The best soccer players ever from every state? A mammoth undertaking, so let’s dive in, shall we?
This encapsulates the whole shebang: full career, ability, accomplishments – and we’re throwing men’s and women’s into the same pot (madness!). We’re taking both on their own merits in their own realms of influence, of course. It takes a well-rounded soccer player to make the cut, though some states are admittedly more hotly contested than others.
Many of these are up for impassioned debate (some, notably Alabama and Hawaii, are probably not), but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? The “where they’re from” question is largely answered in where they spent formative time developing, not necessarily where they were born, though there isn’t a hard and fast rule as to how I sliced it (as you’ll notice with our first state). This cannot possibly be exhaustive, especially where some of the more sparse states are concerned, but it’s as close as we’ll get for now.
A note. This is almost (but not entirely) exclusive to players who’ve appeared in the post-semi pro, U.S. World Cup era (1990-present) primarily because, quite simply, both the uptick in technical ability was notable and we have more visual evidence on their abilities. With apologies to players like Willy Roy and Ricky Davis, the best players – as international results dictate – have largely come along in the last 30 years. Not a slight, simply a widely accepted point.
So anyway, without further ado, into the breach, dear friends. We have miles to go before we sleep.
Mia Hamm: No questioning or introduction needed on this one. Hamm’s career at North Carolina is still unmatched in a variety of ways, and she was the original American soccer icon. Hamm was an army brat and spent time in a lot of different places, so we’re going with her birth state here. No apologies.
Kelly Cobb: Never heard of Cobb? She won a U20 World Cup with the U.S. in 2012, and the Duke junior could be in the NWSL in two years. That’s tops from a state with next to zero soccer lineage.
Brad Evans: There aren’t many players in Arizona’s soccer history who’ve made an appearance on the full USMNT. Evans has 17, including a critical goal against Jamaica in World Cup qualifying last year. Robbie Findley, a forward, is also an Arizona native and World Cup vet. But he hasn’t scored for the senior team.
Domenic Mediate: This is the story of Arkansas soccer: the state’s best ever player sandwiched life in the Dallas area between a truncated high school career in Northwest Arkansas in the late 90’s. To this day, he’s the only player affiliated with the state of Arkansas who’s been drafted in MLS (Columbus Crew in 2005).
Landon Donovan: Picking California? Good luck. The majority of U.S. Soccer’s Best XI (both men’s and women’s) hail from the Golden State, so arguments abound. But Donovan’s impact on American soccer may be unmatched in the men’s game in this country. As is, he could well be the best men’s player we’ve ever produced as a country.
April Heinrichs: The first female player ever inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame? Not Hamm. Not Lilly. That’d be Heinrichs, the captain of the first World Cup-winning team in American history in 1991 and a hugely influential soccer player at a critical time for the game in the U.S.
Kyle Martino: Connecticut’s produced four national Gatorade Players of the Year, and two were in 1999. One of those was a shared girls title, and the other belonged to Martino. Connecticut’s produced top college players, but never a pro like Martino, who appeared 141 times in MLS and even has a USMNT goal to his name.
Andrew O’Malley: The First State is also among the smallest, and it currently has no pro players getting minutes in a first tier league. So we go to Salesianum product O’Malley, who became one of the only (if not the only) Delaware products to captain a team to a Division I national title as he did with Notre Dame in 2013.
Jozy Altidore: Florida surprisingly doesn’t have as great a history prodding its own to great soccer heights as you might suspect, though players like Alejandro Bedoya and Eddie Johnson do call it home. But nobody’s done more at a younger age in USMNT history than Altidore, who’s had two World Cups under his belt before his 25th birthday.
Clint Mathis: The deep south’s history of producing pro players is short considering football’s historic stranglehold, but that’s slowly changing. Mathis was an unreal talent up top and brought some southern charm to the USMNT. Morgan Brian, however, is hunting him.
Brian Ching: Not much competition for Ching here, but it’s impossible to argue for any other case with any seriousness. A World Cup player and a distinguished top-flight pro career.
John Gwin: Idaho’s produced one Gatorade national soccer player of the year, and that’s Boise’s Gwin in 1987. He went to Duke later that year, a year after the Blue Devils won their first soccer national championship, and played in the 1985 U16 World Championship. That’s more than anyone from Idaho since.
Brian McBride: Captain America, Mr. Bloodyface himself was among the first outfield players to show an EPL fan base that top American players can hack it in the world’s biggest league too.
DaMarcus Beasley: Did Beasley spend the last few years of his career reinventing himself as the best left back in USMNT history? Pretty terrific argument to be made.
