The 10 greatest soccer stars to play in the MLS, including Pele, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Gareth Bale is set to become the latest major signing for the MLS as he looks to join Los Angeles FC. Question is, who is the greatest name to ever play in the United States?

The likes of Pele, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Cruyff all played in the old North American Soccer League, and MLS has followed in those same footsteps since its formation in 1993.

With that in mind, Planet Sport have put together a list of the 10 greatest stars to play in the US top flight. Some harsh decisions have been made, with notable omissions including Didier Drogba, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Clint Dempsey. Here's who has made the final cut.

David Beckham

There's arguably not been a move to MLS which has garnered as much attention as David Beckham's in 2007.

The Real Madrid midfielder's arrival at LA Galaxy captured the world's imagination and very quickly the MLS side were raking in millions of dollars worth of sponsorship deals and jersey sales. The Designated Player rule, which allows teams to buy players who exceed the division's salary cap, is now commonly known as the Beckham Rule.

On the pitch, Beckham oozed the class he'd displayed at Manchester United and Real Madrid. He won the main attraction in US soccer, the MLS Cup, on two occasions, while winning the Western Conference regular season and playoffs three times each. He made such an impact during his six seasons with the Californian side that a statue was built in his honour outside their stadium.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic spent two years at LA Galaxy and left with a remarkable scoring record of 53 goals in 58 games. On his debut, he scored an outrageous volley from beyond 40 yards out and headed home a stoppage-time winner before a characteristic response after the game. He said: "I heard the crowd saying 'We want Zlatan, we want Zlatan', so I gave them Zlatan."

He won just about all there is to win on an individual level with LA Galaxy. He was named MLS Newcomer of the Year and made it into both the MLS All-Star and Best XI. A quite ridiculous acrobatic backheeled volley was named the league's Goal of the Year, while also being nominated for the FIFA Puskas award.


Who better than a Ballon d'Or winner to make your club's first ever signing? Brazilian midfielder Kaka signed for franchise Orlando City in 2014 on a contract worth around $7.2million per year, making him the highest-earning player in MLS history at the time.

The gifted playmaker consistently shone during his time in the States, scoring 24 goals and assisting 22 in his 75 league appearances. He couldn't turn his individual performances into trophies, though, as Orlando failed to qualify for the MLS Cup playoffs during his three seasons in midfield.

He chose not to sign a new contract at the end of the 2017 campaign and announced his retirement soon afterwards.

Wayne Rooney

Derby County manager Wayne Rooney before the Sky Bet Championship match

Weeks of speculation finally culminated in Rooney joining DC United from Everton in the summer of 2018. The five-time Premier League winner took a side who had finished second bottom in the MLS overall table up to ninth in just one season.

The former Manchester United forward was the club's top scorer in his two campaigns in MLS. Arguably his greatest moments for the Black and Reds both came against Orlando City SC.

The first came in his maiden campaign as he produced a fantastic last-ditch tackle to prevent the opposition scoring in the 96th minute, before sending an outstanding ball over for teammate Luciano Acosta to head home a dramatic winner.

A year later, captain Rooney scored from his own half - not for the first time in his career.

David Villa

In June 2014, Spain's all-time leading goalscorer David Villa became the first player to join new club New York City FC.

The World Cup winner spent four seasons with the Pigeons, becoming their leading appearance maker with 126 in all competitions. He had an incredible scoring record during his time in the US, finding the back of the net on 80 occasions.

Villa left the club in 2018 having failed to achieve a domestic title, with NYCFC twice finishing second in the Conference and never making it past the quarter-final stage of the MLS Cup play-offs.

Individually, Villa won the MVP award in 2016 and was twice named part of the MLS Best XI.

Andrea Pirlo

Andrea Pirlo joined New York City at the end of an illustrious career filled with club, country and individual achievements, but he never quite hit the heights in MLS.

The Italian demonstrated his incredible passing ability in glimpses, as he contributed 18 assists over the three years, but he struggled with the league's physicality.

He told Reuters: "It's a very hard league to play in. It's very physical, there's a lot of running. So there is a lot of physical work and to me, in my mind, too little play."

He brought his glittering career to an end at the expiration of his contract in the US in 2018.

Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry, considered one of the best players in Premier League history, is probably just behind David Beckham in terms of the impact he made on his team and MLS itself.

Henry's move to New York Red Bulls catapulted a side who had finished bottom of the Eastern Conference right to the very top in just one season, while attendance figures soared.

The French striker then helped the Red Bulls a few years later to win the first silverware in their history - the 2013 MLS Supporters' Shield. He consistently contributed throughout his time in the States, scoring 51 and assisting 37 times in 122 games.

Frank Lampard


New York City knew they were getting one of the world's greatest goalscoring midfielders when they signed Frank Lampard and he didn't disappoint in that respect, netting 15 in 31 games.

The team's performances were slightly underwhelming, though, in his first season. With Lampard alongside the two other Designated Players, David Villa and Andrea Pirlo, NYCFC failed to qualify for the MLS Cup play-offs.

They improved in the next campaign and did make the cut, but were emphatically defeated 7-0 over the two-legged semifinal. In the regular season, Lampard scored a hat trick to become the first player at the club to do so.

Robbie Keane

LA Galaxy's official website made the claim in 2016 that Robbie Keane was the greatest signing in MLS history and there are few people who would disagree. The Irishman joined in 2011 as a Designated Player, alongside David Beckham and Landon Donovan.

He helped the Los Angeles side find great success as they won three MLS Cups and, on a personal note, he won the division's MVP award in 2014.

The LA Galaxy captain ended his five-year stint with the club on a goal tally of 105 which places him second on their all-time goalscoring list.

One of those was the match winner in the 111th minute of the MLS Cup play-off final in 2014. He celebrated in his usual acrobatic style.

Landon Donovan

While he may not have the global appeal that others on this list do, it simply wouldn't be right to omit Landon Donovan. The former USA international sits second on the list of MLS all-time goalscorers with 145 and he's also the division's top provider in history, having assisted 136 goals.

The forward won a record six MLS Cups during his career, two of which came in the early 2000s with San Jose Earthquake, before he won another four with LA Galaxy.

It was with Galaxy that he spent most of his career, featuring in 11 different seasons for the Californian side. In 2009, Donovan was named the division's most valuable player and that title was later renamed the Landon Donovan MVP Award in his honour.

READ MORE: Gareth Bale agrees MLS move as Real Madrid star picks Los Angeles over Cardiff City

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