If the news that another US national team player will once again lace up his cleats in Major League Soccer sounds familiar, it should. Clint Dempsey is the third USMNT member to join an MLS team in the past month and the latest in a string of high-profile players who made headlines when they joined or returned to the league.
Here’s a list of the Top 10 US players who made the biggest news upon joining MLS since 2005.
10. Eddie Johnson – Who would be willing to take a shot on EJ after a nose dive out of Europe and rumors from Mexico that he was out of shape? The Sounders, of course, who reaped the rewards after a February 2012 deal with the Montreal Impact that was both criticized and celebrated league wide. A year and a half later EJ is once again doing it for the US national team, and likely headed back to another World Cup.
9. Jay DeMerit – Although his arrival in MLS wasn’t entirely unexpected, it was news that he turned down some good deals in Europe to help launch the expansion Vancouver Whitecaps in 2011. He was invaluable in leading the ‘Caps to their first-ever postseason berth last season and should have been a Best XI selection, but can he recover from a torn Achilles in time for a deeper playoff run?
8. Carlos Bocanegra – Again, not a total surprise that the longtime US captain came home to MLS last month, considering his minutes in Europe were waning. But what comes next for Boca at Chivas USA? He’s still a draw and a sentimental favorite for US fans, but can he somehow leverage his homecoming into one last stand for Jurgen Klinsmann’s group in Brazil?
7. Claudio Reyna – As American soccer players go, there weren’t many bigger names in 2007. That’s when Bruce Arena and the new-look New York Red Bulls took a shot that the three-time World Cup veteran (four, if you recall he made the 1994 team but didn’t play) still had something left in the tank. Injuries did him in, however, and he appeared in just 29 matches before he called it a career in 2008.
6. Kasey Keller – If we were ranking performances of US players after they joined MLS, this guy wins. But goalkeepers never get the hype their teammates do, even when they’re homecoming heroes with a decorated career in Europe and 101 caps with the USMNT. So Keller (above) settles for 44 wins and 30 shutouts in three years in the league, along with a Goalkeeper of the Year award in his final year in 2011 and a place on the Sounders’ Mount Rushmore. Not bad for a goalkeeper, huh?
5. Brian McBride – Tough to put an American icon this low on the list, considering all the hype surrounding his return to the league where he was the No. 1 draft pick in 1996. McBride came home in 2008 to try and spark the Chicago Fire to a title, but he was bested by the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference championship a year later, and he retired having never won the MLS Cup.
4. Charlie Davies – Almost killed in a 2009 car wreck and then achingly left in European soccer limbo, Davies took a shot at MLS on a loan deal with D.C. United and went on to score 11 goals in 26 games. It didn’t always work out – he drew flack from fans for his on-field theatrics and then blasted United coach Ben Olsen after the loan deal ended – but forget what you think of him now. Everyone was rooting for Davies (right), and watching everything he did.
3. Robbie Rogers – Well, this was the story of the year in 2013. The cathartic blog post that thrust him into the international spotlight, the workouts with the Galaxy, the hard line drawn that kept him out of Chicago, the Mike Magee trade, and, finally, the first openly gay player in North American sports history. He may never make it back to the USMNT – he has yet to prove that he was worth shipping out an All-Star – but it’s all been fascinating to watch.
2. Freddy Adu – He’s faded from the conversation since he left for Brazilian side Bahia in April, but when Adu returned to MLS in August 2011 shortly after a surprise call-up to the Gold Cup, it brought back all the media hype that’s trailed the guy since he was 14 years old. He struggled during his second stint in MLS – and butted heads with Philadelphia Union boss John Hackworth on his way out -- but nothing gets the casual fans and the die-hards riled up like talking about Freddy Adu.
1. Clint Dempsey – Number one, no question. Arguably the best American player around with plenty of gas left in the tank, and he’ll play in front of the league’s most frenzied fan base. No one on this list can match that. He’s the focal point of the Sounders’ stagnant playoff hopes and he’ll be a catalyst for the USMNT again next summer in Brazil, but can he deliver on both fronts? We’ll all be watching.