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Cole joins Champions League winners in MLS

With Ashley Cole having joined Steven Gerrard at the LA Galaxy, UEFA.com shines a spotlight on the UEFA Champions League winners in Major League Soccer.

Ashley Cole will face former Chelsea and England team-mate Frank Lampard in MLS
Ashley Cole will face former Chelsea and England team-mate Frank Lampard in MLS ©Getty Images

The number of UEFA Champions League winners in Major League Soccer (MLS) has increased with Ashley Cole's decision to sign for the LA Galaxy, where he will link up with long-time England team-mate Steven Gerrard.

Cole, released from his Roma contract on 19 January, has agreed to join the Californian club. The former Arsenal and Chelsea left-back is the latest high-profile name to cross the Atlantic in the last 12 months, following the likes of Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba, Kaká, Frank Lampard and Gerrard.

Those players are among a small number who have lifted Europe's most coveted club prize* and then gone on to ply their trade in the top tier of United States soccer.

*UEFA Champions League trophy, 1993 onwards

UEFA Champions League winners to have played in MLS
(For the purposes of this article, a 'winner' is someone who appeared in a final – unused substitutes do not count)

Ashley Cole (LA Galaxy, 2016)
Final victories:
2012 (Bayern München 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea win 4-3 on pens
Cole has become the third member of Chelsea's 2012-winning squad to finish his career in MLS, after Drogba and Lampard. The 35-year-old, capped 107 times by England, joins a squad that reported for pre-season training earlier this month and faces Mexican outfit Santos Laguna in the quarter-finals of the 2015/16 CONCACAF Champions League before beginning the 21st MLS season at home to DC United on 6 March.

Didier Drogba (Montreal Impact, 2015–)
Final victories:
2012 (Bayern München 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea win 4-3 on pens
Drogba's impact, pardon the pun, in Montreal was sensational. Released by Chelsea last summer, a departure that marked the end of his second spell at Stamford Bridge, the former Ivory Coast forward scored 11 goals in as many MLS appearances in 2015, announcing himself with a hat-trick against the Chicago Fire on his first start.

Drogba was sent off deep into added time of the 2008 UEFA Champions League final against Manchester United, which the west Londoners would lose on penalties. However, he more than made amends in the decider four years later, drawing Chelsea level against Bayern on 88 minutes before converting the clinching spot kick in the shoot-out – his last act prior to joining Galatasaray.

Andrea Pirlo (New York City, 2015–)
Final victories: 2003 (Juventus 0-0 Milan, Milan win 3-2 on pens), 2007 (Milan 2-1 Liverpool)
Pirlo's introduction to MLS was largely uneventful following his move to Manhattan last July. The midfielder did not score in 13 outings as New York City failed to qualify for the play-offs in their debut campaign. Another Italian Designated Player generated more headlines – his erstwhile Juventus team-mate Sebastian Giovinco, named league MVP in December for his season-best 22 goals and 16 assists for Toronto.

©Getty Images

Even so, Pirlo is a veteran of four UEFA Champions League finals. Long since substituted by the time the 2003 all-Italian decider went to spot kicks, he was a more central figure in 2007 in Athens, where Milan exorcised the demons of Liverpool's Istanbul comeback two years before. In his autobiography, I think therefore I play, Pirlo says he regarded the Merseyside club as "an enemy I can't allow to wound me a second time". That they did not was partly down to the Brescia-born maestro, who delivered the set piece from which Filippo Inzaghi put the Serie A outfit ahead on the cusp of half-time.

©Getty Images

David Villa (New York City, 2015–)
Final victories: 2011 (Barcelona 3-1 Manchester United)
Spain's all-time leading marksman, 34, scored NYCFC's first home MLS goal and found the net 18 times overall last term – a tally only bettered by Giovinco, Kei Kamara and Robbie Keane. Like Pirlo, Villa departed the European club scene after a UEFA Champions League final defeat (Atlético Madrid losing to Real Madrid in 2014). At Wembley in 2011, however, Villa rounded off the scoring in a silky Barcelona showing that left then United manager Sir Alex Ferguson purring in admiration.

©Getty Images

Kaká (Orlando City, 2015–)
Final victories: 2007 (Milan 2-1 Liverpool)
Though not on target in the final, Kaká was the inspiration behind Milan's seventh and most recent European Cup success with an unrivalled ten UEFA Champions League goals in the 2006/07 edition. Kaká enjoyed a fruitful first four months Stateside, his showing in a 4-0 destruction of the Galaxy a particular highlight, though his output did dry up in the second half of 2015. The playmaker registered the last of his nine goals in an eventful Independence Day fixture against Real Salt Lake, a match in which he was also sent off.

©Getty Images

Frank Lampard (New York City, 2015–)
Final victories: 2012 (Bayern München 1-1 Chelsea, Chelsea win 4-3 on pens)
As well as contending with a new league, a demanding schedule and the occasional challenge of playing on artificial turf, Lampard also had to appease the NYCFC supporters angered by his decision to delay his switch to North America in order to spend the second half of the 2014/15 season at Manchester City. He finally made his long-awaited debut on 1 August, going on to score three goals.

Captaining Chelsea in the absence of the suspended John Terry, Lampard achieved his career zenith in Munich nearly four years ago. The midfielder scored the Blues' third spot kick in a shoot-out brought about by Drogba's 88th-minute effort and Petr Čech saving Arjen Robben's extra-time penalty.

Ten years on: Miracle of Istanbul

Steven Gerrard (LA Galaxy, 2015–)
Final victories: 2005 (Milan 3-3 Liverpool, Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)
Gerrard scored one and set up another on his MLS bow, a 5-2 triumph against the San Jose Earthquakes in the California Clásico. His hopes of a first league title of his career foundered, though, as the Galaxy won just one of their last seven regular season encounters, leaving them with a tricky knockout round tie at the Seattle Sounders if they were to make the play-off semi-finals. It was a hurdle they did not overcome. Englishmen Cole, Lampard and Gerrard could be reunited when NYCFC host Bruce Arena's men on 20 August.

Liverpool's talismanic captain led a revival at the Atatürk Olimpiyat Stadium that flummoxed Pirlo to such a degree he considered quitting the game because "nothing made sense any more – the 2005 Champions League final simply suffocated me". Gerrard instigated the fightback from 3-0 down with a 54th-minute header, one of 30 UEFA Champions League goals he managed for the Anfield club.

Other winners

Aitor Karanka (Colorado Rapids, 2006)
Final victories:
2000 (Real Madrid 3-0 Valencia)

Alessandro Nesta (Montreal Impact, 2012–13)
Final victories: 2003 (Juventus 0-0 Milan, Milan win 3-2 on pens), 2007 (Milan 2-1 Liverpool)

David Beckham (LA Galaxy, 2007–12)
Final victories: 1999 (Manchester United 2-1 Bayern München)

Djimi Traoré (Seattle Sounders, 2013–14)
Final victories: 2005 (Milan 3-3 Liverpool, Liverpool win 3-2 on penalties)

Júlio César (Toronto, 2014)
Final victories: 2010 (Bayern 0-2 Internazionale Milano)

Rafael Márquez (New York Red Bulls, 2010–12)
Final victories: 2006 (Barcelona 2-1 Arsenal)

Roberto Donadoni (New York/New Jersey MetroStars, 1996–98)
Final victories: 1994 (Milan 4-0 Barcelona)

Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls, 2010–14)
Final victories: 2009 (Barcelona 2-0 Manchester United)

*Have we missed anyone? Let us know using the comment facility below.

VIDEO: UEFA Champions League winners in MLS