Since the advent of Major League Soccer, several big players have featured, all making a mark in some way, but some more than others.
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Here’s our list of the Top 10 MLS players of all time, the players who unquestionably transformed the league.
Landon Donovan is undoubtedly the greatest player in MLS history. Donovan was so influential to MLS that the league MVP award was renamed after him. He is an American former professional soccer player who played as a forward and attacking midfielder.
He holds numerous individual records in Major League Soccer and for the United States national team and is widely regarded as the greatest American men’s soccer player of all time. In addition to his success with the LA Galaxy and in MLS, Donovan leads the U.S. Men’s National Team in goals (57) and assists (58) and is the only American player to surpass both 50 goals and assists in his career. His 157 appearances are second-most all time in U.S. history. In June of 2008, he became the fastest American to ever earn 100 caps for the United States and the fourth fastest player in history to play in 100 matches for his country. A veteran of three FIFA World Cups, his five goals in World Cup matches are the most by any American player and he is the only American to win the Golden Ball Award at a FIFA tournament, earning that honor at the Under-17 FIFA World Cup in 1999.
Donovan has been named U.S. Soccer Athlete of the Year a record four times (2003, 2004, 2009, 2010), FIFA’s Best Young Player of the World Cup (2002), the CONCACAF Gold Cup MVP (2013) and to the Gold Cup Best XI four times (2002, 2003, 2005, 2013). Additionally, he remains the all-time leading scorer in the CONCACAF Gold Cup with 18 goals and helped the U.S. to four of its five ever Gold Cup titles (2002, 2005, 2007, 2013).
Marco Antonio Etcheverry Vargas is a retired Bolivian footballer, considered one of the greatest Bolivian players of all time. He is one of the best midfielders to ever play in Major League Soccer. Etcheverry signed with D.C. United in the league’s debut season in 1996. Instrumental in leading United to three out of the first four MLS Cups, the Bolivian scored 34 goals and notched 101 assists in 191 games, earning league MVP in 1998 and a spot in the MLS All-Time Best XI in 2005.
Marco Etcheverry is considered one of the best Bolivian players of all time. He spent 14 seasons with the Bolivian National team from 1989-2003 and registered 71 caps for his home country. He netted 13 goals in that time, perhaps none of them bigger than his strike that downed Brazil in a qualifier for the 1994 World Cup.
The Bolivian midfielder joined D.C. United in 1996 from Premier League side Middlesbrough. He won the Golden Boot in his second season with 16 goals. A subsequent transfer to New York MetroStars was less successful, but upon returning to United he regained his form and eventually became the first player in MLS to score 100-plus goals and notch 100 assists. From 1991 to 2008, Moreno played 75 matches for the Bolivia national football team, scoring eight goals. He represented the nation in five Copa América tournaments and the 1994 FIFA World Cup.
Dwayne De Rosario
Dwayne Anthony De Rosario is a retired Canadian professional soccer player, who played as a forward or as an attacking midfielder whose 16-year career spanned five clubs, “DeRo” scored 101 goals and registered 77 assists in MLS. Canada’s all-time leading goal scorer also won four MLS Cups and was named league MVP in 2011. A versatile attacker, he played for the Toronto Lynx, FSV Zwickau and Richmond Kickers early in his career.
A veteran of the English Premier League and Serie A by the time he signed for L.A. Galaxy in 2011, Keane is among the greatest strikers to have ever played in MLS. “There’s been a number of good players in that position, but certainly in every discussion, Robbie’s name would come up,” Galaxy coach Bruce Arena said. Having won three MLS Cups in four seasons in L.A. and been named league MVP for 2014, Keane, who is Ireland’s all-time leading scorer, may not yet be done leaving his mark.
Thierry Daniel Henry is a retired French professional footballer who played as a forward, and at current is the second assistant manager of the Belgium national team. He played for Monaco, Juventus, Barcelona, New York Red Bulls and spent eight years at Arsenal where he is the club’s all-time record goal scorer. At international level he represented France and is his country’s record goalscorer. The France and Arsenal legend was arguably the most talented – and certainly the most decorated – player ever to ply his trade in MLS. Henry spent five seasons with New York Red Bulls, winning the Eastern Conference twice and the 2013 MLS Supporters’ Shield. Along the way, he scored 51 goals and registered 42 assists.
Jeff Cunningham is an American soccer player. He is Major League Soccer’s second-all-time leader in regular-season goals scored with 134, following Landon Donovan. During the 2006 season Cunningham led the league in scoring with sixteen goals, winning the MLS Golden Boot. He also tied for the second-most assists in the league with eleven. Both totals (16 goals and 11 assists) set single-season records for the RSL franchise. He scored 17 goals to take home the 2009 MLS Golden Boot in the greatest second-half run in FC Dallas history. Cunningham led the Columbus Crew to the U.S. Open Cup in 2002 and the Supporters’ Shield in 2004.
Beckham’s arrival ushered in a new era of player acquisition in MLS, kicking off the Designated Player era and giving teams a chance to bolster their squads with one (eventually up to three) impact players. That in itself is worthy of inclusion, just for blazing the trail.
But Beckham also contributed on the field, especially in later seasons. Although he arrived in LA injured, missed most of the 2009 season due to a loan move to AC Milan, and was injured for most of the 2010 season, Beckham saved his best for last, helping the Galaxy win the Supporters’ Shield-MLS Cup double in 2011 and concluding his stint with the club with another MLS Cup the following year, while posting MLS career highs in goals and assists.
Beckham won his first MLS Cup and enjoyed his finest season since joining the Galaxy, tallying a career-best 15 assists in 26 regular season games. He was named to the All-Star Team for a second time while also earning his first berth on the MLS Best XI and being named the MLS Comeback Player of the Year. His 15 assists were the second most in MLS, one fewer than Houston’s Brad Davis, with eight of those coming from set pieces. Above all, Beckham’s Galaxy jaunt both transformed the league itself and helped his team capture silverware, which is a pretty big legacy.
Carlos Alberto Valderrama Palacio, also known as El Pibe (“The Kid”), is a Colombian former footballer who played as a midfielder. He known for his tangled mop of unruly blonde hair, the Colombian playmaker was already an international star when he joined Tampa Bay Mutiny for the inaugural MLS season. An MLS MVP and Supporters’ Shield winner in his first season, Valderrama set a single-season record with 26 assists in 2000, a mark that still stands today. The creative playmaker, known for his precise passing, technical skills, and elegance on the ball, he is regarded as one of the best Colombian and South American footballers of all time, and by some as Colombia’s greatest player ever; his distinctive hairstyle, as well as talent and skilful playing style made him one of South America’s elite and most recognizable footballers in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He won the South American Footballer of the Year award in 1987 and 1993, and in 1999, he was also named one of the top 100 players of the 20th century by World Soccer.
Cobi N’Gai Jones is an American former soccer player. As a player, he was a midfielder from 1994 until 2007, starting his career in England with Premier League club Coventry City, before playing for Brazilian side Vasco da Gama. He is one of a significant group of American national team stars who returned from overseas to aid the then new Major League Soccer in 1996, beginning an 11-year spell with the Los Angeles Galaxy. Jones is the all-time leader in caps for the United States national team and a member of the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Jones won two MLS Cups with Galaxy and served as interim manager for the club in 2008.