USMNT Player Performance Index 2.0: Ranking top 50 Americans

Illustration by ESPN

We are back for the second edition of ESPN's USMNT Player Performance Index, our player-ranking model for the U.S. men's national team! But it's also the final edition we'll be releasing before the end of the 2023-24 European soccer season, which is less than three weeks away. Beginning and endings, all at once -- our new metric contains multitudes.

And in a way, it really does. We've come up with a broad way to judge the performance of every professional American men's soccer player on the planet. Or, at least, every American soccer player who plays for one of the 13,381 teams rated by Opta's power-ranking system.

Before the USMNT convenes for the Copa America this summer, let's take another big-picture look at the impact Americans are having across the world and how they compare to each other. Would you rather be riding the bench for a Premier League club (hi, Matt Turner) or tearing it up for a Championship team (hello, Haji Wright and Josh Sargent)?

We'll attempt to answer that question and hopefully learn about the current state of the American player pool along the way. But first, a refresher on how this all works and an explanation for why a handful of key players missed the cut.

Notable USMNT absences, and our methodology explained

Just as was the case on our previous list: no Tyler Adams!

Does this mean that Tyler Adams is not a top-50 USMNT player? No, it means that Tyler Adams has played 3.5% of the minutes for Bournemouth so far this season because of a hamstring injury. Adams' fellow 2022 World Cup-er, Jesús Ferreira, also misses out because he has only started two games for FC Dallas so far this season amid injuries.

As a reminder, we're not trying to rank the best USMNT players -- this isn't precisely who you'd want on the field at the Copa America. Instead, we're trying to accurately quantify who is in form and who isn't. More broadly, we want to provide an overview of which Americans are having the biggest impacts at the highest levels of the sport.

Individual statistics lack crucial context for player performance in soccer, so we've instead opted for a top-down approach. Our ranking model is built on three inputs: (1) How much does a player play? (2) How good is the team he plays for? (3) And how does the team perform when he's on the field, compared to off it?

The first one looks at the percentage of available minutes played. If a USMNT player is trusted to start and play significant minutes for his team, it's probably because he helps his team when he's on the field. But you can't provide any value if you aren't playing, no matter how talented you are. Plus, most of these leagues don't even have playoffs, so every game missed is a missed opportunity to help your team finish higher in the standings.

The second output is driven by Opta's power ratings, a ranking of every club team in the world calculated by combination of results, underlying performances and strength of opponent. Each result changes each team's rating, and the more a USMNT player is on the field for his club, the more he helps determine that rating.

The final piece of our index looks at the team's goal differential per 90 minutes when the player is on the field compared to when he's off it. Is his team better or worse when he plays?

Ultimately, our final ranking is calculated like this: Team strength (maximum value of 500 points), playing time (max of 100 points) and the on- or off-field numbers (max adjustment of 10 points, in either direction). Since the MLS season is only about 10 games old, the sample size is much smaller than the rest of the leagues involved, which makes both the ratings and the average playing time less reliable. To account for that, we've also slightly discounted each MLS team's ratings for this edition of the rankings.

Of the players who made coach Gregg Berhalter's most recent USMNT squad, the only three players who aren't represented in our rankings are Palermo's Kristoffer Lund, Cardiff City's Ethan Horvath and FC Cincinnati's Miles Robinson.

Lund (ranked 90th) misses out mainly because he's featured in 70% of the league minutes for a mediocre Serie B team. Horvath (128th) has played a lot for second-division Cardiff City since joining in February, but he didn't play a minute for first-division Nottingham Forest before that. And Robinson (64th) barely slid out of the ratings because FC Cincinnati beat NYCFC in the one game he missed this season.

As we said in the first edition of this project: All models are wrong, but some are useful. Opta's model isn't a perfect representation of team strength, and our model doesn't contain the sum total of all knowledge about soccer. Sometimes bad players play for good teams, and vice versa. Sometimes good players don't get playing time, and vice versa. But at the end of the day, the best soccer players tend to do two things: (1) play for the best teams, and (2) play a lot of minutes. Our goal here is to compare every American soccer player based on how they're doing those two things.

Oh, and as with any set of rankings, the actual gap between each number varies. The further you go down the list, the closer the players bunch together. In terms of the actual ratings (not the rankings), the gap between No. 50 and No. 100 is the same as the gap between No. 50 and No. 18. And that gap is the same size as the gap between No. 2 and No. 3 on this list. In other words, there are a couple elite players, a sizable chunk of consistent performers, and then a massive glut of players who are largely indistinguishable from each other, based on our methodology.

OK, you've had plenty of explanation on how this all works. It's time to sort through the top 50 American players right now, according to our USMNT Player Performance Index.