American households are predominantly focused on four sports. Football, Basketball, Hockey and Baseball. Soccer, while incredibly popular overseas, has always seemed like the odd man out compared to the four powerhouses of American sports. To put it plainly, it just didn’t click with fans. It was more of a European sport, not well integrated in a country that boasts one of the largest spectacles in sports – the Super Bowl – every year. But while it might seem somewhat low key compared to the big four, Soccer has been catching up in terms of popularity over the last several years.
It might never draw in crowds like a Football game does or carry around the same intensity that March Madness brings along, but soccer in North America has certainly grown in its own right and now has a loyal and dedicated fan base of its own. In a recent poll conducted by ESPN, the MLS was determined to rival the MLB in terms of popularity among children 12-17. Baseball, long considered to be America’s pastime, is one of the most popular sports in the country. While both soccer and baseball have been criticized for dragging on at times, soccer is a game that runs non-stop, has contact and runs with little inactivity. Unlike baseball, football and basketball, soccer games aren’t known for being high scoring affairs and require some patience from the fans. But hockey is similar in that regard and look how popular it is. So why not soccer?
World Cup popularity is at an all-time high in the U.S. There’s something about the sport that keeps drawing in more and more American fans year in and year out. MLS teams are bringing in talented veterans from overseas and that seems to be attracting more and more fans. While a portion of the players on this list are American born, most of them made their names playing in Europe. They’ve been on some of the biggest stages the game has had to offer and played against fierce competition at the highest level of play. The MLS continues to grow and if team’s can continue to sway these kinds of players to come overseas and produce, there’s no reason as to why soccer wouldn’t be the next big sport in North America.
All figures are taken from MLSPlayers.org.
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26 Maurice Edu - $768,750
The first overall pick in 2007 certainly lived up to expectations, dominating for Toronto FC. He made 25 appearances and scored four goals winning Rookie of the Year Honors. His career then took a turn as he landed with several other teams outside the MLS over the next seven years. After his rookie year, Edu moved on to he Scottish Premier League and played with Rangers FC. After a number of years in Europe, he returned to the MLS to play for the Philadelphia Union. Edu appeared in 31 games in his first season with Philadelphia and was named to the MLS Team of the Week three times that year by MLSSoccer.com. Now in his second season with Philadelphia, Edu has been consistent on the field and while his numbers aren't flashy, he's appeared in 19 games so far.
25 Osvaldo Alonso – $789,667
The Cuban born midfielder has been in the MLS longer than some of the other players on this list. Having signed with the Seattle Sounders in 2009, Alonso quickly earned a reputation as a physical player on the field. Though not particularly known for his ability to get the ball in the net, Alonso is a terrifying presence on the field. He was recognized by his teammates and named the team’s most valuable player in 2010. A year afterwards Seattle extended his original contract. His journey to the MLS was a great deal different than that of any other player on this list. He defected from Cuba in 2007 along with then teammate Lester Moore. The two got a tryout with Chivas USA and Alonso then signed with Seattle sometime later.
24 DaMarcus Beasley – $813,333
Being one of the oldest players on this list, DaMarcus Beasley has been around, piling up a number of impressive accomplishments as a pro. One of the more accomplished American players on this list, Beasley spent nearly ten years playing abroad having won multiple league titles as well as UEFA Champions League appearances. Among his many accolades that stand out is his track record on the American international team. He’s the only U.S. player to appear in four World Cup tournaments. Last year, Houston brought him in to provide both playmaking ability and veteran leadership to their squad.
23 Octavio Rivero – $890,850
The Vancouver Whitecaps got themselves a talented young striker in the form of Octavio Rivero this past December in a deal with O’Higgins FC. Rivero, 23, is one of the youngest players on this list yet his pedigree and level of play already has him being paid like one of the top players in the MLS. Having started to come into prominence as a member of Uruguay’s U-17 team, Rivero then went on to score 23 goals in 52 career matches in South America. Rivero is another young piece on a Vancouver team that seems to be steadily improving their squad.
22 Kennedy Igboananike - $901,667
The Nigerian born striker signed with the Chicago Fire this past December after having last played for Swedish club AIK, though his professional debut came in 2007 with Swedish team Djurgarden IF. His next season as a pro would prove to be his most impressive, as a member of Vasalunds IF, when Igboananike scored a league high 18 goals in just 25 matches played. It was enough for him to earn the Division 1 Golden Boot. He followed up his breakout year by once again putting up double digit goals in 2009. But things in Chicago haven’t been going to great this season and with only 2 goals to his name, Igboananike is yet to show that playmaking ability he did overseas.
21 Liam Ridgewell – $1 Million
The veteran defender who has over a decade of pro experience under his belt landed with the Portland Timbers last year after having last played for West Bromwich Albion in the Premier League. A solid addition for Portland, Ridgewell came into the MLS having played with and against some of the best talent in the world. In 11 seasons with Aston Villa, Birmingham City and West Bromwich Albion, Ridgewell appeared in over 250 matches.
