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Brazil 2014

From Worst to First: Rating U.S. Players in World Cup

The U.S. men's soccer team showed heart, courage, and commitment...but that's not always enough to make a long run in the World Cup. So John Godfrey ranked the players from 1-23.
BY John Godfrey Posted
July 02, 2014
10:50 AM

20-23. Timothy Chandler, Mix Diskerud, Brad Guzan, Nick Rimando

None of these guys came off the bench, which was fully expected for half of them. It seemed as though there were multiple opportunities for Diskerud during the United States' four games in Brazil, but he never saw the field. Chandler's inclusion on the roster might have been a mistake, as he struggled in the Send-Off Series matches and DeAndre Yedlin moved past him on the depth chart.

19. Brad Davis

When I saw Davis' name on the lineup sheet for the Germany match, and Omar Gonzalez' name right there too, I thought I knew the plan: go wide, whip in crosses from the left, get a goal on a set piece. But it never happened. Davis didn't complete a single cross in his 59 minutes on the big stage, and yes, Germany's dominance in the midfield had a lot to do with that.

18. Chris Wondolowski

The 31-year-old striker will be tormented by his 93-minute miss against Belgium for a very long time. If he taps that in, the U.S. would be preparing for Argentina right now. Wondolowski tweeted about that play after the match, reminding everybody that he is the epitome of a stand-up guy. But he should have done better with that ball.

17. Aron Johannsson

The Iceman came on for Jozy Altidore in the 23rd minute against Ghana, and struggled in the lone striker role that was crafted with Altidore in mind. To be fair, the sleight, highly tactical Johannsson was never—and will never be—a target striker. But he was asked to play that role out of necessity, and it didn't really pan out.

16. Jozy Altidore

Would this have been a breakout tournament for Altidore? Would his defense-stretching ways have made a difference against Germany and Belgium? It's entirely possible but we'll never know. His ranking comes with a big fat asterisk because it is tied entirely to the hamstring injury he suffered in the first half of the first match of the tournament. It hamstrung the entire U.S. attack. (Note: Four of the five outfield players listed so far are attackers; not a good sign for a World Cup team hoping to make a long run.)

15. Geoff Cameron

The 28-year-old Massachusetts native has sparkled at right back for Stoke City, but Klinsmann played Cameron in central defense against Ghana and Portugal; as a right midfielder against Belgium; and not at all against Germany. Would it have made more sense to put Fabian Johnson at left back and let Cameron own the right side? Maybe. Probably. Cameron looked great against Ghana but his whiff on a clearance in the box led to Nani's early goal in the Portugal match, and he never recovered from that moment. He recovered 21 balls, made seven blocks, and recorded a 7.91 Castrol Index rating for his three-match, 300-minute performance in the World Cup. But I expected more from one of the team's most consistent performers.

14. Graham Zusi

The Sporting Kansas City winger recorded two assists in the 2014 World Cup, and that's something you can never take away from him. But Zusi—and many other Americans—seemed overmatched against Germany and Belgium's midfielders. Moving back and forth between the two wings, Zusi completed 21.4% of his crosses and 68.4% of his passes but didn't really provide the consistent threat the U.S. attack needed to unlock some talented foes.

13. Michael Bradley

Yes, Bradley ran tirelessly for 390 minutes across all four games, closing down opponents with his trademark zeal. And yes, the 26-year-old showed audacious skill with that beautifully weighted pass that Julian Green volleyed into the back of the Belgium goal. But Bradley, typically the best outfield player on the U.S., was never that in Brazil. He had a stinker against Ghana; made two crucial mistakes against Portugal; and played unevenly against Germany and Belgium. Was he out of position? Should he have stayed in the No. 6 role, as ESPN's Alexi Lalas suggested? In hindsight, probably. Bradley's 45 magical minutes in the first half of the April 2014 Mexico friendly may have raised American expectations too high. He's not the best player in the world, as Miguel Herrera suggested. And during this tournament, he wasn't even one of the best players for the United States.

12. Alejandro Bedoya

Klinsmann likely got what he expected from the 27-year-old Bedoya—solid performances, hard work, and defensive grit. Bedoya came close to scoring a crucial equalizer late in the Germany match, but Phillipp Lahm made a beautiful sliding tackle to prevent Bedoya from playing the hero that day.

11. Julian Green

See you at the Copa America Centario in 2016, Mr. Green. And at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. And in Qatar, Australia, or the United States in 2022. The 19-year-old Green only played 13 minutes in Brazil, but he showed what he is all about.

