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Strongest U.S. national team in history? Look at these three starting XI’s

Jul 23, 2013, 11:21 AM EDT


As the U.S. national team racked up their record-breaking ninth consecutive win against El Salvador on Sunday, people continue to debate just how good these Yanks are.

Skeptics say heavy wins against minnows in friendlies and Gold Cup games shouldn’t be looked upon favorably, while others argue that the incredible depth at Jurgen Klinsmann’s disposal now makes this the best pool of players ever to pull on a U.S. jersey.

Of course it’s hard to judge this team against the U.S. side in Italia ’90 or the 2002 World Cup quarter-finalists, as every era is unique and arguments constantly rumble on about which side is the best in history, how they rank against each other, so on and so forth.

But I think this may be the best group of players that U.S. soccer has ever seen.

That’s a huge statement. But I’m throwing it out there.

(MORE: USA set new record after eighth straight win, but what does it really mean?)

This isn’t based on huge wins against CONCACAF cannon fodder. To be frank, it was incredibly difficult to name a U.S. First, Second and Third XI without leaving plenty of big name players out of the picture.

There is a solid core of 35-40 players who could all perform extremely well for the USMNT when the World Cup arrives in Brazil next summer. Has the USA ever had that before? Three completely different lineups who could all do an extremely good job.

We all know what Klinsmann’s starting XI is right now.

There is maybe some debate about the left hand side, but every other position is pretty much locked down, as it stands. But there’s so much to play for, not only for the rest of this Gold Cup campaign, but during the next 11 months leading up to World Cup 2014.

Sadly, there are always a few players who play themselves out of the squad with poor performances. However, right now, so many are playing well and at their peak that Klinsmann has an incredibly hard task to pick a ‘B’ side… let alone his full-strength team.

But that’s a great headache to have, and one that almost every national team manager in the world would be envious of.

So I decided to break it down and constructed what I think would be the national teams three strongest staring lineups. And there’s a bunch of top quality reserves left over too.

Let me know what you think. I had such a tough time with this. Rather you than me, Jurgen.

First XI: (4-2-3-1) Howard, Cameron, Besler, Gonzalez, Beasley; Bradley, Jones; Zusi, Dempsey, Fabian Johnson; Altidore

Second XI: (4-2-3-1) Guzan, Parkhurst, Goodson, Bocanegra, Castillo; Beckerman, Kljestan; Davis, Donovan, Corona; Eddie Johnson

Third XI: (4-1-3-2) Rimando, Chandler, Orozco Fiscal, Onyewu, Evans; Edu; Shea, Diskerud, Torres, Wondolowski, Gomez

Reserves: Agudelo, Gatt, Boyd, Diskerud, Holden, Cherundolo, Morrow, Sean Johnson, Bill Hamid, Bedoya, Beltran, Bruin, Gordon and many many more…

  1. jumpov - Jul 23, 2013 at 11:36 AM

    Cameron is so much better deployed as a defensive/holding midfielder, I am not enthralled with him at RB. Though, I agree he is one of the current best 11, just the odd man out in this situation.

  2. creek0512 - Jul 23, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    You lose all credibility by leaving Donovan off the First XI. Put Donovan at AM, move Fabian Johnson to LB and move down Beasley.

    • danielofthedale - Jul 23, 2013 at 12:41 PM

      Fabian Johnson is a Left Mid not AM. The AM/Withdrawn Striker position is Clint Dempsey’s. I think both Clint and Landon are better in that central role behind the striker. I think they both have real negatives if you move one out wide. I think that for the time being Landon is coming off the bench unless you want a less than 100% effective Landon or Clint that would be a step down positionally from the wide midfielders Fabian or Zusi.

      • tridecagon - Jul 23, 2013 at 2:04 PM

        I think Dempsey and Donovan are the best players in a US shirt (along with Bradley and possibly Howard) and you find a way to get them both on the pitch.

      • joeyt360 - Jul 23, 2013 at 4:38 PM

        Did you miss Beasley’s foul vs El Salvador? He’s not a ‘true’ left back either. That was a classic case of a trained midfielder forgetting which challenges are inadvisable in the box.

        Donovan at LM kills two birds with one stone, it’s an upgrade at LB to Johnson and it gets the all-time leading scorer on the field.

