With Major League Soccer going into its 25th season, I thought I’d take a look back and select the best 25 players in MLS history as part of the anniversary celebration.
While the league struggled to gain footing in its early days, we are now on the opposite side of things with the league exploding with new franchises popping up every year. This year, the league will have 26 teams, including new franchises in Miami and Nashville and will soon have 30 teams (Austin, St. Louis, Charlotte and Sacramento).
Celebrating its diamond anniversary, here are my picks for the top players in MLS history.
25. Diego Valeri (MF) 2013-present – Portland
A four-time MLS All-Star and three-time Best XI selection, Valeri made an instant impact in Portland after arriving in 2013. In 2015 he helped the club win its first MLS Cup title, being named MLS Cup MVP.
In a career 2017 season, Valeri picked up the MLS MVP Award, tallying 21 goals and 11 assists while the Timbers finished atop the Western Conference.
In seven years with Portland, Valeri has helped the club reach the postseason five times and also reach the MLS Cup final in 2018.
24. Brad Davis (MF) 2002-16 – New York, FC Dallas, San Jose, Houston, Sporting KC
Playing 15 seasons in MLS, Davis became one of the Houston Dynamo’s all-time greats after playing ten of his seasons with the club.
Davis garnered five of his six All-Star selections with Houston, adding a Best XI selection in 2011 and winning two MLS Cups (2006-07). Davis is the Dynamo’s all-time leader in games played and assists, also ranking sixth in MLS history in games played (392) and third in assists (123).
23. Pat Onstad (GK) 2003-11 – San Jose, Houston, D.C. United
One of the most decorated goalkeepers in league history, Onstad made an immediate impact when he joined MLS, being named to the Best XI team and 2003 MLS Goalkeeper of the Year while guiding San Jose to the MLS Cup title.
After his first All-Star selection in 2004 and his second Best XI nod and GK of the Year Award in 2005, Onstad guided the Houston Dynamo to MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007. He added three straight All-Star nods from 2007-09 and won the Save of the Year Award for the 2009 season before leaving the club following the 2010 campaign.
The Dynamo’s all-time leader in wins (53), shutouts (37) and saves (384), Onstad was inducted into the Canadian Soccer Hall of Fame in 2015.
22. Cobi Jones (MF) 1996-07 – LA Galaxy
A 2011 National Soccer Hall of Fame inductee, Jones played his entire MLS career with the LA Galaxy, leading the team to the 2000 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup, two U.S. Open Cups (2001 and 2005) and two MLS Cup titles (2002 and 2005).
Jones was named to eight league All-Star teams and the 1998 MLS Best XI team during his career and is the Galaxy’s all-time games played leader (306) and ranks eighth in league history in assists (91).
21. Josef Martinez (F) 2017-present – Atlanta
Despite just three full seasons in MLS, Martinez has become one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the league.
After a Best XI selection in his first MLS campaign with expansion side Atlanta United, Martinez had a breakout 2018 season, scoring 31 goals to win the Golden Boot and MLS MVP Award while making his first All-Star team and being named Best XI again. His postseason was even more impressive as he guided Atlanta to the MLS Cup title, winning MLS Cup MVP.
Another All-Star and third straight Best XI selection followed in 2019 as he led the club to another pair of trophies while scoring 27 goals – good for third in the league.
20. Taylor Twellman (F) 2002-09 – New England
One of the league’s more dynamic goal scorers, Twellman played his entire MLS career in New England, playing in four MLS Cup finals and guiding the club to the only two titles in team history (2007 U.S. Open Cup and 2008 North American SuperLiga).
Twellman had a breakout season in 2002, notching his first All-Star and Best XI selections while winning the league’s scoring title. After an All-Star year in 2003 he had a career year in 2005, winning the MLS Golden Boot, All-Star MVP and MLS MVP Award, making the All-Star team for the third time and adding his second Best XI nod.
Twellman was an All-Star again in 2007 and became just the league’s fifth-ever 100-goal scorer during the 2009 season.
19. Brian McBride (F) 1996-03, 2008-10 – Columbus, Chicago
One of the league’s original stars, McBride was named to seven All-Star teams (1996-02) in his first eight seasons in Columbus, winning both Goal of the Year and All-Star MVP in 1998 and leading the Crew to its first trophy in 2002 (U.S. Open Cup).
McBride came back to MLS after a stint in Europe, playing three seasons with the Chicago Fire to close out his career. The Crew’s all-time leading goal scorer (79), he was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2014.
18. Omar Gonzalez (D) 2009-15, 2019-present – LA Galaxy, Toronto
A star with the LA Galaxy before heading to Mexico, Gonzalez was named the 2009 MLS Rookie of the Year to start his seven-year stint.
