10 former PL players impressing in MLS: Nani, Vela, Gil, Ibrahimovic & more

Quick Reads

Major League Soccer is home to plenty of former Premier League players – and a number have taken the league by storm this season.

The league has often been viewed as a retirement home for ageing stars, but they’ve brought their A-game this term to help their clubs.

We’ve taken a look at 10 former Premier League players impressing in MLS in the 2019 campaign.


Since leaving Manchester United initially on loan five years ago, Nani has endured a nomadic career, spending single seasons at Sporting Lisbon, Fenerbahce, Valencia, Lazio and back at Sporting.

Having signed a three-year deal with Orlando City in February, the winger may finally have found his new home. The 32-year-old has certainly settled well, scoring 12 times and providing 10 assists – making history by becoming the first Orlando player to record double figures for goals and assists in a single season.

READ: Nani, Manchester United, and the unfair portrayal of a ‘frustrating’ talent

Carlos Vela

Appearances: 30. Goals: 31. Assists: 15. Sexy.


READ: Carlos Vela has got bored of scoring just one type of wonder goal

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Sitting just behind Vela in the goalscoring charts with 29 goals in 28 games, Ibrahimovic’s overall tally in the competition stands at 51 goals in 55 appearances.

The 37-year-old was typically modest after scoring a hat-trick against Sporting Kansas City in September, saying: “I think I’m the best that has ever played in MLS. And that’s without joking. Have you been watching the two years I’ve been playing here?”

Ibrahimovic is now being linked with a surprise move to Boca Juniors, with club director Jorge Anro telling Mundo Boca Radio: ‘It is true that Ibrahimovic wants to play for Boca and it is true that we are in a position to bring him in.

“The club is in a very good moment institutionally. It is so good financially that it can afford those luxuries. We would be able to pay Zlatan’s contract.”

Carles Gil

Scorer of one of the Premier League’s greatest forgotten goals, Gil is best remembered in England for being part of the dismal Aston Villa side that suffered relegation in 2015-16.

Between 2016 and 2019, Gil returned to Spain to play for Deportivo before joining New England Revolution in a club-record $2million deal.

Thanks to 10 goals and 14 assists, the 26-year-old was recently voted the Revolution’s MVP by supporters and also won the club’s Players’ Player of the Year award.

“He’s the most obvious choice,” said head coach Bruce Arena. “I think he gathered an awful lot of votes and it’s probably pretty close to being unanimous. He simply has been outstanding and I think he’s a player that can be strongly considered for the best 11 in our league.”

READ: Remembering Carles Gil and one of the PL’s greatest forgotten goals

Wayne Rooney

After quite a heart-warming debut campaign with DC United, Rooney’s time in MLS will end on a sour note following confirmation of his surprise move to Derby County and a drop off in form which has seen him fail to score since the deal was announced.

The former England captain has also been sent off in that time – his second red card of the season – and was criticised after a foul-mouthed rant at an official in August.

Yet his record this season is still impressive. In 28 appearances, Rooney has scored 11 times and provided eight assists – both club-high figures – as DC United, who were among the worst clubs in MLS at the time of his arrival, sit fourth in the Eastern Conference.

“DC United were revolutionised by Rooney,” wrote Graham Ruthven in The Guardian. “Maybe only David Beckham and Sebastian Giovinco can claim to have made as profound an impact on an MLS franchise, but what was most remarkable about Rooney’s arrival was how quickly he changed the entire culture around Audi Field.”

Jozy Altidore

Fans in England, particularly those who support Sunderland, will never be able to understand Altidore scoring multiple worldies in a season.

But it’s happening, so let’s just enjoy it.


READ: Jozy Altidore is scoring worldy after worldy and we can’t handle it

Sebastian Blanco

We will always have a soft spot for Blanco after he scored the winner for Portland against Seattle to put a halt to Rob’s existential crisis during a trip to America, but we’re happy to admit we completely forgot he had a brief spell at West Brom in 2014 that resulted in 36 minutes of Premier League football over three appearances.

But the former Argentina international has been a much more reliable presence for the Timbers since joining the club in 2017. The attacking midfielder registered 11 assists last season and has already matched that figure in 2019.

READ: Away Days: Chasing the American dream in New York, Seattle & Portland

Brad Smith

On loan from Bournemouth, where he has barely played since joining from Liverpool, Smith spent part of 2018 at Seattle before returning for the 2019 campaign.

The left-back has provided six assists, the third most of any Sounders player this term, and the question is now whether Seattle can sign the Australian permanently.

“He’s been great for us,” Chris Henderson, the Sounders vice president of soccer and sporting director, told the Seattle Times. “The way the team is set up and the way we attack teams, it gives opportunities to our wing-backs to get forward and Brad puts teams under pressure.

“His speed, his ability to time his runs, his crossing in setting players up, has really helped us produce some goals and scoring chances.”

Vito Mannone

No, we didn’t know Mannone is on loan at Minnesota United from Reading, but it turns out the goalkeeper has earned plenty of fans in his time in MLS.

Minnesota sit second in the Western Conference and have conceded the third fewest goals in the division, having also made the US Open Cup final, where they were edged out by Atlanta United.

Emerson Hyndman

Another Bournemouth loanee, Hyndman moved to England in 2011 to join Fulham before moving to the south-coast outfit five years later.

The midfielder, born in Dallas, returned to his homeland in July by joining Atlanta United on loan, and the reigning MLS champions have an option to make the move permanent at the end of the season.

Hyndman has contributed three assists and a goal in his 14 appearances to date and appeared off the bench in the US Open Cup victory over Minnesota.

A permanent move seems to suit all parties, with the 24-year-old, who last played for the USA three years ago, telling MLSsoccer.com: “I want to try and get back in the national team set-up. I want to impress the coach and turn heads a little bit. It’s all going to come, I just got to put the work in every day.”

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