Gareth Bale has joined MLS side Los Angeles FC after ending his nine-year spell at Real Madrid
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The path between European football and Major League Soccer in the USA has become increasingly well-trodden in the last 15 years. 

Stars who have won major domestic honours, the Champions League and the World Cup have made the move stateside, often for one final swansong before retirement. 

Gareth Bale has become the latest iconic name to make the switch, joining Los Angeles FC after ending his nine-year spell at Real Madrid. 

Gareth Bale has joined MLS side Los Angeles FC after ending his nine-year spell at Real Madrid

Gareth Bale has joined MLS side Los Angeles FC after ending his nine-year spell at Real Madrid

To mark the Welshman’s transfer, Sportsmail takes a look at 10 of the biggest players who have graced MLS over the years. 

Gareth Bale

Alright, so he hasn’t played a minute in MLS yet but Bale’s move to LAFC has already gone down as one of the biggest in the league’s history. 

The 32-year-old arrives in California having won the Champions League five times in nine years at Real Madrid, along with three league titles. His final year in Spain was difficult though, as he was labelled a ‘parasite’ by newspaper Marca, vilified by fans and picked to play on just seven occasions. 

But Bale’s displays in a Wales shirt – almost single-handedly earning his country a spot at the World Cup for the first time in 64 years – show that he has plenty left to contribute if given the opportunity. 

Kaka

Standing as one of only eight players in history to win the World Cup, European Cup/Champions League and Ballon d’Or, Kaka already had an illustrious career behind him when he rocked up at Orlando City in 2015. 

It was the Florida club’s first-ever season in MLS and the former AC Milan and Real Madrid became the highest-paid player in the league’s history, with a salary of £5.37million per year. 

Kaka immediately repaid Orlando with a goal on his debut and was named in the MLS all-star team in all three of his seasons in the US. He retired in 2017, having scored 25 goals in 78 appearances stateside. 

David Villa 

Like Kaka, Villa also moved to MLS in 2015 and joined a newly-formed team as he became New York City FC’s first-ever player.

A prolific goalscorer with Spain, Barcelona, Valencia and other clubs, it was no surprise that the striker found the net with little difficulty over in the States. He ranks as NYCFC’s all-time top scorer and record appearance maker with 80 goals in 126 games. 

Villa was named in the all-star team in each of his four seasons in MLS and also won the league’s player of the year award in 2016. 

David Villa ranks as NYCFC's record scorer and appearance maker with 80 goals in 126 games

David Villa ranks as NYCFC’s record scorer and appearance maker with 80 goals in 126 games

Steven Gerrard

Gerrard called time on his 26-year long association with Liverpool when he made the move to Los Angeles Galaxy in 2015. 

However, the former England international only spent 18 months in California before retiring and making the transition into coaching. 

Despite contributing with five goals and 15 assists in 39 matches, Gerrard said he found the long away journeys difficult and also struggled with the diverse altitude and humidity across the United States. 

Steven Gerrard said he found the long away journeys difficult during his time at LA Galaxy

Steven Gerrard said he found the long away journeys difficult during his time at LA Galaxy

Frank Lampard

Gerrard’s long-time international team-mate Lampard had moved to MLS a year earlier, choosing to end his career at New York City FC. 

The current Everton boss ranks sixth in the list of all-time Premier League scorers with 177 goals and he added 15 more to his tally during his season and a half in the US.

Lampard’s highlights included the fastest ever goal in NYCFC’s history after 48 seconds against DC United and a hat-trick against Colorado Rapids. A lowlight came as he was jeered by the club’s fans in a 7-0 derby defeat to New York Red Bulls. 

Frank Lampard scored the fastest goal in NYCFC's history after 48 seconds against DC United

Frank Lampard scored the fastest goal in NYCFC’s history after 48 seconds against DC United

Andrea Pirlo

Playing alongside Lampard in the New York City FC midfield was Andrea Pirlo – a partnership that would have been one of the best ever had both players been in their prime. 

The Italian arrived in the Big Apple having won the World Cup, two Champions Leagues and six Serie A titles but he continued to ooze class in MLS and at the end of 2015 became the first player from the league to be nominated for the FIFPro World XI.

Pirlo struggled with injury in his final season in the States and retired in 2017, having scored once in 62 appearances for NYCFC. 

Andrea Pirlo arrived at New York City having won the World Cup and two Champions Leagues

Andrea Pirlo arrived at New York City having won the World Cup and two Champions Leagues

Wayne Rooney

In between becoming Manchester United and England’s greatest ever goalscorer and being dragged into the Wagatha Christie trial, Rooney found time to spend 18 months in MLS with DC United. 

Made captain after just three games in Washington, the striker contributed 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 games before heading back to England to sign for Derby in the Championship. 

Rooney’s time in the US is probably best remembered by a 70-yard strike from inside his own half against Orlando City. 

Wayne Rooney contributed 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 games during 18 months at DC United

Wayne Rooney contributed 25 goals and 14 assists in 52 games during 18 months at DC United

Thierry Henry

Among all the players on this list, Henry made the most appearances in MLS – playing 135 times for New York Red Bulls across five seasons. 

The French striker is also a rare example of a star name who has gone over to the States and actually won silverware as he helped Red Bulls win the Supporters’ Shield in 2013, the first major trophy in the club’s history. 

With a total of 52 goals, Henry ranks only behind Bradley Wright-Phillips and Juan Pablo Angel in the list of the Red Bulls record scorers. 

Thierry Henry helped Red Bulls win the Supporters' Shield in 2013, their first ever major trophy

Thierry Henry helped Red Bulls win the Supporters’ Shield in 2013, their first ever major trophy

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

A player who continues to defy nature at the age of 40, Ibrahimovic certainly didn’t treat MLS as a retirement home when he moved to LA Galaxy in 2018. 

Upon his arrival, the Swede took out a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Times that simply said, ‘Dear Los Angeles, you’re welcome’. It was typically Zlatan. 

Ibrahimovic scored a stunning 53 goals in 58 appearances during his time in the US, including 31 in his second season to break the LA Galaxy record for the most in a single campaign.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic took out a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Time upon signing

Zlatan Ibrahimovic took out a full-page advertisement in the Los Angeles Time upon signing

David Beckham

The trend-setter. Beckham was the man to kick-off an influx of players arriving in MLS from Europe when he signed a ground-breaking deal with LA Galaxy in 2007. 

The arrival of English football’s long-time poster boy, who counted Manchester United and Real Madrid as his previous clubs, unsurprisingly brought a huge wealth of attention to both Galaxy and MLS as a whole. 

Aside from Beckham’s game-changing impact off the pitch, he was pretty influential on it too. He contributed 20 goals and 42 assists in six seasons for Galaxy and lifted the MLS Cup in 2011 and 2012.  

David Beckham kicked off an influx of star names arriving in MLS when he signed for LA Galaxy

David Beckham kicked off an influx of star names arriving in MLS when he signed for LA Galaxy

Honourable mentions 

Didier Drogba can probably count himself the most unfortunate to miss out on the list. The former Chelsea hero spent a season at Montreal Impact. His Blues team-mate Ashley Cole played for LA Galaxy for three seasons.

Gonzalo Higuain is one of the biggest names currently playing in MLS, having signed for Beckham’s Inter Miami in 2020. 

World Cup winner Bastian Schweinsteiger was on Chicago Fire’s books for three seasons, while German compatriot Lothar Matthaus became one of the earliest stars to move to MLS when he joined New York MetroStars in 2000.

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