Top 5 players in MLS history

Although soccer isn’t the most popular sport in the United States, it is slowly gaining traction, particularly among the younger generation. Following a reasonably strong showing in the 2022 World Cup, the sport has again found itself in the news.

The team managed to qualify from their group stages before being knocked out by the Netherlands.

The World Cup is the most-watched soccer event and the most-watched sporting event on the planet. Although Brazil were the favorites in the competition, their South American rivals, led by the magical Lionel Messi, ended up lifting the World Cup.

You can find many of the best betting apps available online to see other soccer betting markets, from international to domestic games. The United States first hosted the World Cup in 1994, which brought soccer into the limelight.

The next World Cup in 2026 is a jointly hosted effort across North America – with Canada and Mexico also joining forces with the States. Today, however, we will be turning back the clock and trawling through the archives to find the top five players in MLS history.

Although Pele played for the New York Cosmos in the late 1970s, the United States Soccer Federation didn’t create the MLS until the 1990s.

This is why the phenomenally talented and dearly missed Brazilian doesn’t feature on this list. He would be at the top of the list if the federation had created the MLS before 1970.

Landon Donovan

There’s no better place to start than with the greatest American soccer player of all time. Donovan had a long and star-studded career, notching up over 140 goals in the MLS.

Having become an Everton fan favorite in the English Premier League, considered the optimum level of soccer competition, he shines through as the top talent in American soccer.

He has paved the way for a new generation of American soccer players, such as Christian Pulisic, who is now the most expensive American player of all time. Other young stars are beginning to shine in Europe, too.

Undoubtedly, he will have influenced this generation to pursue soccer as a full-time professional career. As the highest-scoring player for the USA, and the player who has played the most games, he is the homegrown talent that had to feature.


One of the finest players of his generation, Kaka is one of a handful who has won the World Cup, the UEFA Champions League and the Ballon d’Or – considered to be the top honors in international and domestic soccer.

The Ballon d’Or is awarded to the top player in the world, and Kaka received this honor in 2007.

Having plied his trade for the biggest clubs in European football, such as AC Milan and Real Madrid, he joined the MLS towards the end of his career.

It was for a considerably lower fee than the world record fee that Real Madrid paid for him in 2009. However, he still had plenty left in the tank. Kaka spent three years at Orlando Magic and scored 24 goals in 75 appearances.

Even though he wasn’t the same Kaka who guided AC Milan to two UEFA Champions League Finals in three years, he still mesmerized MLS crowds with his superb skill and graceful technique.

David Beckham

David Beckham is arguably the most iconic MLS player in history. He is a player who transcended the game and was one of the most recognizable faces in sports during his playing career.

He is infamous for his exploits at Manchester United where he won the 1999 UEFA Champions League and multiple Premier League titles. 

He also captained England’s national team in several World Cup tournaments. His shock move to MLS in 2007 made him a more substantial brand. It also catapulted the MLS into the spotlight on a global scale.

Beckham’s influence on MLS has been immense, from inspiring young players to him becoming a role model for generations of players that have followed.

His success and leadership have helped shape the league into what it is today – even after his retirement, he is still involved in the MLS, as he co-owns Inter Miami.

Wayne Rooney

The greatest English player of his generation and one of the greatest English players of all time, Wayne Rooney burst onto the scene when he was just 16. He rose from the bench to debut for his boyhood club Everton.

David Moyes substituted him onto the pitch in the final minutes of a league game against the then-champions Arsenal. Wasting no time, he controlled the ball, looked up and curved his shot away from England’s number-one goalkeeper David Seaman.

In so doing, as the ball crashed off the underside of the bar and he won the game for Everton in the final stages, the precociously gifted player announced himself to the world.

He later became Manchester United’s all-time top goal scorer, winning Premier Leagues, FA Cups and a UEFA Champions League.

Toward the twilight of his career, he captained DC United, averaging a goal every two games before retiring. He now manages the same MLS side and is arguably the most naturally gifted player ever to have played in the league.

Thierry Henry

Widely renowned as the best player in the Premier League throughout the late 90s and early 2000s, Thierry Henry is one of the greatest French footballers of all time. The enigmatic Frenchman is an Arsenal legend.

However, he is also known for his stints at Spanish giants Barcelona and in the MLS, where he played for the New York Red Bulls. 

Following his retirement, he returned to the MLS and managed Montreal. During his time in the MLS, Thierry Henry scored 51 goals in 122 games showcasing his class and skill to American audiences.

His legacy still lingers in the MLS today. His goal to game record was impressive, as he played for a team not considered one of the best in the league and was heading toward the end of his career.


With talks of the best players in the world coming to the MLS this year, the league continues to attract the biggest stars. The quality of the players who have played in the MLS over the last few decades is clear, and this is unlikely to slow down anytime soon.

We could have named a dozen other players in our list today, such as Zlatan Ibrahimović or Robbie Keane. Whittling it down to just five players was tricky.

Some detractors may state that most of these players come to the MLS when they are nearing the end of their careers.

However, despite the MLS providing a good level of competition, European soccer leagues are considered to have much higher skill levels and quality of opponents.

This is why many of these players come to the MLS to round off their careers. Many of today’s featured players were looking to bolster the profile of America’s top soccer league and see out their careers living a comfortable life in America.

Many have cited that the pressure on soccer players isn’t as fierce as in Europe, which can be a deciding factor.

Conversely, it is why some of America’s top talent, such as Christian Pulisic and Brenden Aaronson, have moved to the United Kingdom, to test themselves against the top players in the world every week. 

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