Top 10 Best US Soccer Players Of All Time, Unlike other top nations in the world, the United States is not a global soccer power. This is not really surprising, as soccer is not even the most popular sport in the USA. In fact, Americans traditionally preferred American football over soccer.
Nevertheless, the United States isn’t doing very terribly in soccer, though, as they have taken part in 10 FIFA World Cup tournaments so far and will jointly host the next edition (2026 World Cup) alongside Mexico and Canada.
Throughout history, the United States has produced some very talented soccer players.
Furthermore, with the evolution of Major League Soccer (MLS) over the years and the willingness of American players to move abroad to challenge themselves in the best leagues around the world, the current generation of US footballers — led by Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie — look set to take their nation to the very top of the game.
The players were ranked based on talent, achievements, clubs/leagues played in, and overall contribution to the United States Men’s National Team (USMNT).
1. Landon Donovan (1998—2014)
Only a few will disagree that Landon Donovan is the greatest US soccer player ever.
Donovan is the all-time leader in assists and tied with Clint Dempsey as the all-time leader in scoring (57) and is the second-most-capped player of his country (157).
He is the only American player to record 50 goals and 50 assists for the national team.
Furthermore, he is a 4-time winner of the US Soccer Athlete of the Year award — the only man to do so and the first man to win in consecutive years.
Donovan played for the likes of LA Galaxy, Bayern Leverkusen, Everton, and Bayern Munich in his club career.
In the MLS, he won a record six MLS Cups and is the league’s all-time assists leader with 136. The Major League Soccer MVP Award has been renamed the Landon Donovan MVP Award in his honor.
He is regarded as one of the greatest MLS players of all time.
Donovan starred in the US team that reached the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he famously received the Best Young Player Award.
His three goals at the 2010 World Cup made him the highest-scoring male American player in World Cup history and one of the only three male American players to score in more than one World Cup — along with Brian McBride and Clint Dempsey.
Landon Donovan’s goal against Algeria in the dying seconds of the 2010 World Cup group stage is one of the most iconic moments in American soccer history.
He was a prolific scorer and holds the record for the most goals in MLS history. Donovan’s playing style was characterized by his ability to create scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates, and his versatility on the field.
2. Clint Dempsey (2002—2017)
Clint Dempsey made more than 140 appearances for the USMNT and scored 57 international goals, making him the nation’s 4th-most capped player and tying him with Landon Donovan as the top all-time scorer with 57 goals.
Dempsey represented the United States at four CONCACAF Gold Cups (winning three), helped them to the final of the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, and scored in each of the three FIFA World Cups he featured.
At club level, Clint Dempsey played for clubs like the New England Revolution, Fulham, Tottenham Hotspur, and Seattle Sounders.
He enjoyed the most successful spell of his club career at Fulham in the Premier League, eventually becoming the club’s leading Premier League goalscorer.
In 2008/09, his goals helped Fulham secure a 7th-place finish in the Premier League (the highest in the club’s history) and confirmed their qualification for the newly created UEFA Europa League the following season.
He would go on to help Fulham reach the first-ever Europa League final, thus making history by becoming the first-ever American to appear in a major European final.
Dempsey also became the first American player to score a hat-trick in the Premier League during a 5-2 win against Newcastle United in 2012.
In 2022, he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
Dempsey’s versatility and ability to adapt to different positions on the field, such as forward, winger, or attacking midfielder, depending on the formation, is well-known. He was also able to establish himself as a skilled goal-scorer, capable of scoring with both his head and feet, particularly during important matches.
3. Claudio Reyna (1994—2006)
Claudio Reyna earned 112 caps for the USMNT and represented his nation at four FIFA World Cups, retiring from the national team after the 2006 edition.
He also featured at two Olympic tournaments, four CONCACAF Gold Cups, as well as the 1995 Copa América.
Reyna was the team’s captain as USA made a sensational run to the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup, where he got named in the Team of the Tournament.
He was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012.
The midfielder spent most of his club career in Europe, playing in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen and VfL Wolfsburg, in the Premier League for Sunderland and Manchester City, and in the Scottish Premier League for Rangers.
He finished his career in the MLS in 2008, playing for New York Red Bulls.
Claudio Reyna is the father of current American star and Borussia Dortmund forward Giovanni Reyna.
4. Tim Howard (2002—2017)
Tim Howard was famous for his time in the English Premier League, where he played for Manchester United and Everton.
At Man United, the goalkeeper won the 2003 FA Community Shield, the 2003/04 FA Cup, and the 2005/06 League Cup. He was named to the 2003/04 PFA Premier League Team of the Year.
Howard is the most capped goalkeeper of all-time for the USMNT, with 121 caps.
He was an unused substitute at the 2006 FIFA World Cup but later established himself as the first-choice keeper for the USA.
At the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup, in which the USA ended as runner-up against Brazil, Tim Howard was awarded the Golden Glove as the Best Goalkeeper of the Tournament.
Moreover, he participated in both the 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups, starting in all United States matches. The team reached the Round of 16 on both occasions, and during the latter, Howard set a World Cup record for most saves in a match — with 16 against Belgium!
Tim Howard is also one of the goalkeepers with the highest clean sheets in the Premier League.
5. Eric Wynalda (1990—2000)
Eric Wynalda was one of the first American soccer players to play professionally in Europe before returning to the United States in 1996 to play in the newly formed Major League Soccer (MLS). Notably, he scored the first-ever goal in MLS history.
