Americans have been playing football long enough to field some reasonably competitive teams, but when it comes to picking individual players that stand out it gets a little hard to do. There have been quite a few players born elsewhere that took out American citizenship to help the national team improve over the years, but there was also enough homegrown talent to turn the squad into a team to be reckoned with on the world stage.
Over the years, several Americans have moved to Europe to ply their trade and have been improving steadily as individuals and the US will be entering the World Cup this June as legitimate contenders. And while they’re more of a ‘team’ than many other countries, they still have enough individual talent to inflict some damage on the world’s best.
So who have been the American players who have really stood out over the years? Here’s five of note:
1) Landon Donovan
Donovan, who plays for Major League Soccer’s Los Angeles Galaxy, has the scoring touch when it comes to playing for his country, netting 42 goals in 121 senior caps as a midfielder and striker since 2000. This makes him the Americans’ all time leading scorer and at 28 years old, the good news for the Us is that his best years may still be ahead of him. Scoring goals for the US is nothing new to Donovan as he banged in 35 in 41 games for the Under-17 squad and added nine more in 15 matches with the Under-23s.
Donovan hasn’t fared as well in his spells in Europe with Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich, but a more recent stint at English club Everton was a success, even if the goals – just two of them – didn’t flow. However, he’s scored 97 goals in MLS in 216 games with Los Angeles Galaxy and San Jose.
Donovan is a major cog in the US team and has been recognised for his input as he’s the only player to have won the American national team’s player of the year award six times. He’s also won numerous other team and individual awards in MLS.
2) Kasey Keller
Goalkeeper Kasey Keller guarded the net 102 times for America between 1990 and 2007. The 6 foot 2 inch, 40-year-old still plays with the Seattle Sounders where he’s the team’s captain. Keller is well known to English, German, and Spanish supporters, having played for Millwall, Leicester, Tottenham, Southampton, Fulham, Borussia Monchengladbach, and Rayo Vallecano in the past.
The keeper was voted Millwall’s Player of the Year for 1992/93 by the fans in a sign of the esteem in which he was held. He led Leicester to the League Cup in 1997 and took them to the final again two years later. Keller spent two years in Spain before heading back to England with Spurs and played every minute for the team in 2002/03 and 2003/04. He then moved to Germany and Borussia Monchengladbach in 2006/07.
Keller was named the American National Team Player of the Year in 1999 and 2005 as well as the US Athlete of the Year in 1997, 1999, and 2005, becoming the first man ever to win it three times. He won the Gold Cup with America in 2002, 05, and 07 and made the American squad for four World Cups.
3) Eric Wynalda
Eric Wynalda is the second leading scorer in US history with 34 goals in 107 games between 1990 and 2000. The 40-year-old forward retired from football in 2008, but left quite a legacy behind him. He scored Major League Soccer’s first ever goal back in 1996 as a member of San Jose Clash, where he scored 21 goals in 57 games, and was the leading scorer of the national team until Landon Donovan overtook him in 2008. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.
Wynalda had a reputation of being a bit of an agitator and troublemaker with the US, but always gave it his best on the pitch. He played with Bundesliga club Saarbrucken from 1992 to 1994, scoring 21 goals in 61 games. Having moved back to America, Wynalda fired home 10 goals in 21 games with Chicago Fire.
He played in three World Cups, 1990, 94, and 98, and was named in the All-Star Team in the 1995 Copa America. The striker was also named the American player of the decade for the 1990s.
4) Claudio Reyna
Midfielder Claudio Reyna is the only outfield American player to have been named to four World Cup teams, and was the captain of the 2006 squad. The 36-year-old retired from the game completely in 2008 due to constant injuries.
Reyna played in 112 games for America and found the back of the net eight times and also played for his country at the 1992 and 1996 Olympics. He played most of his career in Europe where he starred for Bayer Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Glasgow Rangers, Sunderland, and Manchester City, before heading home to finish his career with New York. He played only 253 league games in Europe because of a rash of injuries and scored 23 goals.
The midfielder was named national high school player of the year twice and won several team and individual trophies while in college. Reyna was then named on the college team of the century in 2000 as well as male player of the century.
5) Tony Meola
Before the Americans hit their stride in world football they had to depend on their goalkeeping quite a bit, and keeper Tony Meola was always there for them. The 41-year-old played an even 100 games for the US between 1988 and 2006, including the 1990 and 94 World Cups and was third-choice keeper in 2002. He played on the American Gold Cup winning team of 2002 and enjoyed a 10-year MLS career from 1996 to 2006. The keeper was also an excellent basketball and baseball player and was drafted by the New York Yankees.
Meola got a brief taste of English football, playing 11 games with Brighton in 1990. He won several college trophies for his play and in 2000 was named the MLS MVP (Most Valuable Player), and Goalkeeper of the Year. He also took home the MLS Cup MVP trophy. Meola also set an MLS record with 16 clean sheets and was then named to the league’s all-time best 11 in 2005.