The top 10 players to have played in the MLS since the 2000s.

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Major League Soccer is set to welcome Lionel Messi this summer, but he certainly won’t be the first iconic player to grace the league. We have identified the top 10 renowned figures who have already played in the competition during the modern era.

Top 10 Players to have played in the MLS

10. Andrea Pirlo

The world champion and one of the greatest playmakers in football history made the decision to accept a yearly offer of eight million dollars from New York City FC in 2015. He arrived in July and a month later finished seventh in the voting for the best player in Europe. At that time, NYCFC had a talented team with other notable players, but they underperformed in the playoffs.

However, Pirlo himself showcased his skill and creativity, executing exquisite passes and crosses, although he only scored one goal in 60 games. He also became the first MLS player to be included in the FIFPro World’s Best XI for the previous year. As time passed, he faced increasing health issues and eventually retired, but even towards the end of his career in America, he continued to impress.

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9. David Villa

He won the Spanish title with Barcelona in 2011, 2013, and 2014 with Atletico. He then left to join a new project in New York City. He spent time on loan at Melbourne City in Australia, which has the same owner, before starting to play in North America in 2015. Villa’s career is impressive, having won numerous titles including a world or European title.

He is considered one of the best players to have ever played in MLS. He was immediately made captain of NYCFC and scored their first goal in their opening win. In total, he scored 80 goals in five seasons and reached over 400 career goals, a feat achieved by only a few players.

8. Frank Lampard

In July 2014, Lampard left Chelsea and agreed to join NYCFC. However, he was only able to join the team as a rookie in March 2015. In the meantime, he joined Manchester City, as both clubs are owned by the same group. It was later revealed that Lampard had never actually signed a contract with NYCFC, so he played the entire 2014/15 season for City.

Top 10 Players to have played in the MLS
Top 10 Players to have played in the MLS: #8 Frank Lampard

As a result, fans of the New York club chanted “where is Lampard?” before the draft and demanded a refund for their season tickets. Lampard eventually made his debut for NYCFC in August 2015. At that time, the team also had Pirlo and Villa on their roster. Lampard participated in the complete 2016 season, but he decided to retire in November because of health problems. Throughout the season, he played in 29 matches in the MLS and managed to score an impressive total of 15 goals.

7. Didier Drogba

Drogba joined Montreal in 2015 and had an impressive record of 21 goals in 33 games. He had a strong start, winning the Best Player award in September, and ended the season with 11 goals in the same number of games. However, he faced health issues and had a disagreement with the coach, resulting in him being left out of the starting lineup for a match.

As a result, he decided not to participate in the game at all. Gradually, he distanced himself from the team but continued to play overseas. He ultimately retired at the age of 40 with Phoenix Rising, where he was also a minority owner. During his time there, the club aimed to elevate the USL to the MLS level, but unfortunately, they were unsuccessful.

6. Kaka

The Ballon d’Or winner, who previously played for Real Madrid, returned to AC Milan but then decided to leave Europe. Despite receiving offers from Brazil, he opted for sunny Florida in the summer of 2014. He only played for half a year on loan for his hometown team, Sao Paulo, as Orlando City did not join the MLS until the 2015 season. Throughout his time in the United States, Kaka played a total of 75 games and scored 24 goals. He ultimately retired in 2017, declining offers from both Sao Paulo and AC Milan.

5. Thierry Henry

The French player has become a prominent figure in MLS. He joined the league in 2010 after leaving Barcelona and spent five seasons with the New York Red Bulls, with a short loan period at Arsenal in 2012. During his time with the Red Bulls, he scored 51 goals in 122 games. After retiring as a player, he went on to coach Montreal from 2019 to 2021.

Top 10 Players to have played in the MLS: #5 Thierry Henry

4. Wayne Rooney

Rooney served as both a leader and captain for DC United, scoring 23 goals and providing numerous assists in 48 games. One memorable moment was when he prevented a counter-attack by making an impressive tackle after his team needed a goal, and then delivered a long-range pass to Acosta who scored. He concluded his playing career at Derby County and later transitioned into the role of head coach. Since July of the previous year, the renowned Manchester United player has been in charge of DC United.

3. Steven Gerrard

Gerrard spent his entire career wearing the iconic red Liverpool jersey and serving as the team’s captain for the majority of that time. However, he did have a brief stint as a player for LA Galaxy. In January 2015, he agreed to a contract that lasted for one and a half years. Unfortunately, his time with the team was not entirely successful. Gerrard later expressed his dissatisfaction with the extensive travel and weather changes he experienced while playing in different cities. On November 6, 2016, he played his final game before being eliminated from the playoffs.

2. David Beckham

MLS and football in America have experienced a surge in popularity, thanks to the arrival of David Beckham from Real Madrid to the Galaxy. Beckham’s status as a global superstar has transcended the boundaries of sport, attracting people to stadiums and screens and popularizing soccer in the USA. While other legends like Pele, Beckenbauer, Cruyff, Matthuus, Stoickov, and Valderrama have also played in North America in the past, Beckham has become the face of football for Americans.

Top 10 Players to have played in the MLS
Top 10 Players to have played in the MLS: #2 David Beckham

During his six seasons in California, he played 98 games and was the only one among these legends to win the MLS in 2011 and 2012. Currently, Beckham is one of the owners of Inter Miami, where Lionel Messi and Sergio Busquets are now playing. While Messi may have a similar impact on the competition, Beckham is credited with elevating MLS from the bottom to the top, earning him eternal gratitude from America.

1. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Despite his talkative nature, the Swede’s actions speak louder. He has an impressive record of scoring 52 goals in just 56 MLS games. His performance has been exceptional. In his first appearance in the Met derby against Los Angeles FC, he came off the bench and scored two goals, including a remarkable 40-yard volley. He achieved his first hat-trick in July 2018 and later scored his 500th goal in a breathtaking acrobatic manner against Toronto.

Another noteworthy season was 2019, where he scored a hat-trick to defeat LAFC again in the derby and played a significant role in the 7-2 victory over Kansas City. While Ibrahimovic proclaimed himself as the best player in the league, he consistently proved it on the field every week. He even broke the club’s record for most goals in a season with 26. However, despite his achievements, the Galaxy was eliminated in the play-off semi-finals, leading Zlatan to announce his departure from the team.

“You wanted Zlatan, I gave you Zlatan. You have nothing to show for it. Now you can watch baseball again,” he tweeted.

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