19 Innocent Emeghara – $1.04 Million
The San Jose Earthquakes got themselves a true difference maker when they signed Nigerian born forward Innocent Emeghara earlier this year. Innocent, only 26, started his career in Switzerland and has since gone on to play for well-respected clubs in Italy, France and Azerbaijan. While he was born in Nigeria, Emeghara has played exclusively for Switzerland’s national team, earning nine caps. He’s a very quick striker and has the speed to break away from defenders with ease. Only the fourth designated player in club history, Emeghara has appeared in seven games this season, scoring one goal.
18 Kevin Doyle – $1.17 Million
At the age of 31, Kevin Doyle has had a respectable career playing over a decade of professional soccer. The Irish striker joined the Colorado Rapids in early May after having been a member of the Wolverhampton Wanderers for six years. In that time, Doyle played in 179 games and scored 34 goals, serving as a key member of the team for the majority of his tenure. Initially, Doyle was supposed to sign after his contract with the Wolves expired in July, but was he let off a month early and signed his two and a half year deal with Colorado shortly after.
17 Federico Higuaín – $1.175 Million
Like many of the players on this list, Federico Higuaín is a veteran player who has had a good deal of success well-prior to his MLS career. That hasn’t very much changed. He signed with the Columbus Crew in 2012 and in his first time with the team managed to put up a team leading 32 goals. His team took notice earlier this year and made him the highest paid player in team history. He’s scored five goals so far this year and is one of eight players to score double digit goals in each of the past two seasons.
16 Pedro Morales – $1.41 Million
The Chilean midfielder arrived in Vancouver only a year ago, but didn’t take too long to create some waves in the MLS. He’d spent five years playing in Chile prior to going over to Canada, with his last team being Spanish club Málaga who’d initially had him on loan. He represented Chile 14 times, scoring 3 goals during his tenure. With Vancouver, Morales found success early on. He compiled 11 goals and 11 assists in his first year, proving that even as he entered his 30s he could play at a high level. He was awarded by being voted Newcomer of the Year, with an outstanding majority of the votes going to him.
15 Omar Gonzalez – $1.45 Million
Omar Gonzales has the distinction of being one of the few players on this list to have not come to the MLS from overseas but from the annual SuperDraft. The LA Galaxy took the menacing defender third overall in 2009. While he doesn’t play a position that’s always in the spotlight, Gonzalez efforts during his first year earned him Rookie of the Year Honors. The Galaxy played well that season and made the playoffs after being one of the worst teams in the league the year before. Gonzalez – and the Galaxy – have certainly improved considerably over time since he first came into the league. Last year, he helped anchor a backline that allowed a league low 37 goals throughout the course of the season.
14 Shaun Maloney - $1.58 Million
Prior to joining the Chicago Fire, Shaun Maloney had himself a very successful three and a half year run with Wigan Athletic that saw him win an FA Cup and put up 15 goals in 91 appearances. Nearing the end of his contract, Maloney moved on from England and found a home with the Chicago Fire of the MLS. Despite his age, Maloney was a nice acquisition for Chicago. In 10 games this season, he’s put up three assists and one goal.
13 Andrea Pirlo – $2.31 Million
Having established himself as one of the greatest set-piece midfielrs in the history of the game, Andrea Pirlo looks like he’ll enjoy the twilight years of his career as a member of New York FC. A consistent performer on both the Club and Internationals level, Pirlo’s career is filled with championships and accolades. As a member of AC Milan and Juventus, Pirlo won six Serie A titles, as well as two Champions Leagues with Milan. He’s been part of a number of International squads and was part of Italy’s memorable 2006 World Cup run. A recent acquisition for New York FC, Pirlo has yet to take the field, but will undoubtedly have more than a few tricks up his sleeve once he does.
12 Obafemi Martins – $3 Million
After joining the Seattle Sounders early on in 2013, it didn’t take too much time for Obafemi Martins to make his presence felt on the field. In his first year he appeared in 20 games and scored eight goals, tying him for second on the team. But his next season would be his most dominant. In 31 appearances, he scored 17 goals and added in 14 assists, breaking the franchises single season records for goals and points while tying the record for assists. This year, he's continued his dominance with seven goals and two assists.
11 Jermaine Jones – $3.05 Million
Before entering the MLS, Jermaine jones played 14 successful pro seasons in Europe. Born to a German father and American Mother, Jones has both American and German citizenship. As a result, he’s played for both German and American International squads as a youth player, though he ended up choosing USA in the end . He signed with the New England Revolution in 2014 after nearly seven years with German based FC Schalke 04. Known as a physical midfielder, Jones’ career in New England has gotten off to a slow start and as of now he’s only made 24 appearances in the last two years.
10 Giovani Dos Santos – $4.1 Million
Here’s another recent acquisition that has yet to get onto the field, but has an outstanding pedigree overseas. Giovani Dos Santos was signed by the LA Galaxy on July 15th after having spent the last few years with Spanish team Villarreal CF. As opposed to a majority of the veterans on this list, Dos Santos is still in his prime and can have a long and fruitful career in the MLS. He’s played for Barcelona as well as Tottenham Hotspur, so he knows what it’s like to go against top talent. He also has experience in the UEFA Champions League, the FIFA World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Olympics.
