Compiling a list of the best MLS players ever is not a straight-forward task. Successes elsewhere and pedigree prior to arriving in MLS must be overlooked. Instead, we are aiming to identify the players who truly excelled during their time in Major League Soccer.
Best MLS players ever
Settle in, and read through our ranking of the 20 greatest players in MLS history.
20. Josef Martinez
Some might say it’s too early to consider Josef Martinez in the best MLS players ever conversation. Yet, given his goals and attacking contributions have earned MVP awards and silverware for Atlanta United in less than six years, he’s most certainly worthy of contention.
Now with Inter Miami, can he drag up another franchise to the top echelon?
19. Sebastian Giovinco
Sebastian Giovinco was the original Italian to make waves at Toronto FC. Praised for his offensive versatility, the former Juventus player was integral to the franchise’s rise.
Between 2016 and 2017, Toronto would simply outscore the opposition. This led to him scoring 16 goals in the regular season in the latter 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’s no doubt that Carlos Vela will make the best MLS player ever documentation. The Mexican forward has made Los Angeles FC one of the most appealing teams to watch almost by himself.
While his personal 34-goal season in 2019 won him the MVP award and was close to perfection, he’ll fondly cherish last season when LAFC lifted the MLS Cup.
Predrag Radosavljević, affectionately known as Preki, secured a spot in MLS history early on. He became the first-ever player to win the MVP award more than once having secured it in 1997 and 2003.
What is yet more remarkable is that the Serbian-born player dabbled in US indoor soccer before playing at the highest level in the Premier League, then making the switch to Kansas City Wizards. The creative midfielder provided more than his fair share of key passes to help the Wizards to major titles in the early 2000s.
16. Ike Opara
With over 20 years of playing experience in Major League Soccer, it’s no coincidence that Ike Opara is now employed as an assistant coach.
Opara was named the defender of the year on two separate occasions and won the MLS Cup with Sporting Kansas City in 2013. No matter the point in his storied career, Opara was always credited for his bullish work rate which always pleased supporters.
15. Andre Blake
What defines success for a contemporary goalkeeper in Major League Soccer? Just ask the Philadelphia Union shot-stopper, Andre Blake.
The Jamaican keeper has played his entire career with Philadelphia Union and has been exceptional throughout. The three-time goalkeeper of the year sadly, however, has a large collection of silver medals. Three US Open Cup finals ended in heartache yet the big disappointment came in 2022 when the Union lost the MLS Cup final.
14. Eddie Pope
If Major League Soccer made an origin story movie, Eddie Pope would have a starring role. His defensive contributions allowed few opposing teams to score throughout the regular 1996 season. D.C. United made it all the way to the final in that inaugural campaign.
He etched himself into franchise and MLS history.
The MLS Cup final stood at 2-2 at the end of 90 minutes. As such, an additional 30 minutes were needed to see if either team could score a golden goal to lift the trophy. Pope found the ball from the corner delivery and wrapped up the first-ever MLS Cup with his effort.
13. Taylor Twellman
Now one of the recognizable broadcast voices across American soccer transmissions, Taylor Twellman earned his keep on the pitch.
His eight-season tenure with New England Revolution was defined by consistently helping the team find goals. His 2005 season was prolific as he earned the MVP and Golden Boot in that campaign.
12. Diego Valeri
After the best part of a decade at Providence Park, Diego Valeri left Portland as a genuine Timbers legend. The attacking midfielder scored exactly 100 goals for the club in all competitions.
While he lifted the MLS Cup just once with the Portland Timbers, he was consistently recognized as an individual with MVP, Cup MVP, and best newcomer award.
11. Clint Dempsey
Clint Dempsey could have been not just among the best MLS players ever but in an alternate reality the best. The future was just too bright for the 2004 Rookie of the Year. He showed more than enough promise which forged a move to Fulham in the Premier League where he became a Craven Cottage cult icon.
Despite starting his career with New England Revolution, it was upon his return to Major League Soccer with the Seattle Sounders that yielded the most tangible success. Of which included an MLS Cup win, a runners-up spot and even a US Open Cup win.
10. Bradley Wright-Phillips
The Englishman scored 117 goals in MLS, more than double that of his French counterpart. Despite topping the overall MLS table three times, he never won the MLS Cup as the franchise has historically struggled to go all the way.
