"I'm very excited to begin the next chapter of my career in the United States with LA Galaxy," said Steven Gerrard in a statement following confirmation by the Major League Soccer (MLS) club that he will move to California in July when his contract with Liverpool FC expires.
In light of the former England captain's decision to try his luck in the United States, UEFA.com has selected 11 Europeans – picked on the strength of their impact in the North American Soccer League (NASL) or MLS, as well as previous achievements – who made similar journeys across the Atlantic.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) January 7, 2015
Gordon Banks – Cleveland Stokers (1967), Fort Lauderdale Strikers (1977–78)
England's goalkeeper when they won the FIFA World Cup in 1966, Banks ventured 'across the pond' a year later to turn out for Cleveland. His sojourn with Fort Lauderdale, however, proved more memorable. Banks, who lost the sight in one eye as a result of a car accident in 1972, was instrumental in the Florida side topping the NASL's Eastern Division in 1977. In the play-offs, though they ran into a Giorgio Chinaglia-inspired New York Cosmos, losing the first leg 8-3 in front of a then US-record soccer crowd of 77,691.
Franz Beckenbauer – (New York Cosmos 1977–80, 1983)
Der Kaiser's transfer from FC Bayern München prompted KICK Magazine, then the official publication of the NASL, to say that the American public were "getting a diamond from soccer's crown jewels". Beckenbauer, who led Germany to victory at the 1972 UEFA European Championship and the World Cup two years later, enjoyed two stints with the Cosmos, his three NASL championships coming in his first spell before a return to his homeland and Hamburger SV in 1980.
Bobby Moore – San Antonio Thunder (1976), Seattle Sounders (1978)
Along with Pelé, Moore was one of the initial star names to ply their trade Stateside. Indeed, the England defender was the first World Cup-winning captain to feature in the NASL, who say on their website: "Though his career in the NASL was brief, he was certainly one of the legendary players of the game who helped put professional soccer on the map in North America." The West Ham United FC favourite died from cancer aged 51 in 1993.
Alessandro Nesta – Montreal Impact (2012–13)
When the erstwhile SS Lazio and AC Milan centre-back switched to Montreal in July 2012 he added to the franchise's 'Little Italy' quarter, which comprised compatriots Matteo Ferrari and Marco Di Vaio. While Nesta spent less than two seasons with the Impact, he more than played his part in bringing success to the club, who claimed the Canadian Championship in 2013 and qualified for the MLS play-offs for the first time that same year.
David Beckham – LA Galaxy (2007–12)
The man whose 2007 arrival in MLS spawned the Designated Player Rule – which is informally named after the ex-England skipper and allows teams to sign players who would otherwise be considered outside their salary cap – Beckham made headlines across the globe when he announced he would be swapping Real Madrid CF for the United States. He concluded his Los Angeles adventure, one that was interspersed with loan periods back in Europe, with victory in the 2012 MLS Cup final, his second post-season triumph with the Galaxy.
Johan Neeskens – New York Cosmos (1979–84), Fort Lauderdale Sun (1985)
At the heart of the Dutch squad that finished runners-up at the 1974 and 1978 World Cups, Neeskens was another European to experience success with the Cosmos. After leaving FC Barcelona, the midfielder landed two NASL titles, in 1980 and 1982.
George Best – LA Aztecs (1976, 1977–78), Fort Lauderdale Strikers (1978–79), San Jose Earthquakes (1980–82)
Two years after his unexpected departure from Manchester United FC, Best gave the NASL a major shot in the arm when putting pen to paper with the Aztecs. The Northern Ireland winger was named the league's best player in his second term with the Los Angeles outfit. He died in November 2005 at the age of 59.
Johan Cruyff – LA Aztecs (1979–80), Washington Diplomats (1980–81)
In the foreword to Ian Plenderleith's book Rock and Roll Soccer: The Short Life and Fast Times of the North American Soccer League, one-time England and Tampa Bay Rowdies striker Rodney Marsh writes that "household names such as Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer were a perfect fit for America" because "people generally love a superstar as much as they love a big event". Three-time Ballon d'Or recipient Cruyff was certainly that, having collected three European Cups, among other honours, as an AFC Ajax player and inspired the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final.
Robbie Keane – LA Galaxy (2011–)
The highest scorer in UEFA European Championship qualifying history, Republic of Ireland captain Keane was the 2014 MLS Most Valuable Player. Four days later he struck an extra-time winner against the New England Revolution in the MLS Cup final (see the below tweet), his third post-season title having triumphed alongside Beckham in 2011 and 2012. The Dublin-born forward has been a consistent source of goals since heading to California from Tottenham Hotspur FC, registering 53 times in 84 regular-season games and eight in 16 post-season outings to date.
GOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAAAAAAAALLLLL ROBBIE KEANE! 2-1! CARTWHEELS!!!! #MLSCUP
— LA Galaxy (@LAGalaxy) December 7, 2014
Giorgio Chinaglia – New York Cosmos (1976–83)
Raised in Wales after his family relocated from Italy in 1955, Chinaglia can be summed up in one word: prolific. He knocked in an astonishing 436 goals in 413 appearances for the legendary Cosmos side of the late 1970s and early 80s, winning four NASL championships. Chinaglia – honoured as Lazio's greatest player for his 98 strikes in 209 matches between 1969 and 1976, a time in which the Biancocelesti picked up their first Scudetto – died in April 2012 aged 65.
Thierry Henry – New York Red Bulls (2010–14)
Henry called time on his four-and-a-half-year stint with New York, as well as his glittering career, last month. He quit the New Jersey-based outfit as their second-highest goalscorer (51) behind Juan Pablo Ángel and their all-time leader in assists (42). In 2013, the former France attacker helped the franchise to the first silverware in their history, the Supporters' Shield, the trophy given to the team with the best regular-season record.
Thomas Ravelli – Tampa Bay Mutiny (1998)
Roberto Donadoni – MetroStars (1996–97)
Kazimierz Deyna – San Diego Sockers (1981–84)
Hristo Stoichkov – Chicago Fire (2000–02), DC United (2002–03)
Youri Djorkaeff – Metrostars/New York Red Bulls (2005–06)
Gerd Müller – Fort Lauderdale Strikers (1979–81)
Eusébio – Boston Minutemen (1975), Toronto Metros-Croatia (1975–76) Las Vegas Quicksilvers (1976–77), New Jersey Americans (1978–79)
Coming soon to a football field in the United States
David Villa (New York City FC)
Frank Lampard (New York City FC)
Raúl González (New York Cosmos)
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