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RANKED! The 10 best American players ever

RANKED! The 10 best American players ever

Christian Pulisic in USA kit

(Image credit: Future)

There’s a perception that football – or soccer, if you’re from the place this list is actually referring to – isn’t taken as seriously as other sports in the United States, that the talent pool isn’t all that impressive considering the size of the country. 

Clearly, that’s not the case, especially when factoring in that the men’s team has reached the knockout stages of four of the last eight World Cups, qualifying for every tournament since 1990 bar one, while the women’s side have won an astonishing four World Cups in just eight attempts.

Male American players often travel to Europe to seek greater opportunities, something everyone on this list has done at some point in their esteemed careers. 

But who’s the best American players of all time? FourFourTwo takes a look below.

10. Brian McBride

Brian McBride

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Part of the cohort of players drafted for the inception of MLS in 1996, where McBride would play with Columbus Crew until 2003, his time in the Premier League is arguably what he’s most remembered for. 

A firm fan-favourite at Fulham during his spell in west London between 2004 and 2008, McBride bagged 41 times in 154 appearances for the club, and even earned two Player of the Season awards. While not prolific, McBride’s leadership also saw him given the captain’s armband at Craven Cottage, before he eventually returned to MLS with Chicago Fire.

Internationally, McBride scored 30 times in 96 games, donating $100 to the Central Ohio Diabetes Association for every strike and assist he achieved with the national team. The striker also helped the team win the 2002 Gold Cup, earning MVP and Golden Shoe awards in the process. 

9. Tim Howard

Tim Howard

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Tim Howard made headlines in his homeland when he signed for the mighty Manchester United in 2003 – but it was with Everton that he would spend the bulk of his career, reliably serving as the Toffees’ number one for the best part of a decade.

And it was there that Howard joined an exclusive club, as his long punt down the pitch bounced (with a little bit of help from the wind) over Bolton Wanderers’ Adam Bogdan and into the net, making him one of just six goalkeepers to score a Premier League goal.

8. Alexi Lalas

Alexi Lalas

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Ah, he of the distinctive long-hair and beard combo at the 1994 World Cup. Lalas shot to prominence while playing at the heart of the USA defence at their home tournament, earning a move to Italian side Padova to make him the first American to play in Serie A. 

He spent two years in Italy’s top flight before returning to his home country as one of the ten high-profile players set to be drafted for the first MLS season, with New England Revolution picking him up. It was at LA Galaxy, between 2001 and 2003, where he was most successful, though, winning four trophies including the 2000 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup. 

Nine goals in 96 international appearances certainly isn’t bad either, but we’re not convinced by the eight solo albums he’s released over the past three decades…

7. Claudio Reyna

Claudio Reyna

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Being selected by your country for four World Cup squads isn’t bad – being named in the Team of the Tournament at one is even better. The first American to achieve that feat, Reyna’s performances at the 2002 tournament earned him the accolade, despite missing the opening 3-2 win against Portugal due to injury. 

While the midfielder suffered with injuries during his career, limiting his game time at Rangers, Sunderland and Manchester City, whenever the American did play, it was plain to see the quality he possessed. Playing 112 times for your country doesn’t just happen at random, after all. 

His best moments came for Rangers in the 1999/00 season, where the Gers won the Scottish Premier League and Cup double, while his six years in England with Sunderland and Man City certainly earned him plaudits whenever he was fully fit. 

6. Christian Pulisic

Christian Pulisic in action for Chelsea.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

The most expensive North American player of all time, following his £57.6m switch from Borussia Dortmund to Chelsea in 2019, Pulisic has yet to fulfil his potential – though there’s still plenty of time for him to do that. Still only 24, the winger has shown glimpses during his career of what he’s capable of, and could easily climb up this list in the coming years. 

Pulisic is the youngest player in Chelsea’s history to score a hat-trick, and he’s already lifted the Champions League and Club World Cup while at the club. Before that, for Dortmund, he made his debut in senior football at just 17, before going onto finish second in the inaugural Kopa Trophy in 2018, awarded to the best player under the age of 21.