A five-time All-Star and four-time Best XI selection, he was named MLS Defender of the Year in 2011 while winning his first MLS Cup. Another stellar campaign followed in 2012 as he helped LA repeat as MLS champions while being named the MLS Cup MVP.
Gonzalez won his third MLS Cup in 2014 and has since returned to the league, joining Toronto FC in 2019 and helping the team win the Eastern Conference.
17. Carlos Ruiz (F) 2002-08, ’11, ’13, ’16 – LA Galaxy, Toronto, Philly, D.C., FC Dallas
Playing parts of 10 seasons in MLS, Ruiz became one of the more exciting players the league has ever seen.
A three-time MLS All-Star (MVP in 2003), Ruiz had a career year in 2002, being named to the Best XI squad and winning the Goal of the Year Award, while being chosen as the 2002 MLS MVP. During that same campaign, he led the Galaxy to the MLS Cup title and was selected as the MVP of the MLS Cup.
16. Robbie Keane (F) 2011-16 – LA Galaxy
Playing six seasons in MLS following a stellar career in Europe, Keane became the latest of many stars to join the LA Galaxy, helping the club win three MLS Cup titles (2011-12, 2014).
Keane was named to three All-Star squads and secured four Best XI nods during his career in MLS, taking home both the MLS MVP and MLS Cup MVP in 2014 and the Best MLS Player ESPY in 2015 before heading to India to close his career.
15. Robin Fraser (D) 1996-05 – LA Galaxy, Colorado, Columbus
One of the top defenders in the league’s history, Fraser immediately made an impact in its inaugural season, making the All-Star team and being named Best XI with the LA Galaxy.
Four more All-Star appearances and four Best XI selections followed, while Fraser also added the MLS Defender of the Year Award in both the 1999 and 2004 seasons while helping LA win the 2000 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup.
14. Marco Etcheverry (F) 1996-03 – D.C. United
One of the early stars of the D.C. United dynasty, Etcheverry helped lead the club to six trophies while making six All-Star teams and four Best XI squads during his eight-year run in the nation’s capital.
A two-time Goal of the Year winner, 2002 All-Star MVP, 1996 MLS Cup MVP and 1998 MLS MVP, Marco ranks seventh in league history in assists (101) and was enshrined into D.C. United’s Hall of Tradition in 2007.
13. Chris Wondolowski (F) 2005-present – Houston, San Jose
The all-time leading goalscorer in MLS history (159), Wondo has received multiple accolades, including five All-Star appearances and three Best XI selections.
A two-time league Golden Boot winner (2010, 2012) and the 2012 MLS MVP, Chris won two MLS Cup titles with Houston and ranks atop the San Jose Earthquakes record books in games and goals.
12. David Villa (F) 2015-18 – NYCFC
The Spanish international, Villa was a Barcelona legend before heading to MLS near the end of his storied career.
The original star of NYCFC, he ranks number one in club history in appearances (126) and goals (80), adding four All-Star nods and two Best XI selections to his resume.
The 2017 Best MLS Player ESPY winner and 2016 MLS MVP, Villa helped lead NYCFC to its first playoff berth during the 2016 season before finishing his career in Japan.
11. Chad Marshall (D) 2004-19 – Columbus, Seattle
Perhaps the top defender in MLS history, Marshall led the backline of the 2008 MLS Cup champion Columbus Crew before winning three more trophies in Seattle.
Both a four-time All-Star and Best XI pick, Marshall was chosen as MLS Defender of the Year three times and ranks fifth in league history in games played (409).
10. Kyle Beckerman (MF) 2000-present – Miami, Colorado, Real Salt Lake
Known as “The Captain” by Real Salt Lake fans, Beckerman is well known for his consistency in the midfield during his 20-year career and tendency for hard-nosed play.
A nine-time All-Star selection, Beckerman ranks second in MLS history in appearances – and first for a field player (non-goalie) – with 488, and helped guide RSL to the MLS Cup title in 2009.
9. Sebastian Giovinco (F/MF) 2015-18 – Toronto
A four-time All-Star and three-time best XI selection, the former Italian National Team member took the league by storm after arriving from Juventus in 2015.
In his first MLS campaign, Giovinco tallied 22 goals while winning MLS Newcomer of the Year, Golden Boot and MVP Award, leading Toronto to its first playoff appearance.
The following season he was named the winner of the Best MLS Player ESPY as he guided Toronto to its first MLS Cup final. The all-time leading goalscorer in club history (83), Giovinco won the 2017 MLS Cup before departing following the 2018 campaign.
