Arsenal are making a rare stop on US shores for the 2016 AT&T MLS All-Star Game – it's only their second game Stateside since 1989 – but despite the team's infrequent visits of late, the connections between the English Premier League giants and MLS run deep.
We have seen players, coaches, executives, and even owners who have been on both sides. Most notable among these are four former members of Arsenal's "Invincible" squad, the team that went undefeated to win the 2003-'04 English Premier League title, but there are plenty more intriguing connections to explore as we count down the days until Arsenal face the best of MLS at Avaya Stadium...
1. Thierry Henry
Let’s start with the obvious link. Henry (pictured above) was a global superstar throughout the 2000s and ranks up there with David Beckham as one of the most high-profile arrivals in MLS history when he landed with the New York Red Bulls in 2010.
Though he came to New York via Barcelona, the 1998 World Cup winner established himself as an icon of the game with Arsenal, where he scored over 200 goals across all competitions in eight seasons at the club. He continued his goalscoring form in MLS, delivering 51 goals and 42 assists across 122 league appearances to firmly entrench himself in the hearts of the Red Bulls faithful.
2. Stan Kroenke
American businessman and sports owner Stan Kroenke is Arsenal’s largest shareholder, and on this side of the pond, Kroenke also leads Kroenke Sports Enterprises, which includes the MLS Colorado Rapids, as well as the Los Angeles Rams (NFL), Denver Nuggets (NBA) and Colorado Avalanche (NHL).
3. Patrick Vieira
He was the captain of the "Invincibles" and, like Henry, a World Cup winner, but now Vieira faces an entirely different challenge: life on the New York City FC bench. The 39-year-old Frenchman was admired on the terraces of Arsenal’s former Highbury Stadium for his commitment and tenacity, traits that have him on an upward trajectory in the world of soccer, well after his retirement as a player in 2011.
4. Ivan Gazidis
Before landing at Arsenal, Gazidis was an instrumental figure in the founding of Major League Soccer. He joined the league’s management team in 1994, two years before the inaugural season, and became deputy commissioner in 2001. He served in that position until the end of 2008 when he was appointed the Gunners’ chief executive, a position that he still holds today.
The Swedish winger was electric for the Invincibles and throughout his nine years at Arsenal, but he produced more mixed results when he made his move Stateside in 2009 as the first Designated Player in Seattle Sounders team history. He performed admirably in his first year in the Emerald City, registering two goals and nine assists while being named to the All-Star team and Best XI squads, as well as ending up on the Newcomer of the Year shortlist. However, Ljungberg was out of the league a year later, despite compiling similar numbers in 2010 for Seattle and eventually Chicago.
6. Ashley Cole
Cole is the most recent Arsenal connection to arrive on North American shores after his long-rumored move to the LA Galaxy was recently finalized. He is the fourth Invincible to land in MLS, following in the footsteps of Ljungberg, Henry and Vieira. Unlike those three, his MLS history is yet to be written, but if he can produce anywhere close to the form that made him one of his generation’s best left backs, Galaxy fans will be going home happy.
Arsenal, of course, have a long and storied history before the rise of the "Invincibles," and one of the early Gunner imports to MLS was the sublimely skillful Anders Limpar. The Swedish midfielder was a fan favorite in North London, known for his creative style of play. Ever the journeyman, Limpar landed with the Rapids in February 1999 and stayed two seasons. Although he played only 36 games in that time span, he brought that crowd-pleasing flair to Colorado, finishing his time there with three goals and 15 assists.
8. Steve Morrow
Another Gunner from the 90s era, who many remember for scoring the winner in the 1993 League Cup final and then breaking his arm in the postgame celebrations, Morrow came up through the Arsenal youth academy and played for both the first team and a number of other English clubs before heading across the Atlantic to join FC Dallas (then called the Dallas Burn) for two seasons. The center back would stay in Dallas after retiring, becoming an assistant in 2004 and getting promoted to head coach ahead of the 2007 season. It was a position he held until May 2008 when he returned to England to work for Arsenal.
Another French recruit by manager Arsene Wenger, Arsenal lured Silvestre away from Manchester United in 2008 and the defender went on to play two seasons at the Emirates. Not too long after his spell in London, Silvestre was featuring for the Portland Timbers as a center back to start the 2013 season. But his time was cut short after only eight matches, when he tore his ACL in a regular season match. He would remain in Portland to recover, but was released before the start of the 2014 campaign.
10. Gedion Zelalem
OK, so he's not explicitly an MLS connection, but Zelalem is one of the hottest US national team prospects right now. This summer, he will be looking to become the first American to break into the Arsenal first team after getting short run-outs in Champions League and League Cup play. For now, he is on loan and playing regularly at Scotland’s Rangers FC, helping the fallen Glasgow giants in their so-far successful campaign to return to the Scottish Premier League.