10 MLS players whose signings profoundly affected league, U.S. soccer

The Galaxy's signing of Mexican national team star Giovani Dos Santos — at 26, in the prime of his career — is among the most significant in the history of Major League Soccer. But he's not the only big-name player the league has lured here.

Each of these 10 players has also had a profound impact on the growth of both MLS and professional soccer in the U.S.

1. Landon Donovan (San Jose Earthquakes, 2001): Fledgling MLS appeared headed for bankruptcy when Donovan, a homesick teenager, was acquired on loan from Germany's Bayer Leverkusen. San Jose won the MLS Cup that year and Donovan went on to become the face of U.S. soccer.

2. David Beckham (Galaxy, 2007): If the signing of Donovan saved the league, the Beckham deal changed it. MLS altered its salary structure to accommodate Beckham's five-year, $32.5-million contract, creating the designated-player rule that opened the way for dozens of high-profile signings. And the addition of the former English national team captain helped get MLS television coverage all over the world, making the Galaxy one of the most recognizable soccer brands on the planet.

3. Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls, 2010): Henry came to the Red Bulls straight off France's World Cup team after playing in three of Europe's major leagues. And he wound up playing more games (122) and scoring more goals (51) for New York than Beckham did for the Galaxy.

4. Robbie Keane (Galaxy, 2011): Keane was among the top scorers in English Premier League history when he jumped to the Galaxy weeks after his 31st birthday, immediately making an impact. He scored in his first MLS game, won league titles three times in four seasons with the Galaxy and is the reigning league most valuable player.

5. Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders, 2013): Dempsey started his career in MLS before going on to star in England, where he set a record for goals by an American-born player. His return to MLS with Seattle in the summer of 2013 showed the league had improved enough, both financially and competitively, that it could win back top domestic players.

6. Kaka (Orlando City SC, 2015): He's the first former world player of the year to join MLS, though Kaka's best days were clearly behind him when he signed with expansion Orlando at age 32. But his presence helped Orlando draw a league-record 62,510 fans for its debut, and the team is averaging more than 34,000 through 10 home games.

7. Steven Gerrard (Galaxy, 2015): One of the iconic players of his generation, the former Liverpool and English national team star had never played a club game in anything but a Liverpool shirt before making his Galaxy debut last week. He's 35, and his strength and stamina could be an issue in MLS.

8. Juan Pablo Angel (Red Bulls, 2007): Angel was Aston Villa's most expensive signing and its third-leading scorer in the Premier League era when he jumped to MLS weeks after the Beckham signing was announced. His success inspired a huge influx of Colombian players, with more than three dozen following Angel's lead.

9. Michael Bradley (Toronto FC, 2014): Like Dempsey, his U.S. national teammate, Bradley had a brief trial in MLS before leaving for fame and fortune playing in Europe. But Bradley's return to MLS, less than six months before the 2014 World Cup, showed the league had developed into a finishing school for international players, clearing the way for 10 MLS players to make the national team roster for Brazil.

10. Sebastian Giovinco (Toronto FC, 2015): Like Dos Santos, the 28-year-old Giovinco jumped from Europe — in Giovinco's case, Italian club Parma — to MLS in the prime of his career, signing a league-record five-year, $35-million deal. And so far he's proved a bargain since he leads the league in shots and is second in goals.

kevin.baxter@latimes.com

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