Kevin Baxter’s all-time U.S. all-star team
Ten of the 23 players selected to the U.S. World Cup team play their club games in Major League Soccer, the league that stands as the legacy of the 1994 tournament, the only World Cup played in this country. So who are the most decorated MLS vets to also excel in the World Cup? Here’s one potential all-star team:
Tony Meola (MetroStars, Kansas City Wizards, New York Red Bulls): The only keeper in MLS history to win a regular-season MVP award, Meola was named to three World Cup teams and recorded the first Cup victory by a U.S. goalie in 44 years when he beat Colombia in 1994. His 100 national team caps rank second all-time for a U.S. keeper and his 32 shutouts are third-best. Inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012, Meola owns the sports apparel and equipment company GK1 Sports.
Alexi Lalas (New England Revolution, MetroStars, Wizards, Galaxy): Recognized as much for his beard, flowing red hair and trademark headband as he was for being a tenacious defender, Lalas played every minute for the U.S. team in the 1994 World Cup. And though he was an All-Star and won an MLS Cup with the Galaxy in 2002, Lalas’ greatest contribution to the league may have been when, as president and general manager of the Galaxy, he signed David Beckham to the contract that made MLS a global brand. Lalas, elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006, is currently a soccer analyst for ESPN.
DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago Fire): Although Beasley played the majority of his career in Europe and Mexico, he got his start with Chicago, making 98 MLS appearances from 2000-04. And if he plays in this summer’s World Cup, he will have appeared in four World Cups — a record for an American player. Only four U.S. players have more international caps than Beasley.
Eddie Pope (D.C. United, MetroStars, Real Salt Lake): Pope, the second player chosen in the 1996 college draft, played his entire career in MLS, making four All-Star teams and being named defender of the year in his second season. He also appeared in three World Cups (1998, 2002, 2006), starting nine games. Currently director of player relations for the MLS players union, Pope was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011.
Pablo Mastroeni (Miami Fusion, Colorado Rapids, Galaxy): Only one outfield player in league history made more MLS starts than Mastroeni’s 316 over 15 seasons, during which he won one league title. Mastroeni also started five games in two World Cups, in 2002 and 2006. He is currently in his first season as coach of the Rapids.
Michael Bradley (MetroStars, Toronto FC): Bradley began his career in New York and, after detours through four European leagues, returned to MLS this season with Toronto. He’s also the heart and soul of the U.S. national team that will be heading to Brazil this month. He played every minute for the U.S. team in South Africa four years ago, scoring a goal and assisting on two others.
Frankie Hejduk (Tampa Bay Mutiny, Columbus Crew, Galaxy): Hejduk won three Supporters’ Shields (awarded to the MLS team with the best regular-season record) and an MLS Cup with Colorado then one more of each with the Galaxy before retiring to a marketing job with the Crew. With the U.S. national team he made a combined seven World Cup appearances in 1998 and 2002.
Cobi Jones (Galaxy): The only Galaxy player to have his number (13) retired, Jones is also the club record-holder in appearances with 306 during 11 seasons in which he won two MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields and led the team to five Western Conference championships. He also scored the first goal in franchise history. On the international level, no one has played more games for the U.S. than Jones’ 164 and only Landon Donovan has played in more World Cup games than Jones’ 11 from 1994-2002. He was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011 and currently is in his third season as an analyst on Galaxy TV broadcasts.
Tab Ramos (MetroStars): The first player to sign with MLS, Ramos made 121 appearances for the MetroStars and played nine games in three World Cups from 1990-98. Elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2005, Ramos is currently an assistant coach with the U.S. team.
Brian McBride (Crew, Fire): McBride played 220 MLS games around two stays in Europe and made another 95 appearances for the U.S. national team in 12 years, earning 10 caps in three World Cups (1998-2006). He had the only U.S. goal in the 1998 tournament and contributed a pair of key strikes in 2002, scoring what proved to be the decider in a 3-2 win over Portugal in group play and the only goal the U.S. would need to beat Mexico in the knockout round and reach the quarterfinals for the first time since 1930. Currently a TV analyst for Fox, McBride was elected to the National Soccer Hall of Fame this year.
Landon Donovan (San Jose Earthquakes, Galaxy): Widely recognized as the best American player of all time, Donovan holds U.S. national team records for starts (141), goals (57), assists (57) and points (171) as well as World Cup marks for games (12) and goals (five). He’s also the leading scorer in MLS history with 136 goals. We could go on, but you get the point. Seems good enough to make the 2014 World Cup team, doesn’t it?
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