Major League Soccer (MLS) was founded in 1993 as ‘part and parcel’ of the United States successfully hosting the FIFA World Cup Soccer finals in 1994. The men’s professional soccer league currently consists of 27 teams – 24 in the U.S. and 3 in Canada. Regulated by the United States Soccer Federation, the league is headquartered in Midtown, Manhattan, New York.
Though only operational for 28 years, Major League Soccer has seen players of international renown and even superstar status represent its various teams. Let’s take a look at the ‘Top 10’ most famous MLS players.
Now lets look at the most famous MLS players
No 10 Landon Donovan, LA Galaxy
When Major League Soccer (MLS) honors naming its Most Valuable Player trophy award after you, then you know you have had a great career. Widely considered the greatest American Soccer player of all time, Donovan had quite a diverse career.
A forward who principally operated as a ‘Number 10’, Donovan signed for German ‘Bundesliga’ side Bayer 04 Leverkusen in 1999. Although much of his career at Leverkusen was spent back on loan to the San Jose Earthquakes, his initial 6 year stint at this famed European club marks him down as player who was internationally recognized. In 2005, Donovan would move back to the U.S and signed with arguably the United States most famous club, LA Galaxy.
Later returning on loan to European giants Bayern Munich before undertaking short loan roles in the English Premier League in 2010 and 2012 with Everton FC. Donovan would retire as a player in 2014 albeit with a ‘cameo comeback’ for LA Galaxy in 2016.
Landon Timothy Donovan is now the manager, co-founder and vice-president of Soccer operations for USL Championship side San Diego Loyal SC. His impressive record for club and country can be seen here.
No. 9 Didier Drogba, Montreal Impact
Country: Ivory Coast
The first of two ‘Chelsea’ entries to make an impact on MLS. Didier Drogba was an old school ‘power house’ center forward for the modern era who terrorized defenses. During his MLS career with Montreal Impact in 2015-2016 he would score 21 goals in two seasons. His record also enviable at both Club and International Level:
For the Ivory Coast, Didier would score 65 goals in 104 appearances making him the Ivory Coast’s all-time leading goal scorer. During which he led them to their first World Cup Finals appearance in 2006, in which he scored their first goal!
Other major notable accomplishments included winning:
- The Premier League with Chelsea in 2004/5, 2005/6, 2009/10, 2014/15.
- The FA Cup with Chelsea in 2006/7, 2008/9, 2009/10, 2011/12.
- The Football League Cup with Chelsea in 2004/5, 2006/7, 2014/15.
- And the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea 2011–12.
Individually, he was also (amongst other) the first African player to score 100 Premier League goals, a two-time African Player of the Year in 2006 and 2009, as well as the 2003/4 Ligue 1, Player of the Year.
No 8 Frank Lampard Jr., New York City FC (NYCFC)
‘Frank Lampard Lampard’ as the terrace chant goes was born into a soccer family. His father Frank Lampard Sr played at West Ham Utd where Frank Jr started his career. His uncle, Harry Redknapp, managed West Ham, whilst his cousin Jamie Redknapp captained Liverpool and Spurs. Lampard Jr epitomized and revolutionized the ultimate modern day ‘box to box’ midfielder when he became probably the first midfielder in the world to get 20+ goals a season, continuously from midfield. His trademark was to arrive late in the box at Chelsea so defenders couldn’t pick him up and before you knew it the ball was in ‘the back of the net’. Frank Lampard would also do the same for England.
Amongst some of his most notable achievements are
- During his career at Chelsea he won 3 EPL league titles, 1 European Champions League, One Europa League, 4 FA Cup Titles and 2 League Cups
- He was also named the Football Writers Player of the Year in 2005 and ultimately became Chelsea’s leading all-time scorer with 211 goals in all competitions.
- In 2013, Frank became the 8th player to play in 100 or more games for England.
On the 24th of July 2014, NYCFC signed Frank Lampard for two years as a free agent. They had signed some player and a modern day legend. During his MLS career, Lampard would score 15 goals and three assists over two seasons with NYCFC.
No. 7 David Villa, New York City FC (NYCFC)
Spain has produced some of the most technically gifted players in World Soccer. In David Villa they also produced one of the greatest goal scoring wingers of all time and one of the most famous MLS players of all time. Operating in the famed No 7 shirt and position, it is often argued Villa was Messi’s greatest strike partner when they played together at FC Barcelona. Certainly, Villa’s record is extraordinary be it at club or country level. His astonishing record amongst other includes the following achievements:
- Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer (ahead of Raul and Fernanado Torres) with 59 goals and also 98 Caps.
- Most goals in World Cup finals for Spain (9)
- First Spaniard to ever reach 50 international goals.
- UEFA Euro (2008) winner and tournament top scorer with Spain.
- FIFA World Cup (2010) champion with Spain
- 3 La Liga Titles – (2011) (2013) Barcelona, (2014) Atletico Madrid
- Champions League winner (2011) – Barcelona.
And a whole other list of accolades viewable here
Is it any wonder he would carry his fierce-some talents into MLS?
Quite simply, No!
Villas career with NYCFC from 2015-2018 would see him score the sides first ever goal as well 77 goals in total during his time there.
No 6 Andrea Pirlo, New York City FC (NYCFC)
Andrea Pirlo is nothing short of a ‘midfield maestro’ and one of the classiest and most successful midfielders of the modern era. Notably for AC Milan from 2001-2011 and Juventus from 2011-2015 before transferring to NYCFC from 2015-2017.
