LAFC made a shocking splash when the Major League Soccer club announced the signing of Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale in the 2022 summer transfer window. The Welshman is looking for a fresh start after experiencing a tough end to a Madrid spell that lasted nine years. Chief among the reasons for joining the MLS side is to prepare for the 2022 World Cup. The 32-year-old attacker carried Wales through the UEFA playoffs and still has plenty more in the tank at club level too. He is not the first footballing icon to have travelled to American shores in the twilight of his career as some of football past’s greatest have gone to the MLS in search of one last shot at the big time. Since its foundation in 1993, MLS has been able to attract some of the game’s most famous faces from Champions League winners to World Cup icons. Several legendary figures have spent parts of their career in North America, adding much-needed global appeal and legitimacy to a competition that is still very much growing. Here are some of the most significant signings in MLS history to date.
It is often the case that the arrival of a big name from Europe’s elite leagues at an MLS club improves their chances of lifting the MLS cup come the end of the season and the same is true after Bale’s arrival as according to the best sports betting apps LAFC are now favourites at -180 to win the MLS title this year. The best example of this is the man that changed everything, David Beckham. The England icon’s decision to join the LA Galaxy changed American soccer forever and is the reason MLS is the growing league it is today. He was one of the true trailblazers for top European talent spending the latter parts of their career in MLS. He’s responsible for giving the Galaxy the star power it possesses today and helped the club to a pair of MLS Cups during his spell. He has since gone on to establish a new franchise in Inter Miami and such was the impact of his decision 15 years ago that the prospect of an American club signing one of the best players ever in Lionel Messi was not just a fantasy but a feasible reality. His legacy in the States is assured to stand the test of time as his decision back in 2007 will be looked back on as the dawning of a new era in American soccer history.
Another footballing icon that followed in Beckham’s footsteps in joining the Galaxy was the sensational Swede, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Zlatan only needed two seasons in MLS to leave an ever-lasting mark on the league. The man came to Los Angeles with an ego bigger than the city itself and for good reason. He was dominant. He shoved the league, and his teammates, around like it was nothing. He showed up to MLS as one of the top players in the world, lit the league up with 53 goals in 58 games and left to go conquer Serie A once more. The self-proclaimed “lion” came to MLS to change the game, and he wasted little time in doing just that. His famous debut in El Trafico was the stuff of legends and he only built on that legend during his time in Los Angeles. He didn’t win trophies like his predecessors with the Galaxy, but he certainly left a lasting impression and embraced the Hollywood lifestyle to the full.
One of the greatest players in modern history, Thierry Henry was one of the trailblazers of players moving to MLS. Henry didn’t hold back upon arriving in New York. The Frenchman was brought in by the Red Bulls to be the star attraction for their new stadium, and he lived up to every bit of the hype. During his time stateside, Henry’s attitude endeared him to fans throughout the league. From knowing the specifics of every team to his frequent praise of some of American soccer’s rising stars, Henry brought a new level of professionalism and detail to the American game and his tally of 52 goals was just as significant. He played a key role in growing the sport in the U.S in his four and a half years which turned out to be the last of his illustrious career.
Robbie Keane obliterated the competition during his six seasons with the LA Galaxy. After spending almost two decades in England’s top flight with Spurs, the Irish striker opted for America in 2011. His 104 goals in 165 games in all competitions along with three MLS Cups speak for themselves. He made the best XI in four straight seasons and was named the Galaxy’s club MVP four times as well. The Dubliner may not have been the biggest name in MLS history, but he may just be the most successful import the league has ever seen.
Wayne Rooney relished the opportunity to try something different stateside after years of being under the English media’s microscope. After 16 seasons in the Premier League, he enjoyed anonymity in the U.S. capital, while also embracing his status as a mentor and leader within D.C. United. Rooney wasn’t just in the U.S. to coach or relax, as evidenced by his famous track back and cross that remains one of the most iconic highlights in the history of the MLS. Rooney finished his MLS career with 25 goals in just 52 appearances but certainly left his mark during his brief stay.
Rounding off our list is Brazilian icon Kaka. Kaka helped jumpstart the Orlando City scene in the club’s first season. He was a World Cup champion, a Ballon d’Or winner and one of the most well-known names in the sport when he came to Florida. He was 32 when he signed with Orlando and wasn’t in the top form of his career but still provided three memorable seasons in MLS. The Brazilian was still technically miles ahead of nearly all of his opponents in MLS, scoring 25 goals in his spell. MLS fans will count themselves lucky to have seen one of Brazil’s greatest exports thrive stateside before calling it a career.