Lionel Messi’s signing to Inter Miami has added to the list of Ballon d’Or winners to play in the MLS.
The MLS has never been a league that featured the best players in the world, but four Ballon d’Or winners have graced the shores of the United States.
With stars like Pele, Bobby Moore and Sam Alladryce all playing in the US during their career, the league can boast a number of legends as former stars of the MLS (or NASL).
While Pele never won the Ballon d’Or (due to the rules on non-Europeans winning the award), four other men have picked up the gong during their playing careers, and gone on to play in the MLS.
No current MLS players have won the award whilst playing in the US, although that could all change in 2023 (keep reading to find out who).
Ballon d’Or Winners in the MLS
The first Ballon d’Or winner to sign for the MLS was German superstar Lothar Matthäus. The Ballon D’or winner for 1990 played as a defensive midfielder and a sweeper in his career, playing 150 times for a West Germany side that lifted the World Cup in 1990.
Matheus signed for the New York MetroStars (later New York Red Bulls) in 200, becoming one of the highest profile signings to the league since Pele in 1975. He played 16 games in the US before retiring from football, aside from one match in 2018.
He was followed by the Bulgarian hero Hristo Stoichkov, the former Barcelona striker who also joined the league in 2000. Stoichkov signed with the Chicago Fire in 2000, following a disappointing spell on Japan with Kahiwa Reysol.
The Bulgarian Ballon d’Or winner spent three years in the MLS with Chicago Fire and DC United. He scored 22 goals in 72 matches, a respectable total for the former Barcelona striker.
The next Ballon d’Or winner to join the MLS would be Kaka in 2014. Despite legends like David Beckham and Thierry Henry joining the league over the years, Kaka was the first man to win the Ballon d’Or in years to move to America to play football.
The Brazilian Ballon d’Or winner made the move to the United States in 2014, and had an impressive spell with Orlando City. He spent three seasons with the Florida side, netting 24 times in 75 matches – a great return for a midfielder.
He also provided 22 assists for the Orlando side, making him one of the most creative big-money signings in MLS history. He is up there with Robbie Keane and Thierry Henry as some of the best players in the leagues’ history.
It would take until 2023 when another Ballon d’Or winner would grace the MLS with his presence. On June 7th, 2023, 7-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi announced he was signing with MLS side Inter Miami.
The World Cup winner joined David Beckham’s side after winning the 2022 World Cup with Argentina, netting two goals in the final against a Mbappe-lead France side.
His transfer is by no doubt the biggest in MLS history, with Miami fighting off competition from Barcelona and Saudi Arabia for the signature of the former PSG man.
After his performance in the FIFA World Cup 2022, leading Argentina to victory in the tournament, Lionel Messi could be the first MLS player to win the Ballon d’Or, while playing the the United States as an active football player.
Messi’s 7 Ballon d’Or’s dwarfs the three held by the rest of the MLS, which only adds to his legend as the greatest footballer of all time,