The best players in MLS history

Compiling a list of the best MLS players ever is no easy task. Success elsewhere and pedigree before arriving in MLS should be ignored. Instead, we aim to identify players who truly excelled during their time in Major League Soccer.

The best MLS players ever

Sit back and read our ranking of the 20 greatest players in MLS history.

20. Joseph Martinez

Some might say it’s too early to consider Josef Martinez among the greatest players in MLS history. However, given his goals and offensive contributions that have earned him MVP awards and silverware for Atlanta United in less than six years, he’s certainly worth a shot.

Now with Inter Miami, can he take another franchise to the top echelon?

19. Sebastian Giovinco

Sebastian Giovinco was the original Italian who made a splash at Toronto FC. Praised for his attacking versatility, the former Juventus player has been integral to the franchise’s rise.

From 2016 to 2017, Toronto will simply outscore the opposition. That led to him scoring 16 goals in the regular season last season. As a result, the club won the Supporters’ Shield and lifted the MLS Cup in a dominant calendar year for the team.

18. Carlos Vela

There is no doubt that Carlos Vela will make the best player in MLS history. The Mexican striker has made Los Angeles FC one of the most fascinating teams to watch almost single-handedly.

While his personal 34-goal season in 2019 earned him the MVP award and was close to perfection, he will fondly cherish last season when LAFC lifted the MLS Cup.

17. Preki

Predrag Radosavljevic, affectionately known as Preki, earned an early place in MLS history. He became the first player in history to win the MVP award more than once, securing it in 1997 and 2003.

More remarkable still, the Serbian-born player played indoor soccer in the US before playing at the highest level in the Premier League and then moving to the Kansas City Wizards. The creative midfielder provided more than his share of key assists to help the Wizards win major titles in the early 2000s.

16. Ike Opara

With over 20 years playing experience in Major League Soccer, it’s no coincidence that Ike Opara now works as an assistant coach.

Opara is a two-time Defensive Player of the Year and won the MLS Cup with Sporting Kansas City in 2013. No matter the point in his storied career, Opara has always been appreciated for his superior work that has always pleased his fans.

15. Andre Blake

What determines the success of the modern goaltender in Major League Soccer? Just ask Philadelphia Union shortstop Andre Blake.

The Jamaican goalkeeper has spent his entire career with the Philadelphia Union and has been exceptional throughout. The three-time goalkeeper of the year, unfortunately, has a large collection of silver medals. Three US Open Cup finals have ended in heartbreak, but the big upset came in 2022 when the Union lost in the MLS Cup final.

14. Eddie Pope

If Major League Soccer made an origin story movie, Eddie Pope would star. His defensive contributions allowed several opposing teams to score during the 1996 regular season. D.C. United made it all the way to the finals in that inaugural campaign.

He catapulted himself into franchise and MLS history.

The MLS Cup Final was tied 2-2 after 90 minutes. As such, it took an extra 30 minutes to see if either team could score the golden goal to lift the trophy. Pope found the ball from the corner kick and finished off the first ever MLS trophy with his effort.

13. Taylor Twellman

Now one of the prominent voices in American football broadcasting, Taylor Tuelman has earned his keep on the field.

His eight-season tenure with the New England Revolution was defined by consistently helping the team find goals. His 2005 season was prolific as he earned MVP and Golden Boot honors that campaign.

12. Diego Valeri

After the better part of a decade at Providence Park, Diego Valeri left Portland as a true Timbers legend. The attacking midfielder scored exactly 100 goals for the club in all competitions.

Although he only lifted the MLS Cup once with the Portland Timbers, he was consistently recognized with individual MVP, Cup MVP and Rookie of the Year awards.

11. Clint Dempsey

Clint Dempsey might not just be among the best MLS players ever, but the best in an alternate reality. The future was just too bright for the 2004 Rookie of the Year. He showed more than enough promise, which led to a move to Fulham in the Premier League, where he became a cult icon at Craven Cottage.

Although he began his career with the New England Revolution, it was with the Seattle Sounders that he returned to Major League Soccer, which provided the most tangible success. These included an MLS Cup win, a runner-up finish and even a US Open Cup win.

10. Bradley Wright-Phillips

New York Red Bulls legend Bradley Wright-Phillips was arguably better than Thierry Henry as a striker for the club.

