It has not been easy for Andrea Pirlo in MLS. His passing style, honed over years in Serie A, is reliant on having team-mates on his wavelength and at New York City FC that has not always been the case. The slow starts of Pirlo and Frank Lampard were blamed for NYCFC’s failure to make the play-offs last year. This year Pirlo has been better, more settled and in tune with his team-mates. That is why he has eight assists already, and NYCFC are top of the Eastern Conference.
There was a time, just before the explosion of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo into dominance, that Kaka was the best footballer in the world. He won the Ballon d’Or in 2007, as well as the Champions League, but that was the end of his time at the top. He turned down a move to Manchester City and when he went to Real Madrid his sharpness had gone and he made little impact. It was little surprise when he joined Orlando City in 2014. Now, in his third season there, he is still one step ahead of everyone else.
Two years ago Liam Ridgewell decided to end his long domination of west midlands football and sign for MLS side Portland Timbers. He is not the highest profile Englishman to move there but he has been one of the most successful.
Ridgewell captained the Timbers to the MLS Cup in December last year as they beat Columbus Crew 2-1 in the final, at Columbus Crew’s own home stadium in Ohio.
There are times watching David Villa when MLS looks slightly too easy for him. He may not be as quick as he was in his Valencia and Barcelona pomp but he is still as sharp, and his capacity to make himself space and finish is as good as ever. He scored 18 goals last year and is set to do even better this year. He is the current MLS top scorer with 13, even ahead of Bradley Wright-Phillips, as he is starting to make the most of the quality supply from Pirlo and Frank Lampard.
Most top European players wait until they are in their 30s before heading to MLS but Sebastian Giovinco was clever enough to do that when he was still 27. Since leaving Juventus for Toronto FC in 2015, he has been probably the best player in the competition, shredding defences with his pace and quick feet.
He won MLS MVP and Golden Boot last year, setting a single-season points record between 22 goals and 16 assists. It was not quite enough to win him a place in the Italy squad for Euro 2016, but he is still certainly a top player.
Giovani Dos Santos
Having already played for Barcelona, Tottenham Hotspur and Ipswich Town before the age of 20, Dos Santos has always been searching for new challenges. Last summer he left La Liga, where he had been playing for Villarreal, to sign for LA Galaxy. He was part of the side, along with Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, which was surprisingly knocked out by Seattle Sounders at the start of last season’s play-offs.
Drogba ended his second spell at Chelsea being carried off the pitch at Stamford Bridge, after winning his fourth Premier League title. He went to Montreal Impact of the MLS, where he made an immediate impression: winning MLS player of the month for September and October last year. Montreal were knocked out by eventual finalists Columbus Crew but they are heading for a play-off place again this year.
Went back to MLS from Tottenham three years ago, which was considered a coup for MLS given how few American players play there at their peak. Dempsey probably has a better track record at the top of the European game than any other American outfield player, and he has taken all that experience and nous back to the Seattle Sounders. Maybe not quite as influential as he was at his Fulham peak, but still a hugely important player to the American game.