Best MLS Signings Of All Time

The Major League Soccer (MLS) has become more popular over the past two decades. One of the major reasons is the signings of high-profile players from top European football clubs.

Many of the Best MLS signings of all time are from top European clubs as well as youngsters from the North American region.

Recruiting veteran European superstars sparked an increase in interest and the media coverage of the MLS.

In this post, FootballOrbit brings you the best MLS signings ever.

1. David Beckham

Best MLS signings

In 2007, David Beckham joined LA Galaxy and changed American soccer forever — adding much-needed global appeal and legitimacy to the MLS.

In fact, his signing prompted the league to introduce the Designated Player Rule. Without the rule, signing most of the players in this article wouldn’t be possible.

Furthermore, Beckham’s arrival significantly boosted the profile of LA Galaxy. During his time in Los Angeles, the Englishman won two MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields.

Currently, he owns another MLS club (Inter Miami). Meaning, he’s still a key figure in the MLS.

2. Lionel Messi

Lionel Messi poses with his Best Player Award and Top Scorer Award after defeating the Nashville SC to win the Leagues Cup 2023 final match between Inter Miami CF and Nashville SC at GEODIS Park on August 19, 2023 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

Arguably the greatest player of all time, Lionel Messi has won a record 8 Ballon d’Or awards.

He spent the prime of his career at Barcelona, where he won a club-record 34 trophies — including 10 La Liga titles, 7 Copa del Rey titles and 4 UEFA Champions Leagues.

With Argentina, he won the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Messi has scored over 800 senior career goals for club and country, and has the most goals by a player for a single club (672).

After leaving Barca, he joined PSG on a free transfer but things didn’t go as planned, his spell in France was rather underwhelming.

On the 15th of July 2023, Inter Miami announced the signing of Messi on a two-and-a-half year contract.

He was formally introduced to fans at a live-streamed event, dubbed “La PresentaSÍon”, at DRV PNK Stadium the following day alongside fellow signee and former Barcelona teammate Sergio Busquets.

His base salary was set at $12m with guaranteed compensation totaling $20.4m for the 2023 season.

Moreso, he is also set to earn additional shares from jersey sales, MLS Season Pass subscriptions, and a stake in the club itself.

The Argentine icon had an instant impact in the MLS, skyrocketing views and followership.

Lionel Messi ended the season with 11 goals in just 14 matches and led Inter Miami to the Leagues Cup title — the first major trophy in the club’s history.

What an immediate impact!!!

3. Carlos Valderrama

Valderrama best MLS signings
Carlos Valderrama playing for Colorado Rapids, 2002 (Photo By Christopher Ruppel/Getty Images).

Colombian maestro, Carlos Valderrama, played in the MLS from 1997 to 2002. He represented Miami Fusion, Tampa Bay Mutiny and Colorado Rapids.

His flamboyant style of play captured the hearts of many Americans in the late 90s and early 2000s.

4. Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry best MLS signings of all time
Thierry Henry of New York Red Bulls, 2014 (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images).

One of the greatest players to ever grace the English Premier League, Thierry Henry also played a key role in boosting the reputation of the MLS.

The Frenchman joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010 after spending the majority of his prime years representing Arsenal and Barcelona.

His 4-and-half years with the Red Bulls will forever remain fondly remembered by the club’s fans due to his high level commitment and goal scoring ability.

5. Robbie Keane

Robbie Keane
Robbie Keane of LA Galaxy celebrates (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images).

Arguably the best striker in MLS history, Robbie Keane spent 6 seasons with LA Galaxy.

The former Republic of Ireland captain scored 104 goals in 165 games, and won three MLS Cups.

6. Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is regarded as one of the greatest strikers of all time and is one of the most decorated active footballers in the world.

After turning out for some of the best teams in the world, the Swedish striker signed for LA Galaxy in 2018.

His debut alone will forever remain unforgettable……..

……he came as a substitute against Los Angeles FC in the inaugural El Tráfico derby and scored twice — including a sensational 45-yard half volley and a header in stoppage time — helping LA Galaxy come from three goals down to win the match 4-3!!!

At the end of his first year (despite the Galaxy missing out on the playoffs), Ibrahimovic made the MLS Best XI, won the MLS Newcomer of the Year Award as well as the MLS Goal of the Year.

After his second year, Zlatan Ibrahimovic returned to Europe, joining AC Milan.

7. David Villa

David Villa MLS
New York City FC forward David Villa celebrates 2017 (Photo by Michael Stewart/Getty Images).

After reaching the 2014 UEFA Champions League final with Atletico Madrid, David Villa subsequently joined New York City FC.

His time in the MLS was memorable and full of goals. The Spanish striker netted 80 goals in 126 games.

8. Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey Seattle Sounders reacts after scoring for Seattle Sounders in 2014 (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images).

Clint Dempsey was one of the American players that put USA on the map as a country that produces talented footballers who can compete at the highest level of European football.

His most successful spell was at Fulham in the Premier League, where he spent 5 years and became the club’s leading EPL goalscorer.

