The Top Five US performers during Group G play at the 2014 World Cup

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The only number that truly matters is 16, which is the number of teams left that can win the World Cup. The United States is one of those teams, but who is most responsible for the team’s success during a second-place finish in Group G?

5. Fabian Johnson – Dazzling at times during the stage, Johnson is at his best moving forward. His defensive responsibilities and how he lives up to them keep him from placing higher on the list. Against Belgium, he could be a menace and a real key to if and how the game opens up for the States.

4. Matt Besler – The 27-year-old has seen his international star rise during this tournament, and European clubs will take note of the job he did against Thomas Muller against Germany. Besler had precious few errors and recalled former USMNT captain Carlos Bocanegra’s prime at times. The US needed a rock in the middle, and Besler has answered the call fairly well.

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3. Clint Dempsey – Playing two matches with a broken nose, Deuce was a versatile, dangerous workhorse. All the worries after his struggles at Tottenham and during the early days in Seattle seem like ages ago, as the Texan even filled in admirably as the man up-top against Portugal.

source: AP2. Tim Howard – Perhaps you’d like him to be better on both of Portugal’s goals, but that ‘2’ figure would’ve been much higher without his middle-match heroics. Howard also made a number of beautiful saves in the Germany match, and perhaps American fans won’t truly know how much they love Howard until they’ve seen a full-time USMNT keeper just a notch below.

1. Jermaine Jones – The World Cup has raised the 32-year-old’s game to another level, one we’ve rarely seen from the German-American since he made the one-time switch the the USMNT a few years back. He’s shown dogged determination, mostly avoided the fouls and cards that plagued him in qualification and even scored a stunning goal that will live in American soccer history.

Jones has arguably been the best American player in each match of the tournament, and I’ll admit shock at writing those words. He’s been the go-to orchestrater for his coach, and is rewarding Jurgen Klinsmann for his faith, and making his boss look smarter. For that alone, we’re sure JK would also put him at No. 1.

PODCAST: Bob Bradley talks MLS past, USMNT

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Scott Nicholls and Otis Earle welcomed Bob Bradley to their “Beyond The Pitch” podcast to discuss his time coaching the Chicago Fire, the Fire’s current squad, how MLS has evolved, the new generation of players coming into the USMNT and more.

Perhaps most interesting is Bradley talking about previous losses with stinging emotion that sounds like they happened yesterday, including the 2000 MLS Cup.

[ MORE: Latest Men In Blazers pod ]

Since being fired from Swansea City after less than 100 days, Bradley has been linked with the Norway national team gig as well as a return to Los Angeles. Keep up with the U.S. coach here, and check it out:

U.S. Open Cup preview: Which underdog has best odds?

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Every dog has its day, and the three lower-tier clubs remaining in the 2017 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup are hoping for a second.

Miami FC, Sacramento Republic, and FC Cincinnati enjoyed wins over Major League Soccer sides in the fourth round, and now get further MLS tests in this week’s fifth round.

[ MORE: Lampard linked with manager opening ]

Once FC Dallas and Colorado Rapids tangle on Tuesday, attention turns to the underdogs on Wednesday. Who has the best chance to advance?

  1. Miami FC vs. Atlanta United — Playing an MLS expansion side at Riccardo Silva Stadium will give Miami a bit of confidence, and this is also a side with some good experience in pressure spots. Whether it’s manager Alessandro Nesta or MLS vets Michel, Gabriel Farfan, and Michael Lahoud, MFC won’t shy away. Upset chance: Solid.
  2. FC Cincinnati vs. Chicago Fire — The visitors are having a heck of a season in MLS and don’t have a group which will be worried by a huge crowd, but there’s no debating that 25,000-plus in Southern Ohio give FCC more than a puncher’s chance. Upset chance: Improbable, but possible
  3. LA Galaxy vs. Sacramento Republic — If LA puts something close to its best side out there, Sacramento will struggle to stop its attack.  Upset chance: Long shot.

Elsewhere on Wednesday, New England hosts DC United, Philadelphia visits the Red Bulls, Seattle is off to San Jose, and Houston hosts Sporting KC.

WATCH: Spain’s Saul smashes a shot past Italy’s Donnarumma

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Since returning from a loan at Rayo Vallecano, Saul Niguez has been a somewhat under the radar star at Atletico Madrid.

Coming off his best season with Atleti, the 22-year-old Saul is making an even bigger name for himself at the U-21 EURO this summer.

Spain’s Saul scored a hat trick past Gianluigi Donnarumma and Italy on Tuesday, and the second goal was laced with venom.

Getting onto the ball from 30-plus yards out, Saul smashed his shot with enough power that the ball barely had occasion to rotate.

Saul is under contract at the Vicente Calderon through 2022, and has three caps for Spain’s senior team, too. He was rated Atleti’s third-best performer by WhoScored this season.

Men in Blazers podcast: Transfer window, USMNT at Gold Cup, RBNY-NYCFC

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Men In Blazers are back with their latest podcast, and the boys are hitting club soccer here and abroad as well as Bruce Arena’s men in the red, white, and blue.

Rog and Davo break down transfer window activity, rumored and real; get a heat check on the USMNT heading into the Gold Cup; and recap the (Ray) Hudson River Derby.

All of the MiB content — pods, videos and stories can be seen here, but to really stay in touch, follow, subscribe, click here:

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