By: Colin Reese
In no way, shape, or form are ANY of these players listed below poor players that shouldn’t be commended for their success and their contribution to the growth and improvement of American soccer.
There’s a difference between being a poor footballer by international standards and being pedestrian and incapable of really impacting international or high level games.
All of the players listed below are solid MLS professionals that in many ways are evidence of how much American soccer has improved to make these players on this list average or below average players by international standards, as opposed to MLS standards.
American soccer is producing more players that are closer to the level of players like Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Michael Bradley, and these players as well as several others deserve to play with players closer to or equal to their level.
Read the list after the jump:
The Most Pedestrian USMNT Regulars
(In no particular order)
1. Brad EVANS (Seattle Sounders)
Brad Evans has a good set of fundamentals, and his athleticism is actually quite better than the other players on the list. Neverthess, as a right back, U.S. internationals like Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Spector, Geoff Cameron, DeAndre Yedlin, Fabian Johnson, Timothy Chandler, and several others are all more skilled, faster, and quicker than he is. These other players are also better defenders due to their ability to mark, tackle, and work the ball out of the back. When better attackers face Evans, they usually leave him for dead. Evans is a solid MLS player that quality international attackers find easy to bamboozle.
Who is a better option than Brad Evans?
Eric Lichaj, Jonathan Spector, DeAndre Yedlin, Kofi Sarkodie
2. Kyle BECKERMAN (Real Salt Lake)
Kyle Beckerman is a technically-sound defensive midfielder that is nevertheless too slow and lacks the athleticism for international soccer or high-level soccer. Many American soccer observers even go as far as to incorrectly consider Beckerman as some sort of regista orchestrating the Americans’ passing from the depths of the midfield. Beckerman isn’t a player that lacks talent or a good understanding or feel for the game, but he is too slow to excel at the international level where his lack of speed and quickness causes him to not keep up with the speed of play, in addition to fouling attackers from behind when he is beaten off the dribble or by a player that simply runs past him.
Who is a better option than Kyle Beckerman?
3. Omar GONZALEZ (LA Galaxy)
Omar Gonzalez is an extremely tall center back that tackles well and displays more skill on the ball that many other American center backs in the past, but his lateral quickness, mobility, and combination play is well below other American center backs such as Geoff Cameron, Michael Orozco, John Anthony Brooks, Shane O’Neill, Maurice Edu, and probably Gale Agbossoumonde as well.
Who is a better option than Omar Gonzalez?
4. Matt BESLER (Sporting KC)
As a center back, Matt Besler has shown that he’s faster than people think, but he doesn’t excel at changing directions or using his weaker right foot. American soccer has improved to the point where the bar has been raised, and Besler’s qualities as a center back are just average or lower by high-level international standards. When compared to Michael Orozco or Geoff Cameron, Besler is less mobile, less two-footed, and more-reliant on hitting long balls down field that are disguised as soft chips when really they are just hopeful passes in the air to Jozy Altidore, who usually has to jump up to head the passes with a defender’s elbows usually flying near his head.
Who is a better option than Matt Besler?
5. Clarence GOODSON (San Jose Earthquakes)
Clarence Goodson is a smoother passing than both Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, but Goodson’s lack of agility, speed, and quickness cancel out any benefits of being a tall center back. Being a very tall center back isn’t too important if the more important qualities listed above are absent. The United States is one of the only countries in the world that values really tall center backs over more athletic and technical center backs who are six feet or slightly taller. Raphaël Varane is a very tall center back, but he is a graceful athlete with exceptional technical ability and almost flawless defensive fundamentals and instincts. Like the other players on this list, Goodson obviously isn’t a poor soccer player, but he is not as good as other American options, not to mention the competition that he faces on opposing teams.
Who is a better option than Clarence Goodson?
John Anthony Brooks
6. Graham ZUSI (Sporting KC)
Of all the players on this list, Graham Zusi is the most technically-skilled, but his skill-level would have been more valuable in the past than it is now.
On skill, proven ability, and athleticism, Zusi isn’t even close to Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber, Mix Diskerud, and Benji Joya.
Zusi is a creature of the cross, and at the international level he seems to primarily look to hit line drives into the penalty box.
Zusi receives a lot of praise in the United States for his dead ball ability, but in this department, he is eclipsed by Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Benny Feilhaber, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud, Jozy Altidore, and Herculez Gomez. Jermaine Jones and Geoff Cameron are also both more skilled in their ability to deliver long passes on a dime, and both players can do it with their left feet as well.
The level of American soccer players has improved too much to start a player who primarily looks to play crosses instead of a player with a more versatile arsenal of passing and attacking skills.
Zusi is talented, but when he plays for the United States, a better player like Joe Corona, Benny Feilhaber, or Mix Diskerud is on the bench.
Who is a better option than Graham Zusi?
Benny Feilhaber, Joe Corona, Mix Diskerud
All of the players listed above deserve praise for their contribution to the overall improvement of American soccer, and for their success not only in MLS but in Europe (in Goodson’s case) and in international soccer.
Ultimately, a player like Graham Zusi is young enough to transition from a style of play based on crosses to a style of play that incorporates crossing into a more dynamic style of one-to-two touch play based on passing and moving.
Selection to the national team should be based on skill, and for this writer, other American players are more talented and more deserving of national team spots than the players on this list.
From an international perspective, American soccer is still seen as lacking the technical ability to bridge the gap with world football’s elites. Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Tim Howard, and now Jozy Altidore may be considered legit threats on the club or international level, but the United States Men’s National Team is still looked down upon outside of the United States and inside of the United States.
The next level for American soccer is a greater number of technical players on each MLS team and on the United States Men’s National Team, and of course an American showing excellent technical skill for an elite club team would be a giant step forward.
The players profiled in this article are solid professionals by MLS standards, but the national team needs to take advantage of more technically-gifted players playing all of the positions – and of course a requisite level of international-caliber athleticism is needed even though soccer is very much a sport where ball control, technique, and creativity are more important than pure athleticism.
If the United States can use technically-skilled players with world-class athleticism, then American soccer will get to the next level and close the gap with elite national teams and non-American footballers.
With Tim Howard in goal, Geoff Cameron at center back, Michael Bradley at the defensive midfielder role, Benny Feilhaber as the central attacking midfielder, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey as the wide attacking midfielders, and Jozy Altidore and Juan Agudelo as the strikers, the United States is a team with a solid group of technically-gifted and very athletic players that can play as a group and beat top national teams.
The United States now needs other players to fill the other Starting XI roles, and the players outlined in this article just don’t make the grade, even if they are respectable players in terms of their skill and performances in CONCACAF.
A USMNT XI like the one below would improve the overall technical-ability and athleticism of the squad and help the United States to close the talent gap:
HOWARD; YEDLIN, OROZCO/O’NEILL/ FARRELL, CAMERON, KLUTE; BRADLEY; DONOVAN, FEILHABER, DEMPSEY; ALTIDORE, AGUDELO.