. He spent a season with Galatasaray in Turkey, before playing for Columbus Crew back in the US. He finally got his transfer to England in 1997, when he was signed by Liverpool.
Friedel struggled for game time with Liverpool and eventually transferred to Blackburn Rovers, where he would play in 288 games during a nine-year tenure at the club. He even scored his only career goal during a Premier League match against Charlton Athletic, having gone forward in the dying moments for a corner kick.
The Premier League star goalkeeper went on to play for Aston Villa and Tottenham, and holds the Premier League record for the most consecutive appearances, with 310.
Friedel made 84 appearances for the USMNT, including a heroic run of performances during the US team's quarter-final finish in the 2002 World Cup. Friedel was nicknamed ‘The Human Wall’ for his performances during the tournament.
6. Claudio Reyna - Midfielder
Born: July 20, 1973 - Livingston, New Jersey
Years Active: 1994-2008
Teams: Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Rangers, Sunderland, Manchester City, New York Red Bulls
Awards: 2x Scottish Premiership Champion, National Soccer Hall of Fame
Claudio Reyna played the majority of his domestic career in Europe, starting out at Bayer Leverkusen in Germany, and spending time on loan with Wolfsburg. He would move on to Scottish side Rangers, followed by Sunderland, before landing with Manchester City in the Premier League. He spent five years with City, playing in 87 games as a sturdy midfielder.
Reyna is considered one of the most influential USMNT players in the country's history. He was the core of the midfield for the national team for the best part of a decade, and had he not faced so many career injuries, he could have been even greater.
The talented midfielder made 112 appearances for his country. He played in three World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006), and was named to the World Cup All Tournament team following the 2002 tournament in Korea and Japan.
5. Brian McBride - Forward
Hometown - Arlington Heights, Illinois
Born: July 19, 1972 - Arlington heights, Illinois
Years Active: 1994-2010
Teams: Milwaukee Rampage, Wolfsburg, Columbus Crew, Preston (loan), Everton (loan), Fulham, Chicago Fire
Awards: 1x Gold Cup Winner, National Soccer Hall of Fame
Brian McBride is one of the best strikers to don the USMNT shirt. He was a goalscorer at both club and country level, netting 137 career goals during his club career.
The US striker had his first major success with Columbus Crew, scoring 62 goals in 161 appearances for the MLS side between 1996 and 2003. He transferred to Fulham in 2004 after a couple of loan spells in England with Preston North End and Everton. McBride became a fan favorite at Fulham, scoring 33 goals in the Premier League during his five-year stay with the London side. When he left, the club renamed the sports bar at the stadium ‘McBrides’ in his honor.
During that time, he featured for the USA soccer team in both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups, becoming the first ever American to score at two World Cup tournaments. He would make a total of 95 international appearances, and scored 30 goals, making him the fifth all-time goalscorer in US men's soccer history.
McBride went back to America to finish his career, playing 59 games for the Chicago Fire, and scoring 18 goals.
4. Tim Howard - Goalkeeper
Born: March 6, 1979 - North Brunswick, New Jersey
Years Active: 1997-2021
Teams: North Jersey Imperials, MetroStars, Manchester United, Everton, Colorado Rapids, Memphis 901
Awards: 2x USA Footballer of the Year, 2x Gold Cup Winner, 1x English FA Cup Winner
The US men’s soccer team has been blessed with some great goalkeepers. Brad Friedel was pivotal in the late 90s and the team's 2002 World Cup progress, and Tim Howard took the mantle when it was his time to shine, playing internationally between 2002 and 2017, breaking into the starting line up in 2009.
Tim Howard is the most capped goalkeeper for the US men's team. He played in 121 games and was the starting goalkeeper at both the 2010 and 2014 World Cups. In the latter, Howard set a World Cup record in a knockout match against Belgium. In what can only be described as one of the greatest international performances by any goalkeeper for any country, Tim Howard made 15 saves , keeping Belgium at bay until extra time, when the USA would unfortunately lose the game 2-1.
Howard was a Premier League regular, beginning his career in England with prestigious club Manchester United, where he played 45 times. After a loan spell at Everton, he made a permanent move there and would go on to play for the club in 354 games.
