The profile of Major League Soccer continues to soar, with talent arriving from all four corners of the globe as chasing the American dream becomes ever more appealing.
Among those arrivals are a heady mix of household names and plucky hopefuls, with some now prepared to spend their peak years Stateside – Michael Bradley, Sebastian Giovinco et al.
It is the superstar signings which capture the imagination, though, those who have tested themselves at the very highest level before bringing their own unique brand to a competition growing in stature and prestige year on year.
For those making the journey from European fields, the MLS Cup is intended to be another notable addition to an already glittering CV. These are the shining lights that have scaled the highest heights, with their personal roll of honour marking them out as something rather special. Since the European Cup was rebranded in 1992, 15 players to have tasted Champions League success have made their way to MLS. This elite club includes notable figures from Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona and Real Madrid, but how many can you name?
David Beckham (1999)
One of those magical nights where logic goes out of the window and sporting chaos ensues. It was from two late Beckham corners that Manchester United managed to turn the 1999 final with Bayern Munich on its head and complete an historic Treble.
Frank Lampard (2012)
The highlight of a 13-year stint at Chelsea, Lampard skippered the Blues to continental glory in 2012 against Bayern Munich – in their own backyard. Lifted the trophy alongside John Terry after a nerve-shredding penalty shoot-out. Didier Drogba (2012) Part of the aforementioned Chelsea side as a teammate of Lampard, Drogba marked the last appearance of his first spell at Stamford Bridge in style – powering home a header in normal time, before calmly rolling in the decisive spot-kick.
Steven Gerrard (2005)
Who could forget that May evening back in 2005 when Gerrard inspired the most memorable comeback in Champions League final history? Got the Liverpool ball rolling with a looping header as the Reds hit back from 3-0 down to eventually emerge victorious in another epic shoot-out.
Kaka (2007) Former World Player of the Year, World Cup winner and Champions League stalwart, with a starring role played in the 2007 final. The Brazilian, two years on from the Turkish turnaround mentioned above, won the free-kick with led to the opening goal, and laid on the second as AC Milan exacted revenge on Liverpool by prevailing 2-1 in Athens.
Thierry Henry (2009)
Won just about everything it is possible to win during an iconic spell with Arsenal, with domestic honours complemented by international prizes. It required a switch to Barcelona, though, for the flying Frenchman to get his hands on the Champions League – cruising past Manchester United in 2009. Those currently on the books at the Nou Camp will be hoping to follow in his footsteps, currently priced at the time of writing at 10/3 with betfair and other bookmakers, to become the first side to successfully defend the European Cup in its current guise.
Andrea Pirlo (2003 & 2007)
Figured in the 2005 and 2007 finals, experiencing contrasting emotions, but secured his first continental crown with AC Milan in 2003 – helping to keep the Rossoneri ticking over before they edged out Juventus on spot kicks.
David Villa (2011)
Scored a wonderful goal in the 2011 final at Wembley, adding the gloss to a 3-1 victory for Barcelona as Pep Guardiola’s side for the ages proved far too strong for Manchester United at the home of English football.
Alessandro Nesta (2003 & 2007)
A teammate of Pirlo at the all-conquering AC Milan side of the noughties, and an international colleague that toasted World Cup glory in 2006. Landed winners medals in 2003 and 2007, either side of THAT night in Istanbul.
Rafael Marquez (2006 & 2009)
Another of those with multiple Champions League crowns to his name, Marquez was a commanding presence at the heart of Barcelona’s side for the best part of a decade. Saw off Premier League opposition in the form of Arsenal in 2006, but was forced to sit out victory over Manchester United three years later after picking up an unfortunate injury at the semi-final stage.
Julio Cesar (2010)
Spent just five months in MLS on loan at Toronto FC, but was still a notable addition for the Canadian outfit. Things have gone downhill somewhat for the Brazilian goalkeeper since his Treble-winning exploits with Inter Milan in 2010, but no-one can take those achievements away from him.
Mikael Silvestre (2008)
Joined Manchester United in the wake of their history-making 1998/99 campaign, but had to wait nine years before getting his hands on European football’s most prestigious piece of silverware. Was an unused substitute in Moscow as United battled their way through a rain-soaked evening to edge out domestic foes Chelsea on penalties.
Djimi Traore (2005)
Can, rather unfortunately, be painted as something of a figure of fun following his time in England, but it is important to remember the role he played for Liverpool in 2005 – with a goal-line clearance in the second half to deny Andriy Shevchenko keeping the Reds in the game and paving the way for what was to follow.
Aitor Karanka (1998, 2000 & 2002)
The most decorated Champions League winner to have ever graced the MLS – who would have thought that? Now plotting Middlesbrough’s charge back towards the Premier League – 4/9 shots with Betfair to hit that particular target – Karanka was a useful member of Real Madrid’s ranks around the turn of the 21st Century. Has three medals to his name, but only made it onto the field for a convincing 3-0 victory over Valencia in 2000.
Roberto Donadoni (1994)
Another three-time winner, and a five-time finalist, but only one of those successes came in the Champions League era. AC Milan were a serious force to be reckoned with in the 1990s, with their most memorable outing seeing them crush much-fancied Barcelona 4-0 in 1994 to secure a fifth European Cup triumph – with two more added since