Do you know how many players have played on an MLS team? Because I do — 2,908.
Why do I know this? Because MLSSoccer.com gave me a list of every MLS player ever with the task of finding the 25 best names from that list. It wasn’t so much like finding a needle in a haystack as it was finding the 25 sharpest needles in a needle stack that occasionally had instances of hay named Brian White.
This list is a novella of consistently elite names. It’s like one of those chapters people skip over in the Bible that just lists how everyone is related to each other but instead of people named Hezekiah, you have people named Djordje Mihailovic. “And lo, Lalas Abubakar beget Jhegson Sebastian Mendez who was friends with Keegan Rosenberry who knew a guy who simply went by Sambinha who once met Vako Qazaishivili.”
Even the names of unknown dudes who clearly spent two months in MLS after recently graduating from Stanford have a delightful MLS quality to them. What I’m trying to say is this is the single most difficult task I’ve ever had and I may never face a greater challenge. My first cut involved taking 2,908 to 177. I then had to take that to 25. It hurt. I bled. Please note I made roughly 4,000 changes to this list before realizing I will never be able to make the perfect list of 25. I’m getting anxious again just thinking about it.
So without further ado (and with apologies to the 100 or so great names I had to leave off), here are the 25 Best MLS names in the 25-year history of MLS:
Names that could be replaced with any of the other 100, but we had to do 25 for the branding
25. Zdenek ‘Kobra’ Ondrasek
OK, this is kind of cheating. I’m taking the nickname over the actual name. Counterpoint though: Kobra. When the nickname becomes fact, print the nickname.
24. Stern John
This is one of the great MLS names in MLS history. If you’ve ever looked at the MLS record book you’ve seen names like Roy Lassiter and Stern John and said to yourself, “Those cannot be real people.” But they were. And they thrived. Because you could do that with a name like Stern John back in the 90’s. So what if it sounds like a side character in Grand Theft Auto.
23. Dane Brekken Shea
Sometimes it’s just better to use the full name. It’s a name that screams cult figure which fits nicely with...everything else about Brek Shea.
22. Thor Lee
The only Thor in MLS history. That has to count for something, right?
21. Samuel Caballero
Long live Sammy Knight. I can only imagine where my life would be if I had as excellent a last name as Caballero. I probably would have at least not been cut from my middle school basketball team.
20. Dax McCarty
The only Dax in MLS history. That has to count for something, right?
19. Paxton Pomykal
The youngest name on this list. I think it’s important though to remember there’s still plenty of time to grow and we can’t expect young names to be the savior right off the bat. There are still so many ups and downs to be had despite all the excellent potential we’re seeing. In time, we could be talking about one of the greats. We’ll just have to hope everyone involved makes the right decisions to further his ... wait, what were we talking about?
18. Obafemi Martins
One of two “Guys who go by just one name” on the list. I wanted to include all of them, especially Fred (not that one, the other one), but I showed remarkable self-restraint and should be applauded for it. Preki gets the nod over the others because it’s fun to say. This process is a science.
16. Innocent Emeghara
The only Innocent in MLS history. That has to count for something, right?
Obvious Inclusions but Not the Elite of the Elite but Definitely Still Fun to Say
15. Vytas Adriuskevicius
Somehow not the most metal name on this list.
14. Handwalla Bwana
There are certain people who you can’t call by just their first or last name because it feels like you’re talking about a different person. Handwalla Bwana is that certain person.
13. Tanaka Terakazu
Elite consonance and assonance.*
*congrats you have just read the first use of “elite consonance and assonance” in the history of MLSsoccer.com
12. Norberto Paparatto
Music. Simply, music.
11. Rece Buckmaster
I have a running joke only I think is funny where I pretend that Red Bulls pull players off of Ivy League lacrosse teams for the sole purpose of scoring against Atlanta United then never doing anything else (Hi, Tom Barlow!), and whoo boy did I become fearful of my ability to conjure things into existence when I found out Rece Buckmaster had signed for New York the week before a game against Atlanta United. Fortunately for me, Rece didn’t make a tangible impact on the game. A tangible impact. People underestimate the value of intimidation. Atlanta United still have not beaten New York Red Bulls in the regular season.
Elite, but not top shelf
10. Magnus Wolff Eikrem
The most metal name on this list.
9. Blake Brettschneider
Blake Brettschneider just asked who you know at this party. Blake Brettschneider is your friend’s lawyer. Blake Brettschneider just won a daytime Emmy. Blake Brettschneider is your professor who doesn’t allow computers in the classroom. Blake Brettschneider is pitching you on a multi-level marketing scheme. Blake Brettschneider is transcendent.
8. Cuauhtemoc Blanco
The only Cuauhtemoc in MLS history. This counts for everything.
7. Bright Dike
6. Lassi Lappalainen
Lassi is on loan in Montreal from Bologna. He’s scored five goals in eight starts. We need soccer back for so many reasons, but near the top of the list might be the desire to hear more goal calls in French involving the name Lassi Lappalainen
5. Ubusuku Abukusumo
The most electric name to mispronounce alone by yourself in MLS history? There’s a strong argument.
4. Foster Langsdorf
This name makes me chuckle every time I hear it. I do not know why. It haunts me. Foster Langsdorf. If this pick feels personal, it is. I can’t hear you complaining about how high this is because I’m too busy giggling at Foster Langsdorf, my new go-to fake name.
3. Dipsy Selolwane
The only MLS player with the same name as a Teletubby. This is literally the most important thing to ever happen.
In a way, it’s a single name. In a way, it’s a double name. In every way, it’s everything.
Tico-Tico made 18 appearances for the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 2000 and that’s the extent of his MLS tenure. And that’s all we needed. Thank you for your service Tico-Tico. You were the content you didn’t know you’d be 20 years later, and it means the world.
The Only Name That Matters
1. Vitalis “Digital” Takawira
No nickname? Still top tier. Nickname only? Top tier. Both together? Top tier.
The Kansas City Wiz’s Digital Takawira is the name that you should think of when it comes to MLS. In part because his name is Digital Takawira. In part because he had a celebration that corresponded with his name called the “Digital Crawl.” And in part, because he had the nickname Digital in the 90’s when I’m pretty sure the most digital thing was like, GeoCities. He could have been a character who hacks into a government mainframe after five seconds of typing in a terrible movie, but instead he chose to bless us on the soccer field.
Digital Takawira. The GOAT.