10. John Brooks

If there was one player who seemed unlikely to see any time in Brazil, it was Brooks. But when Matt Besler felt tightness in his hamstring in the Ghana match, Klinsmann turned to his 21-year-old central defender at halftime, and it proved to be the right call. After a nervy early moment, Brooks found his footing and helped neutralize a driven, dynamic Ghana attack. And then his 86th-minute gamewinner proved to be the stuff dreams are made of. Like Green and DeAndre Yedlin, Brooks looks to be a key player for the U.S. in the years ahead.

9. Kyle Beckerman

Steady, reliable, perhaps a step too slow for the international game, but exactly what Klinsmann wanted. The U.S. defense was the biggest question mark coming into this tournament but performed quite well. Beckerman gets, and deserves, a lot of credit for that. Beckerman sat against Belgium, and the U.S. gave up 18 shots on goal. Is there a correlation there? Yep.

8. DaMarcus Beasley

A revelation. Count me among the pundits who thought that playing Beasley at left back was a recipe for disaster. He held his own and held up well, playing all 390 minutes in Brazil. He didn’t offer much on the offensive side of the ledger, but the 32-year-old played solid defense in his fourth World Cup—especially against Belgium. Will we see him in Russia in 2018? Stranger things have happened….

7. DeAndre Yedlin

Full props to Klinsmann for spotting this speedster’s talent and using him as a change-of-pace threat on the right flank. I’ll stop short of saying that a star was born in Brazil, but Yedlin made all of the right moves in his three-match, 112-minute showing. With a little bit more defensive seasoning, Yedlin can own right back, Fabian Johnson can shift back to the left, and the U.S. can build around two very dangerous fullbacks.

6. Omar Gonzalez

Leading up to the tournament, it seemed as though Gonzalez was slated for the bench. And when Brooks came on for Besler against Ghana, it seemed as though Gonzalez’ World Cup was over before it started. But after Cameron’s clunker against Portugal, Klinsmann turned to the six-foot-five central defender, and Gonzalez stood tall against both Germany and Belgium. The 25-year-old showed great anticipation, impeccable timing, and the willingness to compete against some tremendous strikers. It was a career-changing performance for the big guy. Time to head to Europe? I think so.

5. Matt Besler

Consistency, anticipation, toughness, pace, passing skills—Besler has it all and he showed it in Brazil. His ill-timed slip led to Belgium’s first goal, and the Sporting Kansas City man could have done more to prevent Romelu Lukaku’s follow-up a few minutes later. But that doesn’t detract from his strong showing.

4. Clint Dempsey

The U.S. captain set the tone for the tournament with a goal 29 seconds into the Ghana match. He scored another against Portugal despite playing with a broken nose and in a position—lone striker in a 4-2-3-1—that was designed with Altidore in mind. A better first touch on a set piece against Belgium could have elevated Dempsey to hero status for the U.S. national team, but it wasn’t meant to be. And, it bears mentioning, the 31-year-old attacker seemed absolutely gassed toward the end of the round of 16 match. The ripple effect of Altidore’s hamstring injury was felt all over the field.

3. Fabian Johnson

The right back provided the United States’ most consistent offensive threat in the first two games of the tournament. Germany coach Joachim Low no doubt noticed, and took steps to neutralize Johnson in the Group G finale. Everyone, it seemed, had high hopes for Johnson against Belgium’s plodding backline, so when the 26-year-old suffered a first-half leg injury and had to come off, it was a crushing blow. Nevertheless, Johnson’s speed, technical skill, and ambition make him one of the top U.S. performers of the tournament.

2. Jermaine Jones

He’s a true warrior, and turned in the sort of World Cup effort that leads to nice paydays. His goal against Portugal changed the game, and showcased his immense talent and confidence. The 32-year-old midfielder would look great in a Major League Soccer jersey. What do you say, Mr. Garber—three years, $5 million a year? That sound about right?

Tim Howard

The 35-year-old goalkeeper was enjoying a strong tournament through three matches, and then he stood on his head to keep the United States close against a Belgium team that put 18 shots on goal. American soccer fans will be talking about that 120-minute gem for a long time, and deservedly so.

OK, we know you are going to disagree with some, or most, of this. So hop to it. What did I get wrong? Tell me in the Comments section below.

John Godfrey is the founder and editor in chief of American Soccer Now.

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