A cult hero is defined as someone who's beloved by a relatively small group of people. In soccer, it’s a player who may or may not be good in the traditional sense of scoring goals, recording assists, or defending well, but there’s something about the player that fans nonetheless find endearing.
We spoke to fans and personalities of all the MLS teams with at least a year under their belts – Inter Miami and Nashville are only beginning to build their on-field lore – to determine who the cult heroes were. Some were obvious and some were only decided upon after deep contemplation. But all of them have something special and intangible that brings their fans together.
Atlanta United: Michael Parkhurst
“In the short time we’ve played this year, his absence has been evident,” Footie Mob board member Terri Harrington observed of Atlanta's former captain, who retired last year. “He was patient and obviously had the respect of the team. I know this sounds weird, but you could totally see Parky elected as class president.”
Chicago Fire: Mike Magee
The Plastics SG co-founder Meredith Miklasz said that while Chicago have a lot of candidates, Magee’s the guy. “His attachment to the club, the city and the supporters, even after departing, speaks volumes. He comes to supporters’ meetings, feeds us his Sneaky Fox vodka and starred in the Fire’s cinematic masterpiece 'Mike Magee’s Day Off.'”
FC Cincinnati: Jimmy McLaughlin
Jared Handra, president of supporters' group Die Innenstadt, chose McLaughlin, who starred for Cincinnati during their USL days before suffering a knee injury in the 2019 preseason that stalled his MLS debut. “But he stuck with it, got healthy and earned a contract this season – and a lot of fans really appreciate that,” Handra said. “He's one of those guys that really loves Cincinnati and is very visible in the community and everyone loves him.”
Colorado Rapids: Mo Saeid
“He was only with the Rapids for the 2017 season, but everyone loved him,” said Denver-based soccer writer Abbie Lang, heralding Saeid as a hard-working unsung hero. “He's got a great back story, is also a great person and leads by example. I remember being so impressed at his level of play while he was observing Ramadan. He fasted until dusk and then would drink a smoothie or eat something at halftime.”
Columbus Crew: Kirk Urso
“He’s maybe not the typical definition of a cult hero, as there's no telling what the future held for him,” noted Crew historian Steve Sirk of Urso, who died from a congenital heart defect after just six appearances for the team in 2012. “What is certain, however, is that his outlook on life, work ethic, leadership, compassion and humor live on and inspire the Crew community to this day. As with any hero, Crew fans have kept his memory very much alive.”
D.C. United: Lewis Neal
Donald Wine, a dedicated capo for both the Screaming Eagles and American Outlaws, considered D.C.’s considerable soccer lore and landed on Neal. “Not only did he score the goal that sent us to the playoffs in dramatic fashion in 2012, he also scored the U.S. Open Cup-clinching goal in 2013. He’s our hero for life for those two plays alone.”
FC Dallas: Zdenek Ondrasek
Bailey Brown, former Dallas Beer Guardians president and current Independent Supporters Council president, chose a current player with one of the best nicknames in the league: Kobra. “Zdenek Ondrasek came to Dallas, fans fell in love with him before he was even here, he couldn't even get into the 18 for half the season, yet we still loved him because of the intensity and dedication he showed. The fans here wanted to see him succeed and be the forward we desperately needed.”
Houston Dynamo: Kevin Garcia
“Kevin Garcia, though he rarely saw the field, always played his heart out,” said Sean Ringrose, co-producer of the Generation Orange podcast covering Houston. “He was also active in the community, and was always willing to take pictures with fans. He wasn't good enough to be a full-time starter, but he didn't let that stop him from sitting on the bench like a real winner.”
LAFC: Latif Blessing
“He doesn’t register as our top scorer or an absolute assist machine,” 3252 past president Josef Zacher said of LAFC midfielder Latif Blessing. “He’s loved by Angelinos because of his inspiring work rate and willingness to completely sacrifice himself for even the slightest advantage. He also takes the time with fans, especially our youngest fans, after the final whistle. His passion for the game matches our passion in the stands.”
LA Galaxy: A.J. DeLaGarza
Corner of the Galaxy host Josh Guesman heralds the veteran defender, who's now with Inter Miami CF, but was a Galaxy player for his first eight seasons in the league. “He was open with fans about all aspects of his life,” Guesman recalled. “The entire Galaxy community rallied around him and his family when they lost their son. Even with [DeLaGarza] now at another team, he’s still one of the most supported Galaxy players in the team’s history.”
Minnesota United FC: Miguel Ibarra
“Miguel Ibarra was the kid who put Minnesota on the map,” said Wes Burdine, a veteran soccer writer and owner of renowned queer soccer bar The Black Hart of Saint Paul. “He was the first lower-division player called up to the US men's national team in over a decade and then made a big move to Liga MX. He was a star for the small club, but was such a shy player that he endeared himself mostly for his hard work. He never stopped fighting.”
Montreal Impact: Cameron Porter
Aron Papernick, host of Canada FC on Sirius XM FC, points to the unlikely rookie hero of Montreal’s oh-so-close 2015 Concacaf Champions League run. “He was a third round SuperDraft pick. His MLS stats aren’t that impressive: Two league appearances over two seasons with the Bleu-Blanc-et Noir and zero league goals. But his CCL heroics have made him a fan favorite in Montreal.” Specifically, Papernick points to Porter's stoppage-time goal in the quarterfinals against Pachuca.
