Football (soccer, for our American friends) has begun to surge in the United States, with the MLS snagging some of the best players the world has ever seen.
The sport may be massive in Europe, with clubs like Manchester United and Real Madrid showcasing some of the largest fanbases in any sport. But, clubs in Major League Soccer aren’t too far behind.
The USA has become a magnet for world-class players looking for a new frontier after winning the biggest competitions in football. A number of them have crossed the pond since David Beckham back in the 2000s, so let’s take a look at the top ten foreigners to play in the MLS.
10. Robbie Keane – Irish Forward
Born and bred in the Republic of Ireland, Robbie Keane took the world by storm with his quality, making waves in each team he played for. He remarkably impressed his way up the top European leagues, eventually playing for clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Inter Milan.
The man was iconic, even before he moved to the City of Angels in 2011, but when he did, he took the MLS by storm. Keane racked up awards and trophies with LA Galaxy, snagging the Most Valuable Player in the 2014 season.
He won three MLS Cups with the side, alongside a Supporters’ Shield, providing the US with a genuinely remarkable force in attack scoring 104 goals across his nearly six-year stint.
9. David Villa – Spanish Forward
El Guaje was a legendary striker who provided some of the best highlight reels you’ll ever see on YouTube. All he did was score goals, lots of them, becoming Spain’s all-time leading goalscorer.
Before he moved to New York City FC, he arguably won everything there was to win in football, clinching the World Cup, the Euros, La Liga, the Champions League, and the Club World Cup.
When he moved across the pond to the USA, he immediately redefined the MLS by joining NYCFC as their first-ever player.
With a jaw-dropping 80 goals in just 126 appearances over four years, David Villa was such a world-class striker for the side. It was hardly any surprise when he won the Most Valuable Player award in 2016.
8. Frank Lampard – England Midfielder
The true legend of Stamford Bridge had 211 goals to his name when he made the move from Chelsea to Major League Soccer.
Frank Lampard ranks sixth in Premier League history for total goals scored, which just shows the pedigree of the player who made the move to the MLS. The craziest part? He scored all those goals as a midfielder, not a striker.
In 2015, his reputation preceded him as he left London for NYCFC. With three Premier League titles, a Champions League trophy, and a Europa League trophy under his belt, Frank Lampard’s qualities were clear.
He made a short detour to Manchester City on a loan spell, but his MLS stint hardly disappointed. 15 goals from 29 matches for the Stateside outfit showed he still had the Midas touch from the middle of the park.
7. Kaka – Brazilian Midfielder
The Samba legend won the Ballon d’Or in 2007, cementing his status as one of the best players in the world before he made the switch to Major League Soccer.
Having played for massive European juggernauts like Real Madrid and AC Milan, Kaka won everything in Europe, including the Club World Cup and a World Cup with Brazil.
He moved to Orlando City in 2015, when he might have seemed past his prime. That wasn’t the case though, as he turned up the heat and elevated the league.
The Brazilian legend was known for his footballing artistry and playmaking style, and he did not disappoint. In 75 glittering appearances for Orlando, Kaka’s magical moments will always be looped into the MLS’ best goal highlights.
6. Steven Gerrard – English Midfielder
This Liverpool icon swapped the famed Anfield red uniform for LA Galaxy’s blue after wrapping up a 27-year love affair with Merseyside in 2015. Much like how Frank Lampard was synonymous with Chelsea, Steven Gerrard is Liverpool through and through.
The club legend gave his all to the Reds, before opting for a move across the pond, and it came with quite the fanfare.
One of the biggest faces in football at the time, Gerrard’s transition was as electric as it was geographical.
Fans were excited to watch him play in the MLS, and he did not disappoint them, making 30 remarkable appearances that saw him score 5 goals and provide 12 assists.
He spent just one year at the City of Angels, but his presence certainly increased football viewership in Los Angeles and the USA as a whole.
5. Thierry Henry – French Forward
Some Arsenal fans may still be unhappy with Thierry Henry’s decision to leave the Emirates Stadium for Barcelona and the Camp Nou, but he’s still a club icon.
A true goalscoring machine with more the 24 goals across five Premier League seasons in a row, Henry was irreplaceable for the Gunners. After joining the Catalans, he secured 7 glittering trophies in just three seasons before joining the MLS.
His move to the New York Red Bulls in 2010 was a reason for fans to get very excited. This was a player who had led Arsenal to an invincible season, where they didn’t lose a single Premier League game.
This was the player who won the World Cup with France. He was legendary in Europe and he quickly became legendary in the MLS, scoring 51 goals across just five years. His impact in the USA has continued, as he became the manager of Montreal Impact after his retirement.
4. Wayne Rooney – English Forward
Wayne Rooney is arguably one of the best-ever players to grace the MLS. He tattooed his name in English football lore, becoming Manchester United’s all-time top scorer along with five Premier League titles and a Champions League trophy.
After leaving the Red Devils for Everton, DC United came calling for the legendary forward, and he answered.
Rooney was an instant marvel in the MLS, retaining his ability to provide goals, as he scored 25 in 52 appearances for DC. His best-ever performance came in 2019 against Orlando City, where he scored an absolutely outrageous 60-yard stunner from his own half.
He went on to retire and become DC United’s manager, after a short stint with Derby County, ad he has been with the side that brought him to the MLS ever since.
3. Zlatan Ibrahimovic – Swedish Forward
His ego precedes his presence, which is no mean feat. After all, this is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. With his legendary goalscoring quality showcasing itself, the Swedish giant played for some of the biggest clubs in Europe, winning 12 league titles across six different countries.
At the age of 40, he snagged the Serie A title with AC Milan, leaving the MLS and returning to his old club to rejuvenate them. But what about his time Stateside?
The man did not just score goals in the MLS. Instead, he constantly found ways to stun his opponents, impress his teammates, and shock every spectator.
He scored all types of goals while at LA Galaxy, including overhead kicks, volleys, and other stunners that could only have come from him.
53 goals in 58 games told AC Milan he was still at the top of his game, and they managed to get him back after his ruthless demolishing of teams in the MLS.
2. David Beckham – English Midfielder
Who doesn’t know David Beckham? Sex symbol for two decades. Married the Spice Girl Victoria Beckham. Turned free-kick-taking into a form of art. If you didn’t know the global football icon, then you most certainly have heard of his wife, who was a global pop star.
This super celebrity played with Manchester United and Real Madrid, before becoming one of the biggest-ever players to make the switch to the MLS in 2007.
When he opted to play for LA Galaxy, it was arguably the most high-profile signing America had ever seen in football.
He might have continued making waves in fashion and underwear modelling, but Beckham spoke on the pitch too, playing 98 games and leading his club to two MLS Cups. Even after retiring, he remained in the US, setting up business as the co-owner of expansion team Inter Miami CF.
1. Lionel Messi – Argentine Forward
We know he just got to the MLS, but you really cannot compare the presence of anyone else on this list to that of Lionel Messi.
The entire football world (not exaggerating) stood still in shock when the Argentine legend announced that he had opted to join bottom-of-the-league Inter Miami CF.
Ticket prices skyrocketed as he made his debut with the club, with the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner being watched by some of the biggest celebrities in the USA.
Since he joined, the Herons have not lost a single match! They have a near-perfect record of ten wins and one draw in eleven games, and they’ve already won the Leagues Cup!
In those eleven games, Mesi has scored 11 goals and sprinkled 9 assists, showing just how genuinely world-class he is, by far.
At the time of this writing, Inter Miami are in the final of the US Open Cup, and they could very well win their second trophy ever, because of Messi.