Arsenal man among seven average Premier League players who became MLS legends

Ryan Baldi
MLS legends who were average Premier League players.
MLS legends who were average Premier League players.

When David Beckham shocked the football world by joining Los Angeles Galaxy in 2007, the floodgates opened for ageing superstars of European football to move to MLS for a late-career swansong.

Many Premier League greats have fled to the other side of the Atlantic over the last decade and a half to try their hand at Stateside soccer – and with mixed success.

Steven Gerrard made little impression at Beckham’s former club. Frank Lampard’s time at New York City FC is remembered as much for games missed due to injury as an impressive goals return. And although Gareth Bale won an MLS Cup with Los Angeles FC, he struggled to crack the starting line-up in LA and retired after half a season.

Robbie Keane, on the other hand, was about as successful in MLS as it’s possible to be. He scored over 100 goals for LA Galaxy, winning four MLS Cups, one league MVP award and was named the club’s best player four years running.

The likes of Thierry Henry, Juan Pablo Angel, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Wayne Rooney and, more recently, Christian Benteke and Luis Suarez are among the big names of the Premier League’s past who’ve enjoyed success in the US.

But there are also several players who left much less of a legacy in England’s top flight before going on to achieve iconic status in MLS…


Bradley Wright-Phillips
The son of goal-scoring great Ian Wright, the art of finding the net was in Bradley Wright-Phillips’ blood. But after coming through the academy at Manchester City, where older half-brother Shaun Wright-Phillips was a star, he struggled to make an impact, scoring just twice in 32 Premier League appearances.

In 2006, he joined second-tier Southampton in bizarre circumstances that saw half his £500,000 transfer fee funded by Coca-Cola after a Saints fan won a competition to earn cash for the club to spend on a new signing.

It wasn’t until Wright-Phillips landed in America that he truly found a footballing home. After bouncing around the Championship and League One, he joined the New York Red Bulls in 2013 and, over the ensuing six-and-a-half seasons, became the club’s all-time leading scorer with 126 goals in 240 games.

Wright-Phillips retired in 2022 after short spells with LAFC and Columbus Crew. He has since followed in his father’s footsteps once again, serving as a pundit on Apple TV’s MLS equivalent of Match of the Day.

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Carlos Vela
Arsenal signed Carlos Vela from Guadalajara in 2006, beating a host of European clubs to the gifted Mexican striker’s signature.

Vela remained an Arsenal player for six-and-a-half years, but he struggled to crack Arsene Wenger’s first team on a regular basis, making 29 Premier League appearances for the Gunners and scoring three goals.

He was loaned out several times, finally with Real Sociedad in La Liga. He impressed sufficiently during a season on loan at Anoeta that La Real made the move permanent.

He stayed with the Basque club for another five-and-a-half seasons, racking up 213 total appearances and scoring 61 goals.

Vela moved to MLS expansion side Los Angeles FC in 2018. Across six seasons with the Black and Gold, he became a club legend, scoring 93 goals in 187 games, winning the MLS MVP and Golden Boot awards in 2019 and leading LAFC to a first MLS Cup triumph in 2022.

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Carles Gil
Even the most ardent Aston Villa fans could be forgiven for failing to remember Carles Gil’s thoroughly forgettable time with the club.

Signed from Valencia in January 2015, the Spanish winger played 23 Premier League games as Villa were relegated at the end of the 2015/16 season.

He was subsequently loaned to Deportivo La Coruna who, after their own relegation, signed Gil to a permanent deal in the summer of 2018. He wasn’t long for the Riazor, though, joining the New England Revolution for $2 million just six months later.

Since his arrival in MLS, Gil has been one of the league’s most consistent attacking players, with 40 goals and 52 assists in 163 games for the Boston-based side.

Gil was named the MLS MVP in 2021 after leading the Revs to the Supporters’ Shield.


Cucho Hernandez
Colombian striker Cucho Hernandez has been a Columbus Crew player for less than two years, but he has already made more of a mark with the Ohio club than he did in five years as a Watford player.

Loaned out for much of his Vicarage Road stay, Hernandez played just one season in the Premier League, making 25 appearances and scoring five goals as the Hornets were relegated in 2022.

He joined Columbus Crew that summer in a club-record $10million move, a deal that has already provided a significant return on the investment.

The 25-year-old has scored 39 goals and provided 13 assists in 65 games for Wilfried Nancy’s side. Last season, Hernandez established himself as one of the deadliest strikers in the league, helping Columbus to an MLS Cup triumph while earning the MLS Cup MVP award.


Obafemi Martins
Regarded for a time as one of the most promising young strikers in Europe, it was considered something of a coup when Newcastle United signed Obafemi Martins from Inter Milan for £10million in the summer of 2006.

After 35 goals in three seasons for the Magpies, the speedy Nigerian’s time in England peaked with his part in Birmingham City’s shock League Cup win in 2011. The on-loan forward scored the winning goal against Arsenal at Wembley, but he couldn’t prevent the Blues from being relegated to the Championship at the end of the campaign.

Martins spent two seasons with the Seattle Sounders between 2013 and 2015, notching his best-ever single-season goals returns – 17 and 15, respectively – in the latter two campaigns. For his part in firing the Western Conference side to glory in the Supporters’ Shield and US Open Cup in 2014, he is remembered as a club legend.


Cobi Jones
One of the stars of the USA’s squad for the 1994 World Cup on home soil, winger Cobi Jones briefly played for Coventry City in the Premier League while he waited for MLS to be belatedly inaugurated in 1996.

Jones played 25 times and scored twice for the Sky Blues in the 1994/95 Premier League season before, after a short spell with Vasco da Gama in Brazil, joining LA Galaxy.

Jones remained with the Galaxy the rest of his career, playing more the 300 times for the club and winning two MLS Cups. He played alongside David Beckham in Los Angeles before retiring in 2007.


Jaime Moreno
Arguably the most decorated player in MLS history, Jaime Moreno joined DC United midway through the league’s first season in 1996 and, but for an 11-game spell with the New York/New Jersey Metro Stars in 2003, stayed with the capital club until he retired in 2010.

With almost 350 appearances in US soccer’s top league to his name, Moreno won four MLS Cups, four Supporters’ Shields, a CONCACAF Champions Cup and became the first player in MLS history to score 100 goals and register 100 assists.

Before he established his iconic MLS legacy, though, the Bolivian midfielder played for Middlesbrough for two seasons. He helped the north-east side earn promotion from the second tier in the 1994/95 season and made seven appearances in the Premier League the following year. He even returned to the Riverside for a short loan spell during the MLS off-season in 1997.