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Top 11 Overseas Players in MLS History

| January 3, 2021 5:35 am PDT
Top Overseas MLS Players of All Time

Who are the greatest overseas players in MLS history? Well, that’s a good question.

Over the years, Major League Soccer has attracted some of the planet’s most famous stars.

From former greats like David Beckham and Thierry Henry to modern-day heroes such as Gonzalo Higuain and Alejandro Pozuelo, America has been home to countless world-class imports.

In this post, I share my top 11 overseas MLS players of all time.

David Beckham

It could be argued that David Beckham is the most famous player in MLS history.

American soccer was still growing when the English megastar joined LA Galaxy from Real Madrid in 2007. But as soon as Beckham arrived, Major League Soccer exploded.

Along with his trademark free-kicks, Beckham brought global attention to MLS, paving the way for other world-class overseas players to cross the Atlantic and ply their trade in the States.

Across his five-year stint in Los Angeles, Beckham made 124 appearances for the Galaxy, notching up 20 goals and 42 assists along the way.

He also guided the California club to two MLS Cup triumphs (2011, 2012) and two Supporters’ Shield wins (2010, 2011).

With a franchise of his own – Inter Miami – now competing in the MLS, Beckham’s impact on American soccer cannot be understated.

Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry played for some of Europe’s elite clubs. After joining Arsenal from Juventus, the Frenchman went on to play for Barcelona.

But when he signed for New York Red Bulls in 2010, it was a transfer that stunned the soccer world.

It’s not very often that a World Cup winner decides to play in the MLS. But Henry didn’t just come to America to see out his career; he spent four years terrorizing opposition defenses with his dazzling footwork.

Between 2010 and 2014, Henry racked up 52 goals and 42 assists in 135 matches for the Red Bulls, helping the New Yorkers to secure the Supporters’ Shield in 2013.

The lethal forward achieved so much in Europe, but his time in the MLS will never be forgotten.

Season Appearances Goals Assists
2014 30 10 12
2013 30 10 7
2012 25 15 12
2011 26 14 2
2010 11 2 2

David Villa

Not only is David Villa, one of the most prolific goalscorers in MLS history, but he is also one of the best strikers of all time.

After shining for Valencia, Barcelona, and Atletico Madrid, Villa arrived in America with countless accolades under his belt. Let’s not forget that he also won the 2010 World Cup with Spain.

When he joined New York City in 2014, the goals just kept on flowing.

The Spaniard netted 80 times in 126 appearances for the Boys in Blue, clinching the Landon Donovan MVP Award in 2016.

Although he was never able to add to his trophy cabinet with NYC, Villa will always be remembered as one of the greatest overseas players in MLS history.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

It is no secret that aging stars move to America in the twilight of their career. A lot of overseas imports enjoy one or two seasons in the MLS before calling it a day, but Zlatan Ibrahimovic is different.

After scoring an outrageous 53 goals in 58 games for the Galaxy, the 39-year-old is still hitting the back of the net at a freakish rate to this day.

Following spells with Ajax, Juventus, Inter Milan, Barcelona, AC Milan, and PSG, Zlatan joined the Galaxy from Manchester United in 2018. He only played two MLS seasons, yet his impact on the league was immense.

Unsurprisingly, the enigmatic Swede won the Galaxy’s Player of the Year award in 2018 and 2019, as well as being named in the MLS Best XI two years running.

In December 2020, Zlatan’s famous 40-yard stunner against LAFC was voted as the greatest goal in MLS history.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic MLS

Jaime Moreno

Jaime Moreno may not be the most high-profile name on this list. But when you look at his MLS record, there is no denying that he is one of the best overseas players in the league’s history.

In total, the Bolivian bagged 130 goals and 66 assists in 325 Major League Soccer appearances, with the majority of those coming across two stints for DC United.

The goal-machine first played for the Black & Red between 1996 and 2002 before having brief spells with English side Middlesbrough and MetroStars.

But in 2004, Moreno returned to DC United and ended up staying in Washington for another seven seasons.

With four MLS Cups and four Supporters’ Sheilds to his name, Moreno is one of the most decorated players in MLS history. He was also named in the Best XI five times, winning the MVP award in 1997.

Sebastian Giovinco

You didn’t think I was going to leave out Sebastian Giovinco, did you?

Eyebrows were raised when the Italian left European giant Juventus to join Toronto FC in 2015. But following four hugely successful seasons in Canada, Giovinco left the MLS in 2018 as one of the league’s greatest-ever overseas imports.

Having contributed 83 goals and 51 assists in 142 games for the Reds, the skillful forward is widely regarded as Toronto’s finest player.

The diminutive Italian helped the Canadian side to secure the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Cup in 2017, with countless individual accolades coming his way over the years.

