Marcelo Balboa

Voting on the U.S. national team all-time Best XI

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Narrowing down the list of my voting opportunity for the United States national team’s all-time best 11 to a list of 15-or-so personal finalists wasn’t such a tall task. Not easy, but not insurmountable.

Bit eliminating the next four or five to arrive at the final list? Impossible!

U.S. Soccer is selecting an all-time Best XI as it continues to celebrate 100 years as a federation. I was asked to count myself among the media voters.

You can check it out here from U.S. Soccer, where all the finalists and voting details are listed.

As I said, it was tough as could be at the end. Just consider this: I had to choose four midfielders from between Landon Donovan, Cobi Jones, Claudio Reyna, DaMarcus Beasley, Tab Ramos and Clint Dempsey. (Those were my “finalists” from within the big list of finalists.)

Before you decide – because I know at first glance someone like Beasley may not be tops on your list of all-time U.S. greats, consider the criteria by which we were asked to cast our votes:

  • Starter or key contributor to overall success on the field, especially in World Cups.
  • Longevity, overall performance and talent on the field with the U.S. Men’s or Women’s National Team.
  • Impact on the legacy of the U.S. Men’s or Women’s National Team program

If you really consider the number of caps, the contributions to qualifying over the years, the Gold Cup contributions, the somewhat nebulous “legacy” factor and, of course, the actually World Cup tourney performance, there’s a lot going on.

Without further delay, here was my vote:

Goalkeeper: Kasey Keller

Defenders: Steve Cherundolo, Marcelo Balboa, Alexi Lalas, Carlos Bocanegra

Midfielders: Landon Donovan, Claudio Reyna, Tab Ramos, Cobi Jones

Forwards: Eric Wynalda, Brian McBride

My favorite all-time Christmas present: Classic National Team gear

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Eddie Pope has become a litmus test. Recognize his greatness, and you’ve been around. Remember him as the player you saw in Major League Soccer? At least you’ve been here that long.

Don’t know him at all? Oh, boy. Let me get the first round. We’re going to be here a while, because when I wear a U.S. Men’s National Team kit with “Pope, 23” on the back, it’s a statement.

He’s not on television every week like some of his peers, so the relative anonymity for the former national team defender makes some sense. His current role as Director of Player Relations for MLS’s Players Union also keeps him out of the limelight, a place he probably prefers, though it keeps his legacy from being trumpeted. Because he was always a quite person, many fans don’t remember how truly brilliant he was.

Lalas got the fame. And Marcelo Balboa got the goals. All Pope got was respect.

Many of his teammates still refer to him as one of the most underrated talents of his generation. With the athleticism of a converted midfielder, Pope was the cornerstone of Bruce Arena’s back lines, his skill, speed, and athleticism allowing him to play in the middle of three-man defenses the U.S. has scarcely employed since.

He was the best defender the U.S. has ever had, and since he retired from international soccer six years ago, nobody has come particularly close.

Not everybody agrees, but these are the types of discussions born from U.S. Soccer’s mid-90s ascension, a rise that brought the program in from 40 years in the international wilderness. Who was better: Tab Ramos or Claudio Reyna? Brad Friedel or Kasey Keller? What was the best way to use Eric Wynalda? And how good would he have been if he his international career match up better with Brian McBride’s?

If you have a friend in soccer, you’ve undoubtedly talked these things through. And that’s why a classic national team kit is the ultimate holiday gift. No gift will be received better than one which says, “Friends remember other friends’ favorite national team player.” And since you’ve spent ours upon hours talking about each others’ favorites, there’ll be no doubt which kit to get.

source:  Or if the women’s national team holds a tighter gip on your (or your friend’s) heart, there’s nothing better than finding a kit to commemorate USA `99. A “Hamm 9,” “Akers 10” or “Lilly 13” will earn a lot of soccer hipster cred. Even if you prefer some attachment to the current national team squad, a “Rampone 3” is a way to subtly, snobbishly flaunt your recognition of the team’s roots.

Unfortunately, these type of gifts are difficult to come by. If you’re truly committed to getting an authentic kit, you’ll have to be persistent, checking Ebay regularly in addition to trying to track down something through more conventional stores. For example, the last time an Eddie Pope national team jersey hit the market was mid-November (though a Mia Hamm kit did clear two days ago).

And if you can’t track down an old school version, you can always customize a current kit via U.S. Soccer’s website, a move that has the underlying cache of saying, “This player? I still want him on the team today.” Because you are a knowledgable soccer fan, after all.

And for a soccer fan, there’s no better moment than opening the box you’re sure will be a sweater only to see it’s a kit – the exact opposite end of the clothing excitement spectrum. If you’re smart about it, pack the kit with the player’s name out so all the shock arrives at once. Then, as you see them hurriedly pull the jersey over their shoulders, you’ll know you’ve given the perfect soccer present.

ProSoccerTalk’s daily re-set

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What we’re thinking, what we’re watching, what’s coming on the blog today and the RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day). Setting up your day in soccer …

Birthdays of Note: Giovani dos Santos. His buddy Chicharito will be skipping the Olympics, but Gio dos might end up in London. He turns 23 today, a little more than 10 months after putting a nail in the 2011 Gold Cup final with his ridiculous chip. (Video below) If you were an American fan, it was hard to watch, but you had to respect the skill. Here’s to many more, Gio. Birthdays that is, not goals against the United States.

Ahead on the blog today*: Weekend MLS action (NYRB v. PU in an East Coast deathmatch; Houston christens that beautiful stadium); ; and possibly a little bit about US TV rights for the World Cup qualifier in Guatemala.

What we should all be watching on TV: Antigua vs. Orlando. Who doesn’t love a little USL action?

RASNoD (Random American Soccer Name of the Day): Marcelo Balboa

Twitter dap: Amobi Okugo (@amobisays) “I’m still appalled by the fact that there isn’t a chase bank in Pennsylvania”

PST background noise while blogging today: Tyrannosaurus Hives

*Always subject to change; you know how it is

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiCK5c4DyVk%5D