David Beckham started it all when he signed a five-year, $250 million dollar contract with the LA Galaxy in 2007. At 32 years of age, the most widely known soccer player in the world journeyed across the Atlantic Ocean and immediately jumpstarted the popularity of the MLS and game of soccer nationwide.
The LA Galaxy’s ticket sales rose and revenue increased, but they also had success on the pitch. In 2009, two years after Beckham arrived in California, they made it all the way to the MLS cup, losing to Real Salt Lake. In 2010 they lost in the Conference Final, but in 2011 and 2012 they won the MLS Cup. Beckham’s retirement in 2012, after winning the MLS Cup at the age of 37 came as no surprise.
He started the phenomenon of popular international stars traveling to the MLS after they have had a successful career in Europe. Beckham also produced the Designated Player (DP) Rule or "Beckham Rule", which allows MLS clubs to purchase up to three players whose salaries exceed the team's overall budget. This rule initiated a cycle of players deciding to come play in the MLS, which generated all sorts of opinions and criticisms about the level of play in the MLS and about the age of these players. Regardless, some things are for sure ----- these players generate excitement for fans, add to the success and quality of the MLS, and increase the popularity of soccer in the United States.
Thierry Henry was next when he joined the New York Red Bulls in 2010 after leaving Barcelona FC. The striker instantly made an impact on the field and in his four years on the Red Bulls he was part of the MLS All Star Team, finalist for the MLS Most Valuable Player, and was the captain.
Robbie Keane joined the LA Galaxy with Beckham in 2011 and his first year they won the MLS Cup. The Dublin native has scored 86 regular season goals and has won three MLS Cups. In 2014 he was awarded the MLS MVP and scored the game winner during the MLS Cup against the New England Revolution.
Robbie Keane scores game winner in extra time during 2014 MLS Cup
Kakà joined the Orlando City SC in 2014 and was named the team’s captain before the home opener. In his first season he has scored seven goals and the former FIFA World Player of the Year is on track to having a successful first season in the MLS.
David Villa, the all-time leading goal scorer in Spanish national team history joined the New York City FC in 2014. In his first season he has scored four goals and scored his first goal in NYCFC’s 2-0 home opener. He was named MLS Player of the Week in March and continues to add to his successful and highly anticipated MLS career.
Future MLS Players
Two of the best midfielders that England has ever had will travel to play in the MLS at the conclusion of the 2015 season. Frank Lampard, former Chelsea, Manchester City and England Midfielder will join David Villa on the New York City FC in 2015. And Steven Gerrard, former Liverpool captain and England midfielder, will join Robbie Keane on the LA Galaxy.
These two soccer greats and the other talented players who made the leap to MLS are sure to benefit and impact MLS in this ongoing season and in many future ones to come. Lampard and Gerrard will not be the last. The ongoing cycle of great players deciding to come to the United States to keep their soccer careers alive will continue. The fans love them and American Soccer can only continue to get better and better from their additions.