On April 6th Major League Soccer celebrated the 20th anniversary of the league’s inaugural match. With two decades of play in its rear-view mirror, we can ascertain that the league is stable and only on the rise. In the league’s first few years we saw pioneers players stem both domestically and from abroad. Tab Ramos, John Harkes, Alexi Lalas, Tony Meola represented the American spirit, while Carlos Valderrama, Jorge Campos, and Doctor Khumalo brought an international flair to the field. US Men’s National Team standouts, including Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and DaMarcus Beasley, not only paved the way for the league to sustain itself after its initial years, but also proved to the world that the stars & stripes produced players that could shine on the global stage.
The league kicked off in 1996 fielding ten teams, surrounded by much anticipation and uncertainty. After a mere five seasons, the league had expanded to 12 teams and then retracted 2 teams in 2001. Rumors swirled that the league was in dire straits, being on the verge of ceasing operations. Thankfully, one of the leagues founding fathers, Lamar Hunt, spearheaded the initiative to keep the league afloat during this tumultuous time. In retrospect, the first 10 years would come to be known as “MLS 1.0” using the same vernacular that permeates our technology driven world.
MLS entered version 2.0 in 2007 after the league signed global superstar, David Beckham. The second MLS evolution ushered in an influx of big name and high priced “Designated Players” (DP’s) to league rosters. Two of the most impactful DP’s, Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry, signed shortly after Beckham helped lend global credibility to the fledgling league. The signing of Beckham was a true game changer in how the league viewed itself and how it was perceived globally by players, coaches, and soccer fans.
The growth during this time was unprecedented. Following Beckham’s exit from the league after the 2012 season, MLS unofficially entered its third evolution. The return of U.S. Men’s National Team players who went abroad (Michael Bradley, Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore, Tim Howard, etc.) and a rise in high profile international stars (Kaka, Steven Gerrard, Andrea Pirlo, Didier Drogba, etc.) brought us to MLS 3.0, a time period that will continue upward trajectory for the sport in America.
Be it that we are in the midst of the league’s 21st season, many players have come and gone, many of which have left a mark on the league in varying capacities. To recognize and celebrate Major League Soccer’s most innovative and influential players, I compiled a list of stars to establish a “Mount Rushmore” representing each club in league history. Several franchises have seen countless superstars that transcended the league and their respective teams. Having given much thought, conducted research, and taken into account personal opinion, I announce the final four for each club below. What are your thoughts?
The Chicago Fire has a deep and rich history with a plethora of international and domestic stars having worn the kit over 19 seasons. The Fire wasted little time making a name for themselves, as the club won both the US Open Cup and MLS Cup in its inaugural season. It was a tough call deciding who belonged on this Chicago monument but this phenomenal collection of stars should suffice.
The late (not so) great Chivas USA franchise will go down as one of the league’s most abysmal failures. Chivas USA was intended to be the "little brother" of its successful parent club, Chivas Guadalajara. The Mexico based Chivas is one of the most decorated clubs in Liga MX history. After a mere 11 seasons of operation, due to poor attendance and managerial hardship Chivas USA folded after the 2014 campaign. The club did manage to have a four year run of moderate success, the peak being in 2007 where they owned the best record in the Western Conference. Not surprising that three of the four distinct members of the CUSA Mount Rushmore played on that team. RIP CUSA.
Deservedly or not in recent years, Colorado has emerged as the unofficial league whipping boy by MLS fans. A spot once occupied by the likes of Chivas USA, Colorado has been in a free-fall of sorts since undeservedly winning ML S Cup in 2010. The squad does seem to be on the rise, however with recent signings Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones coming to the fold. Despite the flack bestowed, the Rapids various color schemes have been represented by some fine players over the seasons.
Columbus Crew SC
A born and raised Columbus native, the Crew will always have a special place in my heart. I consider myself an amateur team historian. I toiled endlessly on who belonged on the Crew SC Mount Rushmore. Given the scores of quality goalkeepers that have played for the black & gold, not having one make this list was surprising tad bit surprising. Ultimately, I decided on four field players that were pillars of the Crew’s history and foundation.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Prior to David Beckham and the LA Galaxy’s reign over the last decade or so, the original MLS “super club” was none other than DC United. DCU won 3 of the first 4 MLS Cups and 4 of the league’s first 9. DCU fans have been blessed to see a multitude of stars represent the club over the last 20 years, though the bulk of this list stems back to the teams glory days. Bill Hamid will certainly find his way onto this monument before his playing days are over. It’s just a matter of who of the following four gentlemen will be chiseled away?
Known as the “Dallas Burn” from 1996 to 2004, FC Dallas is one of the ten MLS charter clubs. The franchise tends to fly under the radar but it has certainly fielded plenty of prominent players, most notably the leagues original century goal man, Jason Kreis. FCD’s Mount Rushmore recognizes the stars of yesterday and today.
The Houston Dynamo concluded their first decade as an MLS franchise in 2015. The “Forever Orange” faithful know full well how special their talent has been in that time period. A handful of players have even represented the Stars & Stripes at the FIFA World Cup. Two of them made this list.
The LA Galaxy is polarizing in every sense of the word, they are the franchise MLS fans love to loathe. Many fans theorize that the league executives bend the roster and financial rules to allow the Galaxy a competitive advantage. Whatever your thoughts are on the club, it is undeniable that the team has had more true “soccer stars” than any other club in MLS history. A variety of truly innovating players failed to make the LAG Mount Rushmore, without a doubt making this the most difficult team to cut down to a final four. Robbie Keane deserves a spot on this list for sure; I just didn’t know who to bump out. Who do you think?
