Major League Soccer has had its fair share of international soccer stars, but arguably no one greater than Lionel Messi. The 35-year-old Argentine star is planning to join Inter Miami following two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain. After speculation he would return to his boyhood club, FC Barcelona, Messi announced Wednesday he instead will head to the United States.
The move to Inter Miami comes six months after Messi achieved his greatest goal as a soccer player — winning a World Cup, Argentina’s first since 1986. Adding that achievement to his record-setting seven FIFA Ballon d'Or's solidified Messi as arguably the best soccer player of all-time. He achieved similar success with PSG, winning Ligue 1 for the second straight season. But his club floundered in Champions League competition, losing in the Round of 16 to Bayern Munich.
Messi will start the next chapter of his career in the United States, joining a list of soccer icons who took their talents abroad later in their careers. That transition doesn’t always lead to immediate success. However, history says Messi is going to be just fine. Here's a breakdown of how eight former superstars fared in the league.
The iconic English midfielder was the first notable name to join MLS when he made his move to the LA Galaxy in 2007. His decision to leave Spanish mega club Real Madrid in 2007 for a fledgling American league drew criticism but also helped grow MLS exponentially. It opened the door for stars to do the same in years to follow. The Galaxy reached records in merchandise sales and ESPN nationally broadcasted its first friendly against Chelsea FC.
Beckham spent five years with the Galaxy, including two seasons on loan to Italian club AC Milan. In 98 MLS appearances, he scored 18 goals and had 31 assists. Injuries filled his first four seasons in Los Angeles before he had his best year in 2011, when Beckham and the Galaxy won their first of two consecutive MLS Cups. He returned to European play in 2013 to end his career with PSG. He is currently is a co-owner of Inter Miami.
From one iconic English midfielder to another, Steven Gerrard joined LA Galaxy in 2015 after 17 seasons with Liverpool FC. The move was announced while Gerrard was in the middle of the English Premier League season. He made his debut at the conclusion of his Liverpool tenure.
Gerrard had a quiet stay in Los Angeles, playing in 34 games across two seasons. He scored two goals and had three assists his debut season, when he was named an MLS All-Star. Gerrard considered retirement after the 2015 season but stuck around for one more year. He had three goals and nine assists in 2016, retiring at the end of the year.
With his role diminishing with Barcelona, the French forward signed a multi-year deal with the New York Red Bulls in 2010. Henry had a short loan spell with Arsenal during the 2011-12 English Premier League season, which occurs while MLS is on break.
Henry’s time in New York was his second-longest tenure with any club. He played in 122 matches with the Red Bulls, only playing more in nine seasons with Arsenal. Henry scored 51 goals, third-most in franchise history, and had 37 assists, the most in franchise history. His best statistical season came in 2012 when he had 15 goals and 12 assists and was a finalist for the MLS’ Most Valuable Player award.
The Red Bulls never won the MLS cup with Henry, but did win the Supporters Shield in 2013, awarded to the club with the best record. Henry retired with the Red Bulls in 2014.
Messi isn’t the first player to go from PSG to an MLS club. Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimović made the move in 2018 when he joined the LA Galaxy. He announced his decision with a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times, telling readers: “Dear Los Angeles, you’re welcome.”
Ibrahimović took the league by storm, coming off the bench for his debut and scoring two goals to lead the Galaxy to a comeback win over their rival, LAFC. He had 52 goals in 56 appearances during two seasons, often calling himself “by far” the best player in MLS. He was named an All-Star both seasons and reached 500 career goals while with the Galaxy.
His 30 goals during the 2019 season were the second-most he’s ever scored in a season. The Galaxy never won an MLS Cup with Ibrahimović, but his play continued to grow interest in the league. He returned to Italian club AC Milan in 2019, playing four seasons before retiring Sunday.
The Brazilian midfield star joined MLS expansion team Orlando City in 2015, citing his interest to always play in the United States. Kaká signed a $6.6 million deal that, at the time, made him the highest paid MLS player ever. His decision to play for Orlando came after a long career in Europe and a short stint at his boyhood club in São Paulo, Brazil.
Kaká appeared in 75 games during his three seasons in Orlando, scoring 24 goals and adding 21 assists. He was named an MLS All-Star each season. His 11 assists during the 2016 season were his highest since the 2004-05 season with AC Milan. Orlando City never made it to the playoffs with Kaká, who called it a career after the 2017 season.
Out of all the international stars to join MLS, Frank Lampard's start may have been the bumpiest. Reports surfaced in July 2014 that Lampard signed a two-year deal with New York City FC. The parent club of New York City, Manchester City, announced a month later Lampard would be loaned to Manchester City for six months. Days before the end of his loan, it was announced Lampard's contract was extended to the end of the English Premier League season.
Fans expressed anger about the decision and MLS accused New York City FC of dishonesty. Lampard finally made his MLS debut in August 2015, playing 10 games that season. New York City fans jeered him in his 2016 season debut, a game Lampard’s side lost 7-0. But they turned around quickly, as Lampard scored 12 times in 19 games, including the club’s first ever hat trick. Lampard retired in February 2017, two months after New York City’s season concluded.
He only fulfilled two years of his deal, making 48 appearances with 23 goals and 15 assists. His 12 goals during his debut season earned him D.C. United’s MVP award and the club’s Golden Boot. D.C. United never advanced past the first round during Rooney’s tenure. He left MLS in 2019, retiring with his boyhood club Derby County in 2021.
After 11 seasons in Spain’s top league, playing for Barcelona and Atletico Madrid, Villa decided to join newly-formed New York City FC in 2014. Villa expressed his desire to grow MLS as a reason for his move, calling it an “irresistible project.”
He dominated his four seasons with New York, scoring 77 goals and adding 20 assists. Villa was named an All-Star every season and won the MLS Most Valuable Player award in 2016. He scored at least 20 goals in two seasons, finishing second in the Golden Boot race in 2017. His 400th career goal came with New York City in 2018. He left the club that year for Vissel Kobe in Japan, retiring in early 2020.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lionel Messi to join Inter Miami. How have other stars done in MLS?