The 2019 calendar year was a mixed bag for the U.S. Men’s National Team, with Gregg Berhalter’s first year in charge yielding the predictable growing pains of a young coach adapting to his first national team coaching job.
The year was a memorable one for several American players, including Christian Pulisic, who made a record-setting transfer to Chelsea, and Jordan Morris, who helped lead the Seattle Sounders to another MLS Cup title.
Both Pulisic and Morris enjoyed success for both club and country, putting them at the forefront in the race for U.S. Soccer’s Men’s Player of the Year award. The award is based predominantly on national team performances, with club performance serving as a secondary factor.
Morris is SBI’s selection for USMNT Player of the Year after his outstanding season in MLS, and also his impressive form for the national team, particularly in the second half of the year. He gradually worked his way up Berhalter’s depth chart, earning a start in the Gold Cup final, and hit his stride form-wise in the summer and into the fall, where he was instrumental in Seattle’s championship run.
Morris was the USMNT’s best player down the stretch, delivering crucial performances in all three of the team’s Nations League victories to secure first place in the group, and book a place in the Nations League semifinals.
Here is SBI’s list, in order, of the top USMNT performers in 2019:
1. Jordan Morris
Several standout playoff performances on the way to an MLS Cup title, and multiple Man of the Match performances in Nations League, helped Morris earn SBI’s USMNT Player of the Year award just one year after he was forced to miss a year with a torn ACL.
Morris recorded 10 goals and seven assists for the Sounders during the regular season, then contributed three goals and an assist in the playoffs. For the USMNT, Morris recorded five goals and a team-high six assists, and helped lead the American attack to its November wins over Cuba and Canada.
2. Christian Pulisic
The year began with word that Pulisic would be heading to Chelsea on a record-setting transfer, but that also meant spending half a season in limbo at Borussia Dortmund. He enjoyed a solid showing with the USMNT at the Gold Cup, though he struggled to make his mark in the second half of 2019.
Pulisic hit rock-bottom in the USMNT loss to Canada, which coincided with a stint on the bench at Chelsea, but he rebounded from that to hit an outstanding run of form with the Premier League giants and heads into 2020 riding high.
3. Weston McKennie
McKennie made his own good case for Player of the Year consideration with his production for the USMNT and continued status as a regular starter for Schalke. He stepped up with some good showings at the Gold Cup, though he struggled in the final (as did several others).
McKennie registered five goals and two assists for the USMNT in 2019, and is finishing the year in good form for Schalke, which heads into the new year in the thick of the title race in the wide-open Bundesliga.
4. Aaron Long
The New York Red Bulls defender followed up his breakout 2018 with his entry into the national team picture as a regular starter. He tied Tim Ream for most USMNT starts in 2019 with 14, and scored three goals while emerging as the team’s most consistent defender.
Long’s candidacy for the player of the year award was hurt by what was seen as a step back in club form. To be fair, his 2018 with the Red Bulls was always going to be hard to match, but his national team exploits were impressive, and could lead to a winter transfer to a top European league.
5. Zack Steffen
Steffen was forced the miss the final USMNT matches of 2019, but that doesn’t take away from a strong year for the standout goalkeeper, who started the year with a transfer to Manchester City. After spending a half season with the Columbus Crew, Steffen had a good showing at the Gold Cup before heading to Europe.
Since joining Fortuna Dusseldorf, Steffen has had a very good run of form with the Bundesliga club, and while a battle with knee tendinitis has slowed him a bit, Steffen is still closing out a solid year.
What do you think of SBI’s ranking of USMNT players? Who would you have included that we left out? Who was your pick for Player of the Year?
Share your thoughts below.