Perhaps more impressive, though, is the influence he has had on the national team. Pulisic captained USA at just 20-years-old, won the Gold Cup Best Young Player award in 2019, and inspired two victories in the CONCACAF Nations League. 

5. DaMarcus Beasley

DaMarcus Beasley

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Over the course of a 20-year career, DaMarcus Beasley turned out for eight clubs in six countries – featuring in MLS, the Premier League and Bundesliga, among others – as well as earning 126 caps or the USMNT.

It was with PSV and Rangers that Beasley enjoyed most success at club level, though: the winger’s wand of a left foot helped both clubs to two league titles apiece between 2004 and 2010.

The former LA Galaxy and Houston Dynamo man was inducted into his country’s National Soccer Hall of Fame earlier this year, which should make absolutely sure of his legacy in the US game.

4. Cobi Jones

Cobi Jones

(Image credit: Getty Images)

National Soccer Hall of Famer Cobi Jones is instantly recognisable to Coventry City fans, despite spending just a single season at Highfield Road in the 1994/95 campaign. Signed from the US Soccer Federation, Coventry represented Jones’ first foray at a professional club, though he had already more than 30 appearances for his national team – including featuring at the 1994 World Cup – before then. 

Over the course of the next decade, Jones cemented himself as the all-time appearance-maker of the United States men’s team, with 164 caps at the end of his international career in 2004. By then he was playing for LA Galaxy, where he spent 12 seasons after joining at the inception of MLS in 1996. 

The diminutive midfielder excelled in Los Angeles until his retirement in 2007, winning the MLS Cup in 2002 and 2005, multiple Western Conference titles and, most notably, the CONCACAF Champions’ Cup in 2000. 

3. Landon Donovan

Landon Donovan

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Regarded by many as the greatest American player of all time, Landon Donovan’s case is certainly strong; he’s just slightly let down by the fact he never established himself in one of the top five European leagues.

But it’s pretty damn hard to look past the USMNT’s joint record scorer (57 goals, along with Clint Dempsey) for the best player in MLS history – and what Donovan did to transform the product of the US top flight cannot be discounted.

The forward spent the vast majority of his career with LA Galaxy – where his record of 308 goals may never be broken – but also challenged himself with short spells in the Bundesliga and Premier League with Bayer Leverkusen, Bayern Munich and Everton.

2. Brad Friedel

Brad Friedel

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you hear the words ‘American’ and ‘football’ in the same sentence, you probably think of a different sport, one played with your hands – and, well, Brad Friedel was pretty good with his.

Friedel’s 450 Premier League appearances – which he made for Liverpool, Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa and Tottenham – remains a record for an American, while, like Howard, he’s also one of the six goalkeepers to score in the competition’s 31-year history.

At international level, Friedel won 84 caps, going to the 2002 World Cup as his country’s number one and producing some inspired performances to help the States reach the quarter-finals of the tournament.

1. Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Clint Dempsey earned his place as one of the all-time greats of US football by being one of a select few Americans to truly hack it in the Premier League – where no outfield player from his country has made more appearances than his 218.

The versatile forward made the vast majority of those appearances for Fulham – who signed him from MLS outfit New England Revolution in 2007, and sold him to Tottenham six years later.

It’s fair to say Dempsey’s Spurs spell didn’t work out as well as his time at Fulham – who he helped to the 2010 UEFA Cup final, where he became the first American to feature in a major European final – but he’d already long since assured legendary status, helped in no small part by his goalscoring exploits for the USMNT.

Also read

CRESTS! The 100 greatest club badges ever

LATINO! The highest-scoring South Americans in Premier League history


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Ryan is a staff writer for FourFourTwo, joining the team full-time in October 2022. He first joined Future in December 2020, working across FourFourTwo, Golf Monthly, Rugby World and Advnture’s websites, before eventually earning himself a position with FourFourTwo permanently. After graduating from Cardiff University with a degree in Journalism and Communications, Ryan earned a NCTJ qualification to further develop as a writer while a Trainee News Writer at Future. 

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