Looking at the Top 5 players of the USMNT
The world cup came to an end, in an expected fashion. But being knocked out in the round of 16 to Belgium was far less disappointing than the draw to Portugal. The US team is still growing and developing, so this was never going to be the World Cup where the Yanks, shocked the world. This was, however, a step in the right direction. So here are the top 5 most important players to come out of this World Cup.
5. Julian Green
Bayern winger/midfielder, and future star for the USA showed why he is expected to go far, and why it was such a coup to steal him away from the German national team. With in minutes of coming into the match against Belgium he helped spark an attack that had been missing for the 105 minutes. He also finished crisply, cleanly, and beautifully with a precise volley. Had it been him, and not Chris Wondolowski, in at goal during injury time, we might be reading some very different headlines today. The best part about Green’s upside is that he is 19 years old and playing with one of the best club teams in the world. So his development shouldn’t be hindered, like many of the past U-23s (looking at you Maurice Edu). He is in control of his own destiny at this point in his career and barring any terrible injuries he should be a quality, integral part of the USMNT for years to come.
4. Clint Dempsey
Dempsey is the motivational heart and soul of this squad. He doesn’t quit, he remains a feature of the match even when he is not scoring goals. He is as pesky as they come, and earned the right to wear the Captain’s armband. His performance down the stretch slackened, but that was because he was surround by injury and ineptitude. Dempsey kept fighting despite missing his other primary attacker when Jozy Altidore, unfortunately went down very early in the opening match. Graham Zusi was flat for almost every moment of the world cup after setting up John Brooks, and Michael Bradley could do nothing right to set up Dempsey, but he still managed to play decently and get a few shots on net. But, Dempsey is not a player I would characterize as one who can single-handedly take charge of a match, he needs support and when he doesn’t have that around him his stats take a nose dive, even if his motor doesn’t. He gave it his best, but unfortunately he was the second biggest victim of circumstance for team USA this year.
3. Jermaine Jones
Jones looked like a very different player from past international matches He appears to have matured under Jurgen Klinsmann’s tutelage. Another German-American who found a place with the USMNT because the German team was and is brimming with National level talent. He looks less like the yellow card magnet of the CONCACAF and more like the an important pivot in the midfield. He was absolutely everywhere on the pitch. He made important clearances, used his physicality intelligently to make smart tackles and opened up several scoring opportunities. His finishing is still largely questionable, but the pitch needs pacy, enforcer types just as much as they need goal scorers. His two-way play was very important, but just like Dempsey he needed more support of which he got very little from Zusi and Bradley. Hopefully, his maturity and vision continues in his growth to make him a force on the pitch.
2. Omar Gonzalez
This was a very difficult decision to make, between Gonzalez and DeAndre Yedlin. Both were instrumental for the US and both demonstrated that there is hope in front of the box in the near future. The deciding factor for Gonzalez being placed here instead of Yedlin was the mere fact that Gonzalez started every match after game 1. Yedlin did not, and when he did he was playing out of position (very effectively I might add!). But Gonzalez playing Center Back, long considered to be the weakest spot on the pitch for the squad, was not only effective but crucial for keeping the US from being blown out. He made 20 clearances during the Belgium match and another 9 very important clearances against Germany. When the Belgians were slicing through the defense at will, Gonzalez had a strong enough presence to keep the ball away from the net. Of all the players to take the pitch I was most surprised and most impressed by his level of play. It looks as if he and Matt Besler could make up a solid tandem for a defense that will look stronger than the 2002 tandem of Jeff Agoos and Eddie Pope. The position is still not at it’s strongest but the ceiling is high for Gonzalez and the CB positions in general.
1. Tim Howard
Did you really think it would be anyone else? Tim Howard was the first, second and third reason that the United States were kept in games. He may not have had a clean sheet, but that is not his fault. When you are facing an average of 31.75 shots and 8.25 shots on goal per game, you are bound to let one through, especially when one team (Belgium) has as many shots on goal (17) as the USA had total shots. His level of play was outstanding, and had a lesser keeper been in net the US could have been absolutely blown out. When the attack was flat line he stood tall. The sad thing is, that this could be his final World Cup as the American keeper, he is getting on in years and in 4 years time it will be difficult to say if his level of play will keep him at the top of the depth chart with Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando all being challenged by younger up and coming keepers. Needless to say the day that Tim Howard does step down from the International Ranks—as the best American Goalkeeper ever—is a day when a huge vacuum opens up in a very key spot for the Men’s squad.
Honorable mentions: DeAndre Yedlin, DaMarcus Beasley, Aron Johannsson