FourFourTwo USA's 50 Best American Men's Players of 2017: 50-41
50. Kyle Beckerman
The conception is that Kyle Beckerman has lost a step, something that’s not entirely unexpected, given the long-time Real Salt Lake cornerstone turned 35 during the last MLS season. No longer in the national team, having recorded his fewest league minutes in a season since 2010, Beckerman’s career must be sunsetting, right?
Perhaps, but a different look at the numbers shows a player capable of controlling RSL’s pivot for many years, still.
The four goals Beckerman posted in 2017 were his most since 2013, the second-highest total of his career and, on a per-minute basis, his best output since 2006. The 1.1 shots he set up per game (key passes) are his most since WhoScored.com began tracking MLS in 2013, and his pass completion percentage (82.3) is right in line with his numbers during that time. His shots were down, as are his total passes per game, but broadly, the numbers depict a Kyle Beckerman that hasn’t changed much over the last 12 months.
His lack of opportunity on the international stage is probably why Beckerman is down 17 spots, year-over-year, on this list, but on the field, there’s been little decline, and although his famous dreads have been shorn, we should expect the same, dependable player back for RSL come March.
- Richard Farley
49. Walker Zimmerman
How rarely we can divide player performance over a single season into two distinct tiers – at either end of the quality spectrum, no less. And yet, that more or less defines the big center back’s year.
He was absolutely on top of things early in 2017 for FC Dallas, one half of Major League Soccer’s best center-back combo alongside Matt Hedges. (Well, best this side of Sporting KC’s similarly top-notch duo, anyway.) Nearly unbeatable in the air, he helped Dallas push Mexico’s Pachuca in the CONCACAF Champions League semifinals, then push into Western Conference leadership for about half the season.
Things unraveled from there for FCD, spectacularly so. One reason was Zimmerman’s injury-related decline. A summer knee sprain kept the 24-year-old defender out of the better part of six matches – and he never re-claimed previous form. Zimmerman wasn’t even part of Oscar Pareja’s starting lineup for the last five league contests, a pretty miserable end to a calendar year that began so brightly. He drew praise from Bruce Arena for his national team performance in January, turning heads in his U.S. debut, a 1-0 win over Jamaica.
Now, after a somewhat surprising postseason trade, he’ll attempt to reacquire that previous form as a center back for Bob Bradley’s expansion LAFC.
- Steve Davis
48. Brooks Lennon
He was part of Liverpool’s academy and his father’s name is literally John Lennon. Thankfully, he’s proven to be no gimmick. In a rough year for U.S. men’s soccer, Brooks Lennon emerged as a beacon of sorely needed hope for the future.
The Arizona native was a breakout star and key attacking catalyst for Tab Ramos’ Under-20 side in 2017, leading the team in scoring with four goals as the U.S. in February captured its first CONCACAF U-20 Championship tournament title. He followed that up with two goals and two assists as the Yanks made a run to the quarterfinals of the U-20 World Cup in May.
On the club side, Lennon found there was no place like home. The former Real Salt Lake Academy goal machine returned to the Claret-and-Cobalt on loan from Liverpool in February and announced his arrival almost immediately. In April, he smashed home the winner at Colorado to complete RSL’s comeback against the team’s archrivals (earning a hilariously awkward postgame peck from head coach Mike Petke).
In all, Lennon pitched in three goals and four assists in 25 appearances, finding minutes as both a starter and a plug-in sub at winger and striker. RSL rewarded the 20-year-old in December by acquiring him outright from Liverpool. With his versatility and attacking skills, it’s not hard to picture him in a starring role for the U.S. men’s national team. Imagine it – it’s easy if you try.
- Jonah Freedman
47. Chris Wondolowski
For eight straight years, Chris Wondolowski has posted double-digit goals in MLS. Not only did he clear that mark handily in 2017, netting 13 times, but he also set a career high for assists (eight) while helping the San Jose Earthquakes to their first playoff berth since 2012.
Although, as his league barrels forward, it has become fashionable, to overlook players like Wondolowski, he is still one the most productive attackers in Major League Soccer.
That he’s doing so at 34 years old is irrelevant to this list, but it may help explain why he’s been overshadowed. His out-of-nowhere leap to stardom was well covered, but that leap also happened almost eight years ago. Wondolowski being good? That’s old news, leaving his consistently excellent production unlikely to snare part of 2017’s spotlight.
If anything, 47 on this list may be low for somebody who has averaged 16 goals-per-season since 2010. After all, if you think of national teams in terms of 23-person rosters, would it be fair to keep “Wondo” off the second team?
Wondolowski probably isn’t the national-team lock that he was in Jurgen Klinsmann’s eyes, but he still deserves his due. He’s certainly one of the 50 best in the U.S. men’s pool.
- Richard Farley
46. Tim Ream
A steady defender since he made his name as a rookie with the New York Red Bulls back in 2010, Ream put together another solid year on the club level in 2017.
The left-footed center back was a mainstay for Fulham, carrying the torch for American players at the club that has so long been their champion in England. He helped Fulham to a sixth-place finish in the Championship in the 2016-17 season, a solid year by most measures, even if it ended with disappointing loss to Reading in the promotion playoffs. He’s been a bit up and down in the current campaign, but his role in the XI is still locked up. Ream has started all but two of Fulham’s matches this season, going the full 90 in each.
Unfortunately for Ream, things weren’t as rosy on the international level. He was part of the defense that coughed up a pair of goals in the U.S.’ 2-0 Hex loss to Costa Rica at Red Bull Arena in September, a defeat that contributed hugely to the United States’ eventual failure to qualify for the World Cup. The 30-year-old’s national team days could be numbered as a new, younger crop of players will likely start to be bled over the next 12 months, but he still deserves recognition for his consistently solid play over the past few years.
- Sam Stejskal