15 years ago today, England midfielder and then Real Madrid star David Beckham shocked the world by announcing he would join LA Galaxy in MLS at the end of his contract. The former Manchester United legend was the instigator of Europe’s biggest stars heading across the Atlantic to join the ever-growing division.
Beckham was arguably the biggest ever name to sign up for MLS because he was the first major European star to do so, essentially putting the US league on the map. Who could have imagined the culture icon would have swapped Real Madrid for a club in Los Angeles? Perhaps he was just ahead of the curve and saw the potential the States had to offer and he continued to excel in the California sun. The midfielder scored 20 goals in 124 appearances and his bold move to the other side of the world gave Europe a new idea of how to view football in America. It’s clear his love of MLS never faded, having helped form one of the league’s newest members, Inter Miami CF, where he is a part-owner.
There have been plenty of top players from Europe following in Beckham’s footsteps since 2007 and here are the best ones to chart a course to the land of the free.
The Republic of Ireland and Premier League goal machine joined LA Galaxy in 2011 from Tottenham Hotspur, with a fair few Guinnesses being raised in his welcoming press conference. Keane went on to score 104 goals across six seasons, while scooping up the 2014 MLS MVP honours along the way. He played an integral part to Galaxy winning three MLS Cups during his time there and certainly, with a memorable strike that won the 2014 title that will never be forgotten. He left the club as a legend, but also as a legend of MLS.
The German World Cup-winning midfielder caught a flight to the US to join Chicago Fire after a disappointing stint at the struggling Manchester United. Chicago would be the final chapter of his impressive career and although he played well for the club, his impact off the field had a greater impact. After three years, the battling midfielder left the MLS side having scored eight goals in 85 appearances.
When the Chelsea legend called time on his career at Stamford Bridge, he signed for New York City in 2015 and it generated quite a buzz. The midfielder was widely known as one of the greatest goalscoring midfielders of all time and it was a real coup for MLS to have him join the party. After firstly joining partner club Manchester City back in the Premier League, he went on to make 15 appearances, registering three assists for New York City.
The former Barcelona striker and Spain international gave the world a surprise when he also joined New York City in 2015, but as their first ever player. In his four seasons, Villa became MLS’ deadliest forward by scoring 80 goals. He eventually left the club for Japan in 2018, but his legacy will remain etched into the fabric of this new club for years to come.
Another major signing for LA Galaxy was another English legend in the form of Liverpool cult-hero Gerrard. He spent 18 months with the California club where he went on to make 30 appearances in which he scored on five occasions as well as registering 12 assists. He was part of an interesting year of signings in the division, and it was a real coup for MLS to get both him and Lampard, two of the greatest midfielders of their generation. Luckily they never had to play together though…
Another midfield maestro who was part of the excellent MLS business that was carried out in 2015. Along with Lampard and Villa, Pirlo joined New York City. He left Juventus after his contract came to an end and went on to make 60 appearances for his new club. His high-profile arrival brought more glamour to the division and continued the trend of players moving from European giants to the States.
Rooney was the next English legend to follow the MLS trend when he signed for DC United from Everton in 2018. He captured the attention of the American capital with some excellent performances, including a goal which he scored from his own half, and the time he snuffed out a counter-attack to then deliver an incredible cross to assist his teammate. Rooney really did roll back the years in these moments and they were great gifts to his American supporters.
The world was stunned when the Swedish icon swapped Europe for America, but what an asset he was to the league and to LA Galaxy. Having joined in 2018, Ibrahimovic delivered goals on a regular basis, 52 in 56 games to be exact. And his performances on the field were not the only things to grab headlines as plenty of his post-match comments also filled the papers on a very regular basis. He was undoubtedly one of the biggest, and best players to grace MLS, but you wouldn’t need to tell him that.
The sublime French striker joined New York Red Bulls in 2010 from Barcelona. He went on to dazzle the crowds with his incredible abilities and scored 51 goals over the course of his five-year stay. It was clear the growing product of football in America had on Henry as after his retirement from the game in 2014, he came back to manage Montreal Impact between 2019 and 2021.
The most recent recruit to the MLS alumni is Italian winger and European Championship winner Insigne. This very month he decided to swap Naples for a challenge across the globe with Toronto FC, where undoubtedly, he is going to be on a very hefty salary. But of course, the Italian will pay for himself in marketing and most likely through his performances. He was a player who would have had many suitors across Europe, which is further highlighting the growing pulling power MLS is starting to have. And it all started with Beckham all those years ago.