  3. randomhookup - Jul 23, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    Because every XI must have a Johnson, I’m bumping Rimando for Sean on Team 3.

    • joeyt360 - Jul 23, 2013 at 4:39 PM

      Because in the USA, we’ve got big Johnsons.

      • randomhookup - Jul 23, 2013 at 8:41 PM

        We also seem to have a lot of them…

  4. sdisesa - Jul 23, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    Not sure about strongest because I didn’t really watch before 2006, but I think it’s definitely the deepest squad the USA has ever had. I also think Landon will find his way into the starting XI come World Cup time.

  5. delscorcho72 - Jul 23, 2013 at 12:45 PM

    What is with everyone putting Zusi in the best 11? He is an average MLS player. There is no way he starts over Donovan. He is really behind Holden and Diskerud in terms of class. I would start Torres over him.

    • mlsconvert88888 - Jul 23, 2013 at 1:21 PM

      Zusi is in because he was on form in the last round of WCQs, burning down the flanks and giving good service into the box.
      Torres over Zusi? Put down the crack pipe, buddy.

    • tariencole - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:45 PM

      Zusi has been an All-Star MLS player for some time. And he’s been solid to outstanding every start he’s put in this year for the USMNT. I’m going to guess that:

      1) You don’t watch Sporting KC to know how instrumental Zusi is. I’ll just say their recent win streak rather remarkably coincides with when Besler and Zusi checked back in. Without them, they lost to an A-League side in the US Open Cup.

      2) Laughable when you say Zusi is behind Holden, who has played exactly (1) good match in a USMNT uniform. And Diskerud, who hasn’t played *a* match of that caliber with the “A” team yet.

      3) And you officially go off the deep end when you put Torres, who can’t play 45mins for the National Team at a high level, ahead of a guy whose fitness Klinsmann has himself applauded. A guy who has NO bite in defense over a guy who consistently makes 40 yard plus recovery runs to win the ball. And a guy whose had more opportunities, yet fewer goals and assists.

      And to be fair, I like Torres. He just isn’t Zusi. Right now, Zusi is more consistent than Donovan, and flat better than the other options. I ‘want’ Holden to be as good as people CLAIM he is. But honestly, the level of hype people give the guy is unfair. Especially given his dose of injury hell.

      Bottom line though, Zusi and Donovan aren’t playing for the same spot. They’re going to be opposite flank Midfielders, with the ability to flip wings. Holden will likely be the 1st MF off the bench. I don’t know the Mix will make the 23. If he does, he’s likely to be well down the pecking order. But he’s young still, so that’s not the end of the world.

      • stuckinnewengland - Jul 23, 2013 at 10:37 PM

        YOU officially “lose all credibility” and are “laughable” when you claim Zusi is more consistent than Donovan. No, he is not currently nor will he ever be. Donovan could take three years off, become a Buddhist, learn to surf, go vegan and still have more of an impact than Zusi.

      • tariencole - Jul 23, 2013 at 10:45 PM

        Nonsense. He is absolutely more consistent, at PRESENT than Donovan. Donovan has a higher ceiling. But if he’s not 100% motivated, he’ll sulk through a game and be a non-factor.

        Zusi is all-in, every time he’s in. His floor and ceiling are much closer together than Donovan’s. That’s consistency.

        So while I realize you want to prop up all things Mexican, as if that’s the standard we should be going for (to which I guffaw), I say you don’t have a clue about Zusi’s game, because it’s clear you’ve never watched him.

      • stuckinnewengland - Jul 23, 2013 at 11:29 PM

        Doesn’t Donovan have 6 assists and 3 goals in 4 games. When Zusi comes close to those totals, in any 4 game stretch, then come talk to me. Hell, I’ll even let you use 4 meaningless MLS games, or Mexican league games, as both leagues suck in the grand scheme of things.

        You claiming Donovan needs to be motivated is such boy-band crap. You try being the face of all of US soccers hopes and dreams, internationally and domestically, then tell me after a decade and a half you wouldn’t want a break.

      • tariencole - Jul 24, 2013 at 7:10 AM

        Donovan’s ‘break’ was not the 1st, or last time, he showed a lack of enthusiasm for the game. His dip in play for the National Team went back to the end of Bradley’s era. Or do you forget when he was coming off the bench in that Gold Cup.

        And 4 games isn’t consistency. That’s a good run of form. And it doesn’t prove anything but what I said.

