MLS

Beckham to Zlatan, Henry to Pirlo: The biggest names to play in the MLS

By Sports Desk November 27, 2022

Lionel Messi is rumoured to become the latest superstar to move to the MLS, with the Times reporting that the Argentina forward will join Inter Miami. 

Messi is out of contract with Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season and has been continually linked with a return to Barcelona, having left the Blaugrana in 2021.

But Inter Miami are said to be "confident" the 35-year-old will sign following the conclusion of the World Cup in Qatar, where he has scored in both of Argentina's group stage matches, though he would not move until the conclusion of PSG's season.

Should the move materialise, Messi would join a host of big names to ply their trade in the United States. Here are some of the most notable examples.

David Beckham

The former England captain shocked the world when he swapped Real Madrid for LA Galaxy in 2007, though his blockbuster move certainly put the MLS on the map.

Beckham made 118 appearances during his five-year spell with Galaxy, scoring 20 goals, while helping the franchise to successive MLS Cup triumph in his final two seasons.

Thierry Henry

Arsenal and France's all-time leading scorer scored 52 goals in 135 games for the New York Red Bulls between 2010 and 2014, helping them win the 2013 Supporters' Shield and making four All-Star appearances.

Henry also coached Montreal Impact from 2019 to 2021, guiding them into the playoffs during his only full season in charge.

David Villa

Spain's all-time leading marksman became New York City's first signing when he joined from Atletico Madrid ahead of their debut MLS season in 2015.

A four-time All-Star, Villa would go on to score 80 goals in 126 appearances before departing for Japanese side Vissel Kobe at the end of the 2018 season.

Kaka

The former Ballon d'Or winner became Orlando City's first designated player when he agreed to join the new franchise in 2014.

Kaka played 78 times for City, scoring 25 goals, while he was an All-Star in each of his three seasons.

Andrea Pirlo

A multiple Scudetto winner with Milan and Juventus, Pirlo was unable to truly leave his mark on the MLS during his stint with New York City.

Nevertheless, the former Italy midfielder did help the franchise reach the playoffs in 2016 and 2017, while racking up 62 appearances and netting once.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic certainly hit the ground running after switching Manchester United for LA Galaxy, scoring twice on his debut in a 4-3 win over rivals Los Angeles FC, including a 45-yard screamer.

That set the tone for a prolific two-year spell for the former Sweden international, who netted 53 times in 58 appearances before returning to Italy for a second stint at Milan.

Wayne Rooney

England's all-time leading scorer helped D.C. United reach the play-offs in his first season after joining from Everton in 2018, while he will always be remembered for his last-ditch tackle and cross-field assist to Luciano Acosta that sealed a dramatic 3-2 win over Orlando City.

Rooney scored 25 goals in 52 appearances for United and, following a spell at Derby County, he returned to the franchise as head coach in July. 

Gonzalo Higuain

A league title winner with Real Madrid and Juventus, Higuain swapped Italy for the States in September 2020.

Despite missing a penalty on his debut against Philadelphia Union, the former Argentina striker went on to score 29 goals in 70 appearances before retiring at the end of the 2022 MLS season.

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  • The Numbers Game: Milan attempt to put January blues behind them with derby win over Inter The Numbers Game: Milan attempt to put January blues behind them with derby win over Inter

    Milan will attempt to recover from a miserable January when they do battle with in-form Inter in a derby at San Siro on Sunday.

    The Rossoneri have suffered three consecutive defeats in all competitions, conceding 12 goals in the process to lose the Supercoppa Italiana and leave their hopes of retaining the Serie A title in tatters.

    Stefano Pioli's side have slipped to fifth, but a victory this weekend would put them above their second-placed city rivals.

    Either way, there are appears to be no stopping Napoli in their quest for the Scudetto, with the runaway leaders holding a 13-point advantage at the summit.

    Stats Perform picks out the standout Opta numbers for a derby Milan fans may be dreading given their alarming slump.

    Milan suffer the January blues

    It has certainly not been a happy new year for Milan so far, and a 5-2 home defeat to Sassuolo last Sunday saw them sink to a new low.

    That came on the back of a 4-0 hammering at Lazio, and Inter also capitalised on their defensive frailties to win the Supercoppa Italiana with a 3-0 victory last month.

    Milan have extended the season of goodwill into 2023, and they made unwanted history in January, with the 18 goals they conceded more than they had previously shipped in any single month since records began in 1929-30.

    The last time they lost four games in a row was between January and February 2017 under Vincenzo Montella.

    Inter to deny Milan a long-awaited double?

    Inter have won their past two games in all competitions and were able to keep defender Milan Skriniar during the transfer window, although he is expected to join Paris Saint-Germain at the end of the season.

