Following in the tradition of David Beckham, an influx of international talent marks Major League Soccer’s 20th season.
Even though he was in the late stage of his career, Beckham’s signing by the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007 helped bring added legitimacy to MLS.
Now more international players are following in his footsteps, many coming stateside for the chance to extend their careers. At the same time, proven international talent is enhancing the level of play in the league.
This season not only brings new international stars, but also a few Americans who played overseas who are coming home.
Here are some of the players to watch this season:
KAKA, ORLANDO CITY SC
The 32-year-old Brazilian, a former AC Milan star and the 2007 FIFA player of the year, will be the highest paid player in the MLS in his first year with the league after signing a $7.2 million deal with the expansion team. He’s the face of Orlando City, which expects more than 62,000 fans at its opener on Sunday against fellow MLS newcomer New York City FC.
“I’ve had very special moments in my career and I think Sunday will be one of these — because it’s historic: The first game of this club, the people that will be here, the crowd and the supporters — for everybody,” he said.
DAVID VILLA, NEW YORK CITY FC
The former Barcelona striker is the all-time leading Spanish national team scorer, including five goals for his nation in their 2010 World Cup victory. Known as El Guaje, he also helped lead Spain to the 2008 European championship.
“Throughout my career, I’ve always tried to keep pushing myself to achieve new targets, and this represents another important goal for me,” he said when he was signed to a three-year deal by NYCFC last year. “I want to try and help MLS continue to grow, through playing, working hard, scoring goals and at the same time try to make New York City FC become the best team in the league.”
JOZY ALTIDORE, TORONTO FC
The 25-year-old served as a striker on the U.S. men’s national team and was the 17th pick in the 2006 MLS SuperDraft. He played two seasons and scored 16 goals with the New York Red Bulls before moving to La Liga side Villarreal CF in 2008. Altidore has scored 25 goals with the U.S. national team and was a member of the 2010 and 2014 World Cup teams.
STEVEN GERRARD, LA GALAXY
Gerrard is scheduled to join the LA Galaxy in July after finishing the Premier League season with Liverpool. Gerrard has won the Champions League, FA Cup and League Cup with Liverpool since making his first team debut in 1998.
The 34-year-old Englishman is expected to replace Landon Donovan, who played 14 seasons in MLS and, like Beckham, helped bring legitimacy to the league.
FRANK LAMPARD, NEW YORK CITY FC
Midfielder Frank Lampard will also delay his move to the MLS by finishing the season with Manchester City. Lampard spent 13 seasons with Chelsea, won three Premier League titles and scored 176 goals in 599 games.
There was some drama concerning Lampard’s signing earlier this year when NYCFC acknowledged that it misled fans by wrongly announcing his signing last year when he didn’t have a formal contract with the team.
Lampard tried to put the issue at rest with a Facebook post: “I can say that I am very excited about arriving in New York and giving everything to the team to make us a success in the MLS as soon as possible.”
This article was written by Kareem Copeland from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.