Until 2008, he was the all-time leading goal scorer for the United States Men’s National Team.
Wynalda was a member of the United States squad that won the 1991 CONCACAF Gold Cup and played at three FIFA World Cups.
At the 1994 World Cup on home soil, he famously scored a free kick from 28 yards against Switzerland.
Eric Wynalda was named the Honda U.S. Player of the Decade for the 1990s, was named to the CONCACAF All-Decade Team of the 1990s, and was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.
6. Brad Friedel (1992—2005)
Brad Friedel played 84 games for the USMNT between 1992 and 2005 and represented his country at three FIFA World Cup tournaments.
He played a pivotal role as the United States made a surprising run to the quarter-finals of the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
He also became the second-ever ‘keeper to save two penalty kicks during regular play (not penalty shootouts) at the World Cup.
He was dubbed “The Human Wall” by fans during the spectacular 2002 World Cup run.
Friedel is the current holder of the Premier League record for most consecutive appearances (310), a feat he achieved during spells at Blackburn Rovers, Aston Villa, and Tottenham Hotspur.
Against Liverpool on the 22nd of May 2011, the American officially became Aston Villa’s oldest-ever player — aged 40 years and four days.
On the 6th of May, 2012, Friedel also became the oldest player to appear in a competitive match for Tottenham when he played in the club’s Premier League fixture at Aston Villa — beating Jimmy Cantrell’s record, which he held for nearly 80 years.
Brad Friedel ended his Premier League career after making a total of 450 appearances, which remains a record for any North or South American player.
7. Michael Bradley (2006—2019)
The son of soccer coach Bob Bradley, Michael Bradley began his soccer career with the MetroStars in Major League Soccer in 2004.
He then spent several years in Europe, playing in the Dutch Eredivisie with Heerenveen, German Bundesliga with Borussia Mönchengladbach, English Premier League with Aston Villa, and Italian Serie A with Chievo and Roma.
He returned to MLS with Toronto FC in 2014, making over 250 total appearances and winning the MLS Cup in 2017.
After his debut in 2006, Bradley made over 150 appearances for the United States Men’s National Soccer Team.
He was selected for major tournaments, including five CONCACAF Gold Cups and two FIFA World Cups, winning two of the former and finishing as runner-up at the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup.
Michael Bradley was loved by Americans due to his versatility and stamina, as well as his hard-working, intelligent, and aggressive style of play.
8. Brian McBride (1993—2006)
The 5th all-time highest goalscorer for the USA, Brian McBride, was a very important player for the USMNT — earning 96 caps and scoring 30 goals in his senior international career.
He was part of the USA teams that participated in the 1998, 2002, and 2006 FIFA World Cups. He scored at the 1998 and 2002 tournaments and, in doing so, became the first American player to score at two World Cups.
McBride was the only American player that scored at the 1998 tournament, doing so in a 2-1 defeat to Iran.
He spent much of his career in the United States but played for Wolfsburg, Preston North End, Everton, and Fulham in Europe.
During his time at Fulham, McBride became a fan favorite, as well as team captain. He was Fulham’s top scorer in the 2006/07 Premier League season, with 12 goals.
Furthermore, he was named the club’s Player of the Season twice. After leaving Fulham, the club renamed the sports bar at Craven Cottage “McBride’s” in his honor.
9. Cobi Jones (1992—2004)
Cobi Jones started his career in England with Premier League club Coventry City before playing for Brazilian side Vasco da Gama.
He was one of the famous group of American national team stars who returned from overseas to aid the then-new Major League Soccer (MLS) in 1996, beginning an 11-year spell with the LA Galaxy.
Jones is the all-time leader in appearances for the USMNT (with 164 caps) and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame.
He played for USA in the 1994, 1998, and 2002 FIFA World Cups. He was named to the best XI at the 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup and won with the national team at the 2002 CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Cobi Jones also played at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona and the 1995 Copa America.
10. Christian Pulisic (2016—Present)
Christian Pulisic is still just 24 years old, but he has arguably achieved so much more than any American soccer player at club level already.
He was part of the Borrusia Dortmund team that won the 2016/17 DFB-Pokal.
In 2018, he finished second in the inaugural Kopa Trophy, given to the best player in the world aged under 21.
In January 2019, Pulisic moved to Chelsea in a transfer worth $73 million (£57.6 million), making him the most expensive North American player of all time.
At 21, he became the youngest Chelsea player to score a hat-trick and the 31st player to record a perfect hat-trick in Premier League history.
In 2020, Pulisic became the first American player to score in an FA Cup Final.
With Chelsea, he won the 2020/21 UEFA Champions League, 2021 UEFA Super Cup, and 2021 FIFA Club World Cup — becoming the youngest Chelsea player and first American to score in the Champions League semi-finals and the first American to play in the Champions League final.
He is the youngest player ever to captain the USMNT in the modern era. He helped the US reach the final of the 2019 CONCACAF Gold Cup and won the inaugural 2019/20 CONCACAF Nations League.
Moreso, Christian Pulisic has won a US Soccer Young Male Athlete of the Year award and 3 US Soccer Male Athlete of the Year awards.
Other top US soccer players of all time who deserve notable mentions include:
- Eddie Pope
- Tab Ramos
- DaMarcus Beasley
- Kasey Keller
- Paul Caligiuri
- Alexi Lalas
- Pablo Mastroeni
- John Harkes
- Steve Cherundolo
- Carlos Bocanegra
- Jozy Altidore
- Marcelo Balboa.