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May 30, 2014

Ranking the top 23 U.S. players

Where do Michael Bradley, Geoff Cameron and Landon Donovan rank among U.S. players?

A week after United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann named his 23-man roster for the 2014 World Cup -- which had no shortage of controversy -- many American supporters are champing at the bit to learn how this group of players will fare in Brazil.

Klinsmann's decisions were likely based on a combination of technical performance, positional need, tactical fit and personal preference. While these decisions were also likely designed to deal with the specific strengths and weaknesses of Group G opponents Ghana, Portugal and Germany, they do not necessarily represent the best 23 players in the United States' pool.

So who are the nation's top 23 players? In assembling my ranking, I used the following guidelines:

• Because there are always issues of tactical fit when assembling the national team for friendlies and qualifiers, club form takes a slight precedence over form with the United States.

• Player positioning does not matter, but versatility does. Players who can fill multiple roles are always a valuable asset to any team.

• While recent form does play a role, there is something to be said for consistency over time (sorry, Julian Green), and so play over the last couple of years -- and to a small extent, reputation -- is factored in.

As a reminder: Roster fit, formation strategy and World Cup tactics are not factored into this ranking. As such, a couple of players who made the 23-man roster are not on this list, while a couple of Brazil exclusions, including Landon Donovan, are featured.

In putting together my ranks, I also spoke with Jesse Marsch, a former USMNT assistant and head coach with the Montreal Impact, who offered his take on several players. Some of his comments are included below.

With that in mind, here is my ranking of the top 23 U.S. players.

1. Tim Howard (Club team: Everton)

Howard's athleticism has made him one of the best shot-stopping goalkeepers in the world, and his ability to organize a back line also contributes to him being the best American player. He recorded 15 clean sheets for Everton in the 2013-14 season (third most in the Premier League) and was forced into making 3.0 saves per game last year as opposed to just 2.5 in 2012-13. The goalkeeper also improved his save percentage from 70.9 percent last year to 77.2 percent in 2013-14, and his overall track record of 10 seasons in the Premier League (and consistent top-notch play for his country) gives him the nod as the U.S. No. 1.

2. Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders)

Dempsey brings the element of surprise to the United States' attack, and his dribbling ability combined with his nose for goal in the penalty...