In 2013, Dempsey returned to the MLS — having initially represented New England Revolution from 2004 to 2006 — to join the Seattle Sounders.

His presence in the MLS as a top USMNT star was ideal for the league and inspired upcoming youngsters.

Clint Dempsey scored 47 goals in 115 appearances for Seattle Sounders and led the club to win the 2014 Supporters’ Shield.

9. Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney was 32 when he moved to Major League Soccer in 2018, but showed everyone that he’s still got what it takes.

He joined D.C. United — a team considered the worst in the league then — and dramatically transformed their fortunes as they amazingly secured a first Playoffs berth since 2015.

For a declining midfielder at the tail end of his playing career, this was an outstanding achievement.

Ultimately, Rooney finished his MLS career with 25 goals in 52 appearances.

10. Carlos Vela

Carlos Vela best MLS signings
(Photo by Shaun Clark/Getty Images).

Vela was heralded as one of the finest young talents in the world and eventually joined Arsenal.

He failed to live up to expectations at the Emirates and had loan spells at Salamanca, Osasuna and West Brom, before permanently joining Real Sociedad in 2012.

During his 6-year spell with Sociedad, Vela played in 250 matches and scored 73 goals.

In January 2018, he joined Los Angeles FC. The Mexican immediately became one of the top stars in the MLS, winning the Supporters’ Shield and the MLS Golden Boot in his second year.

Furthermore, he set a new league record for most goals in a season (34) and was also voted Most Valuable Player.

Last year (2022), Vela won his second Supporters’ Shield with LAFC and also lifted the MLS Cup.

11. Javier Hernandez “Chicharito”

Javier Hernandez Chicharito
(Photo credit: Shaun Clark/Getty Images).

Javier Hernández “Chicharito” played for several top clubs in Europe: Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayer Leverkusen, West Ham United and Sevilla.

Before coming to the MLS, plenty of American soccer fans knew him for his international career with Mexico.

In 2020, Hernandez joined LA Galaxy and became the highest paid player in the league then.

Being a top superstar from Mexico, his presence further boosted the league.

Moreso, Chicharito is still one of the highest paid players in the MLS.

12. Miguel Almiron

Miguel Almiron 15 best MLS signings ever
Midfielder Miguel Almiron of Atlanta United dribbles (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images).

Miguel Almiron was an unknown player before Atlanta United signed him for just $8 million in 2016.

The Paraguayan immediately hit the ground running in America and set the MLS on fire.

He was named in the MLS Best XI for both of his seasons in Major League Soccer, as well as MLS Newcomer of the Year for 2017.

After helping Atlanta win the MLS Cup 2018, Almiron joined Premier League club, Newcastle, in a £21m deal — a club record for Atlanta and the highest fee ever paid for an MLS player.

13. Josef Martinez

Josef Martinez
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

Atlanta United signed Josef Martinez from Serie A side Torino in 2017, and the Venezuelan quickly established himself as one of the best players in the MLS.

Currently, he holds the MLS record for most hat-tricks (6), most cumulative goals in regular and post season (35) and most consecutive games with a goal (15).

Additionally, Martinez scored 100 goals in the MLS faster than any single player in league history (125 games).

In 2018, Josef became the most decorated single-season player in MLS history by winning the League MVP, All-Star Game MVP, Golden Boot, and MLS Cup final MVP!!!

14. Sebastian Giovinco

Sebastian Giovinco, Toronto FC. (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images).

Sebastian Giovinco left Juventus in 2015 after struggling to get consistent playing time but was still a high quality player.

He was just 27 when he joined Toronto FC. He became the highest paid player in the MLS then, earning $7 million annually.

A move abroad from Italy to the United States rejuvenated his career, as he became Toronto FC’s top goalscorer with a tally of 68 goals in 114 matches for the club.

He also won the MLS Golden Boot, the 2015 MLS MVP and the 2017 MLS Cup.

In addition to this, he is the first player to score more than 20 goals and provide more than 10 assists in a single MLS campaign.

15. Jozy Altidore

Jozy Altidore. 15 Best MLS Signings Of All Time
Jozy Altidore of Toronto FC celebrates (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images).

After starting his career with the New York Red Bulls, Jozy Altidore moved to Europe and played for several clubs.

Following a disappointing spell at Sunderland, the American international joined Toronto FC in 2015.

Subsequently, he rejuvenated his career — scoring 79 goals in 173 matches.

Along with the likes of Clint Dempsey, Altidore paved way for new USMNT youngsters.

16. Kaka

Kaka celebrating for Orlando City in 2016 (Photo by Chris McEniry/Getty Images).

Towards the end of his career, Kaka signed for Orlando City and instantly boosted the club’s profile.

He was one of the only few players that have won the FIFA World Cup, Ballon d’Or and the UEFA Champions League.

Kaka was 32 when he joined Orlando City and no longer in his prime, but still provided three memorable seasons in MLS.

Notable Mentions:

¶Bastian Schweinsteiger
¶Brad Guzan
¶Frank Lampard
¶Gonzalo Higuain
¶Andrea Pirlo
¶Steven Gerrard

Leave a Reply