- 6 Dec 2023
Messi, Beckham and greatest MLS players ever
Major League Soccer has pulled off a major coup with Lionel Messi joining David Beckham's Inter Miami ahead of Barcelona and Al-Hilal. FootballTransfers looks at 10 of the greatest players to have turned up Stateside.
Some ground rules first, though: Only the MLS is considered, so greats of the game like Pele and Franz Beckenbauer, who teamed up at the New York Cosmos in the North American Soccer League the late 1970s, are excluded.
The same goes for imports who have starred in Major League Soccer once they got there - think Bradley Wright-Phillips or Sebastian Giovinco - but who didn't carry the same cachet when they joined the New York Red Bulls and Toronto FC respectively.
So, without much further ado, let's get started…
10) Frank Lampard
Frank Lampard's arrival in MLS was laced with controversy, with the Chelsea club legend originally signed for New York City's 2015 MLS campaign, only to return to England with Manchester City instead. Once he did get going, his stint was short but sweet, with 15 goals and four assists in 31 MLS games.
Some fans demanded refunds on their seasons tickets after Lampard's delayed start, and he didn't win any honours in the USA, but the fact remains that he is the top-scoring midfielder in Premier League history, and that New York signed him remains a coup.
9) Steven Gerrard
Lampard's long-time England teammate, Liverpool talisman Steven Gerrard arrived at LA Galaxy the same summer.
He scored on his debut, assisting former Reds teammate Robbie Keane - who also deserves an honourable mention here - in a 5-2 rout of the San Jose Earthquakes. A Champions League winner with Liverpool in 2005, he hung up his boots after two seasons in California, which took in five goals and 15 assists.
8) Andrea Pirlo
— Michał Moch (@MichalMoch87) May 17, 2022
Andrea Pirlo was a New York City teammate of Lampard's - and indeed former Spain star David Villa's - after leaving Juventus for MLS in 2015. A Champions League winner with AC Milan and World Cup winner with Italy, the deep-lying playmaker enjoyed his two-year stay. "Just being able to go out to dinner at the trendiest restaurants - in Italy, I can't do that,’" he told The New York Times.
7) Hristo Stoichkov
Something of a trailblazer in the early MLS era, Hristo Stoichkov was a Ballon d'Or winner as well as a legend with Barcelona and Bulgaria when he arrived at Chicago Fire from Japanese side Kashiwa Reysol back in 2000.
The left-footed forward's Ballon d'Or had come after helping his nation to fourth place at the USA '94 World Cup, and he re-found his scoring boots on American soil, hitting 22 in 65 games for the Fire before adding five more for DC United and calling it a day in 2003.
6) Thierry Henry
Arguably the greatest player in Premier League history, Thierry Henry - scorer of an Arsenal club record 228 goals and winner of two league titles - arrived at the New York Red Bulls on a free from Barcelona in 2010.
A World Cup winner with France in 1998, he scored 52 goals and assisted 42 more from his 135 games at the Red Bull Arena.
Kaka is another Ballon d'Or winner who ended up plying his trade in America with Orlando City, joining them from AC Milan in 2014 and becoming the highest-paid player in MLS history in the process.
For a long time the only payer not called Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to have won the Ballon d'Or in a generation, the Brazilian attacking midfielder - also a World Cup winner with his nation, in 2002 - dazzled at the Exploria Stadium, and had 44 goal-involvements before retiring from club football in 2014.
4) Wayne Rooney
D.C. United takes on Orlando City tonight.
The last time they played, Wayne Rooney and Luciano Acosta did THIS. pic.twitter.com/cERoJC3ZYm
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) March 31, 2019
Now the manager of DC United, Manchester United and England star Rooney originally turned out for the Black-and-Red as a forward, having joined them from first club Everton in 2018. Of his 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 games, his last-ditch tackle and lofted cross for Luciano Acosta in a 3-2 win over Orlando in August 2018 remains the most memorable.
Harry Kane has now edged ahead of Rooney as England's all-time record goalscorer, but his 253 strikes for Man Utd remain a club record, and he is widely regarded as one of the greatest English players of all time.
3) Zlatan Ibrahimovic
LAFC were Zlatan'd in the first El Tráfico.
Catch the rematch on ESPN at 10:30 ET. pic.twitter.com/zfOl2yAaNW
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 27, 2018
Zlatan Ibrahimovic joined LA Galaxy in 2018 in what looked like the Autumn of his career, announced his arrival with a full-page spread in the Los Angeles Times that read: "Dear Los Angeles, you're welcome," and duly scored a 45-yard volley on his debut to help the Galaxy to a 4-3 win over El Trafico rivals LAFC.
A champion with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United, Zlatan remains a cult hero in LA after his 53 goals in 58 games across his two seasons at the Dignity Health Sports Park.
2) David Beckham
Sixteen years before Messi arrived in MLS, and nine before he became owner of Inter Miami, David Beckham shocked world football when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in the summer of 2007, his arrival lifting the profile of the league and seeing Galaxy's jersey sales climb to record levels.
The reason the Designated Player Rule was invented, Beckham had an impact on and off the field, helping the Galaxy win the MLS Cup in 2011 and 2012. Considered one of the greatest English players of all-time, and perhaps the game's best free-kick taker.
1) Lionel Messi
Inter Miami Messi #10 jersey already out in the wild - at the NBA Finals :basketball:pic.twitter.com/XVgbhm8eOs
— Football Transfers (@Transfersdotcom) June 8, 2023
But as talented as Beckham, Ibrahimovic and Co. are, MLS hasn't yet been able to call the greatest player of all time their own.
Messi will join Beckham in Miami this summer on the expiration of his contract with PSG. He does so as a record seven-time Ballon d'Or winner and one who, now, has a World Cup to his name with Argentina.
A Barcelona club legend, Messi had 778 appearances, 672 goals and 303 assists with Barca - all club records - before leaving for Paris in 2021.
Miami fans are in for a feast!