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Big question: Is this United States squad the best in history?

Sep 11, 2013, 2:44 PM EDT

Mexico v United States - FIFA 2014 World Cup Qualifier Getty Images

During the Gold Cup success early this summer, plenty of people were throwing around statements about this being ‘the biggest talent pool the U.S. has ever had’ and that this was the ‘strongest squad in USMNT history.’

Well… have they got a point? After the ease in which the U.S. qualified for the World Cup from the CONCACAF region this campaign (more on that from Mr. Davis coming up soon), it’s certainly worth considering.

Along the way there was an injury crisis or two, loss of form and plenty of new faces used as Jurgen Klinsmann revamped his entire squad to make sure they got to Brazil.

(MORE: Strongest U.S. national team in history? Check out these three starting XI’s)

But is picking the 23-man roster that will represent the United States of America at the World Cup the toughest job for any U.S. manger, ever?

That question springs up at around this time every four years once the WC qualifying cycle is coming to an end but there has been growing intrigue and debate about the topic this time out. Klinsmann has built a solid squad of top players from MLS, Liga MX and across Europe that may become the best squad U.S. soccer has ever seen.

(MORE: More than a scoreline, “Dos a Cero” signifies U.S. dominance over Mexico)

Before we get started, we have to take our hats off to the three U.S. squads who qualified for three of the first four World Cups in 1930, 1934 and 1950. But we won’t be delving that far back to Joe Gaetjens and other heroes because quite frankly it’s extremely difficult to compare the game back in the early 20th century to soccer today.


Eric Wynalda helped lead a hard-nosed U.S. side at Italia ’90.

Let’s take this discussion back to the World Cup in Italy in 1990, then head to the USA’s 2002 World Cup campaign which saw them knocked out by Germany in the quarterfinals and finally compare it to today’s squad.

United States national team 1990 World Cup

With the likes of Tony Meola in goal, John Harkes and Eric Wynalda up front, the U.S. had a strong core of talented players who were playing across Europe. These guys weren’t necessarily playing on the biggest teams but they had experience that helped the USA qualify for their first World Cup since 1950. Paul Caligiuri’s ‘shot heard round the world’ made that possible and his play was a hallmark of how the U.S. set up. A tough defensive team with the likes of Marcelo Balboa, Tab Ramos and Peter Vermes, the USA were hard to beat in qualifying. But when they got to Italia ’90 everything went pear-shaped. A 1-0 defeat to hosts Italy wasn’t disastrous but a 5-1 loss to Czechoslovakia and a 2-1 reverse to Austria ensured the U.S. left Italy with zero points, two goals scored and their tails between their legs. An experienced squad full of fight and determination, I think today’s U.S. squad are head and shoulders above the revolutionary 1990 squad.

United States national team 2002 World Cup


Clint Mathis was part of the exciting United States side that made the 2002 quarterfinals.

This side would take some beating, even by today’s standards. With a young Landon Donovan causing all kinds of problems for opposition defenses and with John O’Brien and Claudio Reyna breaking things up in midfield the U.S. had a solid defensive core to build from. Brad Friedel in goal was phenomenal and with a winger like DaMarcus Beasley whipping in crosses for Brian McBride, if I shut my eyes I can still recall that scintillating first-half display against Portugal in Suwon. Bruce Arena had a heck of a squad and just keeping everyone happy was tough. At the back veterans like Eddie Pope and Jeff Agoos kept everything together and it was a joy to watch them allow Donovan, Beasley and other youngsters dash forward and create havoc. Much like Klinsmann today, Arena had at least two players for every position and the 2002 World Cup side would push the current U.S. team all the way in terms of being the best squad in U.S. soccer history.

United States national team 2013 World Cup qualifying

source: Reuters

Jurgen Klinsmann has the likes of Altidore, Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley to choose from.

Ah, so here we go. This current U.S. team can boast accolades other incarnations could only dream of. Setting a record for consecutive victories with 12 straight wins, winning a Gold Cup with a ‘reserve’ squad and being able to boast players who are playing in some of Europe’s best leagues week in, week out. Without doubt Klinsmann has an incredibly hard job to whittle this squad down to just 23 for the World Cup next summer. The likes of Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Michael Bradley and Tim Howard can already pack their floral swim shorts and flip-flops, they’re on the plane to Rio. But with so much strength in depth this has to be the strongest ever pool of players. The sheer numbers of players playing regularly in the top European leagues (Cameron, Johnson, Jones, Guzan, Bradley, Howard, Altidore, Shea, Diskerud, Bedoya etc.) is phenomenal and all of Major League Soccer’s star U.S. players are now being given a chance and are impressing. The fact that someone of Donovan’s class was being kept out of the team for most of 2013 is a good indication as to how good this team is. At any other time period in U.S. soccer history leaving Donovan out of a squad would be akin to Argentina sitting Lionel Messi on the bench. It just wouldn’t happen. Talent in abundance.


