FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Men's Players of 2017: 40-31
40. Lee Nguyen
It’s been two years since Nguyen last appeared in a U.S. uniform, though he’s not the only creator left outside looking in on the national team’s crisis. As flat road performance after flat road performance reminded us in qualifying, the men’s senior team doesn’t have the aptitude, appetite, or acumen to incorporate its most imaginative talents, something it will pay for with a vacation next summer.
Whether you would include Nguyen under that label is another discussion, but let’s have that talk, and start with the 31-year-old’s most recent season. With 11 goals and 15 assists, the Texan put up one of his most productive campaigns yet, setting a career high in helpers while setting up 2.7 chances per game, a rate second to only Sacha Kljestan among U.S.-eligibles in MLS.
Three straight seasons of double-digit assists speaks to his staying power, something that’s been forgotten amid New England’s enduring problems. Still, when it comes to players who can be prolific as a No. 10, there are few Americans who are better than Nguyen.
As a late-match option, he should have a bigger role in the national team. And as a focal point for an MLS attack, there are worse players to build your team around.
- Richard Farley
39. Alejandro Bedoya
No one would call 2017 a banner year for Alejandro Bedoya. Really, not for anyone attached to the United States national team. As one of the U.S. regulars for years now, Bedoya shares some of the culpability for – let’s call it what it is – a national team’s failure of a generation.
Nor was it a great time to be alive for Philadelphia Union fans, whose team missed the playoffs while finishing, just like in 2016, with three more losses than wins. All that said, Bedoya managed to make 2017 a pretty good year from an individual standpoint.
The 30-year-old midfielder was among Jim Curtin’s more consistent performers across 28 league matches. In his first full season in Chester, Bedoya reminded everyone that his versatility is an asset, playing at various stages as a holding midfielder, an attacking playmaker or the in-between No. 8 position -- all while wearing the captain’s armband.
Bedoya also served as captain for a younger United States Gold Cup group. He was excused after the group stage for the birth of his second child, but the message was clear by then: as the next U.S. manager looks for veterans to bridge the gap between these U.S. men’s national team generations, Bedoya’s versatility, leadership and age – still close to prime at 30 years old – positions him among the top candidates.
- Steve Davis
38. Eric Lichaj
The average U.S. men’s national team fan’s lasting impression of Eric Lichaj in 2017 comes from an otherwise forgettable Gold Cup game against El Salvador.
Lichaj scored his first international goal in that match, hanging out on the front line for a moment after a foray forward from fullback. It was a wonderful run and finish, in a match which retrospectively further portended some of the Americans’ depth issues. El Salvador outplayed the U.S. for most of the first half, and should have went ahead only three minutes into that quarterfinal when Lichaj played a horrible back-pass which Tim Howard had to clean up. Chalk that up to nerves.
Lichaj’s quality is clear, having been a regular at Nottingham Forest since 2013. The 29-year-old is out of contract with the Championship side come summer 2018, and he continues to be linked with a move to MLS. His international future is also uncertain.
He ostensibly faces an uphill climb on the fullback depth chart for the U.S., but that’s mere speculation until an actual coach is hired. He’d be 33 years old by the time the 2022 World Cup rolls around, which could work against him in the youth movement being widely called for. Future aside, Lichaj’s present remains that of being one of the most reliable American fullbacks.
- Jeff Kassouf
37. Josh Sargent
Several U.S. youth prospects had excellent years in 2017, but not many had a bigger emergence than 17-year-old forward Josh Sargent. The St. Louis native starred for the U.S. in two different youth World Cups and earned a deal with Bundesliga club Werder Bremen, which he’ll officially sign when he turns 18 in February.
Sargent’s banner year got started in April, when he turned heads by scoring five goals to help the U.S. to the 2017 CONCACAF Under-17 Championship title game. Two days after that tournament ended, he was a surprise inclusion on Tab Ramos’ 21-man squad to represent the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup. He was one of the best players in South Korea, finishing second in the tournament with four goals to help the Americans to their appearance in the quarterfinals. He kept it up in the U-17 World Cup in October, scoring three more goals as the U.S. once more made the quarters.
In November, Sargent parlayed his success into a call-up for the U.S. senior team for its friendly at Portugal, becoming the first American player to appear in a U-17, U-20 and full national team camp in the same year. With his well-rounded skill set and elite finishing ability, there’s no reason to think he won’t receive plenty more USMNT calls in the near future.
- Sam Stejskal
36. Tim Melia
Tim Melia ran away with the majority of the vote for the 2017 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year award, and there never was really was any doubt.
Melia led MLS with a 0.78 goals-against average and a 78.4 save percentage, and he is a huge reason why Sporting Kansas City was even a playoff team. Sporting won the U.S. Open Cup and, notably without an injured Melia, fell out of the MLS Cup playoffs in the knockout round. Kansas City gave up a league-low 29 goals in 2017, and by necessity – a lackluster attack produced only 40 goals for in 34 games, better than only four other teams in MLS. A classic Peter Vermes brand of soccer relied on a disciplined approach which almost guaranteed one-goal games. As a result, the pressure was on Melia to keep clean sheets, which he did on 10 occasions.
At 31, Melia still isn’t very old for a goalkeeper, and he should have plenty of good years in front of him. His rise from back-up and, at one point, MLS pool goalkeeper is well documented. With Melia, Ike Opara and Matt Besler, Sporting KC has the best defense in the league. Melia will hope he gets some help at the other end of the field in 2018.
- Jeff Kassouf