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Biggest English Players to Play in the MLS


In this article, we will look at the top five most prominent English players who have played in MLS and their impact on American soccer culture. We will also discuss how they have contributed to American soccer and whether this trend is likely to continue for future generations.

These days, the relationship between English players and MLS is one of start names moving to the US to end or elongate their careers, but English soccer professionals have actually been there from the beginning.

When MLS was established in 1996, there were already 4 Englishmen plying their trades in the league; Ian Butterworth, Aidan Heaney, Richard Sharpe, and Chris Woods.

Two of them, Heaney and Sharpe, had been in the US for some time before MLS began, but Butterworth and Woods went across specifically to join this new league. Although they weren’t famous names, they were the first English players to play in MLS.

A notable cohort of English players renowned for their on-field prowess have made the transition since, who have significantly contributed to American soccer. So without further ado, let’s examine the most high profile more closely.

Top 5 Biggest English Players to Play in the MLS

1. David Beckham

Recognized as one of the most renowned names in soccer history, David Beckham’s legacy speaks for itself. Having played for prominent clubs such as Manchester United and Real Madrid, he also served as England’s national team captain.

In 2007, when L.A. Galaxy signed him as a marquee player, the American audience was intrigued to witness his performance on their soil – and he didn’t disappoint. During his six-year tenure with L.A. Galaxy, he won two MLS Cups while becoming an iconic face of the league.

Beckham’s arrival revolutionized soccer in America by raising its profile and inspiring young players to strive toward greatness. He remains a game-changer who made an indelible impact on the sport at a global level.

2. Wayne Rooney

Hailing from Croxteth in Liverpool, England, Wayne Rooney is a football icon who left his mark on the MLS as a player and a manager. Having played for esteemed teams such as Manchester United and Everton, he signed up with D.C. United in 2018.

Rooney’s arrival at D.C. United marked an instant turning point for the team as they went from the bottom of the table to qualifying for playoffs within a season. His veteran leadership qualities and expertise played a crucial role in D.C. United’s success, making him one of their key signings.

He even came back as their head coach for a year between 2022 and 2023, although that was not as successful as his time playing for them.

3. Ashley Cole

Another notable English footballer who made his presence felt while playing for L.A. Galaxy between 2016-2018 was Ashley Cole. With Arsenal and Chelsea among his previous teams, Cole’s inclusion strengthened L.A. Galaxy’s defense, giving them stability and experience and contributing to their fifth MLS Cup win.

He spent 3 seasons with Galaxy as their first choice left back, before heading back to the UK for a brief stint at Derby playing under his old teammate Frank Lampard. He retired shortly afterwards.

4. Frank Lampard

Frank Lampard joined New York City F.C. as their designated player in 2015 after leaving Premier League giants Chelsea FC where he spent thirteen years of his career as one of its greatest midfielders ever.

During his time at NYCFC, being named captain early on by head coach Patrick Vieira Lampard tallied up some impressive numbers:

  • Scoring twelve goals from midfield while providing four assists that year alone.
  • Helping NYC reach playoffs for their very first time.
  • Ultimately cementing himself as part of the New York City Football Club history books forever.

5. Jermain Defoe

Jermain Defoe may have only spent one season playing for Toronto F.C., but it was enough time to make a lasting impression on Canadian soccer fans everywhere. He was instrumental in taking Toronto F.C. to Eastern Conference Finals, even though they lost that game eventually. In addition, Defoe helped Toronto score critical goals throughout that season, ultimately leading them toward victory each time he found himself on-pitch.

Together, these five English players have had a massive impact on Major League Soccer, individually and collectively, by raising interest levels in the U.S. Soccer industry.

Impact and Legacy of English Players in MLS

MLS Increase in Popularity

English players have left an indelible mark on Major League Soccer since its inception in 1996, raising the profile of American soccer both domestically and globally. The influx of English players into the MLS has brought about a remarkable change, not just in terms of play quality but also in nurturing a fresh wave of aspiring American talent.

David Beckham stands out for his pivotal role in elevating Major League Soccer (MLS) to a higher level of competitiveness and international recognition. Beckham’s arrival in 2007 ignited a sea change for MLS as he introduced a new level of talent, prestige and experience that enticed many other star players to join him in the league.

Wayne Rooney for example, his presence greatly enhanced the quality of play and generated more interest among fans, helping boost ticket sales and T.V. ratings. Ashley Cole, Frank Lampard and Jermain Defoe also played important roles during their time in MLS, not to mention players like Bradley Wright Phillips, Steven Gerrard, and Danny Dichio (who scored Toronto’s first ever MLS goal) who did not make it onto this list. They brought a wealth of experience from playing at top clubs in Europe and contributed immensely to elevating the level of play within the league.

The information in the chart above shows that between 2008 and 2021, MLS saw its club’s valuations grow 5 times faster than any other sport in the US. This is not all down the English players improving the American game, but they are certainly part of it.

The impact these players have had on inspiring young generations is noteworthy as they bring an abundance of experience from playing at the topmost level. In addition, their experiences provide invaluable insights into what it takes to succeed as a professional footballer, thus aiding young Americans looking to build careers in soccer.

Moreover, the style of play these English players have introduced has positively influenced the MLS. Known for their technical ability, clever positioning, and exceptional vision on-field, they complemented their teammates’ athleticism and tenacity to create beautiful moments during games that fans appreciate.

Challenges Faced by English MLS Players

Danny Dichio MLS
Danny Dichio – From MLS

Participating in an international team poses a significant challenge, particularly for English players brought up with a distinct football culture. One of the primary difficulties they face is adapting to their teammates’ diverse playing styles and tactics from various nations. For instance, several MLS teams are overwhelmingly influenced by South American football styles that can clash with conventional English approaches.

Furthermore, acclimating to new settings and adjusting to life in America presents another hurdle for English players. This includes coping with the demands of traveling long distances across multiple time zones, unfamiliar playing conditions such as artificial turf pitches or hot weather, and cultural differences off the pitch.

Communicating can also throw up unexpected issues for English players when speaking with US natives. Although American and UK players all speak English, it is common for misunderstandings or miscommunications to occur due to language nuances or local expressions. Clashes of personality due to humour differences can also require some delicate balance.

Furthermore, MLS has unique rules and regulations that differ from those found in England’s Premier League. For example, the salary cap system limits how much teams can pay players, while roster restrictions mean that squads cannot be as large as they are in Europe.

Finally, there is often pressure on English players to justify their high salaries compared to their American counterparts. Fans expect them to perform at a higher level than domestic players despite not being familiar with local conditions or having prior experience playing in MLS.