The Englishman scored 117 goals in MLS, twice more than his French counterpart. Despite leading the MLS standings three times, he has never won the MLS Cup as the franchise has historically struggled to go all the way.

9. David Beckham

When David Beckham announced he was leaving Manchester United, there was an internal uproar as the Englishman dared to play outside the Premier League. That was nothing compared to the general confusion when he announced he was going to link up with the LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer.

The iconic midfielder spent five years on the Los Angeles roster, winning back-to-back MLS Cups in 2011 and 2012. While his star power will propel him up MLS’ best player lists, it’s worth remembering his early days at the club.

Beckham was initially very disillusioned with the franchise, which led to his subsequent loan move to AC Milan. He earned recognition in the Rossoneri Hall of Fame, but this was on the Galaxy’s watch.

8. Marco Etcheverry

For many DC United fans, Marco Etcheverry defined the attacking spirit of a franchise that won numerous titles in the mid-to-late 1990s.

His goals were not only prolific in quantity but also in quality, being recognized for his goals of the season in both 1997 and 1999. In addition to his nine major titles with the club, Marco is more than fondly remembered by the Audi Field faithful.

7. Tony Meola

Goalies rarely get enough credit. Tony Meola remains the only goalkeeper who received the coveted MVP award.

His 2000 season, however, was nothing short of a legendary performance between the sticks, with 16 clean sheets throughout the campaign. He maintained this forcefield-like form into the postseason and had another shutout in the MLS Cup final as his Kansas City Wizards team won the title.

6. Kay Kamara

The best MLS players of all time. Kei Kamara deserves credit for his longevity and consistent scoring threat. At age 38, Kamara is embarking on yet another new challenge, linking up with the Chicago Fire. This is now his tenth MLS franchise.

Everywhere he went, goals followed. Heading into the 2023 season, he ranks third on the division’s all-time scoring record. However, he will have an eye to jump up a spot as his 139 is just 6 goals short of second place Landon Donovan.

5. David Villa

New York City FC has the unusual and unwanted distinction of being the only club without David Villa winning silverware. In 2015-2018, he scored 80 goals in 126 games.

New York City fans will always hold a special regard for him for his performance in the Hudson River Derby. NYCFC was down 2-1 with less than 30 minutes to go. Villa had already scored and two more goals led the team to a comeback victory.

Despite not lifting a trophy with the Pigeons, he still made a real impression on Major League Soccer and left as a legend in the competition. An All-Star every season he was there, the 2016 MVP and numerous other awards ensured he left a legacy at Yankee Stadium.

4. Jaime Moreno

Bolivia forward Jaime Moreno holds true weight in the greatest players in MLS history debate.

Moreno has dedicated his career to DC United, with the exception of one season he spent with the Metro Stars. His 133 goals were enough for the franchise to win four MLS Cups, two US Open Cups and even the CONCACAF Champions League. However, it’s his overall contributions to the franchise that have made him a treasured MLS legend.

3. Carlos Valderrama

There should always be a detective. Valderrama jumped at the chance to join MLS at the first moment.

His Colombian charm was integral to Tampa Bay Mutiny’s Supporter’s Shield win in 1996. Although it stood out as his only trophy from his time in MLS, Valderrama continued to perform and spent the rest of his career in the United States. By the time he retired in 2002, he had been named to many top 100 player lists and ranked among the top 11 MLS players of all time.

2. Chris Wondolowski

When googling “MLS GOAT,” there are a few names that come up frequently. Chris Wondolowski is one such name. In his prime, the forward has been a consistent scoring threat for the San Jose Earthquakes. His attacking presence led to him winning several top scorer awards as well as holding the all-time scoring record with 171 MLS goals.

Despite playing longevity (from 2004 to 2021), his trophy cabinet is not bustling with just four major club honours. Two of those came with San Jose and another pair from his brief tenure with the Houston Dynamo. However, after being named MVP and in several best XI charts for the season, he is still incredibly well remembered.

1. Landon Donovan

No discussion of the greatest players in MLS history should leave this man out. In case you didn’t know, the MVP award that the league gives out is named after him. It is now often known as the Landon Donovan MVP Award.

While the LA Galaxy legend flirted with other clubs such as Bayern Munich, Everton and even the San Jose Earthquakes, his legacy was etched with the Galaxy. His 145 goals in MLS make him the second-highest goalscorer of all time and possibly the best player to ever grace the division.

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