This short lived Southern Florida club made their way onto the MLS scene in 1998, before ceasing operations after the 2001 season. Despite only playing for four seasons, their final run was one for the ages. Some of the leagues brightest stars had their start in Miami. One of them even finds their way on multiple MLS team monuments. RIP Miami Fusion.
Alex Pineda Chacón
The Impact is in the midst of their fifth MLS season which looks to be the clubs most promising. Even with a limited Major League Soccer history, the team has been privy to a multitude of phenomenal goal scorers. It will be interesting to see how the Impact Mount Rushmore will change in just a few more years’ time.
Marco Di Vaio
New England Revolution
Having come out on the losing end of 5 MLS Cup, the Revolution has the unfortunate distinction of being the “Buffalo Bills of MLS.” While they have yet to win the whole kit and caboodle, the Revs have signed a remarkable amount of talent and stars. This was not an easy list to finalize. Many high-caliber players were snubbed. Revs fans can yell at me if they want but this final four isn’t anything to sneeze at.
New York City FC
It could be perceived as almost silly to construct a team Mount Rushmore for a club with less than 40 games under their belt but how could I let the likes of NYCFC and Orlando City out in the cold. Oh, and if we had a “Mount Bustmore” a fella whose name rhymes with Bank Rampard would certainly be on the mountain top for NYCFC.
New York Red Bulls
Similar to several of MLS’s charter franchises, the New York Red Bulls were a tough call to dwindle down to a final four. I had many sleepless nights trying to decide this group. A plethora of truly incredible talent has found their way to the NY/NJ based club but ultimately many were left off in favor of these four gentlemen.
Juan Pablo Angel
Orlando City SC
Similar to NYCFC, I felt like a donkey’s rear-end while compiling this group but I didn’t feel right not inviting Orlando and NYCFC to the party. Interestingly enough, the caliber and international pedigree of these players runs the gamut. One of the members isn’t even on the team anymore. Some Mount Rushmore I guess, huh?!
The Philadelphia soccer market was under-served and overlooked by Major League Soccer for a variety of reasons over the years but with the help of a loud and ardent supporters group (Sons of Ben) the attention of MLS and prospective owners were caught in the late 2000’s. While the club hasn’t garnered consistent success on the field overall, it has deployed a number of dynamic players.
Sébastien Le Toux
Ah yes, Soccer City USA, as many like to designate Portland. The MLS version of the club has only been operating a mere six seasons but the impact made has been stellar. After capping off the 2015 season with the MLS Cup Championship, it is no surprise that the four members of the Timber Mount Rushmore were all integral pieces of the squad.
Real Salt Lake
Despite possessing the nonsensical moniker “Real Sale Lake” the team has been a true success in every sense of the word. The term “consistent” tends to fit this club remarkably. They are consistently packing in big crowds, they are consistently winning games, and consistently churning out quality talent. A model franchise for small-market clubs, RSL has unearthed and developed real stars since its inaugural season in 2005.
San Jose Earthquakes
Originally known as the San Jose Clash, the franchise is one of the ten charter members of Major League Soccer. In fact, San Jose has the unique distinction of performing in the first game in MLS history. Additionally, the team scored the league’s first goal, thanks for a strike from former USMNT member, Eric Wynalda. While he didn’t make the San Jose Mount Rushmore, four deserving members did.
The Major League Soccer version of the club was established on November 13, 2007, as an MLS expansion team, making it the 15th team in the league and the third Seattle soccer club to share the name. Having won four US Open Cups, a Supporters Shield, and leading the league in attendance, Seattle has been the model franchise since arriving onto the scene. While an MLS Cup has eluded them, a helping heap of stars have shone bright for the Rave Green.
Sporting Kansas City
For the majority of their existence, they were known as the Kansas City Wizards. The team rebranded in November 2010, unleashing a distinctly new era in the clubs history. Considering they have won the MLS Cup twice (2000, 2013), the Supporters' Shield once (2000), and the U.S. Open Cup three times (2004, 2012 and 2015), it goes without saying that the franchise has been spoiled with prominent players. Several more could have made the final four but this fearsome foursome would succeed in any MLS era.
Tampa Bay Mutiny
The Tampa Bay Mutiny was a professional soccer team and charter member of Major League Soccer, operating from 1996 to 2001. The team succeeded in their first year of play, winning the first MLS Supporters' Shield behind forward Roy Lassiter, whose 27 goals in 1996 is still tied for the MLS single-season record. Unfortunately, the team could not find a local ownership group to take over operations from the league, forcing the Mutiny to fold in 2002. RIP Tampa Bay Mutiny.
Established in 2005, Toronto FC began play in 2007 as MLS's fourteenth, and first Canadian franchise in the league. The club has struggled on the pitch, while boasting a loud and critical fan base. It took until the teams ninth season of play to finally make the playoffs, though not for lack of trying by management. The franchise’s allotment of talent both globally and domestically has had mixed results but are deserving of notoriety nonetheless.
The Whitecaps are the 17th team of Major League Soccer and replaced the minor league team of the same name. The MLS version of the team is the third to share the legacy of the Whitecaps name. In the 2012 season, the team became the first Canadian team to qualify for the MLS Cup Playoffs. Here are the four men that qualified for the VWFC Mount Rushmore.
Major League Soccer
Taking the various stages of the leagues development into consideration, a variety of players pushed the league forward to unprecedented heights. The amount of players strongly considered for this feat was high but this extraordinary league of gentlemen was essential in creating and shaping MLS into what it has become today.