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Voting on the U.S. national team all-time Best XI

Dec 11, 2013, 7:46 PM EST

Alexi Lalas 3

Narrowing down the list of my voting opportunity for the United States national team’s all-time best 11 to a list of 15-or-so personal finalists wasn’t such a tall task. Not easy, but not insurmountable.

Bit eliminating the next four or five to arrive at the final list? Impossible!

U.S. Soccer is selecting an all-time Best XI as it continues to celebrate 100 years as a federation. I was asked to count myself among the media voters.

You can check it out here from U.S. Soccer, where all the finalists and voting details are listed.

As I said, it was tough as could be at the end. Just consider this: I had to choose four midfielders from between Landon Donovan, Cobi Jones, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Tab Ramos and Clint Dempsey. (Those were my “finalists” from within the big list of finalists.)

Before you decide – because I know at first glance someone like Beasley may not be tops on your list of all-time U.S. greats, consider the criteria by which we were asked to cast our votes:

  • Starter or key contributor to overall success on the field, especially in World Cups.
  • Longevity, overall performance and talent on the field with the U.S. Men’s or Women’s National Team.
  • Impact on the legacy of the U.S. Men’s or Women’s National Team program

If you really consider the number of caps, the contributions to qualifying over the years, the Gold Cup contributions, the somewhat nebulous “legacy” factor and, of course, the actually World Cup tourney performance, there’s a lot going on.

Without further delay, here was my vote:

Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller

Defenders: Steve Cherundolo, Marcelo Balboa, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Bocanegra

Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Cobi Jones

Forwards: Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride

  1. fortworthfanatic - Dec 11, 2013 at 8:53 PM

    The greatest omission on your list is Clint Dempsey who arguably has as high of a grade as any on each of your three criteria. I am interested to know your rationale on his exclusion from the starting XI.

    • midtec2005 - Dec 11, 2013 at 11:34 PM

      Well who do you replace? That’s the real question. It would have to be Cobi Jones or Eric Wynalda, but I think the lack of a well defined position might hurt him. Clint may be a better player than both (or may not be) but I have a hard time seeing how he’s more important. But you’re right, that is the greatest omission… by far.

      • nbcrollaround - Dec 15, 2013 at 2:59 AM

        Its not a real team folks. I think it has a lot to do with your age as to who you pick. The above mentioned players definately make my six aside team no doubt…but older players may have included Hugo Perez or John Harkes…Preki is not mentioned either. Balboa over Lalas any day of the week. Also where are Rick Davis and Earnie Stewart? Tim Howard and Friedel are better all around keepers than Keller. Keller had the game of his life against Brazil to make a name for himself but his game was no where near as complete as Howard or Friedel. His distribution and clearances were horrid at times, he had no feet. Great carreer for the nats, Millwall, Leicester, and Monchengladbach.

      • joeyt360 - Dec 15, 2013 at 10:19 AM

        @nbcrollaround,

        But if it’s not a real team you might as well use the preposterous 3-4-3 formations you see on the MLS Best XI every year.

        And if you’re reaching back to 1990, when the US team was clearly a lot weaker as a whole, then why wouldn’t you reach back to the 30s for a Billy Gonsalves or an Archie Stark, guys who compared to their era were probably better than anyone we’ve got today?

        I think the answer is that even though it’s not a real team, you should at some level pretend that it is one and play the guys you think would win.

  2. wfjackson3 - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:11 AM

    The worst thing about the all US Best 11 is that you can’t put Friedel and Howard and Keller in it. Separating those guys is like splitting microscopic hairs.

    I would also put in an argument for Dempsey over either Wynalda or McBride. I feel like Dempsey has had significantly more impact on the US game than either of them, with it being a near tie in all other categories.

  3. braxtonrob - Dec 12, 2013 at 12:55 AM

    Fun!

    I disagree with Keller, Bocanegra and Reyna; other than those, nice ballot.