Ian Christianson: Iowa is wide open, so we have to get a bit creative here. Christianson enjoyed a standout four-year career at Georgetown and became one of the first Iowa-developed players (the first? Could be) to play in MLS this month with NYRB. This is hardly glamorous, but then that’s Iowa’s soccer history.
Matt Besler: When Besler stepped foot in Brazil, he became the first Kansan in history to appear at a World Cup, let alone start. Not only that, but there’s an argument to be made that he was the best U.S. defender during an entire World Cup cycle. Hard to top that, Kansas.
Andrew Farrell: Kentucky’s history of producing in-state titans of soccer is pretty sparse, but they seem to have hit a good one with Farrell. Farrell came of age in Peru but played much of his high school career in Louisville, and he has the best pro (and national team) prospects of any Kentucky player perhaps ever.
Patrick Mullins: Louisiana doesn’t have much of a soccer lineage, so when the New Orleans native won back-to-back Hermann Trophy awards in ’12-13 as the best college player in the nation, it ranked above any soccer accomplishment of any native son in history.
Roger Levesque: A Seattle Sounders legend, Levesque is a bonafide Mainer from Portland. The third highest scorer in the state’s history, he played 201 games as a pro and even got a couple caps for the U.S. U23 MNT. No fellow Maineiac can boast the same. Plus, he might be the most beloved player for the nation’s most well-attended pro club.
Bruce Murray: Maryland’s had a lot of good ones, namely guys like Kyle Beckerman and Dante Washington, but none reach Murray status. A rare talent that could’ve slotted in on pure ability to just about any U.S. MNT over the years, Murray remains one of the only U.S. national teamers ever to have a goal and an assist in one World Cup (1990).
Mike Burns: In addition to 75 caps for the USMNT (including two World Cups), Burns was among the initial serious wave of Americans to pop into Europe for minutes. He got 15 games with Viborg in 1995. He also played on every international level available, something no Mass soccer man has done since. We love Bert Patenaude, but he only played four games (!) in the U.S. shirt.
Alexi Lalas: Known in the 90’s as the rocker dude with the wild ginger hair and goatee, Lalas backed the image by quickly becoming one of the best defenders in American history. He became the first American to play in Serie A in 1994 and finished with nine goals from the back in a U.S. shirt.
Briana Scurry: Before there was Solo, there was Scurry, the most decorated international keeper in WNT history (if not the best). The only keeper in U.S. history with two gold medals and a World Cup title, Scurry was hugely influential for a generation of goalkeepers who fell in love with the game in the 90’s.
Justin Mapp: Mapp’s story is one of “what if’s,” since he had all the wing talent in the world but couldn’t quite put it together enough to be a USMNT regular. That said, it’s hard to argue that Mississippi’s produced a better one considering his lengthy pro career and unique skill set as a winger.
Steve Ralston: Want to debate Ralston? That’s fine. That’s why we’re here. But nobody in American history played more professional games (412), and nobody in MLS has assisted on more goals (135), though Donovan might snap that later this year. Unparalleled consistency and production.
Heather Olson: Montana’s never produced a pro, but Olson did score a state record 91 goals in her career at Billings Capital from 1993-96. Rick Thompson, the dean of Montana soccer coaching, called her the best player he’d ever seen. That’s enough here.
Jason Kreis: One of the best coaches in U.S. history is also from Nebraska, where he turned into the best player in the state’s history – 305 pro appearances and 108 goals? That’ll do it.
Herculez Gomez: Gomez was born in California but came of age in Las Vegas, where he quickly became the most talented native son in the state’s soccer history. No other Nevadan has ever played as many national team games or been to a World Cup.
Jay Heaps: So Heaps actually went to high school in neighboring Massachusetts, but he’s from Nashua, N.H., near the border between the two states. So we’ll give the former Hermann Trophy winner, MLS stalwart and now Revs coach over to the Granite State.
Claudio Reyna: New Jersey’s legacy of production is incredible, and Tim Howard may one day come for this state. But not yet. Reyna is the best this hotbed has ever produced, borne out by his captaining of the best U.S. run in a World Cup in history. Plus: it’s Reyna.
Edgar Castillo: Las Cruces born and bred, Castillo was responsible for a lot of firsts in New Mexico’s relatively truncated soccer history. He was an established pro in Mexico at Santos Laguna by the time he was 21, scored a goal for the Mexican U23 national team by the time he was 23 (go figure!) and is currently sitting on 16 career USMNT caps.
Kristine Lilly: Better than Wambach et al? You bet. She went to high school in Connecticut but was born in the Empire State, which will claim her for our purposes. The longevity and consistency in Lilly’s career almost defies description, and she takes the cake in the country’s most developmentally robust state historically behind only California.
