Since its inaugural season in 1996, Major League Soccer has seen many world class players join the league. With the idea of promoting and publicizing MLS, teams began to sign global stars who were playing in some of the best leagues in Europe.
That is why we decided to make a list of 20 world class stars who have played in MLS. It should be noted that those who played in the United States before the first season of MLS will not be taken into consideration. So you will not see players, like Pelé or Franz Beckenbauer, on this list as they played in the former North American Soccer League (NASL). Nor will we mention famous Americans, such as Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, or Michael Bradley.
Leaving the introduction aside, we present to you 20 world class icons that played in MLS.
20. Javier Hernández
Chicharito became the newest edition to MLS after signing for the Los Angeles Galaxy ahead of the 2020 season. He was signed from La Liga side, Sevilla, with the idea of replacing Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the leading striker.
He has had an outstanding career, playing for European giants Manchester United and Real Madrid, and winning numerous titles along the way. In addition, he also played in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen and returned to the Premier League to join West Ham.
19. Juan Pablo Ángel
The former Colombian international is fondly remembered for his time in the Premier League where he played almost seven seasons with Aston Villa. In 2007, he was signed by the New York Red Bulls where he would regain his goal scoring form.
Along with the Red Bulls, he would also go on to play for the Los Angeles Galaxy and Chivas USA during his MLS years.
18. Fredrik Ljungberg
The former Swiss midfielder became one of the best in the world while playing in the Premier League for Arsenal. During his time with the Gunners, he would win seven trophies, which included two league titles. After a brief spell with West Ham, he moved in 2009 to MLS where he signed for the Seattle Sounders.
Despite suffering some injuries, he played many games with the Sounders and even helped them win the U.S. Open Cup in his first season. In 2010, he was traded to Chicago Fire where he played 15 games before returning to Europe to sign for Scottish side, Celtic.
17. Robbie Keane
Ireland's all-time leading goal scorer is one of the most successful international players in MLS. He had brief spells with Inter Milan and Liverpool, but he made his name while playing for Tottenham where he played a good portion of his European career. In 2011, he moved to MLS to sign for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
He played for the Galaxy until 2016, which included a brief loan spell to Aston Villa in 2012. During that time, he won three MLS titles, was MLS MVP in 2014, and the team's Most Valuable Player in four seasons.
16. Cuauhtémoc Blanco
Having signed for the Chicago Fire in 2007, he played in MLS for three season, with a brief hiatus in 2008 to play the Liga MX Apertura playoffs with Santos Laguna.
He was named MVP in the MLS All-Star Game in 2008. That year, the league's best player took on West Ham and defeated the English side 3-2. In that game, Blanco scored a goal and gave an assist.
15. Carlos Valderrama
"El Pibe" was an incredible talent and had the privilege of playing in three World Cups with Colombia. He joined Major League Soccer in 1996, the league's inaugural season, where he signed for the Tampa Bay Mutiny. In his seven years in MLS, he also played for the Miami Fusion and Colorado Rapids.
He was a revolution in the United States and, although he did not win a championship, he won several individual awards. He was voted the league's MVP in 1996 and is the player with the most assists in MLS history.
14. Rafael Márquez
He won several titles during his playing career in Europe, which included two Champions League titles with Barcelona. In 2010, despite having various offers from teams in Europe, Márquez moved to MLS to signed for the New York Red Bulls.
He played three seasons for the Red Bulls before leaving in 2012 to sign for León, with whom he would win two titles in Liga MX.
13. Alessandro Nesta
The former Italian defender won all kinds of trophies while playing for Lazio and AC Milan. He is one of few players who has won the Champions League and the World Cup in his career. In 2012, Nesta signed as a free agent with Canadian side, Montreal Impact.
In his time with the Impact, the club would win the Canadian Cup and reached the MLS playoffs in 2013 where they were eliminated in the first round.
12. David Villa
He was part of Spain's golden generation that won Euro 2008 and 2012 (though he moved Euro 2012 due to injury), and the World Cup in 2010; as well as being Spain's all-time leading goal scorer. At club level, he won several titles, which included the Champions League in 2011 with Barcelona where he scored in the 3-1 victory over Manchester United at Wembley.
In 2015, he signed for New York City FC, who were about to play their first MLS season that year, and quickly became one of the best strikers in MLS. He was named MLS MVP in 2016 and won the team's Most Valuable Player award in three of his four seasons with the club.
11. Wayne Rooney
England's all-time leading goal scorer won numerous trophies while playing for Manchester United, which included five Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2008. He returned to his boyhood club, Everton, where he would play only one season before moving to Major League Soccer to sign for DC United.
He arrived in Washington for the 2018 season and quickly became the team's best player. He scored 12 goals in 21 games, was named the team's MVP, and helped the club reach the playoffs that season. He played another year with DC United before returning England to join Derby County.
