USA? USA? USA? The Guardian’s list of top 100 soccer players of all time has no Americans on it


USA’s Jozy Altidore, chases down a ball during a World Cup qualifier soccer match between the U.S. and Panama last year. (Ted S. Warren/AP)

The Guardian, a newspaper in the Britain, compiled a pretty cool interactive list. They gathered a panel of 40 soccer experts to name the World Cup’s top 100 “footballers” of all time. The first two picks are predictable. Pele landed the No. 1 spot and Diego Maradona landed at No. 2. From there, the rest of the list is debatable. For example, some might say Ronaldo, the No. 4 pick, should trade places with the No. 3 pick Franz Beckenbauer. Or that one of the greatest defenders of all time, Fabio Cannavaro, who sits at No. 26, should have definitely broken into the top 20. But I digress…

Absent from this century of luminaries is a single, solitary, American. The closest the U.S. comes to even kind of, sort of making the list is at spot No. 96, which is filled by Germany’s Jurgen Klinsmann. The former-striker who scored 11 goals in the three World Cups from 1990 to 1998 is now the coach of the U.S. national team. That counts, right?

Maybe not.

The lack of Americans on this list, should probably come as no surprise, however. America’s World Cup record is… not that good. Our best World Cup showing by an individual player might have been at the first World Cup in 1930, when Bert Patenaude scored a hat trick in a match with Paraguay. Or maybe it was in a 2010 World Cup qualifying round when a young Jozy Altidore did the same against Trinidad and Tobago. Then there was Joe Gaetjens in the 1950 World Cup. He didn’t score a lot, but his one goal against England’s zero was enough to secure one of the biggest soccer upsets in history. Maybe Landon Donovan? Although he was snubbed from this year’s World Cup roster, one can’t forget his skillful play in the 2002, 2006 and 2010 World Cups.

Sure, those players are all good, but are they great in the grand scheme of worldwide soccer? Donovan’s case is debatable and Altidore, who’s on this year’s U.S. team still has time to prove himself, but overall, things have not been easy for U.S. soccer players on the international circuit.

That’s because the game is still in its infancy — at least, relatively, compared with the rest of the world — when it comes to professional visibility. Unlike, say, Brazil, which landed 22 of its countrymen on the list and counts soccer as its most popular sport, the United States didn’t start a major league until 1996. America — both its soccer players and audience — still has a lot of growing to do.

This isn’t a sad story, though. The United States just needs a little more time to develop its rank of super elite players. A deeper history will create a brighter future for American soccer, meaning when the next Top 100 list comes out in, say, 50 years, a few folks from the USA will surely be on it. “USA?” will become “USA!”

In the meantime, along with players from Brazil, players from Italy, Germany (including West Germany*), Argentina, France, Holland, Portugal, England, Spain, Hungary, USSR*, Cameroon, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania, Spain, Uruguay, Chile, Peru, Nigeria, Yugoslavia*, Austria and Sweden also made the list.

*Country no longer exists.

Marissa Payne writes for The Early Lead, a fast-breaking sports blog, where she focuses on what she calls the “cultural anthropological” side of sports, aka “mostly the fun stuff.” She is also an avid WWE fan.
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