    Simone Inzaghi's side have lost their past two Serie A derbies against Milan, but they have not suffered three losses in a row to their fierce rivals since a run of four defeats on the spin between November 2002 and February 2004.

    Rafael Leao scored twice in a 3-2 win when Milan were the home team in the Serie A clash in September, and they will be striving to complete a first league double over Inter since the 2010-11 campaign.

    Nerazzurri's strong home form built on solid foundations

    While Milan can't stop conceding goals, Inter have had no such trouble at home in Serie A this season.

    They have only let five goals in at home in the league, the joint-best record along with Roma.

    Only Napoli (28) have earned more points at home this season than Inzaghi's men, who have 24 from 10 games – winning eight and losing two.

     

    More derby delight for Giroud?

    Milan striker Olivier Giroud has scored in both Serie A derbies he has played in against Inter.

    The France international could become the first player to find the back of the net in his first three derbies for Milan in the three-points-for-a-win era (since 1994-95).

    Giroud was on target in the drubbing at the hands of Sassuolo last weekend, that goal taking his tally in Serie A to six for the season.

  • Six Nations: The Breakdown – France out to lay down a marker in Rome as Scotland seek more Twickenham joy Six Nations: The Breakdown – France out to lay down a marker in Rome as Scotland seek more Twickenham joy

    France will begin their quest to become the first side in six years to retain the Six Nations when they travel to perennial wooden spoon winners Italy on Sunday.

    Les Blues ended a 12-year wait to get their hands back on the trophy last year, doing so in style as they claimed a Grand Slam with a perfect five wins from five.

    Italy also ended last year's tournament on a high as they broke a 36-game losing run with victory in Wales and are now out to avoid finishing bottom for the first time since 2015.

    While France may be reigning champions and in good form, Ireland are top of the world rankings and are many people's favourites to go one better than last year by finishing top.

    Up first for Andy Farrell's Ireland side is a trip to Wales, who are in action for the first time since Warren Gatland replaced Wayne Pivac on the back of some alarming results last year.

    England also have a new head coach in Steve Borthwick, who replaced Eddie Jones in December, with his first test a mouth-watering Calcutta Cup clash with Scotland.

    Ahead of the opening round of action, Stats Perform previews each match with help from Opta.


    WALES V IRELAND

    FORM

    Wales' loss to Italy was their third in a row in the Six Nations – only once since the start of 2008, at the end of their 2020 campaign, have they endured a longer winless run – but Gatland's return has provided fresh hope.

    The Dragons won their last seven on the bounce in the championship under Gatland, who landed three Grand Slams in his previous 12-year spell in charge before stepping down in 2019.

    Ireland have won seven of their past eight games in the tournament, winning the past three of those by margins of at least 17 points and conceding just one try in total.

    However, the away team have not come out on top in any of the past nine Six Nations encounters between these sides, with the nations sharing four wins each over that period and one draw.


    ONES TO WATCH

    Wales are without the injured Leigh Halfpenny, meaning Liam Williams will start at full-back, but they have plenty of other familiar and experienced faces in their starting line-up – George North among them.

    He is one try short of matching Shane Williams' record haul of 23 for Wales in the Six Nations, and behind only Brian O'Driscoll (26) of all players in the tournament's history.

    Plenty of eyes will be on Johnny Sexton in what will be his final Six Nations campaign, but Ireland have many other players for Wales to concern themselves with.

    James Lowe, returning from a calf injury that ruled him out of the November fixtures, will be looking to push on from last year when he finished level with Damian Penaud and Gabin Villiere as the joint-highest try scorer with three.

     

    ENGLAND V SCOTLAND

    FORM

    Jones may have bowed out with the best win rate of any England head coach (73 per cent), but the Red Rose won just two of their final five home matches under the now-Australia boss – not since November 2008 have they had a longer winless run at Twickenham.

    With former skipper Borthwick now at the helm as head coach, England are aiming to avoid losing their opening fixture in the tournament for a fourth year running, following a streak of five successive round-one wins.

    Scotland have a far better recent record on the opening weekend than their opponents, having won four of their past six such matches, including the past two in a row – both against England.

    Indeed, Scotland have lost just one of their past five Calcutta Cup clashes, having lost each of the previous seven. A victory on enemy territory this weekend will make it three wins in a row for the first time since 1972.

     

    ONES TO WATCH

    Manu Tuilagi's absence will be felt by England, who have handed a debut to wing Ollie Hassell-Collins, but Joe Marchant will add pace alongside exciting Harlequins team-mate Marcus Smith.

    Smith was the top points-scorer in last year's Six Nations (71) and also registered over twice as many running metres as any other fly-half in the tournament (412), as well as beating more defenders than anyone other number 10 (10).