10. Bastian Schweinsteiger
A Bayern Munich legend and World Cup winner with Germany, Schweinsteiger played his final seasons in Major League Soccer. He signed for the Chicago Fire in 2017 after having played in the Premier League with Manchester United.
He failed to win the MLS Cup championship in his three seasons with the Fire, but he was one of the team's best players and took part in two MLS All-Star games. He retired after the 2019 season.
9. Frank Lampard
He won numerous trophies during his time with Chelsea, which included three Premier titles and the Champions League in 2012. After a short stint with Manchester City, he signed in 2015 for New York City FC, which was their inaugural season.
During his almost two seasons in MLS, he played 31 games and scored a total of 15 goals. Despite his good form, Lampard decided to retire in 2017 and soon after began his coaching career.
The former World Cup winner enjoyed a very successful career where he played for AC Milan and Real Madrid. He won two Champions League titles and was awarded the Ballon d'Or in 2007.
After more than a decade in Europe, he signed for Orlando City in 2014, but was loaned out to São Paulo as the club would not begin play until 2015. He played three seasons in Orlando and took part in each All-Star game, being named MVP in the 2015 edition.
7. Didier Drogba
He began his career in France and later moved to the Premier League to sign for Chelsea where he would become one of the best strikers in the world. He won several trophies with the North London club, which included four Premier League titles and the Champions League in 2012. After short stints in China, Turkey, and a brief return to Chelsea, Drogba signed for the Montreal Impact in 2015.
He played two season in Canada, the first of which he scored 11 goals in 11 games. In his second season, he would help the club reach the playoffs where they would lose to Canadian rivals, Toronto FC. After the 2016 season, he would leave the Impact, but it surprisingly would not be his last North American team as he would later play for the Phoenix Rising of the United Soccer League (USL).
6. Steven Gerrard
He played his entire European career with Liverpool. Despite never winning the Premier League title, he still won several trophies with his boyhood club, which included the Champions League title in 2005 where they came back to beat AC Milan after being down 0-3 at halftime. At the conclusion of the 2014/2015 season, he left Liverpool to sign for the Los Angeles Galaxy.
He played two seasons in MLS and helped the Galaxy reach the playoffs. After the 2016 season, he announced his retirement and would move back to England to begin his coaching career.
5. Hugo Sánchez
Mexico's greatest player got his first taste of American soccer long before MLS began. He played for the San Diego Sockers between 1979 and 1980 before moving to Spain to sign for Atlético de Madrid, and then Real Madrid, where he made his name as a world class striker.
After a successful career in Europe, he moved to the United States in 1996 for MLS' inaugural season where he joined the Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas). At 37, he no longer had the same skills that made him one of the world's best, but he still managed to score 11 goals in 25 games. The team reached the conference semifinals that season, but was eliminated by the Kansas City Wiz.
4. Thierry Henry
A World Cup and Euro winner with France, he would become one of the best strikers in the world during his time at Arsenal. He won all kinds of trophies in his club career, which included the Premier League with the Gunners and Champions League with Barcelona.
In 2010, he moved to Major League Soccer where he signed for the New York Red Bulls. He spent the next five seasons with the Red Bulls, except for a brief loan back to Arsenal in 2012. During his years in New York, the club finished first in the Eastern Conference on two occasions and won the Supporters Shield (trophy given to the MLS team with the best regular season record) in 2013. He retired at the conclusion of the 2014 season.
3. Andrea Pirlo
Everyone remembers Pirlo's incredible ability with ball, whether it was making passes to his teammates or taking free kicks. After a successful European career, which included winning two Champions League titles and the World Cup, he decided to play his final years in MLS.
He joined New York City FC in 2015 and continued to demonstrate his great talent. After the 2017 season, he announced his retirement due to physical problems.
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
He arrived in Major League Soccer promising to score lots of goals and he did not disappoint. After signing for the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2018 from Manchester United, he immediately it the ground running by scoring two goals in his first game against city rivals Los Angeles FC.
Although he did not win the MLS championship, he received many distintions in his two seasons with the Galaxy. He was named the team's MVP and won the MLS Best Goal award in 2018. He ended his time in MLS with the incredible mark of 53 goals scored in 58 games.
1. David Beckham
His move to the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 completely changed the perception of MLS around the world. He was not the best player to play in MLS, but he was a global icon that transcended sports, which gave the league great publicity and credibility. What made his signing even more remarkable was that he was playing for Real Madrid at the time, where he was a regular starter and an instrumental player, yet decided to leave one of the best clubs in the world to join a league that was still relatively new and unfamiliar.
During his years in MLS, which included two seperate loan spells to AC Milan, he won many individual and collective awards. That included two MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012. Unlike other players on this list, he would not finish his career in Major League Soccer. He signed for PSG in January 2013 and only played five months with the French club before announcing his retirement at the end of that season. Beckham continues to be involved in MLS as he is one of the owners of Inter Miami, who are one of the new franchises for the 2020 season.