Hark! Five Americans in MLS who should test themselves in Europe
Twenty seven of the 50 players on FourFourTwo's list of 2016's best American men's players reside in Major League Soccer, but if we had our way, that number would shrink.
Nothing against MLS, but the best soccer is played overseas, in Europe mostly. That shines through our top 50 -- among the domestically based guys, too.
A dozen of the MLS players have toiled overseas, with seven of the first eight -- everyone except No. 12 Jordan Morris -- spending considerable time in Europe.
It wouldn't be so surprising if one or two of them went back (hello, Michael Bradley?). Here are five more who could benefit from making the jump, and just might do so.
GYASI ZARDES (LA Galaxy); No. 16 on our USMNT Top 50
The Galaxy's 25-year-old homegrown star has gained so much in four years alongside Robbie Keane, picking up attacking subtleties that have enabled him to broaden his game. He has done so playing up top -- his natural and favored position -- and on the flank, where he's spent most of his time in LA and in a fruitful two years with the national team.
There's more to unlock within Zardes, and getting out of his comfort zone and into a situation where playing time isn't certain and the fight for points is absolute would serve him well. He's been linked to a half-dozen teams this year alone, in Turkey and Italy and Belgium and England -- the Reading talk won't stop -- and at some point he should bite.
DARLINGTON NAGBE (Portland Timbers); No. 17 on our USMNT Top 50
Count of hands: Who had the Liberian-born playmaker stepping into the U.S. lineup as soon as citizenship arrived? Some of us are guilty, and Nagbe, 26, was quickly shuttled onto the roster, impressed when he got onto the field -- that goal against Ecuador, that assist against Bolivia -- and then sat and watched the Copa America Centenario from the bench.
Too much too soon or just not to Jurgen Klinsmann's liking? Six months on, and we'll see what Bruce Arena means for Nagbe’s international career, but he has spent most of the past decade under Caleb Porter, at the University of Akron and with the Timbers, and another voice -- another vision -- could be a bridge to the next level. Celtic is pursuing him, but Portland doesn't appear interested.
KELLYN ACOSTA (FC Dallas); No. 25 on our USMNT Top 50
What a fine year the 21-year-old Hoops' homegrown player has enjoyed: His first U.S. call-up, starts in four internationals -- including key a World Cup qualifier in St. Vincent and the Grenadines -- and a season of growth with the Supporters' Shield winners.
Now if he could play the same role from club and country, all the better, but versatility always is a plus, and he's worked hard to become a better left back for Klinsmann. With Klinsmann gone, we'll see what occurs, but the Yanks have far more depth in central midfield, his natural post, than on the flanks. He's been with Dallas since he was 14, the last four years with the first team, and a move abroad could accelerate his advancement.
BILL HAMID (D.C. United); No. 31 on our USMNT Top 50
Not so long ago, the 26-year-old goalkeeper was in pole position to succeed Brad Guzan (once he'd succeeded Tim Howard) with the national team, but now that seems so long ago. He was a regular call-up for Klinsmann but saw action just twice, in January 2012 against Venezuela and November 2014 in Ireland. Repeated injury troubles since he was voted MLS' top goalkeeper two years ago, none worse than the knee ailment that forced him out of last January's camp and put him in rehab until late spring, have knocked him off the ladder.
But Hamid was solid as D.C. made a late-season run in 2016 before faltering in the playoffs. He has spent eight years with United, and now that he's healthy again (knock on wood), might a change of scenery help him take his game to the next level? We think so. He's trained with Bob Bradley at Swansea City, but that's an unlikely destination.
WIL TRAPP (Columbus Crew); No. 39 on our USMNT Top 50
Kyle Beckerman is the model for the 23-year-old defensive midfielder, who has the skills and savvy (and a maturity well beyond his years) to play the position at a high level.
He's on the trajectory -- he quietly had his best year in 2016 -- but could do with a boost. He has made appearances in the past two January camps, coming on for Mix Diskerud for both of his caps (a loss in Chile in 2015 and the win over Canada last February), but he's one of several youngsters vying to be a regular consideration under Arena.
Jermaine Jones isn't going to play forever, neither is Beckerman, and one day Michael Bradley will be through. Trapp could be the man by then, but he needs to make a breakthrough, and he's not young in soccer terms. The steady progress at Columbus has been nice, but he needs the sterner test that the right European situation would provide. Any takers?
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.