FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Men's Players of 2017: 10-1
10. Sacha Kljestan
Perhaps no question sums up the frustrations, dissatisfaction, and inexplicability of the men’s national team’s 2017 as much as the ones surrounding Kljestan. How can a player as productive, experienced, versatile and adaptive as the Red Bulls’ midfielder be rendered a non-factor come the most important part of the U.S.’ qualifying cycle? And what does the answer to that question tell us about the problems throughout the senior men’s national team setup?
Consider the evidence Kljestan has amassed at club level. Over the last three MLS seasons, he has 51 assists, the most in the league and a total collected while his team changed systems, personnel, and the roles he was asked to fill.
He’s also added 16 goals since returning from Anderlecht in 2015, where his performances in a deeper, central midfield role highlighted a versatility few previously foresaw. That versatility has helped New York navigate its changes and transactions, always staying in contention in the Eastern Conference.
How all that largely left Kljestan out of the national team picture is a mystery, but on production alone, he has been one of the U.S.’ best. That’s why, for the second year in a row, Kljestan cracks the Top 10 of our countdown.
- Richard Farley
9. Danny Williams
How is it that an American now playing in the Premier League has gotten as few international looks recently as Danny Williams has? Williams’ only cap for the United States in 2017 came in its final match, a meaningless friendly against Portugal under an interim coaching staff. He wore the captain’s armband that day as one of the older players (28) on a roster suddenly injected with young talent, following World Cup qualification failure.
Williams has been capped 23 times, but hasn’t played in a competitive match for the U.S. since February 2013. From afar, that’s all a bit curious for a player with over 250 appearances combined in Germany and England.
Williams now has the Premier League spotlight in the prime of his career, having joined Huddersfield Town after four years with Reading, the team that lost to Huddersfield in the Championship playoff for promotion in 2017. Huddersfield is enjoying a relatively successful first season up, sitting mid-table during at the unofficial halfway mark. Williams has seen time in 15 of 20 matches, starting eight.
The reasons for Williams’ absence from the U.S. picture remain unclear. He recently made headlines by stating that Bruce Arena told him that he hadn’t seen Williams play enough, something the former national team coach denied. Perhaps Williams wearing the armband against Portugal is a sign of better things to come for the midfielder. He’s one of the most talented midfielders in the U.S. pool. Will the next U.S. manager recognize that?
- Jeff Kassouf
8. Omar Gonzalez
Before we get too excited about the groundswell of rising U.S. center backs, and before we start penciling in lineups for World Cup qualifiers ahead chockablock with young bucks all full of potential, let’s remember this: the old hands still might have a thing or two to say about it. Especially veterans still on the better side of 30.
That’s Omar Gonzalez, a U.S starter in the 2014 World Cup and still a back line-anchor piece for a good Liga MX club in Pachuca.
Gonzalez’s year for the United States national team was, like so many of his U.S. teammates, a mixed bag. He was in the starting XI for the qualifiers that served to restore hope (the emphatic win over Honduras in March and the inspiring romp over Panama on a swell October night in Orlando, for instance) but also had his paw prints on the matches where it all went so wrong. Including, alas, that match in Trinidad.
Along the way, the Texas native, now 29, helped bring his country’s Gold Cup campaign in for a safe landing, starting the last three tournament contests. Gonzalez partnered with Matt Besler for victories in the semifinal and final.
Gonzalez started more matches (11) than any other U.S center back in 2017. Even if injuries and circumstance prevented a couple of others (Geoff Cameron and John Brooks) from swiping a couple of those appearances, that’s still saying something. And his second full calendar year with Pachuca started with a CONCACAF championship and finished with games in the FIFA Club World Cup.
- Steve Davis
7. Bobby Wood
Recency bias can be an unfair thing, so it’s something of a surprise to see Bobby Wood this high on the list after a bit of a drop-off from his breakthrough 2016. Still, he has done enough for both club and country to put him on the short list of the most accomplished American men currently playing the game.
Wood has certainly made his case in the most competitive league in the world. He wrapped his debut season in the Bundesliga with a team-leading nine goals in 32 games across all competitions, helping Hamburg out of a relegation dogfight and earning him a contract extension this past summer – all while playing the back half of the campaign injured. The encore hasn’t been quite as rosy, as the speedy Hawaiian has just two goals through 14 games heading into the winter break.
In October, Hamburg manager Markus Gisdol hinted at the root of the issue: The United States’ flameout in World Cup qualifying took a heavy toll on the 25-year-old. Wood’s greatest moment in 2017 may have been his 85th-minute equalizer in Honduras a month earlier that, as it turned out, only prolonged the inevitable.
Still, he made seven appearances in a U.S. shirt in 2017 and proved himself to be one of the more useful forwards in the American pool, driving opposing back lines crazy with his speed, deceptive runs and scrappiness.
At his best, Wood pairs with Jozy Altidore arguably better than anyone since Charlie Davies. At his worst, he’s a fragile young player with a lot to learn. Fortunately, he’s got his whole career in front of him.
- Jonah Freedman
6. Geoff Cameron
By most measures, 2017 was a down year for Geoff Cameron. The longtime Stoke City defender suffered through injuries in the back half of the 2016-17 season and in the beginning of the 2017-18 campaign, registering the fewest English Premier League appearances of his career last season and only playing in 12 of Stoke’s 20 matches so far this season.
Things weren’t any better on the international level, where Cameron lost his starting spot towards the end of the U.S.’ doomed qualifying campaign and made more news for a few of his tweets than he did for his time on the field. His last start for the U.S. came in the disappointing 2-0 home loss to Costa Rica in September; he came off the bench in the subsequent draw at Honduras and didn’t see any time in the win against Panama and fateful loss at Trinidad & Tobago in October.
Of course, not playing a role in that huge capitulation might not be the worst mark in Cameron’s 2017 ledger. And even though he wasn’t on the field as much as he usually is, the versatile 32-year-old still has the talent and ability to merit inclusion well within the Top 10 of this list. We’re not sure how much time he’ll have in the new era of the U.S. men’s national team, but his ability, smarts and veteran nous would be a positive for what should be a young team looking to find its way.
- Sam Stejskal