Top 25 American soccer players

Michael Bradley leads list of top U.S. national team-eligible players right now

Originally Published: December 19, 2012
By Doug McIntyre | ESPN Insider
US Soccer Big IllustrationMichael Bradley, left, has had a terrific year and leads Insider's rankings of the top U.S. players.

The debate has picked up considerably over the last year: Who's the best American soccer player? Is it still Landon Donovan, the U.S. national team's all-time leader in goals, assists and starts -- and the face of the national team for a decade? Is it Clint Dempsey, U.S. Soccer's recently crowned player of 2012 who parlayed a Premier League season for the ages in 2011-12 into a high-profile transfer to Tottenham Hotspur? Or is it someone else?

Back in May, we gave you our verdict, but much has changed over the last seven months. Donovan still isn't sure when, or if, he'll play his next game. Dempsey, while claiming a starting spot with Spurs, still occupies a supporting role with his new team.

So it's hardly a stretch to say that Michael Bradley, who headlines Insider's first ranking of the Top 25 U.S. national team-eligible players, has surpassed them both. Since joining AS Roma from Chievo Verona last July, Bradley has not only cemented his place in Roma's lineup, he has become a key cog and an on-field leader for one of Italy's most storied clubs -- something no American had ever accomplished.

The argument is still somewhat subjective, of course, and the same can be said for the rest of these rankings. Still, the main criterion here is as straightforward as possible: Who is the best American player right now?

It's tricky, nonetheless. How do we rate MLS players who have been out of season for more than a month? And what makes one player "better" than another, anyway? Lots of factors have to be considered, including (but not limited to, and in no particular order) talent, production, leadership, experience and strength of competition.

That said, this list doesn't require a Brazil Board-like gaze into the future. We're not trying to project what will happen years from now; this is a real-time look at the current pecking order within the U.S. player pool.

Feel free to debate, and to disagree. (We know you will.) But don't bother bookmarking the page -- things change way too quickly for that.

Here is the initial list of the Top 25 U.S. national team-eligible players:

Michael Bradley
AGE: 25
DOB: 7/31/87
CLUB (COUNTRY) AS Roma (Italy)

When Bradley landed at Roma over the summer, U.S. fans worried that playing time would be hard to come by in the Giallorossi's stacked midfield. Instead, Bradley has been a mainstay, while Roma legend (and Italian national team star) Daniele de Rossi -- long considered Francesco Totti's heir apparent as the club's captain -- has had a hard time getting off the bench.

Doug McIntyre is a staff writer for ESPN The Magazine. He has covered American and international soccer since 2002.