    Also, I realize we all have few media resources to examine the following players, but what about:

    Bert Patenaude, Jimmy Douglas, ?
    Joe Gaetjens, Frank Borghi, ?

    Anyhow, my (mostly) alternative ballot is:
    B. Friedel (or T. Meola)
    P. Caligiuri, J. DeMerit, T. Dooley, F. Hejduk
    L. Donovan, Tab Ramos, M. Bradley, Cobi Jones
    B. McBride, C. Dempsey

    • midtec2005 - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:03 AM

      Demerit is an interesting choice. He didn’t have the longevity but he was damn good during the last WC round…

    • supercoop8 - Dec 13, 2013 at 1:14 PM

      Reyna is held by some as the best American national team player of all time, hard to leave him off.

  4. elfurrymonkey - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:32 AM

    Here’s my team:

    GK: Kasey Keller
    DF: Steve Cherundolo, Marcelo Balboa, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Bocanegra
    MF: Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey
    FW: Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride

    My greatest omission: Cobi Jones. Tab Ramos too.

  5. tomcatfl - Dec 12, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    No love for John O’Brien? I loved that guy! I’d put him ahead of Cobi (longevity? check – speed? check – touch? – meh) and Clint (just barely) over Tab Ramos at midfield. Michael Bradley may knock out someone by the time he’s done, but I’m not quite there yet.

    I’d be tempted to go 4-5-1 and keep Tab in there, but you really have to put both McBride and Wynalda in. I’d even be tempted to go 3-5-2 because of the lack of truly top-notch defenders, but nobody really ever plays 3-5-2…

    • braxtonrob - Dec 14, 2013 at 5:03 AM

      I almost put O’Brien; I’m glad you mentioned him! Plus, I almost left Bradley off for the same reasoning you mention, but … I figured he’s destined to be on my list, so.
      I like Wynalda, mainly for the much-needed swagger he brought to the team, but I still feel there have been slightly more talented strikers.

      • joeyt360 - Dec 15, 2013 at 9:17 AM

        O’Brien was injured often and only managed to collect 32 caps for the NT. I would still include him because I look at the list a little differently than Steve does, with ‘longevity’ being less important. The way I look at it is, supposing I had all the guys on the list at their peak right now ready to play a World Cup, who would I play?

        Here’s my answer to that:

        —————————–Friedel——————————
        Cherundulo——Pope———–Dooley—–O’Brien–
        ———————Reyna———–Bradley—————-
        –Donovan—————Ramos————–Dempsey-
        —————————–McBride—————————

        In the same 4-2-3-1 we are often playing these days.

        Top Subs:
        Wynalda
        Beasley
        Lalas
        Keller
        Stewart
        Onyewu
        Altidore

  6. drewvt6 - Dec 12, 2013 at 1:29 PM

    Anyone see the team Lalas put together for ESPN? It’s terrible.

    Pretty sure Lalas is the Isaiah Thomas of US Soccer world. Although, Isaiah Thomas at least had tons of skill as a player.

    One thing I think looking at the nominees, our current set of center backs is probably already better than any other central defenders on the list. Cherundolo will end his career as an all time great, but watch games from the 94, 98, 02 World Cups and you’d pick Gonzalez, Besler and Brooks 99 times out of 100 over the guys we had starting in those eras. Even a guy like Eddie Pope who was so consistent, consistently lacked the skill to play the ball calmly out of the back. Sure he could break up a play most the time, but never read the game as well as Gonzalez or Besler do. Agoos on the list is a joke. He was so horribly exposed in 2002. Bocanegra and Gooch are still recent enough for people to remember their good and bad. Guys like Dooley, Sanneh and Mastroeni were never utilized as central defenders. They were really played in the DM role. Mastroeni was a poor man’s Michael Bradley/Jermaine Jones. He never had the physical tools that Jones & Bradley have though. He also never learned how to avoid the terrible bone crunchers in big games. Because of the progression of the game in this country in the past 30years, it seems that one generation has stood on the previous shoulders. Jeff Agoos and Eddie Pope were step up over Desmond Armstrong. Gooch and Bocanegra were a step up from those two and now Gonzalez, Besler and Brooks are all improvements over Gooch and Bocanegra.