        And whether or not he needed a break personally doesn’t mean he automatically laps the field when he comes back into the team. And playing well against CONCACAF minnows isn’t the same as playing well against Germany and a year’s worth of qualifiers, either.

        But, as I already noted, in the grand scheme of things, Donovan isn’t competing against Zusi. Because if LD keeps up his form, they’re both going to be on the pitch. It’ll be Torres whose odd man out.

  6. jumpov - Jul 23, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    Altidore’s resurgence coincided right with Zusi playing out wide. To suggest Donovan over him in the starting eleven? That’s fine.

    To say Holden, Mix and JF Torres? You’re nuts, have you only watched the Gold Cup Tounrament?

    Zusi is calm on the ball, provides great balls into the box and busts his ass to protect the flank defensively.

    • delscorcho72 - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:01 PM

      How about the last world cup that Torres actually played in. Zusi has only played MLS and Concacaf qualifiers. Torres plays in Mexico, a way better league than MLS. This is proven by Concacaf champions league results. Zusi has proven nothing. There is no way he starts a world cup game. Squad player at best. Diskeruds crossing is way better. Zusis first touch is crap. Holden just needs some games. If you think he will ever be as good as Holden I’m not sure how you come up with it. Zusi has absolutely no interest from foreign leagues. Just signed a 4 year extension with KC. That’s where he belongs.

      • tariencole - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:50 PM

        Quality of the League is not an absolute corollary to the quality of the player. And saying Torres ‘played’ in the last World Cup is a bit of a stretch. He managed to get on the pitch 45 mins before Bob yanked him. And as mad as I was about the benching, you can’t argue the team played better with Torres gathering splinters.

        And again, your ‘analysis’ of Zusi betrays you’ve never watched the guy. He’s 2 footed, calm on the ball. Capable crosser. Very good set piece delivery. He could finish better. But then a lot of wingers have that problem. And he has a better motor than anyone else in the pool, save perhaps MB90.

  7. mvktr2 - Jul 23, 2013 at 1:41 PM

    3 months ago writing this article was pretty much impossible.

    I choose to take the long view. In football terms you’re never as good as your best game nor as bad as your worst is a solid axiom to apply to soccer or any sport. What I’ve believed in and seen during the Jurgen era is his roster management/player management. He’s been virtually flawless in his handling of player. From day one Klinsmann has gotten roster/player management right and it’s a reason for the depth of the player pool now. Funny thing is there’s a decent amount of room for improvement even now. If Shea looks more like the Shea of the last 2 outings earning minutes and results at Stoke it’ll be hard to keep him from making a WC appearance or 4 if he grows into his potential. Gatt could find a spot if he’s able to shake the injury bug, same for Gomez who over the long haul has been one of the most consistent 5 or so players on the team since Klinsmann’s arrival. Add to this the ongoing battles along the back line and some pretty sizable steps forward could take place between now and next summer.

  8. soccerjohn - Jul 23, 2013 at 1:48 PM

    This is just a goofy way to waste time. I love it. My way of thinking, the goal is to get the best talent on the field, yes, but it has to be in a way that generates the best results. Here’s the lineup I think would do that if the US had to field its best team for a game next week:

    Altidore Donovan
    Dempsey Bradley Zuzi
    Beasley Besler Gonzales F. Johnson**

    Even as rusty as Donovan continues to be, imagine how he’d stretch defenses with his speed, give Altidore someone to lay off to, and provide Altidore the service he needs. Imagine Dempsey pinching in as he does with Spurs, providing Altidore with another option and making space for Beasley to run to the opposing endline. Zuzi’s box-to-box play and crosses would be supported by Fabian Johnson, who can play the right side and would defend more reliably than Cameron does out wide. And all with Bradley orchestrating and Cameron destroying. The team wouldn’t have many shutouts, but it’d rarely get shut out. And it’d finish with eleven players more often than any team fielding Jones would. (Face it, even if Jones starts the first two games of a group play, the US is going to have to start a different center mid in the third game due to his accumulation of yellows.)

    I think the lack of attacking speed on JPW’s starting XI might make things too easy for opposing defenses, which would increase pressure on the US defense. I think it would change the entire dynamic of the games being played.

