Attempting to define the 25 greatest MLS players of all-time is no easy feat. Several big-name players just missed the cut (such as Kyle Beckerman, Brian McBride, Chad Marshall, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Thierry Henry, and Pablo Mastroeni). Over the next decade, we may see more of today’s superstars (Josef Martinez, Zack Steffen, Diego Rossi) join this list.
However, for now, here are the 25 greatest MLS players of all-time.
25. Bradley Wright-Phillips
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24. Nick Rimando
Goalkeepers can often be taken for granted or overlooked for accolades. However, truly great ones can change not only seasons, but also club histories. Rimando is currently in his 19th season in MLS. He was acquired by Real Salt Lake in 2006 as a part of the ‘Freddy Adu’ trade. He might have been the second attraction in that trade, but he became a RSL legend in the process. In 483 matches, no player at any position has played more games or minutes than Rimando. The former UCLA Bruin has also collected two MLS Cups during his illustrious career.
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23. Steve Ralston
During the first decade of MLS, Steve Ralston was the consistent force of the league. In fact, there has never been a MLS season with Ralston (as either a player or coach). By the time Ralston retired, he was the record holder for assists, minutes played, and games played. His career was split between the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution. Ralston was a three-time member of the MLS Best XI, and was also named as the 1996 Rookie of the Year.
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22. David Villa
Villa was already a legend when he joined MLS. He enjoyed a wonderful career across the pond in Europe. Villa is Spain’s all-time leading goal scorer — and had also been a part of teams that won both the World Cup as well as the Champion’s League. In MLS, Villa collected the 2016 MVP award (and finished as the runner-up the following year). Villa holds the records for most games played for NYCFC (113) as well as goals scored (73). This is especially remarkable when you consider the club has competed in less than 150 matches. The final question in Villa’s illustrious career will be whether he gets the chance to claim a title in MLS before hanging up his boots.
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21. Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Schelotto had just four years in MLS. With that said, they were highly productive. One of only seven DPs signed that first season, the Argentine was the first to make such a big impact on the pitch. After missing the playoffs in 2007, he led the Crew to a MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield double in 2008. He was named league MVP that season after notching 19 assists. Could we see Schelotto return to MLS once again to lead the Crew? Now coaching at Boca Juniors in Argentina, he could be an option should current manager Gregg Berhalter take the same post with the United States Men’s National Team.
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20. Diego Valeri
While the Portland Timbers existed long before MLS, the MLS era is best defined by Valeri. Arriving in 2013, Diego has already tallied 146 matches and 62 goals for Portland. He led the Timbers to a 2015 MLS Cup, but it was his 2017 season that really stands out. After missing the playoffs in 2016, Valeri almost single-handedly pulled Portland into the playoffs. He became the second player in league history to notch 20+ goals and 10+ assists in a single season. He stands third in most games played for the Timbers, first in goals, and first in assists. Once Valeri retires, don’t be surprised to see the club construct a statue of him outside of Providence Park.
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19. Sebastian Giovinco
Nicknamed the Atomic Ant, Giovinco is listed at 5-foot-4. Despite his diminutive size, the Italian international can dominate any match. Arriving in 2015 to a Toronto side that had never made the playoffs, Giovinco has redefined the franchise. In 2015, he took home the MVP award and the Golden Boot. In the process, Giovinco became the first player in league history to record 20+ goals and 10+ assists in a single season. The Italian has scored 67 goals for Toronto over the course of his career — ranking him first in the franchise’s history. Alongside Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, Giovinco hoisted the MLS Cup in both 2016 and 2017.
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18. Carlos Ruiz
MLS fans will likely remember Carlos ‘El Pescadito’ Ruiz (meaning ‘the little fish’ in Spanish). Ruiz was both a deadly finisher and a pesky opponent. The Guatemalan was the type of player you’d loved to have on your team, but hated facing. Ruiz was also often at the center of on-field incidents. Over a span of 14 years, Ruiz played for five MLS clubs (Galaxy, Dallas, Toronto, Philadelphia and DC United). He won the MVP award in 2002 after scoring 24 goals. He also helped in leading the LA Galaxy to the MLS Cup. Ruiz is 12th all-time in MLS goals with 89.
