USMNT: Breaking Down Athlete of the Year Nominees


Jul 1, 2014; Salvador, Bahia, BRAZIL; United States midfielder Jermaine Jones (13) reacts to missing an opportunity during extra time of their 2-1 loss to Belgium in a round of sixteen match in the 2014 World Cup at Arena Fonte Nova. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Now that the nominees for USMNT Athlete of the Year have been released, it is time to dive into who belonged, who didn’t, what each individual did to earn their spot, and ultimately, who will win the prestigious award.

For those of you that were not aware that the nominees were already announced…

Yes, I was just as shocked as you are to see Alejandro Bedoya’s name on that list. Quite frightening. Moving on, I will take you step-by-step through my thought process in picking a winner.

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Tim Howard  

First on the list is Tim Howard. Regardless of taking a year away from the national team, Howard has every right to be on this list. In perhaps the biggest situation that the Yanks have ever been in, a knockout round match against Belgium, Howard turned in what can only be described as the best goalkeeping performance of all-time. Period.

In case some of you forget just how spectacular Howard was in Brazil, there’s this to jog your memory.

How could anyone forget the fact that #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave was trending worldwide? Beats me. Howard was as good as any goalkeeper on the planet this year, particularly in the World Cup, and deserves to be seriously considered for this award.

Fabian Johnson

Johnson has been as solid as they come ever since joining the United States, and despite all of the attention that DeAndre Yedlin drew in Brazil, Johnson was the best defender on the team that beat the odds and escaped the “Group of Death”.

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Known for bombing forward and getting involved in the attack, Johnson proved that he still takes his defensive responsibilities seriously. His ability to know when to get forward and when to hold down the right side of the Yanks’ defense was spot on from the opening match against Ghana until he was replaced by Yedlin early in the knockout round due to injury.

During Yedlin’s performances as a substitute in the Group Stage of the World Cup, he turned a lot of heads, and while he deserves a lot of the credit, he can also thank Johnson for being his security blanket when he was caught too far up the pitch and exposed defensively.

While Johnson’s improvement on the defensive side really impressed me in Brazil, it is still his presence in the attack that makes him irreplaceable at this point. His ability to whip in crosses from either side, cut inside from the right flank, create chances, and even score goals (check out the video below) is what makes him as valuable as anyone in the American soccer landscape right now.

Right back or world class striker? Who needs to choose when we have the best of both worlds in Johnson?

Jermaine Jones

Leading up to the World Cup, much was made about the defensive midfield role and who should occupy it. Many debated that Kyle Beckerman, a natural in the diamond, deserved the nod over Jones. While nobody argued that Beckerman was superior athletically to Jones, it was the lack of tactical discipline that Jones had shown over the years as a member of a national team that had fans across the nation worried.

Jurgen Klinsmann made members of both sides of that debate happy when he decided to give both Jones and Beckerman significant playing time right out of the gate. When all was said and done, not many would argue that those two were the best American field players throughout the tournament.

Jones brought an athleticism and toughness that Klinsmann’s side so desperately needed to make it out of a group that consisted of Ghana, Portugal, and the eventual champions, Germany.

It wasn’t just his defensive presence that was a game-changer for the Americans, however. Jones buried the opening goal against Portugal that appeared to be the lone goal of the match before Cristiano Ronaldo’s cross found the head of Nani beat Tim Howard in stoppage time.

Klinsmann thinks so highly of Jones, that at 32 years old, he is currently making a transition to the center back role. While it remains to be seen if that will ultimately be a role that he could will in 2018, he is still playing at that high level that pleasantly surprised so many in Brazil.

Kyle Beckerman

Beckerman’s play in Brazil allowed him to be known for something other than having the best hair on the team. His comfort at the back of a diamond midfield was never a concern, but his lack of speed and athleticism did have plenty of people worried about the type of impact he could have at the world’s biggest stage. Between constantly cutting out passes and quickly moving the ball to start the attack, Beckerman made the most of every minute he was on the pitch.

Acting as a true shield in front of the back four, it was apparent that the speed of the game was not a problem for the Real Salt Lake midfielder sporting dreadlocks. What he lacked in athleticism he made up for with an advance understanding of what the opponent wanted to do and the game as a whole.

In terms of possession, Beckerman rarely, if ever, made a mistake. If he did, it certainly was never going to be a crucial one. With possession being something the United States struggled with for the majority of the tournament, Beckerman was somewhat of a calming presence in the midfield. Everyone around him was able to be confident that he would pick out the right pass and not give the ball away, regardless of what part of the pitch it was.

Alejandro Bedoya

Mr. Dutchess does a good enough job of summing up this nomination. Well done. Although I have to say, Bedoya’s play of late has been much improved from what we saw in Brazil.

Clint Dempsey

Was there ever a doubt that Captain America would make this list?

Dempsey has been arguably the best creative option to put on a United States kit, and that includes Landon Donovan. That in itself warrants a nomination. On top of all of that, who could ever forget his goal in the opening minute of the very first match the U.S. played in Brazil against Ghana?

Just in case you wanted a good laugh, here is a video from ESPN inspired by Matt Harvey and Jimmy Fallon that consists of Clint Dempsey asking “fans” about, well, himself.

Fair warning: some of the answers will shock you.

And the winner is…

Tim Howard!

Howard kept the Americans in their match against Belgium despite being completely outplayed from the very first minute. The U.S. defense could not stop a nosebleed on this particular day, and while the quality that Belgium possesses deserves a lot of that credit, Howard remained unbeaten for the full 90′ before watching his team fall 2-1 to the Belgians in added time. Despite Howard’s resume and how stellar he was all year long, he deserves this award based solely on this performance.