What a difference 30 years makes, especially for U.S. Soccer and the USMNT program. In 1994 only 7 players had professional contracts prior to the start of MLS in 1996. When the league kicked off it provided a place for American soccer players to play and help springboard many to other opportunities overseas.
Still, be it before MLS or after, American soccer players have played in some unlikely destinations. Alexi Lalas, who is featured in our list, was able to play two years in Serie A for Padova prior to the start of MLS. Another World Cup hero Tony Meola was on the New York Jets roster as a placekicker after the 94 World Cup.
This list will feature some pretty odd destinations in the careers of many top American soccer players. The reasons for why they were there were varied, but it will surprise many to find out that some USMNT players played at these clubs.
Alexi Lalas and Joe-Max Moore - Emelec Ecuador 1997
Back when the league kicked off in 1996 the MLS offseason was a ridiculous 4 months prior to the start of each season. In order to stay in competitive shape for World Cup qualifiers or the Gold Cup, Alexi Lalas and Joe- Max Moore went on loan to Emelec of Ecuador in 1997. Lalas has called it the hottest place he ever played, while Moore scored 2 goals in the Ecuadorian playoffs. The irony here is that Moore would eventually transfer to Everton of the Premier League just 2 years later!
Brad Friedel - Galatasaray 1995
Brad Friedel had some bad luck early on in his career as he was denied an English work permit to move to Newcastle and Nottingham Forest. This led him to play in Turkey for powerhouse Galatasaray for 1 season. Friedel, as was the case throughout his career, was great in goal, playing 30 games in his lone season, winning the Turkish Cup. The big man would return to MLS briefly before moving to England where he had an incredible career.
Cobi Jones - Vasco Da Gama 1995
Following the success of the United States in the 1995 Copa America, Cobi caught the eye of Brazilian giants Vasco Da Gama, where he played six months prior to the start of the MLS season. Jones only played 4 games and scored 1 goal. It was a pit stop, but one Jones cherishes as a great experience.
Mix Diskerud - Ulsan Hyundai FC 2018
How does a Manchester City player end up in South Korea? Ask Mix Diskerud who will get bonus points for two odd things, 1. For some reason that no one can explain, Diskerud signed a 4-year deal with Manchester City following 3 unproductive years with NYCFC. Mix was quickly loaned out anywhere and ended up in South Korea where he actually played well. 8 goals in 48 games in his two years. Diskerud is one of the oddest cases in USMNT player history, a midfielder at one time touted by Manchester United, he has played in Norway, USA, Korea, Sweden, and Belgium.
Freddy Adu - Most of his post Benfica career
The sad and tragic story that is Freddy Adu is one that USMNT fans shrug at and at times can’t wrap their heads around. Adu showed great talent at the international youth level, and was a boy, 14, among men in MLS, but still held his own. His career found meaning when he moved to Benfica in 2011, but after a promising start it all collapsed.
Adu would spend the majority of his career getting kicked out or terminating his contracts in the following destinations: Aris Thessaloniki (Greece), Çaykur Rizespor (Turkey), Bahia (Brazil), FK Jagodina (Serbia), Kuopion Palloseura (Finland), Las Vegas Lights (USA DIV II), and most recently Sweden.