Pirlo’s International Career saw him attain over 116 Caps for Italy over 14 years. Winning the 2006 World Cup Final with them, as well as the ‘man of the match’ award in the process!
Pirlo’s main notable achievements in Europe saw him record 6 ‘Serie A’ title wins, including five in a row with Juventus between 2011 and 2015 and 2 European Champions League Titles in 2002/3 and 2006/7 with AC Milan.
His MLS career was a similar success with him scoring 60 goals over three seasons and leading the club to the playoffs in his 2nd and 3rd seasons.
He currently has returned to Italy to manage Juventus.
No 5 Wayne Rooney, DC United
The only D.C. United star to make the Top 10 comes in at No.5. Wayne Rooney helped to raise the standard of play during his time in the nation’s capital. Perhaps the most famous moment he will be remembered for in MLS can be viewed here during the 2018 season.
At International level, Rooney on the 12th of February 2003 became England’s youngest ever goal scorer at that time at an age of just 17 years and 110 days. He is also England’s all-time leading goal scorer (53) and second most-capped player (120).
Rooney’s most notable accomplishments however came during his 13 year tenure with Manchester United between 2004 and 2017. Another player with a list of accolades too long to mention. It’s best to check out the exhaustive record here
During Rooney’s MLS career with DC United between 2018 and 2019, he scored 23 goals in 48 appearances.
No 4 Kaka, Orlando City
Watching Kaka play was quite simply like watching ‘poetry in motion’. Indeed, Kaka was the last player to win the World player of the year award or ‘Ballon d’Or’ in 2007 before Messrs. Messi and Ronaldo dominated it for the next decade.
Internationally, Kaka was a Member of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning side, as well as the 2005 and 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup-winning teams.
At Club level Kaka’s list of honors is again too long to mention so just take a look at it here.
On Moving to Orlando City, ‘Ricardo Izecson dos Santos Leite’ to use his real name also scored 24 goals and had 21 assists in his three seasons as a player there between 2014 and 2017.
For this player the joy was not in what he achieved – but simply in the artistry he displayed!
No 3 Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls
One of the best players in Premier League history and an inaugural member of the ‘Premier League Hall of Fame’, Thierry Henry was an unstoppable force both abroad and in the MLS.
Internationally with France, Henry was:
- A 1998 World Cup Champion.
- Their all-time leading goal scorer with 51 goals.
- A UEFA Euro 2000 winner and a FIFA Confederations Cup champion in 2003.
At club level, Henry would be considered by most ‘Gunners’, Arsenal’s greatest player. He was their leading ever goal scorer with 228 goals in all competitions, a double Premier League winner and a double FA Cup winner. He was also a member of Arsenal’s “Invincibles” – the 2003-04 unbeaten Champions.
On his move to FC Barcelona, Henry would win ‘La Liga’ twice as well as the European Cup as part of FC Barcelona’s 2008-09 ‘treble’ (Copa del Rey, La Liga and The Champions League) winning team.
During his MLS career from 2010-2014, Henry would score 51 goals and win the 2013 Supporters’ Shield.
Fun Fact – Henry has been named the most difficult striker to play against by too many defenders to mention. Probably most notably by Jaimie Carragher of Liverpool. One such reason is provided here
No 2 Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy
Quite frankly if this or any list was left up to the incorrigible Swede, Zlatan would put himself top. Indeed when Le Bron James arrived in LA, Zlatan welcomed him by saying “L.A now has a King as well as a God’
For this reason, it is perhaps best to highlight this players skills a little differently:
- Firstly in his own word please see https://www.espn.com/soccer/blog/the-toe-poke/65/post/2962023/zlatan-ibrahimovic-35-best-quotes-as-manchester-united-release-him
- Secondly with his remarkable skills, see:
As with virtually all arrogantly great players, Zlatan could however back his statements. Indeed his MLS career with LA Galaxy from 2018-2020 saw him ‘Net’ an amazing 52 goals in 56 games! So it is very arguable Ibrahimovic should actually go down as the most talented player to ever play in MLS for what he accomplished. As other stars on this list were largely somewhere past their primes when they did so.
No 1 David Beckham, LA Galaxy
David Beckham receives top spot as he is the man that quite simply put MLS on the map and the most famous MLS player! Shocking the world with his move in 2007, his model looks, ‘Spice Girl” wife and international fame, MLS was really brought to the fore and he is without doubt its most famous player.
His No1 status was cemented further when he became a founder and co-owner of the newly formed Inter Miami, with a desire to elevate the MLS to greater heights.
Career wise, Beckham was also a legend. You can check his full record here
But a brief synopsis of it is summarized here:
Internationally: Beckham Captained England 59 times and is the only Englishman to score in three World Cups. Scoring 17 World Cup goals in total.
Club career: Beckham won amongst other 6 EPL titles, 2 FA Cups, and one Champions League Cup with Manchester United. Moreover, he would also become a famed ‘Galactico’ after his €35 million transfer to Real Madrid, where he would win the Spanish Super Cup in 2003/4 and La Liga in 2006/7
During his MLS career for LA Galaxy between 2007 and 2012. Beckham scored 98 career goals and was a back-to-back MLS Cup Champion in 2010/11 and 2011/12.
A fan and participator of more or less all sports up to University level from Burnley, England. I am now writing as a freelance sports journalist. My speciality in particular lies in global Football (soccer) – which I played to a semi-professional level.