Naturally, every Major League Soccer club has favorite players to boast about. However, not every franchise can reflect upon a player that was so influential that they altered the club's history for the better.
By my count, there are six players who went beyond star status to forever change their respective club's culture. I didn't count guys like Marco Etcheverry, Josef Martinez and Carlos Vela, who spurred greatness from day one of their club's MLS existence, or any much-too-soon calls with a shot at entering this particular pantheon (think Ike Opara in Minnesota United).
None of the players below did it alone, but they were clear catalysts for finding historic new levels of excellence.
With all due respect to running mates Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley, Giovinco was the turbo switch when Toronto FC converted from perennial also-rans to a scary MLS machine. Acquired in 2015, the former Juventus forward embarked on the most prolific season in league history – until Carlos Vela came along, that is – to win a slew of individual awards.
More importantly, the Atomic Ant went through and around opponents on a weekly basis, guiding Toronto to their first playoff berth. They reached MLS Cup the following year, and then won it the year after that as part of a historic treble. The ensuing spring, Giovinco nearly willed Toronto FC to the Concacaf Champions League crown. He may be gone now, but the impact of his fiery competitiveness and artful skill remains at BMO Field.
Much has been said and written about how Lodeiro's arrival in the summer of 2016 sparked Seattle's first MLS Cup victory. But that underscores the Uruguayan playmaker's overall influence at CenturyLink Field. Sure, the Sounders were no schlubs during their seven campaigns B.N. (before Nico). They never missed the playoffs and were U.S. Open Cup monsters, raising that trophy four times.
Still, they were brushed aside by the Galaxy in two conference finals. But since Lodeiro pulled on rave green four years ago, Seattle has reached MLS Cup three times, winning twice. Now, they're on another level and threatening to create a dynasty.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto
It's possible that no player on this list single-handedly raised local expectations like GBS. Before he landed in Columbus, the Crew were expected to be merely decent. They routinely featured exciting players and were regularly scheduled to be done playing before the conference finals rolled around.
Schelotto made the club and supporters hungrier for more, even if it wasn't immediate. Weighed down by a slow start, Columbus missed the 2007 playoffs despite his Best XI nod. The league soon learned what the Argentine playmaker was capable of, when the Crew won the 2008 Supporters’ Shield/MLS Cup double and repeated as regular-season champs in 2009. Columbus faithfully awaits the return of such success, all while Schelotto is now the Galaxy’s head coach.
During the first four seasons of MLS, the New England Revolution were practically an afterthought. They recorded zero winning seasons and one harshly-expedited playoff ouster. Things went a bit better in 2000, but they slumped again the following year to suffer through arguably their worst league season at the time (no small feat, mind you).
And then came the age of Twellman, when dark skies turned quite sunny. Shalrie Joseph, Steve Ralston, Matt Reis and others finally made New England a tough foe, but it was the No. 20 shirt's quality in front of goal that lifted them to title contender status. During his nine seasons with the club, they made four MLS Cup trips and celebrated Open Cup (2007) and SuperLiga titles (2008).
Other than a 2012 Cascadia Cup win, the Portland Timbers didn't accomplish much during their first two MLS seasons. But then Valeri came to town in 2013, and the club has soared higher than at any point since their initial iteration in 1975.
Aside from setting a new standard for "adopted hometown" connections, the final-third quarterback has led the Timbers to two MLS Cups, and a trophy-raising moment in 2015. He's helped turn Providence Park into one of the most thrilling, intimidating venues in MLS, a designation that will surely linger long after he hangs up his boots.