While David Beckham will always be the foremost Englishman to ply his trade in MLS, 2014 is certainly so far proving to be a landmark year for players hailing from these shores.
Aside from the impact of Jermain Defoe’s ground-breaking move to Toronto, a handful of other familiar and lesser-known names to English football fans have made their presence felt on the pitch.
With Tim Cahill’s injury, former Southampton and Charlton striker Bradley Wright-Phillips has been thrust into the New York Red Bulls’ starting lineup and duly taken the league by storm, linking up impeccably with Thierry Henry upfront to net eight goals in the last four games, including two hat-tricks.
What’s more, Wright-Phillips can thank former Charlton and Leeds winger Lloyd Sam for his impressive striker-rate, the pacey wide man having provided numerous chances and assists for his team-mates over the course of the season from the right-hand side of midfield.
Sam isn’t the only creative midfielder from England showing well in the States either. While once a highly touted youngster, Giles Barnes’ star faded dramatically across the Atlantic but he’s found a new lease of life in Houston, proving to be an influential part of the Dynamo’s starting 11. Along with Oldham-born Andrew Driver (who’s in fact pledged his international allegiance to Scotland), the 25-year-old will be further tasked with carrying the attack should the side’s American captain Brad Davis join their Honduran winger Oscar Boniek García in travelling to Brazil for the World Cup.
Elsewhere, another Englishman is quietly earning impressive reviews for his solid midfield play.
Luke Mulholland arrived in the States in 2007 to play college soccer at Wingate University, before starting his pro career in the U.S. third tier with USL Pro’s Wilmington Hammerheads. After moving up a level and winning All-Star honours with NASL’s Tampa Bay Rowdies in 2013, the well-travelled midfielder signed with Real Salt Lake in January, where he’s broken through to become a regular starter in recent weeks under first-year head coach Jeff Cassar, even scoring last weekend in the 5-2 win over the Dynamo.
The most exciting player of the lot however might just be Sporting Kansas City striker Dom Dwyer, a former Norwich City trainee who starred in the post-season last season, after returning from a successful loan spell at Orlando City. With seven goals already this season, the club’s 2012 first round SuperDraft pick has not looked at all overwhelmed leading the line for the reigning MLS Cup champions and is seemingly well on his way to developing into one of the most lethal finishers in the league.
Those are just a few choice selections but there are plenty more players across MLS representing England, including Nigel Reo-Coker (Vancouver), Richard Eckersley (New York), Jordan Stewart (San Jose), Luke Moore, Bradley Orr (both Toronto), Matt Watson (Chicago) and Lewis Neal (D.C.).
One could even add New England Revolution veteran Andy Dorman, who, despite playing internationally for Wales, was born in Chester to English parents, as well as the Vancouver Whitecaps’ Canadian youth international Sam Adekugbe, who emigrated to Canada from Manchester at the age of nine and looks to have a very bright future. Seattle Sounders midfielder Andy Rose also grew up primarily in Bristol, after moving from Australia, and considers himself English first and foremost.
Then there are a host of players like Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Frank Lampard being linked with a move to the States over the summer. Many of the rumours are of course tenuous at best but it’s clear that any of those names would help further boost MLS’ profile in the UK, while perhaps even inspiring more Englishmen to follow suit.
It may not be a Beatlemania-scale invasion but, while Beckham and the likes of Terry Cooke before him were a real rarity, that’s clearly no longer the case.