  9. Scott Hevel - Jul 23, 2013 at 2:19 PM

    2002 was stronger at GK, D, MF, and F but I get your point…

    • Scott Hevel - Jul 23, 2013 at 2:34 PM

      To expand:

      GK: Friedel (2nd best GK in the world at the time)

      vs Howard (struggling to keep his starting role overseas)

      D: Pope, Agoos, Sanneh, and Berhalter

      vs Cameron, Besler, Gonzalez, Beasley (older, slower Beasley is the best defender in this bunch)

      MF: Stewart, Beasley, Hejduk, Reyna, and Donovan (O’Brien, Mathis, Matroeni would also probably start on today’s team)

      vs Bradley, Jones; Zusi, Dempsey, Fabian Johnson (By the way, if Fabian Johnson starts over Landon, then Jurgen needs to exit)

      F: McBride (and Joe Max Moore)

      vs: Altidore (and no one)

      The problem is that CONCACAF is absolutely horrible right now. Elite Latin America teams and some of the European/African teams will absolutely rip holes in this team I’m afraid. That 2002 team was an Oliver Kahn away from winning the World Cup.

  10. charliej11 - Jul 23, 2013 at 3:05 PM

    LD in the second team. Come on. Do you watch soccer ?

  11. charliej11 - Jul 23, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    I made the comment on SBI that the US team is very deep and got ripped, I think almost everyone would agree with me now. The second team ( although LD is playing ) is crushing it. A lot of the third team guys still have a chance to make the Brazil squad.

  12. tackledummy1505 - Jul 23, 2013 at 5:52 PM

    Howard is overrated. Not my #1

  13. hildezero - Jul 23, 2013 at 6:02 PM

    How can he put Zusi over Donovan? Zusi is a great player, but Donovan is way better! Yes, Diskerud and Holden are both better than Zusi but not Torres.

    • stuckinnewengland - Jul 23, 2013 at 11:38 PM

      Zusi had two nice crosses. Slow down on the Zusi is a great player chatter.

  14. hildezero - Jul 24, 2013 at 1:34 AM

    You’re dumb if you think MLS sucks. Lol.

  15. zachkent18 - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    I just think Goodson is a way better pick than OG. Does anybody know how “Dolo” is doing? I feel like he has a chance to get back with the A team here. Not as good going forward (though he can still swing in a great cross from time to time) but much smarter and more solid in the back.

    Here is my top 11:

    GK: Howard
    Defenders: Goodson, Besler, Beasley, “Dolo”
    Midfield: Bradley, Jones, Donovan, Zusi
    Forwards: Dempsey, Altidore

    First off the bench for really any position besides GK and Forward: Cameron-who is just unlucky that Bradley and Jones work better. If Beasley slips up or Dolo can’t come back, he even with being slow is still the next man up as outside back.
    GK: Guzan
    Defenders: OG, Parkhurst
    Midfield: Beckerman, Fabian Johnson, Brad Davis
    Forwards: EJ, Wondo

  16. zachkent18 - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:03 AM

    So that is our top 20 players right there. How many for a world cup squad again? 23???

  17. zachkent18 - Jul 25, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    Based on last night, would probably take Holden (if his progress keeps up?), Bedoya (Interesting) and that last pick is SO HARD…If GK take Rimando, but if players I think I would want either 1) Gomez 2) Gatt (rarely used but plenty of promise) 3) Bruin?

  18. rockford180 - Jul 26, 2013 at 5:23 PM

    The fact is that Dempsey made a name for himself in the EPL by playing Left Mid for Fulham, then cutting in, attacking and scoring goals. That’s his strength, and Donovan is much more creative in the AM role. Dempsey will benefit if Bale leaves and frees up the left mid spot at Hotspurs.
    I’m liking Goodson because he can truly pass well out of the back, unlike Omar (and previously Gooch). Jones refuses to stay put as the CDM, and Cameron is simply a better defender, too. And having Cameron as CDM lets Bradley be Bradley (we need that).
    We also need as much pace up top as possible for WC2014, so we need Eddie — he’s fast and he can finish. We are always lacking for pace, so LD and EJ must be up top.
    GK: Howard
    Defense: Chandler?, Goodson, Besler, Fabian Johnson
    CDM: Cameron
    Mids: Eddie Johnson, Bradley, Dempsey
    AM/Forward: Donovan
    Forward: Altidore

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