    Hamish Watson is not ready for a return to the Scotland side this weekend in a blow for coach Gregor Townsend. The 31-year-old was one of just three players to make 50 or more tackles without missing one in the 2022 edition (70), along with team-mate Grant Gilchrist and Ireland's Caelan Doris (both 53).

    Gilchrist is available, though, and he resumes a partnership with Richie Gray in the second row that impressed during Scotland's November internationals.

     

    ITALY V FRANCE

    FORM

    The signs of improvement were clear to see from an Italy perspective in 2022 as they picked up a first win in the tournament since 2015 and then beat Australia for the first time ever in November's Test.

    The Azzurri have now won five of their past seven Tests, as many as they had won in their previous 36 combined, but they have not won at home in the Six Nations since 2013 and have won back-to-back games in the championship just twice previously.

    France enter the competition boasting a team-record 13-match winning run after winning every game in a calendar year for the first time in 2022. They were not always at their best towards the end of the year, though, with three of their past four wins coming by margins of five points or fewer.

    Les Blues have won their opening match in each of their past four campaigns as reigning champions, which does not bode well for an Italy side who have won only two of their 23 Six Nations home matches against this weekend's opponents.

     

    ONES TO WATCH

    Italy are without the pace and power of Monty Ioane after he returned to Australia and became unavailable for selection in this championship. No player made more line breaks (seven), beat more defenders (21), completed more offloads (eight) and made more dominant tackles (seven) than Ioane in last year's Six Nations.

    The Azzurri still have Pierre Bruno and Ange Capuozzo at their disposal, with the latter impressing on his tournament bow in 2022 en route to winning World Rugby's men's Breakthrough Player of the Year award.

    Even with the likes of regular starters Jonathan Danty and Cameron Woki ruled out, France still boast a number of top-class talents in their squad.

    Gregory Alldritt, who will combine with Charles Ollivon and Anthony Jelonch in the back row, made more carries than any other player in last year's tournament (65) and was one of two players, along with team-mate Julien Marchand (50), to hit 50 or more defensive rucks with 59.

     

  • PSG boss Galtier defends handling of Mbappe as injury blow jolts French giants PSG boss Galtier defends handling of Mbappe as injury blow jolts French giants

    Kylian Mbappe has not been mishandled by Paris Saint-Germain since the World Cup and injuries are "part of the job", coach Christophe Galtier said on Friday.

    Mbappe is expected to miss PSG's Champions League last-16 first leg against Bayern Munich on February 14 after suffering a hamstring injury in the win at Montpellier on Wednesday.

    Facing three weeks on the sidelines, Mbappe should also sit out Ligue 1 games against Toulouse, Monaco and Lille, as well as the Coupe de France clash with Marseille.

    Considering Mbappe has 25 goals in 26 appearances for PSG this season, this is a major blow at a significant stage of the campaign, with Neymar also on the injured list.

    The Toulouse game comes on Saturday as PSG look to extend their five-point lead over second-placed Marseille, with Lionel Messi heading into the fixture without his fellow star attackers.

    Galtier has considered whether he has played Mbappe too much since the France striker returned from Qatar 2022. His verdict is that PSG have protected Mbappe as much as possible.

    "We are in a unique season, with a World Cup in the middle," Galtier said, "and I realise that at many other clubs with many internationals, there has been fatigue that has generated automatically and injuries.

    "As a philosophy, I am in the habit of saying injuries are part of the job.

    "We're sorry above all for Kylian. He is a competitor and always wants to be involved, but we can't have a season where we don't have physical problems, that's part of a season and part of the competition. 

    "It's even more so for a club with internationals who are in demand all the time, as much with club as with country."

     

    Galtier said PSG "took a lot of precautions for Kylian's return".

    The striker reported for duty with the capital giants in the midweek after France's World Cup final penalty shoot-out loss to Argentina in December, illustrating his eagerness to get back into club action.

    He was then allowed a holiday in January, with Mbappe travelling to the United States for that break.

    "I don't think Kylian played too much," Galtier said, "and from the moment you play, there is always an element of risk."

    Veteran defender Sergio Ramos, hit by a thigh problem at Montpellier, is another who will sit out the Toulouse game. The onus will fall on Messi to drive PSG to victory on Saturday, and the Argentine great scored in the 3-1 success at Montpellier.

    "Leo Messi was able to take matters into his own hands against Montpellier, as soon as Kylian Mbappe and Sergio Ramos went off," said Galtier.

    "He was a natural leader and the players put themselves at his service. I congratulated everyone for doing the work necessary to get this victory, which was difficult to obtain.

    "The absence of Neymar and Kylian Mbappe is inevitably damaging since there were many connections between these three players. I now have to organise the team, taking into account these combined absences.

    "Leo Messi will continue in his usual role. It will be up to the players who will be at his side to seize the opportunities and for everyone to raise their level of play."

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