Major League Soccer (MLS) has grown dramatically over the last decade, both economically and as a catalyst for the sport of soccer here in the U.S., with Hispanic players as fundamental pillars. This rise in prominence has attracted the attention of many players who are moving to the MLS as they close their careers.
In the past decade, there have been several stars who have taken their talents here, including Thierry Henry, David Beckham, David Villa, Wayne Rooney, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Rafa Márquez, Frank Lampard, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Kaká, Didier Drogba, Steven Gerrard and Andrea Pirlo, among others.
In addition to being a destination for players leaving elite European soccer leagues and top level teams, the trend has also been to strengthen the League with young players, mainly from Latin American countries. For some, MLS is also a place that can serve as a bridge to Europe.
Currently, there are more than 150 Hispanic players among the different MLS teams in the East and West conferences. The countries with the largest number of players are Mexico, Argentina, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Uruguay.
MLS has grown with the influence of Hispanics
The influence of Hispanic players has been key to the league’s growth since its founding in 1993.
Soccer may not be the first sport of choice for elite U.S. athletes who gravitate more to American Football, Basketball and Baseball.
To raise the level of competition, the league has aggressively recruited from abroad, bringing in players who are now considered the top stars in the MLS such as Carlos Vela, Javier ‘Chicharito’ Hernández or Gonzalo ‘Pipita’ Higuaín.
Is the player with the most European tours currently playing in MLS. Despite the fact that Higuaín was born in Brest, France, he was raised in Argentina, so he decided to represent his Latin American country in several editions of the World Cup and the America’s Cup.
He has played for several of the best clubs in the world, including Real Madrid, Juventus, Chelsea, Napoli and AC Milan, not including his time at River Plate at the beginning of his career. He played on 14 championship teams, gained several individual recognitions, the most outstanding being the Capocannoniere (top scorer) of the Italian league in the 2015-16 season, when he had 36 goals with Napoli, the highest number of goals scored by a single player in a Serie A season.
In 2020, when his contract with Juventus expired, he joined Inter Miami, which already had in its roster his brother, Federico Higuaín. He currently has 10 goals in 29 games.
The Mexican star also played in Europe. Hernandez started his career with Chivas de Guadalajara and then made the leap to Manchester United, played on loan for a season at Real Madrid and then went to Bayer Leverkusen, West Ham and Sevilla. Finally in January 2020, the Los Angeles Galaxy announced they had signed him.
During his playing days in Europe, he was part of championship teams in the English Premier League, Europa League and Club World Cup.
Although he failed to establish himself as a star in the teams he played, he has always been a profitable player for his coaches. During his time at Real Madrid, he even scored a key goal in the Champions League quarter-finals against Atlético, which allowed the team to reach the semifinals before bowing out against Juventus.
With the LA Galaxy he has 12 goals in 23 games, but he has suffered multiple injuries.
The 32-year-old Mexican player also started his career at Chivas, and went to Arsenal in 2006. Vela wasn’t able to become a starter, so he was lent several times to clubs such as Celta, Salamanca and West Brom, among others. In 2012, Real Sociedad decided to bet on him and paid 14 million euros in transfer fees to the English team.
He spent five and a half years on the Spanish team, where he formed a great duo with Antoine Griezmann. During his time at Real Sociedad, he played 250 games, scored 73 goals with 43 assists.
Unfortunately for Vela, his passage through Europe did not translate into championships, despite playing for close to 12 years in the Old Continent.
In January 2018, Los Angeles FC signed the Mexican, who had an immediate impact and won his first title at club level. He was awarded the Supporters Shield in 2019, when he was the top scorer of the season with 34 goals.
In LA, he played against Zlatan, who was signed by the LA Galaxy creating an intra-city rivalry, and a personal rivalry, sparked by the media when he was compared to the European star. This generated a back and forth between both players, in the media and on the social media.
More Hispanics in MLS
There are also other known players in the league, Jürgen Damm, Ezequiel Barco and Josef Martínez (Atlanta United), Sebastián Driussi (Austin FC) and Ramón Ábila (DC United).
Atlanta United, the club with most Hispanics
Every MLS team has at least one Hispanic player on its roster, but Atlanta United has the distinction of most Latinos, 10.
This includes Jürgen Damm, who stood out in Tigres and Pachuca, Ezequiel Barco, an Argentinian considered one of the great promises in that country and who recently played in the Tokyo Summer Olympic Games. Josef Martínez, who often plays on the Venezuelan national team, played in the Swiss and Italian leagues also makes Atlanta his home.
Ultimately, MLS and Hispanic players have a great symbiotic connection. The league benefits from the players by getting greater soccer talent, while athletes find a space to train and dream of attracting the attention of European clubs, for example Christian Pulisic (Chelsea) and Alphonso Davies (Bayern Munich).