9. David Beckham
When David Beckham announced that he was leaving Manchester United there was domestic uproar when an Englishman dared to play outside of the Premier League. That was nothing compared to the universal confusion when he announced that he was planning to link up with LA Galaxy in Major League Soccer.
The iconic midfielder spent five years on the LA roster, winning consecutive MLS cups in 2011 and 2012. While his star power would have some put him higher up such top MLS players lists, it’s worth remembering his early days at the club.
Beckham was initially very frustrated at the franchise which saw him spend successive loan moves at AC Milan. He earned recognition in the Rossoneri hall of fame, yet this was on Galaxy’s watch.
8. Marco Etcheverry
For many D.C. United fans, Marco Etcheverry defined the attacking spirit of the franchise which won multiple titles throughout the mid and late 1990s.
His goals were not just prolific in quantity but quality too, as recognized for his goal of the season awards 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
Goalkeepers seldom get enough credit. Tony Meola remains to be the only goalkeeper to receive the coveted MVP award.
His 2000 season however was nothing short of a legendary performance between the sticks, featuring 16 clean sheets throughout the campaign. He kept up this forcefield-like form into the postseason and earned another shutout in the MLS Cup final as his Kansas City Wizards team won the title.
6. Kei Kamara
Best MLS players of all time? Kei Kamara deserves merit for his longevity and consistent goal threat. At 38 years old, Kamara embarks on yet another new challenge linking up with Chicago Fire. This is now his tenth MLS franchise.
Everywhere he’s been, goals have followed. Before the 2023 season, he sits third in the all-time goal record for the division. However, he’ll have eyes to jump up a spot as his 139 tally is just six goal short of Landon Donovan’s count in second place.
5. David Villa
New York City FC has the unusual and unwanted distinction of being the only club David Villa didn’t win silverware at. Between 2015 and 2018, he notched 80 goals in 126 appearances.
New York City fans will always hold him in special regard for his performance in a Hudson River derby. NYCFC were 2-1 down with less than 30 minutes left on the clock. Villa had already scored and led the team to a comeback win with two further goals.
Despite not lifting a trophy with the Pigeons, he still left a real impression on Major League Soccer and left as a legend of the competition. An all-star in every season he was there, the 2016 MVP and numerous other awards ensured he left a legacy at Yankee Stadium.
4. Jaime Moreno
Bolivian forward Jaime Moreno has a real weight in the greatest players in MLS history debate.
Moreno dedicated his career to D.C. United barring one season which he spent with the Metro Stars. His 133 goals for the franchise were enough to win four MLS Cups, two US Open Cups, and even the CONCACAF Champions League. Yet, it is his overall contributions to the franchise which made him such a treasured MLS legend.
3. Carlos Valderrama
There always has to be a trailblazer. Valderrama jumped at the chance to join MLS at the first juncture.
His Colombian flair was integral to Tampa Bay Mutiny’s Supporter’s Shield win in 1996. While this stood out as his lone trophy from his time in MLS, Valderrama continued to perform and spent the rest of his career in the US. When he retired in 2002, he had been named in multiple 100 best players lists and included in the MLS All-Time Best XI.
2. Chris Wondolowski
When googling ‘MLS GOAT’, there are a few names that crop up frequently. Chris Wondolowski is one such name. In his day, the striker was a consistent goal threat for the San Jose Earthquakes. His attacking presence led him to multiple top scorer accolades as well as holding the record for the all-time goal count with 171 MLS goals.
Despite his longevity in the game (2004 to 2021), his trophy cabinet is not bustling with only four major club honors. Two of those came with San Jose and another couple from his brief tenure at Houston Dynamo. However, after being named MVP and in several best XI sheets for the season, he is still incredibly well remembered.
1. Landon Donovan
No discussion on the greatest players in MLS history should omit this man. In case you didn’t know, the MVP award that the league hands out is named after him. It is now known frequently as the Landon Donovan MVP award.
While the LA Galaxy legend flirted with other clubs like Bayern Munich, Everton, and even the San Jose Earthquakes, his legacy was etched with the Galaxy. 145 goals in MLS makes him the second all-time top scorer and quite possibly the best player to ever adorn the division.