3. Christian Pulisic
Born: September 18, 1998 - Hershey, Pennsylvania
Years Active: 2016-Present
Teams: Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea
Awards: 2x USA Footballer of the Year, 1x Champions League Winner, 1x UEFA Super Cup Winner, 1x German Cup Winner
Christian Pulisic began his career with Borussia Dortmund's youth team before very quickly getting his shot with the first team at the age of 17. While he didn’t feature heavily in his first season with the Bundesliga side in Germany, he became a regular in year two.
Still very young, Pulisic made a huge move to Chelsea in 2019, with a transfer fee worth $73m. The move made him the most expensive USA player of all time. Pulisic is still with Chelsea now, and has scored 20 goals for the club since his arrival, including a hat-trick that made him the youngest Chelsea player to ever do so, aged 21.
Pulisic has 52 international caps heading into the 2022 Qatar World Cup. He was selected in the 2022 USMNT roster for the World Cup and will be a leader for the team throughout the tournament. Pulisic first captained the team when he was 20 years old and 63 days, making him the youngest ever captain of the USMNT.
Pulisic is a major American prodigy, and at the age of 24 has already won the Champions League with Chelsea and done so much for the US team. The USMNT have games to come against Iran, Wales and England in Group B, and Pulisic will hope to stamp his mark on this tournament.
With his future remarkably bright, there’s no doubt he’ll go down as one of the best US soccer players in history.
2. Clint Dempsey - Forward
Born: March 9, 1983 - Nacogdoches, Texas
Years Active: 2004-2018
Teams: New England Revolution, Fulham, Tottenham, Seattle Sounders
Awards: 3x USA Footballer of the Year, 3x Gold Cup Winner, 1x MLS Cup Champion
Clint Dempsey could play in a variety of roles in attacking positions. He could play as an out-and-out striker, an attacking midfielder, or even out in a wider position as a winger. Dempsey was a goalscorer and scored some stunning goals during his career.
One of the best American soccer players, Dempsey’s career started with the New England Revolution, before he got a move to Fulham in the Premier League, following in Brian McBride’s footsteps. Dempsey would go on to break multiple records previously set by McBride, including goals scored in the Premier League by an American, and the Fulham all-time Premier League scoring record. McBride scored 32 goals for the club, while Dempsey would finish his career for the London club with 50, a record he holds today.
He would go on to spend a couple of seasons with Tottenham before returning to the MLS, playing in 115 career games for the Seattle Sounders, where he would eventually retire in 2018.
In his international career, Dempsey shone just as he did for his clubs. As a youth player, he scored 21 goals in just 13 appearances before making his debut with the senior team in 2004.
Dempsey went on to play in three World Cups for the US team, captaining the team in 2014 in Brazil. He is the fourth most-capped US player with 141 appearances and is tied with Landon Donovan as the teams all-time leading scorer with 57 goals. He is one of the best US soccer players ever.
1. Landon Donovan, Forward
Born: March 4, 1982 - Ontario, California
Years Active: 1999-2018
Teams: Bayer Leverkusen, San Jose Earthquakes (loan), LA Galaxy, Bayern Munich (loan), Everton (loan), Leon
Awards: 4x USA Footballer of the Year, 1x MLS MVP, 4x Gold Cup Champion, 6x MLS Cup Champion
Landon Donovan has been officially voted the best US soccer player of all time in various polls, including both ESPN and MLS official voting. Donovan’s heroics as a member of the USMNT are unmatched, and he is considered one of the greatest driving forces for the sport in America as it continues to grow today.
Donovan skipped college soccer to play for the US U17 international team with teammate and friend DaMarcus Beasley. The two rose through the ranks together, and made it to the 2002 World Cup. Donovan would be named the best young player at the tournament during the US team's run to the final eight.
In his club career, Donovan shone for the LA Galaxy. He played over 250 matches for the club and scored 113 goals.
The US star's last-ditch goal against Algeria that would send the US team through to the knockout stages at the 2010 World Cup is one of the most memorable moments in US soccer history, as the players piled on top of one another in celebration and the fans erupted.
Landon Donovan is the second most-capped US soccer player behind only Cobi Jones, and is the joint-top goalscorer all time with Clint Dempsey. Donovan is however, considered to be the greatest and most talented US men's soccer player of all time.
Parameters for Rankings
These US soccer legends and stars have been ranked based on their contribution to the USMNT. Many achieved great things at a club level, but today's article is focused on their achievements for their country, including tournament performances, goals and assists, individual accolades and international caps.