Anyway after all that, my mind is made up. The 2013 USMNT squad is the best group of players the United States has ever produced that are all playing together at the same time. Enjoy watching it folks, this is historic. But one more positive to finish on. This team is full of players just establishing themselves at international level and by the time the 2018 World Cup in Russia arrives, this squad could be even better. Have a think about it. Mind-boggling.

  1. davebrett99 - Sep 11, 2013 at 3:04 PM

    “With the likes of Tony Meola in goal, John Harkes and Eric Wynalda up front, the U.S. had a strong core of talented players who were playing across Europe.”

    No they didn’t! The USA had only three players in Europe at the time – Vermes, Sullivan and Caligiuri. Please get your facts straight. For info, see:

    • senevada - Sep 12, 2013 at 11:30 AM

      and that pic of Wynalda is from ’94. Guessing whoever wrote this article is a relative newbie to USA soccer.

  2. braxtonrob - Sep 11, 2013 at 3:47 PM

    2002 was better, easily.

    • tridecagon - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:10 PM

      Right. “Easily.” And Howard was a “huge hole” in goal last night. Keep ’em coming, smart guy. Haters gonna hate.

      • optimuxmaximux - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:24 PM

        so they beat Mexico, make it to the WC and now all this big fuzz.. What about the game earlier this week in Costa Rica…. 3 – 1, if i recall the USA lost.

      • braxtonrob - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:02 PM

        @tridecago, I didn’t say we weren’t good! But, our 2002 team almost went to the QFinals, or did you not watch that tournament?

        Plus, I’ve done nothing but commend Howard for his “STELLAR performance” last night on these boards. I favor Guzan because he’s not inconsistent, and frankly, he’s in HIS prime & better.

      • handsofsweed - Sep 16, 2013 at 7:53 PM

        Uhhhh, they DID go to the quarters in 2002. Maybe you should have watched the tournament, brax.

    • Scott Hevel - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:30 PM


      CONCACAF is having their worst qualifying group in recent memory. That’s the bigger issue. Beating bad teams who can’t score doesn’t make this team better.

      2002 Was Oliver Kahn away from likely playing in the finals against Brazil. I’ve mentioned it before and i don’t need to run through everything but simply, the 2002 team was better at forward (McBride was a scoring machine). They were better at MF (Donovan struggled to get on the field then). Finally, they were better at defense. You can stack it up any way you want but there is no one in CONCACAF with a reasonable offense and I still hold my breath every opposing attack. With Pope, Goos, and the gang, the 2002 team was pretty darn good.

      This team still has a long way to go.

      I think 2nd best is safe to say. :)

      • talgrath - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:40 PM

        Are we watching the same games? Aside from Mexico and Canada wilting, this has to be the best group of CONCACAF teams in history. Nearly every team is a threat, Mexico wouldn’t be getting beaten so often (even with their poor form) if these teams were pushovers. More and more players from the smaller and poorer nations are going abroad, to MLS, Liga MX, Europe and South America to play because of their talent. Nearly every team left in this qualifying round has at least two players opposing teams worry about, most have more than that. The parity alone indicates just how talented all of these teams are (aside from Jamaica).

      • wfjackson3 - Sep 12, 2013 at 4:24 PM

        You think this is the weakest CONCACAF group in recent memory? I remember some years where it seemed like half of the teams were made up by semi-pros.

        Aside from Mexico getting Montezuma’s revenge and crapping out, who is weak? Costa Rica? Honduras could lay some wood to people in the WC. Probably not the blue bloods, but they will make some noise.

        I just can’t comprehend how you see it as weak. It is easily one of the most balanced groups I have seen. Central American teams have really benefitted from MLS players. It’s almost obvious.

  3. hildezero - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:12 PM

    I think braxtonrob was not hating. I think he actually thinks that… I think.