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17. Jeff Cunningham
Cunningham was a prolific finisher during the 2000s. He suited up for five different clubs in the league. However, Cunningham is best remembered for his time in Columbus. He played a total of 365 MLS matches — scoring 134 goals and 70 assists. Those totals rank him third all-time in goals, 17th in assists, and ninth in games played. Even playing across five different clubs, Cunningham ranks third in all-time appearances for the Crew, second in goals, and third in assists.
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16. Kevin Hartman
‘The Cat’ suited up 416 times during his MLS career. This is the second-highest mark in league history for any player. Best known for his decade with the LA Galaxy, Hartman won two MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields and the Goalkeeper of the Year award in 1999. He later played with FC Dallas and the New York Red Bulls, winning another Shield with the latter club. His 179 wins as a keeper sit second-most all-time.
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Predrag Radosavljević, better known as “Preki,” stands as the only player to ever earn the MVP honor twice. You could stop right there to justify his inclusion in this list. Preki suited up 218 times for the Kansas City Wiz (yes, their name was the ‘Wiz’ before it developed into the Wizards — and now currently Sporting KC). He scored 71 times during his career, and his 112 assists rank him 5th on the all-time MLS list. Preki also holds the record for the most goals and assists in Kansas City history.
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14. Carlos Valderrama
‘El Pibe’ (The Kid) was the original attacking midfield star in MLS. The three-time World Cup captain for Colombia set the bar exceptionally high. Many future South American talents would follow in his footsteps — largely due to him being a pioneer in MLS. Easily recognizable for his mane of bushy blonde hair, Valderrama won the league’s first MVP award. He led the Tampa Bay Mutiny to the Supporters’ Shield in the league’s inaugural season. The Colombian international was named to the MLS All-Time Best XI. He sits 4th on the all-time assist leaderboard with an eye-popping 114 assists in 177 matches.
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13. Cobi Jones
If anyone can challenge Landon Donovan as Mr. LA Galaxy, it’s Cobi Jones. He played his entire 11-year career in MLS with the Galaxy. The California native has made more appearances than any other player for the club. Despite not having Beckham and Keane as teammates, Jones led the Galaxy to two MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields, and a CONCACAF Champions Cup in 2000 (the last United States side to claim the trophy). A midfield force, the creative Jones racked up 91 assists in his career.
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12. Eddie Pope
A star defender for club and country, Pope suited up 254 times in MLS play. In the league’s inaugural draft, Pope was selected No. 2 Overall by D.C. United. Brilliant in the air and physical with virtually every challenge, Pope quickly proved to be an all-time MLS great. He was named as the MLS Defender of the Year in 1997. In 2011, Pope was named to the National Soccer Hall of Fame. He’ll go down as one of the best American players to never play abroad.
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11. Taylor Twellman
Twellman is one of the purest goal scorers MLS has ever seen. Drafted by the New England Revolution in 2002, he scored 23 goals in 28 league appearances during his rookie campaign. Twellman led the Revolution to four MLS Cup appearances over a six-year period (though he was never able to lift the trophy). Twellman’s red-hot scoring form didn’t slip after his rookie year. He netted 101 strikes in 174 league matches before suffering a neck injury in 2008 that would ultimately end his career. Even with a shortened professional career, Twellman racked up the individual accolades. To this day, Twellman is still the club’s all-time leader in goals scored.
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10. Brian Ching
Ching was initially drafted by the LA Galaxy as the first player of Hawaiian descent in MLS. From 2003 to 2005, he scored 25 league goals in 56 matches for San Jose. This resulted in Ching claiming a Golden Boot award and a Best XI nod in 2004. Ching then moved to the newly created Houston Dynamo (the club he is most prominently known for). He helped the Dynamo win MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. A true target forward, Ching did the dirty work normally associated with winning at the highest level.
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9. Tony Meola
Many regard Meola as a legendary American goalkeeper. His play both for the national team and in MLS was sparkling. He made 250 appearances during his 11-year MLS career. In 2000, Meola become the only goalkeeper to ever win the league’s MVP award. Meola accrued 17 shutouts in 32 matches — a record that still stands to this day. Meola’s instincts in goal were phenomenal — as was his ability to cut down angles on opposing shots.
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8. Jaime Moreno
Moreno started his career at Middlesbrough in England. He helped the club win promotion to the Premier League. In 1996, Moreno moved stateside to join D.C. United. He wound up scoring 131 goals in 329 matches. At the time, that tally set a new league record. In fact, he was the first player in league history to notch 100 career goals and assists. The Bolivian forward won the league’s MVP award in 1997. Moreno was also a five-time member of the league’s Best XI list.