New England Revolution: Chris Tierney
Matt Puglise, past president of The Rebellion, observed as much about Tierney, who retired in 2018 and now has a front-office role: “He joined the Revs in 2008, but in reality, he had been there from Day One. Anytime he talked about an upcoming season, goals for the club, or really anything that revolved around the team, he always tied it back to how he grew up watching the Revs play – and that quickly endeared him to the fans.” The left back's goal in MLS Cup 2014, tying a match that they’d ultimately lose in extra time, is a standout moment in club history.
NYCFC: Tommy McNamara
Alexis Guerreros, half of soccer comedy duo The Cooligans and an NYCFC season-ticket holder, points to Tommy Mac from West Nyack for his demeanor. McNamara moved to Houston in 2019, much to the dismay of fans. “He's a local dude. He doesn't really ever looked bothered. He wore Timbs to events, his long hair … every goal he scored was a BANGER. He just reminds everyone that sometimes your dreams do come true. He doesn't do anything small, he always played his ass off, left it all out on the field and that’s the exact type of player that New Yorkers want to get behind.”
“Also, I got to take him on a pizza tour and it was glorious.”
New York Red Bulls: Rhett Harty
OG fan Mark Fishkin went way back to the early MetroStars days to unveil one of the all-time great MLS names. “Rhett Harty became a cult hero in the early years of Metro when he shaved his head after NY lost back to back games in June 1996. The team responded with three straight wins, and the hard-nosed defender kept his Mr. Clean 'do intact for the rest of his MLS career.”
Orlando City SC: Ruan
Alex Brown, editor and co-host of the Orlando Lions Den Podcast, picks the speedy right back who debuted in purple last season. “He’s a young Brazilian thriving in the MLS,” Brown said, “His speed, charisma and dedication to always providing 100% makes him Orlando’s easiest follow. He never gives up, even when the team is down, and is always smiling.” He notes that several dedicated Lions fans have made shirts that say “You’re my Ruan and only” to make their love for him known.
Philadelphia Union: Raymond Gaddis
“Is Ray the best right back in the world?” asks Sons of Ben member Julian Brown of the Union lifer who joined up via the 2012 SuperDraft. “Does he have any offense to speak of? No. But Ray has been consistent, a locker room leader and someone who has ALWAYS had the ear of the fans. [He's] made it a priority to interact with them as much as possible, both in person and on social media.”
Portland Timbers: Jack Jewsbury
Timbers Army member Jared Grawrock agonized over a number of candidates, listing Futty Danso, Steve Clark, Adam Kwarasey, Rodney Wallace and Nat Borchers. He decided, ultimately, that “first-ever MLS club captain Jack ‘Salty Dog’ Jewsbury gets my pick." He credited several factors, including "scoring the goal that won the Timbers the 2012 Cascadia Cup, playing in that USOC game with his head split open, his late-game heroics throughout the 2015 season and his cartwheels.”
Real Salt Lake: Kyle Beckerman
Chiqui Pelaez, the RSL supporter who handed a flag to Beckerman in the team’s first-ever post-match “planting the flag” ceremony, has lots to say about the veteran’s cult hero status. As Pelaez reasons, “He isn’t that flashy; sometimes he’ll do a few tricks, but you don’t go to the RioT to watch him dribble past player after player. But he represents you on the field, he fights for every ball, he gets in peoples’ faces to protect his teammates and the honor of RSL. He might score or assist a few goals, but his role is to lead and to tackle players.”
San Jose Earthquakes: Steven Lenhart
Quakes fan and capo extraordinaire Crystal Cuadra-Cutler makes the choice most Quakes fans would make. After all, Lenhart’s “Goonies Never Say Die” exultation following an epic 2012 come-from-behind win over the Galaxy is an enduring legendary moment for the club. “He was with us during the amazing 2012 Supporters’ Shield season and fans do not forget that,” she noted. “Injuries may have ended his career prematurely, but Lenhart will always be a San Jose hero.”
Seattle Sounders: Zach Scott
Former Alliance president Paul Cox, now based in Spain, pondered several choices before landing on Scott as the consummate Sounder. “Through willpower and hard work, he made himself into an integral part of the team. He was a pretty good player in the A-League and USL, but he wasn't given much serious consideration when the Sounders moved to MLS. Yet the guy never, ever quit working. He basically forced his way back onto Sigi's starter list through determination, and absolutely shut down some pretty big stars in his time."
Sporting Kansas City: Jacob Peterson
“Not everyone appreciated his contributions on teams with Benny Feilhaber and Graham Zusi, but he had a relentless work rate that helped shut down teams and close out close games,” recalls SKC fan Zachary Cobb. “He also scored in big moments, but what makes him so memorable was an adversarial view of opposing players and fans that you are more likely to find in the stands than on the field. He wanted to ruin the day of anyone not wearing the same color shirt as him, and it showed."
Toronto FC: Terry Dunfield
Vocal Minority Podcast host Kristin Knowles says the obvious cult hero choice might be Danny Dichio. But Knowles dug deep into TFC lore to pick Dunfield. She noted, “He’s not the most spectacular player on the pitch, but he’s a well-known and well-respected Canadian footballer, and scorer of that goal against Vancouver” — a stoppage-time header during a 2012 all-time classic Canadian match.
Vancouver Whitecaps: Jordan Harvey
“We don’t call him ‘Jordan Harvey Goal Machine' for nothing,” Southsiders member Anna Namshirin quipped of the left back, who's now with LAFC. “He played seven seasons in Vancouver and scored 10 goals. Over that time period, he really endeared himself to supporters here, participating in charity initiatives in the city, and truly built his career and family here. He actually tattooed [Whitecaps home stadium] BC Place on his arm, and it seemed like he really cherished his time here.”