A look at the biggest names to play in MLS - how did they get on?

  • Jack Figg

Major League Soccer has picked up momentum since its first season back in 1996, the same year the United States hosted the World Cup.

Now 23 teams compete to win MLS Cup with the league, with the competition beginning in March and concluding in December.

Since the rise in popularity MLS has enjoyed, players are now frequently travelling over Stateside to see out their careers.

Players who, admittedly are past their best, will enjoy the often landmark city’s they play their football in now.

Players are also receiving significantly high wages to compete in potentially the most comfortable league of their career.

With the inclusion of a potential 26 teams by 2020 and a targeted 28 by 2022 it won’t be a surprise to see some of today’s top talent reside their skills in the US in the coming years.

However, currently MLS has past Ballon d’Or, Champions League and World Cup winners all playing their football in the league.

Here, we take a look at the biggest names in world football to have played in the MLS.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined LA Galaxy in March after Manchester United terminated his contract, and the Swede has hit form in the US.

At the time of writing, Ibrahimovic has notched 22 goals in 27 games for Galaxy currently sitting as the league’s second top goalscorer.

The striker scored an incredible 40-yard volley against Los Angeles FC on his debut.

Away from MLS Ibrahimovic has won two Eredivisie titles with Ajax, and four Serie A championships while at Inter and AC Milan.

The Swede won one La Liga title with Barcelona, and more recently four Ligue 1 championships with PSG while also winning the Europa League with Man United.

Orlando City SC v Los Angeles Galaxy

David Beckham

David Beckham completed his high profile move to MLS in 2007 from Spanish giants Real Madrid.

Beckham was a catalyst to the growth in the MLS and the midfielder made 98 league appearances for LA Galaxy scoring 18 goals.

Beckham, who won two MLS Cups with Galaxy, was also a six time Premier League winner with Manchester United, where he also lifted the Champions League.

In 1999 Beckham was a Ballon d'Or runner up, while also featuring twice in a Uefa Team of the Year.

During his time in Madrid, Beckham won one La Liga while also helping PSG to a Ligue 1 title.

2012 MLS Cup - Houston Dynamo v Los Angeles Galaxy

Ashley Cole

Ashley Cole completed a move to LA Galaxy in early 2016 following a brief spell in the Serie A with Roma.

Cole has played in MLS on 58 occasions scoring once in both his seasons played in the US and continues to be a regular in the Galaxy line-up.

Having spent the majority of his playing career in England, Cole won the Premier League twice for Arsenal and once for Chelsea.

While at Stamford Bridge Cole also won the Champions League and Europa League, and was widely regarded as one of the best left-back’s in the world and Premier League history.

D.C. United v Los Angeles Galaxy

Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo enjoyed two years in MLS playing for New York FC, where he made 60 appearances, scoring one goal.

Pirlo was joined by Champions League winners David Villa and Frank Lampard in New York where the Italian predominantly played in a deep midfield role.

The Italian won six Serie A titles with AC Milan and Juventus while also winning the Champions League during his time at the San Siro.

In 2006 Pirlo was a part of the Italy’s World Cup winning side and in 2012 was runner-up in the European Championships, the free-kick specialist retired having played 116 times for his national team.

Toronto FC v New York City FC


The only Ballon d’Or winner to feature in this list, Kaka arrived in MLS in 2014 after he signed for Orlando City.

Kaka made 75 MLS appearances, scoring 24 goals featuring as an All Star on three occasions.

Before his stint in the US, Kaka won the Serie A with AC Milan in 2007 and the same year also lifted the Champions League.

As well as winning the Ballon D’Or in 2007 Kaka also received FIFA World Player of the Year, before moving to Real Madrid for a then record breaking £57 million fee.

Kaka won the La Liga and Copa del Rey on one occasion in Spain but struggled to maintain a regular spot in the starting 11.

New York City FC v Orlando City SC

David Villa

Villa moved to MLS in 2014 with New York City, having spent his entire career previously in La Liga.

The Spaniard captained New York City while making 113 appearances, where he would score 74 goals.

In the US, Villa was a four-time MLS All Star and also an MVP.

Villa won the Champions League with Barcelona, and also was a part of three Copa del Rey winning sides at the Camp Nou and also Atletico Madrid.

The striker won the World Cup and two European Championships with Spain while also becoming the nation's leading top goalscorer with 57 goals.

New England Revolution v New York City FC

Thierry Henry

Henry spent four years in MLS having signed for New York Red Bulls in 2010, where he would score 51 goals in 122 appearances.

The Frenchman was in the MLS Best XI on three occasions and was an All Star four times during his time in the US.

Henry won the Premier League twice with Arsenal and during his time with Barcelona he lifted the Champions League trophy once and La Liga on two occasions.

The striker won the World Cup in 1998 with France and two years later was apart of the Euro 2000 winning side.

New York Red Bulls v Portland Timbers

Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney swapped life in the Premier League for MLS when he signed for D.C. United earlier this year.

At the time of writing Rooney has scored 12 times in only 20 games for the US side including an excellent free-kick against Toronto FC.

Before moving to the MLS, Rooney won the Premier League with Man United five times and also won the Champions League and Europa League on one occasion.

While being Man United’s all time top goalscorer, Rooney also shares the same feat for England, with the forward netting a record 53 times in 119 international games.


Frank Lampard

Lampard spent just two years in MLS, after he signed for New York City in 2015, and the midfielder scored 15 goals in 29 games.

In his debut season Lampard was an All Star and retired in 2016, where he transitioned to become Derby County’s manager in the Championship.

Before becoming an MLS player, Lampard was a prominent figure for Chelsea, as he won three Premier League titles, and also lifted the Champions League and Europa League on one occasion, captaining the side on both nights.

In 2005 Lampard received Ballon d'Or Silver award losing out only to Ronaldinho, and the midfielder retired as Chelsea’s current highest ever goalscorer netting 211 times for the Blues.

Steven Gerrard

Gerrard arrived in MLS in 2015 when he signed for LA Galaxy and the midfielder spent two years in the US.

The Englishman scored five goal in 34 MLS appearances featuring as an All Star in his debut season, before retiring, as Gerrard switched to management where he is in charge at Rangers.

Before arriving in the MLS, Gerrard was a Liverpool legend who won the Champions League and FA Cup as captain, while also winning the Uefa Cup in 2001 during the Reds’ treble winning season.

Gerrard captained England to the 2014 World Cup and scored 21 times in 114 international appearances.

International Champions Cup 2015 - Club America v Los Angeles Galaxy

Didier Drogba

Didier Drogba arrived in MLS having signed for Montreal Impact and the striker netted 21 goals in 33 appearances.

The Ivorian was a 2016 All Star, while also winning two player of the month awards in 2015, and the 40-year-old currently plays in the US second league for Phoenix Rising, a club he now owns.

Before his venture into US football, Drogba won four Premier League titles with Chelsea and also won the Champions League with the Blues, scoring in the final.

Drogba won the Süper Lig while at Galatasaray, and the striker is Ivory Coast’s all-time top goalscorer with 65 goals.

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