Major League Soccer has had some incredible players in their short history, a few have even won the World Cup. In 1996 the league opened its doors and showcased the talents of Carlos Valderrama, Jorge Campos, Marco Etcheverry, Roberto Donadoni, and Hugo Sánchez to name a few. As the years progressed stars like David Beckham, Carlos Vela, Diego Valeri, Sebastian Giovinco, and Nani have suited up for MLS sides.
There is one thing all these great stars have not won and that is a World Cup, of the players from all over the world that have played in MLS only 12 can claim they are World Cup winners. All 12 entered their MLS careers as World Cup winners, the league has never had a World Cup winner while said player was playing in the league.
While the list boasts some incredible players, their MLS careers are mixed bags as many had fairly successful careers in the league and others… well not so much. Let’s review all of the World Cup winners who have played in MLS!
Branco – Brazil – MetroStars – 1997
The first World Cup winner to ever play in MLS was from the reigning champions at the time, Brazil (1994). Branco was a top left back, once, who came to MLS in 1997 to play for the ailing MetroStars. To say that Branco was a flop is an understatement. He played in only 11 games and scored 1 goal, he was sent off twice, once for spitting at his opponent. He chained smoked, was overweight, and was let go quickly as the 97 season ended.
Lothar Matthäus – Germany – MetroStars – 2000
The definition of everything MLS does not want to be. Matthäus MLS journey began shortly after the 1999 Champions League Final against Manchester United, you can say that the 38-year-old, 1990 World Cup winner, was one of the best players on the field until he was subbed out. When he did arrive in New York to be presented to the media he told local media, while he was posing for pictures in Times Square, he was a German basketball player signed by the Knicks. It seemed to him that playing in MLS was a joke, it looked that way, he played 16 games, when he was “injured” he was photographed in St. Tropez getting a tan. Incredibly Matthäus speaks wonders about the emerging MLS as a pundit in Germany. Go figure…
Youri Djorkaeff – France- MetroStars – 2005
1998 World Cup winner Youri Djorkaeff came to the MetroStars during what can be considered the dark times of MLS. The league was stagnant, and the pre-Beckham era saw Djorkaeff play in front of nearly empty stadiums, still the elegance, the skill, and the vision was all there. Djorkaeff played 2 seasons with the MetroStars as they turned into the Red Bulls, and his positive experience led the way to the signing of his friend Thierry Henry.
Denilson – Brazil – F.C. Dallas – 2007
Denilson won the World Cup with Brazil in 2002 after being the highest transferred player ever when he moved from Sao Paulo to Real Betis in 1998. By 2007 he was an unwanted commodity having bounced around France and Saudi Arabia, still on the national team he showed incredible talent. He came to F.C. Dallas with high hopes but unfortunately, he did not play well at all. He scored 1 goal in 8 games. He is considered one of the biggest DP flops and worst signings in MLS history.
Thierry Henry – France – New York Red Bulls – 2010
One the best players the league ever signed, the 1998 World Cup winner was gold for MLS and the Red Bulls. 51 goals in 122 games, but above all else, an example, a leader, the definition of professionalism. Henry gave MLS instant credibility, to prove MLS was no retirement league, he went back on loan to his beloved Arsenal in 2012 and scored 1 goal in 4 matches.
Alessandro Nesta – Italy – Montreal Impact – 2012
The 2006 World Cup winner, Nesta came to MLS at the tail end of this career, but he was a mark of class and professionalism. Only playing 31 games his experience helped the Impact get into the playoffs in 2013. He retired after the 2013 season and lobbied to become the clubs head coach; the job went to Frank Klopas.
Kleberson – Brazil – Philadelphia Union – 2013
Kleberson, the journeyman Brazilian World Cup winner (2002) arrived to the Union in 2013 after lukewarm achievements in his club career. In Philadelphia, he scored 1 goal in 11 outings. Since 2017 he has been working with the Philadelphia Union Academy.
Kaká – Brazil – Orlando City – 2014
Orlando City wanted to enter MLS with a splash, and they did just that when they signed 2002 World Cup Winner, Kaká in 2014. Kaká was pure class on and off the field, on the field, he scored 24 goals in 75 matches for an Orlando City team that was not at his level. Off the field, he is one the league’s biggest spokesman and showed the rest of the league that no matter how famous a player, always make time for fans. A class act.
Andrea Pirlo – Italy – New York City FC – 2015
Like Roberto Donadoni in 1996 for the MetroStars, the 2006 World Cup Winner, Pirlo at NYCFC was nothing but class. Yes, he had lost a step, but he didn’t need to run, he was elegance on the ball, perfect passing, and leadership. In three seasons Pirlo played 60 games for the club, but only scored 1 goal. His injuries forced him to retire, but NYCFC fans have fond memories of the Italian midfielder.
David Villa – Spain – New York City FC – 2015
The Spanish 2010 World Cup winning forward was amazing for NYFC in his four seasons, Villa scored 77 goals in 117 games. He was the clubs first idol and while at the club scored his 400th career goal. Villa is considered by many one of the top 20 best MLS players of all- time.
Bastian Schweinsteiger – Germany – Chicago Fire – 2017
Bastian Schweinsteiger came to the Chicago Fire to provide his experience and be an example, and the 2014 World Cup winner did just that. He played 85 games and scored 8 goals, he was an All-Star and while the Fire only made it to the playoffs once in his three years, he was a rock for the team.
Blaise Matuidi – France – Inter Miami – 2020
Inter Miami need help, who better than a World Cup winner, Blaise Matuidi arrived from Juventus and while he has only just arrived one hopes he can bring his wealth of experience to a new team who is in desperate need for wins. Matuidi started in France's 4–2 victory against Croatia in the final of the 2018 World Cup.