Eddie Pope: Might Pope be the best defender in U.S. Soccer history? Arguments. Either way, North Carolina has never produced a better player, and Pope deserves his place in the firmament of U.S. Soccer’s recent history.
Alec Rauhauser: Woof. Soccer in North Dakota is… something… and even Rauhauser moved on to play hockey after high school. But he was the key to Bismarck Century’s back-to-back titles earlier this decade (the first time that’s happened in N.D. since the 90’s) and scored their title-winner in 2012. So… that’s something.
Brad Friedel: Tim Howard may be coming for Friedel’s title of the best keeper in U.S. history (which, make no mistake, Friedel still owns), but not yet. The best keeper in a sea of incredible ones deserves his honor here, even if he did grow up a bit too close to Cleveland for comfort.
Joe-Max Moore: So Moore’s family moved to California when he was 14, but that was plenty of time to get him rooted to the game in America’s heartland. He had four goals and two assists in one game for the USMNT in 1995, and no American matched that since. One of the most underrated strikers in national team history.
Tiffeny Milbrett: The leading goal-scorer on the U.S.’s last World Cup-winning team? That’d be Milbrett, who still owns or shares four WNT all-time records and was one of its most important finishers for years. Finished with a clean 100 goals in 204 caps.
Walter Bahr: A nod here to the 1950 team that became the last to make a World Cup for 40 years, Bahr was the best player (sorry Joey G, but it’s true) on the team that improbably upset England, which might still be the biggest win in USMNT history. Former Scotland standout Tommy Muirhead once said of Bahr that he was good enough to play for any first division team in the UK.
Michael Parkhurst: No Rhode Islander in history boasts the kind of soccer resume Parkhurst does: U17 residency, MLS Rookie and Defender of the Year awards, two Gold Cups, an Olympics, and involvement in two World Cup cycles. Crazy he’s only 30 still.
Enzo Martinez: The former North Carolina and Real Salt Lake midfielder (he’s now with the RailHawks permanently) was named the ESPN RISE High School Boys Player of the Decade for the aughts after winning three state titles, a FAB 50 national title and scoring 182 goals.
Chris Houser: As the only South Dakota native to play in MLS, Houser is on hallowed ground. The defender was picked up by the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1998 and played 27 games in Florida before ending his pro career in 2002. His time spent developing in Germany as a kid didn’t hurt matters.
Cindy Parlow: The Memphis native won three national titles with North Carolina and won the Hermann Trophy twice, in 1997 and 1998. Oh, and she has two Olympic golds and scored twice at the 1999 Women’s World Cup.
Clint Dempsey: This one’s no contest, though Texas has a fine (albeit recent) history producing very good soccer players. Dempsey is up with Tab Ramos as perhaps the most technically able USMNT player in history.
Kealia Ohai: No soccer player in the state’s history has done what Ohai has already, and she’s only just 22. She scored the goal that gave the U.S. the 2012 U20 World Cup title, and she has a national title under her belt after a standout career at North Carolina. As the No. 2 pick in the 2014 NWSL draft, big things are expected of Utah’s brightest.
Kristi Lefebvre: The state’s first two-time Gatorade winner in 1999-2000, Lefebvre played for an elite club team in Maryland 500 miles away before joining UConn and guiding them to a national title game in 2003. In 2011, she became Vermont’s head coach at the ripe age of 26.
John Kerr: Kerr’s winding career took him from Portsmouth to the New England Revolution, but before that he was winning a national title with Duke (the team he now coaches) and becoming one of the first Americans to play in the newly formed English First Division in the early 90’s.
Michelle Akers: Born in California but raised (and developed) in Seattle, Akers was more formational for U.S. women’s soccer than any male has been on that side of the gender line. Two World Cups and the FIFA Female Player of the Century speak for themselves.
Oguchi Onyewu: That’s right. We even take into account The District, and nobody better than Onyewu has been birthed from its political loins.
Tommy Trupo: West Virginia is quiet as far as national soccer contributions are concerned, but nobody’s won more in-state than Trupo, who had three state titles, two Gatorade state player of the year trophies and 102 career goals.
Jay DeMerit: DeMerit’s story is so incredible that it’s hard to pick against the one-time USMNT stalwart at center back. Don’t let that obscure a fantastic club career that just drew to a close this year, either.
Ariela Schreibeis: Can we get a lifeline here? Schreibeis won three state titles and was one of just three girls players in Wyoming history to repeat as Gatorade state champs. She also went on to a solid career with NC State, which sets her apart in Wyoming soccer.