Ranking the Top 10 Premier League Imports to MLS on Performance
Since it's inception, Major League Soccer has been dependent on big names from across the pond for an infusion of much needed talent and publicity. Premier League players make for logical targets for MLS teams willing to spend the cash. A handful of former English club stars who came to the States to play in the American competition have made a mark.
The list isn't long, however.
There are many more players going from MLS to the Premier League than the other way around. Even allowing for players who had a stop in-between their Prem careers and their MLS signings (see the bloke above) and those who started in MLS, played in the Premier League and then returned, the number is relatively small.
But let's see how deep we can go, shall we? Here are the top ten Premier League imports to MLS ranked by their performance in the States (including players who didn't arrive directly from England).
10. Darren Huckerby
Huckerby's career in England—spanning fifteen years and eight different clubs—included six Premier League seasons. Though the attacker last played in England with Norwich City in the Championship, he brought a dash of rare Premier League experience to MLS when he joined San Jose in 2008.
Huckerby went on to score nine goals for the Earthquakes over the course of two seasons, and showed flashes of skill that was in short supply in Major League Soccer.
A fan favorite during his California stay, Huckerby is probably most famous to MLS fans at large as the guy from the "What's a Huckerby?" marketing campaign.
9. Jay DeMerit
Sure, Jay DeMerit played just the one season in the Premier League with Watford (2006-07), but he did play in the Premier League. The US international gets bonus points for the amazing story of his rise to England's top division, and because he's the only American in MLS history to have played in the EPL before moving to Major League Soccer.
Now with the Vancouver Whitecaps, DeMerit remains a very good defender. Limited some by injury, he hasn't yet made a major impression during his time in the league. His profile was somewhat limited by the Whitecaps' last place finish in their expansion year.
With a better team around him and in good health, DeMerit stands to be a major part of any success the 'Caps have in 2012.
8. Robbie Keane
Robbie Keane signed with LA on a free transfer in the summer of 2011 and paid an immediate return on the Galaxy's (large) investment. The Tottenham striker late of West Ham brought a wealth of experience and goal-scoring ability to the title-hunting Galaxy.
Keane helped LA to their first Beckham-era championship, contributing three goals at the end of the 2011 season, including a playoff tally. It was Keane's pass that set up Landon Donovan for the game-winning score in the MLS Cup Final.
Keane's ranking is naturally limited by the short time he's been in the league, but looks like the Ireland international still has enough left in the tank to climb a few spots before all is said and done.
7. Freddie Ljungberg
Let's be blunt: Freddie spent more time whining during his MLS stints with Seattle and Chicago than he did contributing anything of quality to his teams.
But he was the first big name signed by the expansion Sounders in 2009 after closing his career in England with West Ham, and brought a certain level of cache to the new team in the Northwest. Ljungberg's Premier League resume provided a boost of credibility to the league and the Sounders two years after David Beckham landed in LA.
Unfortunately, the highlights of Ljungberg's time in MLS were an All-Star appearance after half a season in Seattle, four goals and eleven assists in 60 total appearances, and the part he played in the Sounders' playoff berth in 2009. He left quickly for new challenges in Scotland and Japan (neither of which panned out), most MLS fans hardly having noticed he was gone.
6. Brian McBride
Is Brian McBride technically a "Premier League import"? For the purposes of this list, absolutely. Mostly because there just aren't enough players that made an impact on MLS to leave him out.
McBride spent eight seasons with the Columbus Crew, for whom he scored 62 times, before leaving for England permanently in 2004. He subsequently became a club legend at Craven Cottage, scoring 33 goals over five seasons with Fulham.
He returned to MLS in 2008, joining the Chicago Fire. McBride's last three seasons weren't overly productive, but he did manage to add 18 goals to his career total while at Toyota Park. Plus, he's Brian McBride.
5. Thierry Henry
The New York Red Bulls signed Thierry Henry to score goals. Since arriving from Barcelona in 2010, the former Arsenal striker has done just that, racking up 18 goals in 40 games played. This, despite too often being pulled away from goal as the Red Bulls struggle to run a coherent, and consistent, attack.
Henry's efforts haven't yet brought the Red Bulls the trophy they've coveted for so long, but he's doing his part. Off-field issues, like his recent surly interviews and apparent frustration with teammates, don't matter as long as he's doing what he's paid to do.
Which, of course, is score goals.
4. Kasey Keller
Kasey Keller's long and winding career took him to the Premier League one last time with Fulham in the 2007-08 season. It was his last year in Europe, as the American keeper chose to jump to MLS and the debuting Seattle Sounders for the 2009 season.
Keller spent his last three years playing in Seattle before retiring at the end of 2011. He helped the Sounders achieve unprecedented success for an expansion team, including playoff appearances in each of their first three years.
Kelly won MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in his final season.
3. John Harkes
John Harkes was the first American to play in the Premier League, having been part of the Sheffield Wednesday side played in the EPL's inaugural season in 1992-93. After signing with MLS in anticipation of the American league's first campaign, only to see it delayed, Harkes went on loan to West Ham for the 1995-96 Premier League season.
Harkes was DC United's first player, and spent three seasons in Washington playing under Bruce Arena. DC won the first two MLS Cups with Harkes in midfield, added a CONCACAF Champions Cup in 1998 (which led to an Interamerican Cup victory over Vasco de Gama), and dominated the early years of the league.
United traded Harkes to New England before the 1999 season. He went on to play five more years in MLS, finishing his career with Columbus in 2002.
2. David Beckham
America's short memory is awfully kind to David Beckham. After finally winning a championship with LA in 2011, it's easy to forget just how tumultuous his time in MLS has been. Loan stints in Europe and injuries have mitigated Beckham's impact since making the monumental decision to sign with the Galaxy in 2007
Still, he's been here for going on six seasons now (not subtracting time missed through the aforementioned loans and injuries), so his record is much longer than everyone else on this list.
Beckham was a crucial part of the Galaxy's success in both 2010 (Supporters Shield winners) and 2011 (Supporters Shield winners and MLS Cup champions), and Best XI quality in each season.
1. Juan Pablo Angel
This is an easy choice. Angel's time with the Red Bulls after coming over from Aston Villa was as productive a run for a big name import striker as there's ever been in MLS. All told, Angel scored 58 league goals for New York, making him the club's all-time leading goalscorer.
He wasn't able to recapture that form with the LA Galaxy when he left New York, but the Colombian's record stands well above anyone else on this. Angel managed to score seven times for Chivas USA to close out the 2011 season, so it's very possible he will add to his excellent MLS record.