Surprising names from the League who found their way to MLS stardom

The idea of football league players heading off to some obscure corner of the world to conclude their playing careers is not a new one. If they can use their knowledge, experience and public profile to advance the game in nations that are trying to develop their footballing infrastructure, that’s great. And if at the same time they can get a nice cash injection in the pension fund – well, who can blame them? 

The advent of MLS a quarter of a century ago took the trend in a new and surprising direction. The USA is the antithesis of a developing nation in almost every respect. But when its soccer league launched, it needed some world class talent to get it off the ground, in much the same way as the European teams in the World League of American Football were initially filled with American and Canadian mercenaries. We all know about the likes of Beckham and Ibrahimović, but some of the players who made their way across the Atlantic definitely raise an eyebrow with the benefit of hindsight.  

Youri Djorkaeff 

The French forward turned out regularly for his country throughout the 90s, but in later years, he plied his trade at Bolton for two seasons and then had a brief stint at Blackburn. The latter lasted only three appearances because of an offer he couldn’t refuse from New York Red Bull.  

Despite the name, the team is actually based in New Jersey, home to Atlantic City, which is the east coast’s version of Las Vegas, albeit a heavily ringfenced one according to this report in the Observer. It’s fair to say that although Djorkaeff scored a useful 12 goals in 45 appearances, his mind was more often elsewhere. Atlantic City was one thing but when he said he was unavailable for a game due to a family emergency and was actually busy watching France play Brazil in the World Cup quarter final, it spelt the end of his American adventure.     

Darren Huckerby 

Some might argue that he played everywhere else, so why not America too? It’s true, the man from Nottingham played for eight different league teams, but his most successful years were with perennial yoyo-ers Norwich. Any cynicism from the UK was more than counterbalanced by the welcome he received when he joined the San Jose Earthquakes in 2008.  

True, their researchers might not have been as assiduous as they could have been, but the sheer enthusiasm of this local TV sports reporter more than made up for it. Huckerby signed up for a second season but had to withdraw due to a hip injury that ended his career.   

Bojan Krkić 

Here’s a man who, several years later, followed a path not so dissimilar to Djorkaeff’s. As a 20 year old at Barca, he was hailed the next Messi, yet four years later, he was plying his trade at Stoke City.  

Far from looking for a retirement bonus, though, Krkić hoped his move to the Montreal Impact would reignite his career. So far, he’s scored seven goals in 25 appearances, but Krkić is still only 30, so this is a story that will undoubtedly have some more twists and turns yet.  

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