    There are some ageless players in the nominees. I think Brad Friedel and what he did for the 2002 team places him at the top of the GK list. Claudio Reyna and Tab Ramos would play with any US team through the ages.

    My team from the nominees:
    ——–Friedel—————–
    Cherundolo-Dooley-Bocanegra-Hejduk
    Donovan-Bradley-Reyna-Ramos
    -McBride—Wynalda-

    • supercoop8 - Dec 13, 2013 at 1:11 PM

      I agree with a lot of your points but I think you are holding Gonzalez in too high of regard who is also very inconsistent while too hesitant to make a tackle and frequently misjudging developing play. I would take a younger Bocanegra over OG though he is also far from perfect.

      • joeyt360 - Dec 15, 2013 at 10:13 AM

        Gonzalez and Besler have also never played at the highest level of pressure as of yet. I might rank them after the World Cup, but I wouldn’t want to do it before I’ve see what they do in that situation.

  7. boscoesworld - Dec 12, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    As long as Lalas never talks then its not a bad team.

  8. coachjac30 - Dec 13, 2013 at 5:26 AM

    GK: Tony Meola (for the longest time he was the best known US player)
    D: Lalas, Balboa, Cherundolo
    MF: Donovan, Ramos, Jones, Reyna, Dempsey
    F: McBride, Wynalda

    The guys I had a tough time leaving off were: Harkes, Beasley and Joe Max-Moore.

    I took into account not only the performances on the US national team but also their impact on the game of soccer in the United States. As someone who grew up in the 80’s guys like Meola, Harkes, Balboa, Lalas, Wynalda were a huge factor for the game of American Soccer.

  9. outlawsoccer - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    I have to say, I cant disagree with most of the discussion however,
    I have seen all the players up close and personal over a long period
    of time and if you take each players best performance ever, and place
    it on an all time 11 all time performance, that’s why Keller shows up
    and its why Agoos would show up and Hejduk, guys with longer better
    stats Harkes etc. Dooley, etc. never had that one game where they
    were like magical that I can remember, some did, wynalda ramos reyna
    McBride Dempsey donnovan Bradley these players are the best ever,
    our defenders its so much more difficult to determine because they
    have never performed ever. the goalies have been the bright spot where
    meola friedel keller and howard all look great, but that Brazil game for
    keller witnessed live was unreal folks. my 11 is as tough as ever but
    based on individual outtings that were magical, I go with
    Keller
    Agoos
    Hejduk
    Pope
    Dooley
    Ramos
    Reyna
    Donnovan
    Bradley
    Dempsey
    Wynalda/mcbride

  10. outlawsoccer - Dec 17, 2013 at 10:42 AM

    recognizing that statistics show a completely different story
    its not the whole story, if I could pick one day, one performance
    for each guy, you know…. speed kills and goos plus hejduk
    was our fastest, pope our best one on one defender and
    dooley at his time was world class he was faster and smarter
    than lallas and balboa, not as dangerous going forward but
    the case can be made for several, including gooch with his
    header goals. I don’t think any of our starting defenders
    have shown me that they intend to become our best ever not one.
    we will end up with besler and Gonzales barring injury in the middle
    and more than likely Cameron/evans Fabian Johnson/Beasley on the
    outsides, no question Bradley opens up with donnovan in the mid center
    and jones on one outside, the other is up for grabs, it could actually
    go to johannson by the time the cup arrives, maybe now its bedoya
    but I like kljestians there also, I have little confidence in the fitness
    of jozy and clint, so I keep an open mind on our forward situation,
    its the same with donnovan. its easy to see him being used off the bench
    also. lately jones and Fabian Johnson have sucked so badly I would
    not start them in a world cup game sorry guyz.

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