  4. optimuxmaximux - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    so they beat Mexico, make it to the WC and now all this big fuzz.. What about the game earlier this week in Costa Rica…. 3 – 1, if i recall the USA lost.

    • talgrath - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:46 PM

      Losing away to the team currently ranked 2 in CONCACAF after unexpectedly losing Michael Bradley in warm-ups (after you’ve created your game plan) isn’t exactly shocking. Yes, it was a terrible game for the team overall, but the root of the problem isn’t hard to find and playing away is always difficult. All you need to do is look at Mexico’s losses to the US when away to see that even an in-form team can get tripped up by an away game.

      • optimuxmaximux - Sep 11, 2013 at 6:19 PM

        hhhmmm good excuse.
        Anyway, im pleased Mexico lost and i hope Panama beats them or at least ties so they can leave Mexico out of the WC. that would be soooooo beautiful

  5. pwick10 - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    “Let’s take this discussion back to the World Cup in Itally in 1990…”

    Where is “Itally”????

    • handsofsweed - Sep 16, 2013 at 7:56 PM

      Next to Fraance and Spaiin. Ever look at a maap?

  6. mikeevergreen - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    The 2002 team took the world by surprise, mainly due to the fact that most of it played in MLS. I think Portugal and Mexico overlooked us due to the fact that only a few starters played in Europe. Nobody overlooks us now. Nobody.

    What the 2002 team had, and this team has even more of, is depth. People don’t remember the 2002 team beat Portugal wthout Claudio Reyna and Clint Mathis, both were still rehabbing knocks. One would have thought the US in real trouble going into last night without Michael Bradley, yet there was Hair Helmet (Beckermann) playing hard-core defense with good passing upfield. There was Diskerrud for the time he was in, good defense and scary good passes.

    I can’t wait until Aron Johannsson develops; he played alongside Jozy at AZ. And if Brek Shea gets back to the form he had at FC Dallas…

    • markburst - Sep 12, 2013 at 7:25 PM

      Johannsson never played alongside Jozy at AZ.They acquired Johannsson when they sold Jozy to Southampton…

  7. pwick10 - Sep 11, 2013 at 4:37 PM

    Did he really just compare Landon Donovan to Lionel Messi??? Mind-boggling.

    The 2013 USMNT is the best for one reason alone. They have the best manager/coach in USMNT history. Period. Yes, Klinsmann has a large pool of talent to choose from, but HE was the one who expanded that pool to its current size. He knows which players will compete and give the USMNT the best chance at being competitive in Brazil. The 23-man squad may not include the most talented players, but it will include the players who make up the best TEAM. In this aspect, Klinsmann should be compared to Herb Brooks, the coach of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey champions. Klinsmann chooses the players for the task, and they respond to his leadership.

    • boscoesworld - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:13 PM

      No he did not just compare Donovan to Messi. He compared the impact to a team. On another note. Look at the team picture up top. Isn’t it a little weird that Beckerman won’t lean over in front of Dempsey?

  8. adslazaro - Sep 11, 2013 at 5:40 PM

    The squad in 2005 qualifying should be in the discussion. McBride on form. Donovan on form. Reyna pulling strings. Johnson scoring. Beasley playing out of his mind and starting for PSV in the Champions League. Keller and Howard fighting for #1. Qualifying for Germany with *three* games to spare. Winning the B-team Gold Cup.

    • wfjackson3 - Sep 12, 2013 at 7:31 PM

      My, how it all unraveled in just a year.

  9. hildezero - Sep 11, 2013 at 6:54 PM


    Why you gotta hate? Just because the US lost to Costa Rica? So what?! It was a bad game for them and they didn’t have Bradley and others. You’re just gonna judge one game? If I remember right, before that game the US had a twelve game winning streak going, right?

  10. ethancrowley - Sep 11, 2013 at 7:14 PM

    Why are we even having this conversation now? We’re comparing how our current team QUALIFIED for the WC with how the 2002 PERFORMED in the WC. So we’re looking at wins over Mexico (who are a mere shadow of their former selves) or other concacaf opponents, and comparing it with how we took it to Portugal and South Korea on the world’s biggest stage in 2002. Two different venues.

    Shouldn’t we wait til next summer to render judgement on the current team?

    • braxtonrob - Sep 11, 2013 at 10:13 PM

      @ethan, I agree completely. The ‘proof-is-in-the-putting’. Let’s wait till the next WC is over. Note: our team roster may change A LOT between now and then.

