Over the past two decades, soccer has been slowing growing in popularity in the United States. There has been a growing interest in the sport due to better play on the international stage from the U.S. National Team as well as the expansion of Major League Soccer. The amount of American soccer coverage in the media has also expanded. The popularity of the FIFA video game has introduced the sport to a younger generation. Fans of the game are now reaching an age where they can follow the sport more closely on television and on the internet.
American soccer was quite popular at the turn of the 20th century; however it was quickly overshadowed by the rise in popularity of baseball during the 1920s. Soccer in the States took its biggest blow in the 1930s with the rise of the National Football League. Suddenly, there were two professional sports playing two different games called football. American football quickly rose as the main style of football in the United States. The other had to go by a different name, soccer, to separate the two.
Because of the American interest in baseball and football, soccer in America slowly started to go downhill. The U.S. National Soccer Team never played as well as they did in the 1930 FIFA World Cup. After a third place finish in that World Cup, the U.S. would never again make it to the semi finals. In 1950, the country made its final World Cup appearance for the next forty years.
Then in 1990, the United States qualified for the FIFA World Cup. This sparked a new interest in the sport among a relatively small number of Americans. The team would continue to make World Cups after this and its popularity continued to grow. Today, millions of people across the country are tuning in to the 2014 World Cup matches.
10. DaMarcus Beasley
DaMarcus Beasley was the captain of the 2013 United States National Team that won the CONACAF Gold Cup. Aside from the 2013 victory in the CONACAF Gold Cup, Beasley also helped the team claim the title in 2002, 2005, and 2007. He has made over 100 appearances for the U.S. National Team and has scored 19 goals in international play. He has participated in four FIFA World Cups. In his first World Cup, he helped elevated the United States to their first appearance in the quarter finals in over 50 years.
9. Tim Howard
Tim Howard is currently the goalkeeper for the U.S. National Team. He started his career as an amateur in the States, but was quickly noticed by Manchester United. He signed with Man U in 2003 and was the goalkeeper for the FA team when they won the League Cup during the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 seasons. In 2006, he became the keeper for the United States National team. He has since played in three FIFA World Cups for the United States. He is known for having been able to play through some horrible injuries. In one international match, Howard actually broke two bones in his back and continued to play until the game’s final whistle. In 2009, he received the Golden Glove Award for the best performance by a goal keeper in the Confederation Cup. Due to his excellent play in the Confederation Cup, the United States finished second in the tournament.
8. Alexi Lalas
Alexi Lalas is now one of the most popular color commentators for the U.S. National Soccer Team. During his playing career, Lalas was capped 96 times and scored nine goals as a defenseman. He appeared in both the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympic Games as an over age player for the United States. He was considered the standout player from the team’s 1994 World Cup appearance and made the 1994 FIFA World Cup All Star Team as an honorably mentioned player. In 1995, Lalas was named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year. He was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2006.
7. Thomas Florie
U.S. international soccer started with Thomas Florie. Florie was the captain of the U.S. National Team in the 1930 FIFA World Cup. He also played for the team during the 1934 FIFA World Cup. During the 1930 World Cup, the United States went to the semi-finals and lost to Argentina. The third place finish was the highest in U.S. soccer history. Throughout his over 25-year career, Florie scored 128 goals. Two of those goals came in World Cup games. He was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1986.
6. Cobi Jones
Cobi Jones has appeared in more international games from the United States National Team than any other player. He was capped by the team 168 times. He was a member of the 1994, 1998, and 2002 FIFA World Cup Teams. Jones also represented the United States in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games in Barcelona. In 1998, he was named the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year. Jones was a member of the 2002 team that won the CONACAF Gold Cup. He was named a member of that CONCACAF Gold Cup’s Best XI team. Throughout his years on the U.S. National Team, Jones scored 15 goals in international matches.
5. Claudio Reyna
Europeans often refer to Claudio Reyna as “Captain America” because of his long tenure as the captain of the U.S. National Team. He was capped 111 times for the States and scored eight goals in international play. He was a member of the 1994, 1998, 2002, and 2006 teams that appeared in the FIFA World Cup. Unfortunately, he was unable to play in the 1994 World Cup due to injuries. Reyna also played for the United States in the 1992 and 1996 Summer Olympic Games. He retired following an early elimination in the 2006 FIFA World Cup and was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2012.
4. Paul Caligiuri
Following years of irrelevance, Paul Caligiuri can be credited for bringing the United States back to the world’s front stage in the sport of soccer. He is best known for what is now called “The Shot Heard Around the World”. This was a last-second goal in the 1990 FIFA World Cup Qualifier Round that gave the United States a 1-0 lead over Trinidad and Tobago. This goal sent the United States to their first World Cup appearance since 1950. Following The Shot Heard around the World, Caligiuri then scored the first goal by an American in over forty years. Unfortunately, the United States still lost that game 5-1 against Czechoslovakia. During the 1980s and early 1990s, no figure was more popular in American soccer than Paul Caligiuri. He started in every match for the U.S. National team during both the 1990 and 1994 FIFA World Cups. He was inducted into the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2004.
3. Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey is the biggest name on the U.S. National Team today, appearing in his third FIFA World Cup this year. He is the only U.S. player to score in three World Cups. In 2010, Dempsey recorded the fastest goal in international play by a U.S. player during the World Cup Qualifier match against Barbados. He scored that goal in the 53rd second of the match. In 2014, he bested his feat by scoring the fifth fastest goal in World Cup history during a 2-1 victory over Ghana.
2. Adelino Gonsalves
Adelino Gonsalves is referred to as “The Babe Ruth of American Soccer”. Gonsalves spent over 25 years playing for many different American teams in different professional leagues. He still holds the record for being on the most National Challenge Cup winning teams. Gonsalves was a member of the U.S. National Team that appeared 1930 and 1934 FIFA World Cups and is a member of the 1950 U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame, the first class to ever be inducted.
1. Landon Donovan
Landon Donovan is the most decorated United States soccer player in history. He has been named the U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year four times and has played in three FIFA World Cups. He has also been a member of five MLS Cup winning teams. Donovan is currently the MLS’s all-time scoring leader. He is the only U.S. soccer player to record over fifty goals and fifty assists in international play. In fact, Donovan has scored more goals in international games than any other member of the U.S. National Team. In 2002, he received the award for Best Young Player in the FIFA World Cup. He scored three times in the 2010 FIFA World Cup; the most ever by an American, and in doing so, he became only the third U.S. soccer player to ever score in multiple World Cups. Donovan was named the 2013 CONACAF Gold Cup MVP. He also scored in a 2-0 victory over Mexico during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Qualifier; however he was not included on the United States’ roster for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.