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U.S. Male Player of the Year nominees show how far we've come since 2016

There's been some drama surrounding the USMNT since the end of the World Cup with Gregg Berhalter serving as lightning rod, but maybe it's time to step back and count our blessings on the things that truly matter when it comes to playing great soccer: having great players.

On Thursday, U.S. Soccer announced its five nominees for the 2022 Male Player of the Year award. I think the past eight years had almost conditioned me to expect something that'd put me in a bad mood, but the players nominated are all deserving winners after their performances at the World Cup.

Christian Pulisic was our best attacker with a goal and two assists. Matt Turner kept two clean sheets and never let us down. Tim Ream was a surprise selection and played like Fabio Cannavaro. Antonee Robinson was a joy to watch bombing down the left flank in attack and defense. Tyler Adams was the Terminator. 

Turner, Ream, Robinson and Adams were the only U.S. players to play every minute in Qatar, and Pulisic only missed 45 minutes because of crushed testes. 

Feeling this good about every player just reinforces the fact that we're in love with our men's national team again. That certainly wasn't the case during the dark period of failed World Cup qualification.

To make you better appreciate where we're at now, I'm going to throw it back to the nominees for the 2016 U.S. Soccer Male Player of the Year award.

It's important to establish the scene. 

It's Dec. 5, 2016, when the five nominees are announced. Just two week prior, U.S. Soccer had fired manager Jürgen Klinsmann after starting the qualifying cycle in the worst imaginable way: a home defeat to Mexico followed by one of the most pathetic performances in the program's history, a 4-0 collapse against Costa Rica in San José.

The nominees were Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Bobby Wood and Geoff Cameron. There was a lot of foreshadowing of the failure to come in 2017. 

Altidore won the award as the year's leading scorer with six goals. He would go on to score five more goals over the rest of his international career.  

Dempsey scored four goals, including three at the Copa América Centenario, but his year was over in August after being diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat.

Bradley was fresh off a disaster-class alongside Jermaine Jones in the heart of the U.S. midfield against Costa Rica. He then missed his penalty in Toronto's unbelievable MLS Cup defeat to Seattle.

Wood made 15 appearances for the U.S. in 2016, but the 30-year-old is now with the New England Revolution after scoring five goals in two seasons at Real Salt Lake.

Geoff Cameron was bodying people and helping build the "can they do it on a cold rainy night in Stoke" aura at Stoke City. He lost his place in the U.S. starting lineup towards the end of qualifying.

This was a time when an aging core found no replacements in a lost generation. There wasn't much to be hopeful about looking a few years down the road, but 2022 feels like a complete 180. 

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