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7. Chris Wondolowski
Soccer fans unfamiliar with MLS will simply — and sadly — only remember Wondolowski for his miss in the 2014 World Cup. However, fans in the know have long been treated to his ability in terrorizing MLS defenders. Wondolowski’s best quality has been his ability to score a high number of goals regardless of the ever-changing team around him in San Jose. Since 2010, he has scored at least 11 goals every year (averaging 15) — including a high of 27 in 2012. Wondo has won two MLS Cups, two MLS Golden Boots, has earned three Best XI nods, and was the league MVP in 2012. He is the all-time leading goal scorer for San Jose (144). ‘Wondo’ also sits two away from passing Landon Donovan as the league’s all-time poacher.
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6. Marco Etcheverry
Etcheverry was a key piece to the D.C. United dynasty that dominated the early years of the league. Nicknamed ‘El Diablo’, the Bolivian was a creative force on the pitch for years in MLS. Etcheverry helped lead his team to MLS Cup victories on three separate occasions. His 101 assists in 190 games still ranks 7th best all-time in league history. Etcheverry was diminutive, yet supremely clever on the ball. He was excellent in being able to exploit small pockets of space en route to the goal. Proactive and energetic, Etcheverry is unquestionably one of the best forwards to ever play in MLS.
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5. Dwayne De Rosario
The Canadian National Team legend played for five different MLS clubs over his career. Sitting 8th on the all-time goal scoring list with 104 strikes in 343 matches, De Rosario was often overshadowed by big international names arriving in MLS. He won the MLS Cup in 2001 and 2003 with the San Jose Earthquakes — as well as a Supporters’ Shield in 2005 (before the franchise relocated). De Rosario moved with the club to Houston with the creation of the Dynamo. He was integral in helping the team win the MLS Cup in each of its first two years of existence (2006-08).
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4. David Beckham
Some may argue that his performance on the field doesn’t warrant a ranking this high. However, there’s a case to be made that no other single player has impacted MLS more. The global superstar landed in LA to join the Galaxy in 2007. Beckham forever changed the trajectory of MLS. His arrival created the Designated Player rule — dubbed the ‘Beckham rule’ in his first few seasons. On the pitch, Beckham won two MLS Cups and two Supporters’ Shields. Beckham claimed the MLS Comeback Player of the Year award in 2011 following a 2010 injury that held him out of the World Cup (and thus ended his international career). He racked up 40 assists and numerous memorable free-kick goals with the Galaxy. His current project includes bringing the new Inter Miami franchise to MLS in 2020.
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3. Robbie Keane
While Beckham had the biggest overall impact on the league, Keane was easily the most successful international star brought in using the Designated Player (DP) rule. Many clubs have landed effective DPs, but none have delivered as much as Keane in such a short period of time. After an illustrious career with Wolverhampton and Tottenham, the Irish international joined the Galaxy in 2011. Linking up with Beckham and Donovan created a true dynasty — arguably one which even tops D.C. United’s run in the late ’90s. Keane won three MLS Cups, and finished his time with an impressive 83 goals in just 125 games.
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2. Jeff Agoos
Agoos was a star on D.C. United’s back line for quite some time. Alongside several MLS greats, Agoos would help lead the club to three MLS Cups, two Supporters’ Shields, and one U.S. Open Cup trophy. He later moved on to the San Jose Earthquakes. During this stint, Agoos won two more MLS Cups before retiring in 2005. Away from the pitch, Agoos served as the Technical Director for the New York Red Bulls. He’s currently the Technical Director of Competition for MLS.
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1. Landon Donovan
After a brief period in the Bundesliga, Donovan would return to his home state of California in order to become the face of the LA Galaxy. Donovan collected four MLS titles, two Supporters’ Shields, and one Open Cup trophy in Los Angeles. He won the Golden Boot award in 2008, and was selected to the MLS Best XI seven times. If that wasn’t already enough, Donovan holds the MLS all-time goal scoring record (145). He’s also the all-time assist leader with 136. No one did more for MLS on the pitch than Landon Donovan. In 2015, the league renamed the annual MVP award the “Landon Donovan MVP Award.” That’s a pretty good indication he’s worthy of being considered the best player in MLS history.
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