When German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger signed with the Chicago Fire on Tuesday, he joined an exclusive club: World Cup winners to play in MLS. Schweinsteiger, who helped Germany win the FIFA World Cup in 2014 in Brazil, is the 11th world champion to suit up in this league. He joins the following group:
Brazil: 1994 & MetroStars: 1997
The hardman for the pragmatic Brazilian side that won the World Cup in the US, Branco was known for his tackling and his deadly freekicks, one of which he famously struck against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals in Dallas. In 1997, with three World Cup tournaments under his belt, he joined New York for one of the most ignominious career stat lines in MLS history: 11 appearances, 1 goal, 2 assists, 3 red cards.
Brazil: 2002 & FC Dallas: 2007
Once the most expensive player in the world – Real Betis paid $35 million for him in 1998 – Denílson, the Brazilian playmaker was used mainly as a sub in Japan/Korea, including in the final against Germany. He joined FC Dallas in August 2007, played eight games, scored one goal, and then … gone.
France: 1998 & New York Red Bulls: 2005-06
Seven years after featuring and scoring for les Bleus on their march to the title, Djorkaeff joined the New York Red Bulls, where he quickly became a fan favorite with his silky skills and goals. In two seasons in the Big Apple, he scored 10 goals in 40 league appearances.
France: 1998 & New York Red Bulls: 2010-14
Several years after his 1998 France teammate Djorkaeff departed New York, Henry arrived, brandishing his other-worldly talent and a resume that included three goals for les Bleus in 1998. His numbers with the Red Bulls speak for themselves: 51 goals in 122 league matches, plus one Supporters’ Shield – the club’s first-ever major trophy.
Brazil: 2002 & Philadelphia Union: 2013
A clever, creative “role player” who did a lot of the running and box-to-box work that made the Ronaldo-Rivaldo-Ronaldinho triumverate look so good. Brazil’s Kleberson started the quarters, semis, and final on the way to the nation’s 5th world title. In 2013, he spent half a season with the Philadelphia Union, making 11 appearances and scoring a lone goal.
West Germany: 1990 & MetroStars: 2000
Largely considered one of the biggest disappointments in MLS history, Lothar Matthaus led the Germans to the World Cup trophy in Italy with four goals. Ten years later, he joined the MetroStars from Bayern Munich, coasted through 16 appearances – 0 goals – and retired at the end of the season.
Italy: 2006 & Montreal Impact: 2012-13
The Azzurri legend went the distance in Italy’s group openers – including against the USA – then picked up an injury in the third game that forced him out of action for the rest of the tournament. But Alessandro Nesta was there on the podium at the end. He joined the Montreal Impact midway through the 2012 season and became an integral part of the club’s success: Montreal were 15-9-7 with him in the lineup; 4-7-3 without him. He retired at the end of the 2013 season.
Spain: 2010 & New York City FC: 2015-present
El Guaje (“The Kid”) was the man for Spain during his 10-year international career. David Villa is the nation’s all-time leading scorer with 59 goals in 97 caps. Five of those goals came at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, as Spain captured its first – and so far only – world title. Since arriving in the Big Apple ahead of the 2015 season, he’s proven just as devastating, scoring 43 goals in 64 appearances and being named league MVP in 2016.
Italy: 2006 & New York City FC: 2015-present
Il Maestro, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, was one of the most important players on the Italian team that won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, starting all seven games as the Azzurri lifted their fourth World Cup trophy. He was the top assist man at that World Cup and was given the Bronze Ball for his efforts. Since joining New York City FC in July 2015, he has appeared in 48 games and contributed 16 assists. He helped the club reach the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in 2016.
Brazil: 2002 & Orlando City SC: 2015-present
Kaká was one of the most decorated players to ever join MLS, when he became Orlando City SC’s first signing prior to the 2015 season. The former Ballon d’Or winner (2007) was just 20 years old when Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, and he played just 18 minutes in that tournament. After it, he became a staple for the national team, appearing in 92 games and scoring 29 goals. He scored the first goal in Orlando City SC’s history and has scored 17 more, along with 17 assists, during his time with the club.