When French midfielder Blaise Matuidi signed with Inter Miami on Thursday, he joined an exclusive club: World Cup winners to play in MLS. Matuidi, who helped France win the FIFA World Cup in 2018 in Russia, is the 12th world champion to suit up in this league. He joins the following group:
Brazil: 1994 & MetroStars: 1997
The hardman for the pragmatic Brazilian side that won the World Cup in the US, Branco was known for his tackling and his deadly free kicks, one of which he famously struck against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals in Dallas. In 1997, with three World Cup tournaments under his belt, he joined New York for one of the most ignominious career stat lines in MLS history: 11 appearances, one goal, two assists and three red cards.
Brazil: 2002 & FC Dallas: 2007
Once the most expensive player in the world – Real Betis paid $35 million for him in 1998 – Denilson was used mainly as a sub in Japan/Korea, including in the final against Germany. The Brazilian playmaker joined FC Dallas in August 2007, played eight games, scored one goal, and then … gone.
France: 1998 & New York Red Bulls: 2005-06
Seven years after featuring and scoring for Les Bleus on their march to the title, Djorkaeff joined the New York Red Bulls, where he quickly became a fan favorite with his silky skills and goals. In two seasons in the Big Apple, he scored 10 goals in 40 league appearances.
France: 1998 & New York Red Bulls: 2010-14
Several years after his 1998 France teammate Djorkaeff departed New York, Henry arrived, brandishing his other-worldly talent and a resume that included three goals for Les Bleus in 1998. His numbers with the Red Bulls speak for themselves: 51 goals and 42 assists in 122 league matches, plus one Supporters’ Shield – the club’s first-ever major trophy. Nowadays, Henry serves as head coach of the Montreal Impact.
Brazil: 2002 & Philadelphia Union: 2013
A clever, creative "role player" who did a lot of the running and box-to-box work that made the Ronaldo-Rivaldo-Ronaldinho triumverate look so good. Brazil's Kleberson started the quarters, semis, and final on the way to the nation's fifth world title. In 2013, he spent half a season with the Philadelphia Union, making 11 appearances and scoring a lone goal.
West Germany: 1990 & MetroStars: 2000
Largely considered one of the biggest disappointments in MLS history, Lothar Matthaus led the Germans to the World Cup trophy in Italy with four goals. Ten years later, he joined the MetroStars from Bayern Munich, coasted through 16 appearances (zero goals) and retired at the end of the season.
Italy: 2006 & Montreal Impact: 2012-13
The Azzurri legend went the distance in Italy’s group openers – including against the USA – then picked up an injury in the third game that forced him out of action for the rest of the tournament. But Alessandro Nesta was there on the podium at the end. He joined the Montreal Impact midway through the 2012 season and became an integral part of the club’s success: Montreal were 15-9-7 with him in the lineup, as compared to 4-7-3 without him. He retired at the end of the 2013 season.
Spain: 2010 & NYCFC: 2015-18
El Guaje ("The Kid") was the man for Spain during his 10-year international career. David Villa is the nation's all-time leading scorer with 59 goals in 97 caps. Five of those goals came at the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa, as Spain captured its first – and so far only – world title. Upon arriving in the Big Apple ahead of the 2015 season, Villa had 77 goals and 26 assists across 117 regular-season appearances. He also took home Landon Donovan MLS MVP honors in 2016.
Italy: 2006 & NYCFC: 2015-17
Il Maestro, midfielder Andrea Pirlo, was one of the most important players on the Italian team that won the 2006 World Cup in Germany, starting all seven games as the Azzurri lifted their fourth World Cup trophy. He was the top assist man at that World Cup and was given the Bronze Ball for his efforts. Now the manager at Juventus, Pirlo had one goal and 18 assists during his MLS stay.
Brazil: 2002 & Orlando City SC: 2015-17
Kaka was one of the most decorated players to ever join MLS, when he became Orlando City's first signing prior to the 2015 season. The former Ballon d'Or winner (2007) was just 20 years old when Brazil won the World Cup in 2002, and he played just 18 minutes in that tournament. After it, he became a staple for the national team, appearing in 92 games and scoring 29 goals. He scored the first goal in Orlando's MLS history, and wrapped up his Florida stay with 24goals and 22 assists in 75 matches.
Germany: 2014 & Chicago Fire: 2017-19
Schweinsteiger was long the heartbeat of Germany's midfield, making 121appearances to place fourth all-time on the Die Mannschaft list. He featured at three World Cups, including third-place finishes in 2006 and 2010, though the highlight was certainly in 2014 when Germany lifted the World Cup trophy in Brazil. The final triumph was a 1-0 extratime victory over Argentina, one where the CM lasted 120 minutes to glory. Schweinsteiger retired after the 2019 season, having played 85 games for the Fire. His stat-line might've been higher – eight goals and 15 assists was still solid – had he played more midfield than center back.