With two new franchises joining the MLS earlier in 2020, there has never been a better time to recall some of the best MLS imports from the Premier League.
10. Thierry Henry
Nobody can forget the surreal sight of Thierry Henry turning out for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014. He maintained his form right up until retirement, never dipping below ‘one-in-three’ across his final four years in the Big Apple:
9. Carlos Vela
In 2018, Former Arsenal winger Vela moved to then-brand-new expansion franchise LAFC, scoring in roughly 81% of his games played up to March 2020, if going by his per-match average return.
His great sense of trickery has ensured the growth of LAFC’s reputation for scintillating football, and he has also become noted for his quickfire starts, recording his team’s first goal in 51.5% of his regular-season matches played since March 2019.
8. Jozy Altidore
Although Altidore experienced modest success at AZ Alkmaar, with 39 goals from 67 appearances between 2011 and 2013, his move to Sunderland in the latter year proved disastrous.
Altidore made just 42 appearances for Sunderland, and scored only once, before going back to the MLS, to play his trade for Toronto FC in 2015. He has since returned to the same strike rate he boasted at AZ, memorably winning a double with the Reds (the MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield) in 2017.
7. Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Far from treating LA Galaxy as a retirement home upon his arrival in 2018, ‘Ibra’ used it as an opportunity to conquer a country where homegrown talents are almost exclusively worshipped. Ibra averaged nearly 1.0 goal per game over the course of two years at Galaxy, turning him into a household name over in the City of Angels.
6/5/4. The ‘Golden Generation’
Each of English trio Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Wayne Rooney have made their own legacy in the States, after serving their country through most of the 2000s.
Prior to taking over as Chelsea manager, and shortening the fixed odds against them scoring a top-four finish, Lampard spent two years with New York City FC. He maintained an approximate 50% strike rate, which came impressively close to that which he boasted in his heyday.
Gerrard managed a more modest tally of five goals in 34 appearances for LA Galaxy. Yet, his presence undoubtedly maintained Galaxy’s reputation as the glamour club of MVPs – a franchise single-handedly giving the MLS brand a chance to flourish, up against the far more established sports leagues of the US.
However, it was arguably Wayne Rooney who made the biggest impact, with D.C. United going in for the former Everton and Manchester United idol in 2018. His skills translated well into MLS action, with a strong end to the 2018 season seeing D.C. reach the playoffs with Rooney as captain. While the MLS Cup eluded him, Rooney was named the club’s MVP after topping D.C.’s scoring charts.
3. Robbie Keane
On his day, Keane was a striker’s striker, with composure and predatory instinct matched by very few. The bulk of his Premier League goals came across two spells at Tottenham, with his latter days there overseeing the Lilywhites’ first-ever Champions League qualification.
Keane went stateside in 2011, and his impact was immediate, with Keane doing his bit to see Galaxy win the MLS Cup three times across his first four years in Los Angeles. At worst, he was a consistent one-in-two striker, ultimately racking up 83 goals in 125 MLS appearances.
2. David Beckham
This man obviously needs no introduction, having won six Premier League titles with Manchester United between 1996 and 2003, alongside a Champions League trophy in 1999. His MLS career is another story in itself, full of joyful zeniths and agonizing nadirs.
After signing for LA Galaxy in 2007, Beckham scored several memorable goals across his first two years there but saw his first campaign scuppered by injury, and his second ruined by inept teammates, as Galaxy failed to reach the postseason playoffs.
His return in 2009, after a loan spell with AC Milan, marked an improvement in Beckham’s fortunes, and he helped power Galaxy to the MLS Cup playoff final. However, Galaxy would lose on penalties, leading Beckham to another loan spell at Milan.
In 2010, Beckham returned even stronger still, and finally found home, winning the MLS cup in 2011 and 2012, and scoring seven goals in just 24 league appearances in the latter year.
1. Bradley Wright-Phillips
No matter how many ex-Premier League players ‘come good’ in the MLS, Bradley Wright-Phillips will always feature in lists of this ilk. A tally of just 32 appearances for Manchester City in the mid-2000s was never enough for ‘BWP’ to really prove himself. Wright-Phillips duly tried his luck in the lower leagues, but relegations with Southampton and Plymouth ultimately doomed his career in England.
He would fare better at Charlton, gaining promotion to the second tier with the Addicks. However, his goal return was unremarkable. As the history books show, New York Red Bulls came in for him. No doubt seeking an injection of pace from a player who would die to play alongside Thierry Henry – the man who replaced Wright-Phillips’ own father as Arsenal’s primary striker – their gambit worked to an utterly surreal extent.
In 2014, just one year into his spell in New York, Wright-Phillips scooped up every personal award imaginable – including his first of two MLS Golden Boot awards. Overall, in six years with NYRB, Wright-Phillips scored 108 goals in 150 appearances.