Soccer was not a commonly played or supported sport before a 90s America. The MLS only launched in 1993 to try and influence the United States’ bid to host the World Cup. Because most athletes were going into other more popular sports such as NFL, Basketball, Track and Ice Hockey, the level of soccer ability wasn’t great at the start of the MLS. The country had never seen the need to invest much into the sport, so there was little surprise when the country wasn’t generating large numbers of skilled soccer players.
Once the MLS launched in 1993, more attention turned to this sport, and the hosting of the 1994 World Cup caught the imagination of many viewers across the globe, inspiring more kids into the playing soccer. Since 1993, the MLS has grown rapidly, but it was always difficult to attract the top players, as the quality of play was still not at a world class level most players wanted to play at.
All this changed when in 2007, the world class talent of David Beckham arrived in the MLS. Beckham played at the top level with both Manchester United and Real Madrid and was considered to be a real coup when he signed for LA Galaxy. Whilst Beckham didn’t become one of the players with the most outstanding playing records in the MLS; his move helped the league to build credit across the world. Beckham played just under 100 games for Galaxy and is said to have loved his time there, leading him to endorse the league to many other stars debating whether to make the move.
Since Beckham’s move, the MLS welcomed many more foreign players who had been successful across the world. French striker, and former Arsenal player Thierry Henry, played for New York Red Bulls, and former World Player of the Year, Kaka, also headed to the MLS to show his footballing talent. Later, England captain and Liverpool player Steven Gerrard chose to join LA Galaxy to play out his last few seasons of football. Despite going close to winning, the Premier League title odds were always against his Liverpool team so he headed to the MLS.
New York City surprised many people across the world of football when they brought Italian legend Andrea Pirlo, Spanish international goal scorer David Villa, and Chelsea’s trophy winning midfielder Frank Lampard, to the club. More are more foreign players are coming to the MLS as means to fulfill the latter stages of their career.
If we were to take the focus away from the foreign players, the players that have had the most significant influence on the MLS from a performance perspective, are a different set of players completely. Landon Donovan is the outright player that has contributed the most to the success of the MLS. Currently the leading goal scorer (145 goals) and weighing in with the record number of assists (136), Donovan is the undisputed King of the MLS. With over 250 appearances for LA Galaxy, Donovan is an MLS legend without question and will probably hold those records for a while yet.