Major League Soccer’s 20th season kicks off on Friday with several new faces featuring in the North American league. Here are five of the best:
Kaka (Orlando City)
Age: 32. National team: Brazil – 89 appearances, 29 goals, Previous Clubs: Sao Paulo, AC Milan, Real Madrid.
The best-paid player ever in Major League Soccer, earning over $7 million, Kaka brings his elegant midfield play to a league that needs a touch of class.
Although clearly not the same player who won the Champions League with Milan in 2007, Kaka is by no means a spent force as proven by his recall to the Brazil team last year.
An attacking midfielder capable of scoring goals – he scored 70 in 193 games for Milan – Kaka should prove to be an entertaining addition to the league.
Age: 33. National team: Spain. – 97 appearances, 59 goals.
Previous Clubs: Sporting Gijon, Real Zaragoza, Valencia, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid.
A World Cup winner, European Championship winner, a Champions League and Spanish league winner, New York City hope that David Villa will add to that record with an MLS Cup.
That might be a tough ask with an expansion team but Villa will certainly be an exciting presence in the league.
Still with plenty of pace and blessed with great alertness and a deft touch, Villa can open up defences for team-mates and is also a fine finisher himself. What he lacks in physical presence, he makes up for in guile and skill and he will surely be a headache for MLS defenders.
Age: 34. National team: England – 114 appearances, 21 goals. Previous club: Liverpool.
Gerrard has been the heart and soul of his hometown club, winning the Champions League with them and captaining his country at the last World Cup and such has been his attachment to Liverpool that his career was expected to end at Anfield.
But unable to be sure of a central role in manager Brendan Rodgers’ plans, Gerrard opted to play his final years in California.
He won’t join the Galaxy until after the completion of the Premier League season but when he arrives he is sure to make a big impact.
While no longer possessing the stamina and mobility across the field that characterised his play at his peak, he is an outstanding passer, a good reader of the game and can be deadly at set-pieces. Will join former Liverpool teammate Robbie Keane in LA and should give the team a huge boost as they head into the second half of the season.
Age: 36. National team: England 106 appearances, 29 goals. Previous clubs: West Ham United, Chelsea, Manchester City.
Like Gerrard, Lampard won’t arrive in MLS until midway through the regular season and the confusion over his status with Manchester City, who also own NYCFC, somewhat soured the excitement over his acquisition.
But the reason City were keen to keep him at the Etihad Stadium for a few more months bodes well – Lampard has shown in Manchester that he can still perform at the highest level, raising questions over whether Chelsea were right to let him go.
A quality all-round midfielder, Lampard showed throughout his years at Stamford Bridge that he is an attacking threat as well as a superb organizer and leader in the center of the field. He scored 147 goals for the London club in 429 games and expect him to be prolific at Yankee Stadium.
Age: 28. National team: Italy – 21 appearances, 1 goal. Previous clubs: Empoli, Parma, Juventus.
The youngest of the quintet of big-money new faces in MLS, Giovinco’s huge reported salary raised eyebrows given that he lacks the star power of the older signings but his arrival, at an age which is considered a player’s peak, is something of a breakthrough for MLS.
Known as the ‘Atomic Ant’ for his speed and diminutive stature, the Italian makes up for his lack of size with his delicate touch and excellent awareness. Highly rated by Italy coach Antonio Conte, before he left Juventus for the national team job, it would not be a huge surprise if good form in MLS earns him a recall to the Azzurri.
For Toronto though, it would be enough if he could help them finally make the playoffs.