      • senevada - Sep 12, 2013 at 11:35 AM

        proof is in the ‘putting’? lol

  11. snooppp68 - Sep 11, 2013 at 11:15 PM

    If they can’t win in San Jose, Costa Rica, don’t you think the stage in Brazil might be a little too big?????

    • braxtonrob - Sep 12, 2013 at 8:08 AM

      @snooppp68, Don’t you think you’re putting just a tad too much emphasis on ONE result in San Jose?

      Be reasonable, we’ve gone to South America and won games before.

    • senevada - Sep 12, 2013 at 11:34 AM

      thats a tough tough place to play; the USA have never won there, yet that hasnt stopped us from advancing as far as the quarters in the past.

      • braxtonrob - Sep 13, 2013 at 1:51 PM

        @senevada, Yes we have, not recently, but we have.

      • braxtonrob - Sep 13, 2013 at 1:56 PM

        @senevada, And in addition to you not being enough of a historian to realize the US has won in South America (more than once) …. You’re also an idiot – the phrase IS ‘proof-is-in-the-PUTTING’, you f’n momo.

  12. hildezero - Sep 12, 2013 at 5:06 AM

    Of course not! This is US Soccer we’re talking about. Most of the time the US performs well in the world’s biggest stage unlike your Mexico team. Remember 2002?

    • notaretard - Sep 12, 2013 at 3:14 PM

      remember us getting dead last at france 98? or going out in the group stages of 2006? you’re using one example to say we do well quite often. that’s piss-poor analysis and logic. your boner for the USMNT is taking away too much blood from your brain

  13. Anoesis - Sep 12, 2013 at 11:34 AM

    This “debate” will easily be resolved next year, depending on how far the team goes in the Cup.

    Oh, and the saying is “The proof is in the pudding.” And the original phrase is “The proof of the pudding is in the eating!” Which means you have to eat the pudding to know what’s inside of it. Your version made me think of golf.

    • braxtonrob - Sep 13, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      @Anoesis, re: ‘proof-is-in-the-putting’, No it’s not ‘pudding’ you idiot, get educated!

      • Anoesis - Sep 13, 2013 at 2:22 PM

        I’d tell you to Google it, but your computer skills are probably as horrible as your language knowledge. Oh, and thanks for the grade-school shout-out. Recess is over.

      • braxtonrob - Sep 14, 2013 at 3:13 PM

        So, being able to ‘Google’ equates to “computer skills”? Well, I guess now I know who I’m talking with – an absolute maroon.
        The fact that you think ‘Google’ is the absolute depth of knowledge on any subject speaks VOLUMES. As I said, GET EDUCATED.

      • travsty - Sep 16, 2013 at 5:48 PM

        I know we’re commenting on sports but the proof is not in putting.

        if you can point me to somewhere besides the comments here where proof is in putting…

  14. notaretard - Sep 12, 2013 at 3:13 PM

    what about the team that got to the confederations cup final in south africa in 2009? you’re basing this off of 3 cherry-picked examples. as usual, terrible analysis but a terrible journalist

  15. markburst - Sep 12, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    I would say this squad is the best squad. Previous squads, even the guys that made a run in 2002 were not very technically capable. We played bunker defense and counter attacked against the stronger teams. Our players were very fit and athletic and could win one on one battles so we were able to score a few here and there against better teams.

    This team is the first American National Team that can take the game to almost any opponent. We are exponentially better on the ball and we keep possession and develop our attack from the back. This team plays much more entertaining soccer and I believe they can be more successful because we now have some swagger built by the winning streak. We have competition at every position, more so than 2002. Half the players that were on that squad could not break into our current squad, even as reserves.

    Jurgen is doing his job… he is raising the bar, making the team more competitive and playing much better technically. If we stay on this path, it is only a matter of time before the World will rightly fear playing the USMNT.

  16. schmutzdeck - Sep 13, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    Apples and Oranges.

    JK’s Guys have yet to write their World Cup story while the book is closed on the 2002 team. And honestly the state of the game has changed so much for the better with the US that any comparison can really only be made in general terms.

    That said, Eddie Pope, Reyna, JOB, McBride, Tony Sanneh and Mathis, if healthy and in form, walk right into the 2013 squad.

    We have yet to know what kind of draw the US will get.

    After injuries and player form, the draw is maybe the single most important factor in determining the US’ chances of going deep into the tournament.

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