During his first season in Major League Soccer, Giovinco won both the MVP and Golden Boot awards. He also finished his MLS career with four All-Star call-ups and three Best XI appearances.

Needless to say, there haven’t been many overseas players as prolific as Giovinco.

Season Appearances Goals Assists
2018 28 13 8
2017 25 16 6
2016 28 17 14
2015 33 22 13

Bastian Schweinsteiger

Arguably one of the greatest midfielders of all time, Bastian Schweinsteiger ended his illustrious career with three seasons at Chicago Fire.

Having won just about everything there is to win in the European game, the German World Cup winner arrived in America with 500 Bayern Munich appearances under his belt.

Schweinsteiger won eight Bundesliga titles, seven German Cups, and a Champions League trophy during his 13-year spell with Bayern, and although he came to the MLS at the end of his career, he was still able to light up the league.

The midfielder guided Chicago to their best finish in recent years, with the club ending the 2017 campaign in third place.

Schweinsteiger was also an MLS All-Star on two occasions and contributed eight goals and ten assists in 85 appearances for the Fire.

Bastian Schweinsteiger MLS

Andrea Pirlo

I’m pretty sure that Andrea Pirlo could still be playing at the highest level if he wanted to.

The elegant midfielder made the game look easy, effortlessly gliding around the pitch while spraying 60-yard passes at will.

After playing for some of Italy’s biggest clubs – Inter Milan, AC Milan, and Juventus – and winning the World Cup in 2006, Pirlo spent the final three seasons of his career with New York City.

The midfield maestro featured 62 times for the Boys in Blue, notching up one goal and eight assists. He also guided the club to back-to-back second-place finishes in the Eastern Conference, earning himself a spot in the MLS All-Star team in 2016.

Pirlo is undoubtedly one of the greatest overseas players in MLS history.

Robbie Keane

Robbie Keane racked up a remarkable 105 goals and 42 assists across six seasons in Major League Soccer, leading the Galaxy to three MLS Cup between 2011 and 2014.

The Irishman played for numerous EPL sides, including Leeds, Tottenham, and Liverpool. But he arguably played his best soccer in America.

Best known for his trademark cartwheel, Keane was able to show off his signature goal celebration on countless occasions. Indeed, he reached double figures for goals in each of his five full MLS seasons.

Keane was featured in one of the most competitive eras that Major League Soccer has ever seen, yet he still managed to win the MVP award in 2014.

I think we can all agree that Keane is the best Irishman to ever play in the MLS, but he is also right up there with the very best overseas imports of all time.

League Games Goals Goals Per Game
English Premier League 349 125 0.36
MLS 125 83 0.67
Scottish Premiership 16 12 0.75
Indian Super League 9 6 0.66
Serie A 6


Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi won a combined total of ten straight Ballon d’Ors between 2008 and 2017. Before that, Kaka won the award.

In 2014, the Brazilian wizard brought his magic to America.

Kaka joined Orlando City as the expansion team’s first-ever Designated Player. He went on to play 78 times for the Lions, bagging 25 goals and 19 assists in the process.

The former Brazil star – who earned 92 international caps – played over 300 matches for AC Milan before reaching a century of appearances for Real Madrid.

Kaka spent three seasons in Major League Soccer, featuring in the MLS All-Stars team for three consecutive years. He may not have been able to help Orlando win any silverware, yet his influence on the club will never be forgotten.

Kaka MLS

Wayne Rooney

Let’s be honest – Wayne Rooney’s time in the MLS will forever be remembered for that famous tackle and assist to hand DC United a stoppage-time victory over Orlando in 2018.

But let’s not forget that the Englishman shone throughout his two-season stint with the Black & Red.

Overall, Rooney contributed 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 appearances for DC United – that’s an average of just under a goal every other game.

The former Manchester United legend helped the Black & Red to reach the Playoffs in each of his two seasons in America and also featured in 2018 MLS Best XI.

Rooney may have only spent two years with DC United, but those two years are enough to make him one of the greatest overseas players that Major League Soccer has ever seen.

Final Words

Carlos Valderrama, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba, and Steven Gerrard are just a few more overseas players that have taken Major League Soccer by storm over the years.

Let’s not forget about Golden Boot winners like Bradley Wright-Phillips, Josef Martinez, Carlos Vela, and Diego Rossi, too.

If you can think of any other overseas players that deserve mention, why not share your suggestions in the comments section below?

Ben Morris
Ben Morris

Ben is a sportswriter and tipster who specializes in soccer. Currently based in the UK, he has traveled all around the world watching – and betting on – his beloved sport.

Alongside his regular soccer content, Ben publishes blogs and picks for cricket, Formula 1, Aussie rules, darts, and various other sports.

Ben is a diehard fan of Nottingham Forest and England, so he hasn’t had much to cheer about in recent years!

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