9 Robbie Keane – $4.5 Million
Another Galaxy player? The sure do have a ton of money in LA. The Galaxy added Premier League great Robbie Keane to their squad in 2011 and after being sparingly used his first season, he's turned into one of the greatest signings tin team history. From 2012 to 2014, Keane scored 51 goals for the Galaxy. Nothing new to a man who put up more than 250 goals in a almost twenty year long career that saw him become the tenth all time (at the time of his leaving) leading goal scorer in the history of the Premier League.
8 Clint Dempsey – $4.6 Million
American born Clint Dempsey’s career has seen him play for a couple of MLS franchises as well as Fulham and Tottenham of the Premier League. His career started in New England where he won Rookie of the Year in 2009. After a few years in New England, he was off to Fulham where he won two U.S. Soccer Male Athlete of the Year awards. In 2013, he signed with Seattle and played sparingly until his second season. In 2014, he appeared in 26 games and scored 15 goals and looks to be on track to match that level of play this year.
7 Jozy Altidore – $4.75 Million
Jozy Altidore was taken with the 16th overall selection in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft by the MetroStars, who are now known as the New York Red Bulls. In two seasons with the team, Altidore made 41 appearances, scoring 16 goals. In 2008, he was transferred to Villarreal CF and became the first American to score in La Liga. In 2009, he moved on to Hull City A.F.C. where he played against some of the best in the Premier League. Altidore then found a great deal of success with AZ Alkmaar, as he made 93 appearances and scored 51 goals for the club in a two year span. He was later brought back to the MLS by Toronto FC and has been a major piece this season thus far, making 14 appearances and scoring sevengoals.
6 David Villa – $5.61 Million
Having had played for teams like Barcelona and Valencia, David Villa was accustomed to success at a competitive level prior to joining New York City FC last June, as Villa has won a number of championships with multiple teams. His greatest years came with Valencia where he scored more than 100 goals and was named Spanish Player of the Year in his first season with the club. On the International level, Villa has established himself as one of Spain’s greatest players. He’s the all-time goal scorer in team history with eight of his goals coming in World Cup matches. He signed with New York last year and has been putting up impressive numbers so far.
5 Frank Lampard – $6 Million
Getting on in age, Frank Lampard has had a great career and is regarded as one of the better players of his era. He’s achieved great things in England, specifically with Chelsea. His nearly fifteen career with the club saw him become their all-time leading scorer, even though he's a midfielder. In 429 appearances with the club, Lampard scored 147 goals. When he left Chelsea, initially he was supposed to join New York City in August of last year, but was then loaned to Man City (who own NYCFC) until January. Things got somewhat strange after he signed an extension with Man City to remain with the team till June. In the end, Lampard has made his way to New York and will join the team on the pitch in the near future.
4 Steven Gerrard – $6.33 Million
Steven Gerrard joined the LA Galaxy earlier this year and is looking to bring his years of experience and veteran leadership to the squad. His storied career includes 17 years with Liverpool, where he was the longest serving team captain in team history and made nearly 700 appearances for the club. On the international level, Gerard has served as captain for the English team, having last appeared on the squad during the 2014 World Cup. His career in Liverpool saw him win a number of accolades and help bring in a great deal of championships. Though he’s only appeared in two games with the Galaxy, Gerrard seems to be fitting in and should have an immediate impact on their success.
3 Michael Bradley - $6.5 Million
While he’s currently a member of Toronto FC, Michael Bradley started his career after being selected 36th overall in the 2004 SuperDraft by the MetroStars. After a two year stint in the MLS, Bradley played for a number of other teams around the word. He last played for Italian powerhouse Roma before coming back to the MLS with Toronto FC. After struggling to become a full time starter in Rome, Bradley’s move back to the MLS seems justified. In two years with Toronto, he’s appeared in 42 games and has five goals.
2 Sebastian Giovinco – $7.11 Million
The Italian midfielder spent the majority of his career owned by Serie A club Juventus. The move came after it seemed that Giovinco was struggling to crack Juventus’ starting lineup. Rarely seeing playing time over the last year, he signed with Toronto. While with Juventus, Giovinco was loaned to a number of teams which also contributed in his gradually decreasing playing time with the team. He’s appeared in 18 games with Toronto FC this season and has dominated so far, scoring 12 goals and putting up nine assists, earning his $7 million price tag.
1 Kaka – $7.16 Million
The MLS’ highest paid player is someone who should be very well known to those who follow both Italian and Spanish soccer overseas. The Brazilian star has played with Sao Paolo, Real Madrid and AC Milan. He was awarded the FIFA Ballon D'Or and while he might no longer be in his prime, Kaka’s reputation as a dominant force earned him the prestige of being the highest paid player in MLS history. After signing with Orlando City last year, Kaka was loaned to Sao Paulo. He officially joined Orlando this year and has showed no signs of slowing down at this point in his career.
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