8. Carlos Valderrama (MF) 1996-02 – Tampa Bay, Miami, Colorado
A six-time All-Star and three-time Best XI pick, Valderrama took the league by storm with his electric play and his just as electric blonde afro.
The Colombian was the inaugural MLS MVP in 1996, while also winning back-to-back All-Star MVPs in 1996-97. A star for the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny, Valderrama tops the club’s list in all-time assists (81) while ranking fourth in MLS history in the category (114).
7. Jeff Agoos (D) 1996-05 – D.C. United, San Jose, New York
A 10-year MLS veteran, Agoos became one of the top defenders in league history while winning five MLS Cup titles and eight total trophies.
The 2001 MLS Defender of the Year racked up eight All-Star selections and three Best XI nods during his career, mainly as part of the D.C. United dynasty in the early days of MLS.
Agoos was enshrined into the D.C. United Hall of Tradition in 2008 and the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2009 following his career.
6. Jaime Moreno (F) 1996-10 – D.C. United, New York
A 15-year MLS veteran, Moreno became one of the most decorated stars in league history during his career.
A seven-time All-Star and five-time Best XI selection, Moreno starred mostly in D.C., winning eight trophies.
The MVP of the 1997 MLS Cup, Moreno ranks fourth in MLS history in goals (133) and sixth in assists (102), while holding D.C. United’s all-time goals, assists and games played records. Following his retirement, Moreno was inducted into the D.C. United Hall of Tradition.
5. Dwayne De Rosario (MF/F) 2001-14 – San Jose, Houston, Toronto, New York, D.C.
Playing 14 years in MLS, the Canadian star made six Best XI squads and seven All-Star teams while winning four MLS Cup titles and the 2013 U.S. Open Cup.
De Rosario racked up numerous honors in his career, including the 2006 All-Star MVP, 2011 MLS Golden Boot, 2011 MLS MVP, two MLS Cup MVPs and winning MLS Goal of the Year twice.
Ranking ninth in league history in goals (104), De Rosario was twice the winner of the Golden Boot and George Gross Memorial Trophy (Canadian Championship MVP) while helping Toronto FC win a pair of titles while playing in his native country.
4. Preki (MF) 1996-05 – Kansas City, Miami
One of the league’s original stars and two-time MLS MVP, Preki became one of the top playmakers in MLS history, currently ranking fifth all-time in assists (112).
An eight-time All-Star and four-time Best XI pick, Preki was twice the MLS scoring champion and was named MVP of the 1999 MLS All-Star Game.
Sporting KC’s all-time goals (81) and assists leader (98) who led the club to both an MLS and U.S. Open Cup title, Preki was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2010.
3. Nick Rimando (GK) 2000-19 – Miami, D.C. United, Real Salt Lake
The greatest goalkeeper in MLS history, Rimando’s fingerprints are all over the league’s record books, where he ranks first all-time in games played, minutes played, saves, PK saves, wins and shutouts.
After an All-Star year with Miami in 2001 and an MLS Cup triumph with D.C. United in 2004, Rimando arrived in Utah in 2007, changing the course of the franchise forever.
Leading the club to 10 playoff appearances in 13 seasons, Rimando was named an All-Star eight times and took home the MLS Save of the Year Award three times (2012-13, 2019).
The highlight of his time with RSL came in 2009, where Rimando made multiple saves in back-to-back penalty kick shootouts in the playoffs, leading the club to the MLS Cup title and taking home MLS Cup MVP honors.
2. Eddie Pope (D) 1996-07 – D.C. United, New York, Real Salt Lake
Making 10 All-Star games in a 12-season career, Pope became one of the top players in MLS history, winning Defender of the Year in 1997 and making four Best XI squads.
Not only did Pope rack up individual accolades, but he also led his club to titles. He led D.C. United to the 1996 U.S. Open Cup, 1998 Copa Interamericana, 1998 CONCACAF Champions’ Cup and three MLS Cups in the 1996, 1997 and 1999 seasons.
Following his storied career, Pope was inducted into the D.C. United Hall of Tradition in 2010 and the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 2011.
1. Landon Donovan (F) 2001-14, 2016 – San Jose, LA Galaxy
With the most assists (136), Best XI selections (seven) and All-Star nods (14) in MLS history, Donovan was the face of the league for most of his career.
Add the 2008 Golden Boot, 2009 MLS MVP, 2009 Goal of The Year, two All-Star MVPs, two MLS Cup MVPs and five MLS Best Players ESPYs and it’s easy to see why he is the No. 1 player in the league’s history.
The Galaxy’s all-time goals and assists leader also won trophies – the 2005 U.S. Open Cup and six MLS Cup titles – that put him on top and the easy choice for best player in MLS history.