From A to Zlatan: Looking back at other splashy MLS debuts
Robbie Keane -- LA Galaxy, 2011
Robbie Keane is arguably the best signing in MLS history, joining the LA Galaxy late in the 2011 season as the team’s third Designated Player alongside David Beckham and Landon Donovan.
Keane’s first match with the Galaxy was sign of the fruitful times ahead, as he scored the game-winning goal against the San Jose Earthquakes, coolly finishing a quick free kick taken by Beckham. The goal was classic Keane: quick-thinking, subtly deceptive in his movement and patient in front of goal.
Keane’s arrival was the final piece of the puzzle to the Galaxy winning MLS Cup in 2011. LA would repeat with that trio in 2012, and Keane played the leading role in the team’s 2014 MLS Cup triumph. Keane won league MVP that year, tallying 19 goals and 14 assists in 29 regular-season games.
Thierry Henry -- New York Red Bulls, 2010
Thierry Henry impressed as a provider in his official MLS debut, assisting on two Juan Pablo Angel goals in a 2-2 road draw with the Houston Dynamo on July 31, 2010.
That served as his announcement to the league, but his declaration of arrival to the wider world came a week earlier at Red Bull Arena. And it looked like a familiar image, as Henry -- clad in red and white -- scored the opening goal against old foe Tottenham in a friendly match.
Bastian Schweinsteiger -- Chicago Fire, 2017
It was always impossible for Bastian Schweinsteiger to top his introductory press conference, during which a reporter made worldwide headlines -- and a meme that keeps on giving -- by asking the German if he could help the Chicago Fire win a World Cup.
We’re all thankful that Basti didn’t tear up his contract and run back to Europe, because he eventually proved that he wasn’t yet over the hill with a very productive 2017 in Chicago. He scored in his debut against Montreal.
The Fire ended a four-year playoff drought in 2017 and Schweinsteiger re-signed for the 2018 season.
Jermain Defoe -- Toronto FC, 2014
Toronto FC’s announcement of Jermain Defoe is infamous: “It’s a bloody big deal.”
There’s no denying that his one season in MLS wasn’t the most pleasant experience. Fans questioned his commitment, and the striker snipped back amid a dramatic year which saw him miss 11 of the team’s last 15 matches due to injury. He managed 11 goals in 19 matches, but none after July 16 -- roughly the halfway mark of the season. The season full of very public tension ended with Toronto selling Defoe to Sunderland in January 2015, bringing in U.S. international Jozy Altidore from Sunderland as his replacement.
Lost in that drama is that Defoe’s tenure with Toronto got off to such a promising start. He scored twice in his first 24 minutes with the club, leading TFC to a 2-1 road victory over the Seattle Sounders to open the 2014 season. All’s well that … starts well?
Sebastian Giovinco -- Toronto FC, 2015
Whether or not Toronto learned directly from that Defoe debacle or not, to say the Reds got it right with Sebastian Giovinco is an understatement. If there’s an argument to be made against the aforementioned Keane as the best signing in league history, Giovinco is the one making it.
The Atomic Ant’s arrival in 2015 was a big part of TFC ending eight years of misery and making the playoffs for the first time. Giovinco tallied 22 goals and 16 assists in 33 regular-season games en route to winning the league MVP trophy, and he would lead Toronto to the final in 2016 and the MLS Cup title in 2017.
Giovinco’s arrival to MLS as a 28-year-old from Juventus came with much anticipation, and it ushered in a new era of MLS Designated Players still in their prime. He impressed immediately in his debut, assisting on Jozy Altidore’s goal in a 3-1 road win over Vancouver to open the season.
Kaka -- Orlando City, 2015
Also in 2015 came the debut of Kaka in Orlando. He scored a stoppage-time equalizer in the club's first match, although the video evidence shows that it was hardly a trademark free kick.
The 2007 World Player of the Year had an up-and-down three seasons with Orlando City, but he did bring eyeballs to the first-year club in 2015.
That debut goal was making lemonade out of lemons. An appropriate opening act for Orlando.
Diego Valeri -- Portland Timbers, 2013
Diego Valeri’s legacy looms large in Portland as an MLS Cup champion, a league MVP and all-around community hero. Quite simply, everyone freaking loves the guy.
He arrived in 2015 as a baby-faced 26-year-old, scoring in his debut by juggling in the box and making New York Red Bulls defender Jamison Olave look like a stone statue.
He was so obviously a good fit in Portland that the Timbers made the move permanent later that year.
David Beckham -- LA Galaxy, 2007
Simply put, this was and likely will remain the most transformational arrival for the business and success of MLS. The original Designated Player's signing changed the landscape and trajectory of the league, sending it into a new, more ambitious era.
While he redeemed himself both in his play and how he matured en route to MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012, his arrival to the league was marked by drama and controversy. He played just five league games that first season after joining the Galaxy midseason while carrying an ankle injury. The first of those games came at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C.
That was preceded by his team debut in the final minutes of a friendly against Chelsea, a match which only added wear and tear to his body.
Beckham’s debut was ironically the least pure on-field success of any other on this list, but it was undeniably unforgettable.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- LA Galaxy, 2018
Zlatan came and Zlatan conquered. And he only needed 19 minutes to do it.
After a trans-Atlantic flight and just one training session with the Galaxy, Ibrahimovic came on in the 71st minute with the Galaxy trailing expansion side LAFC, 3-1. Chris Pontius scored two minutes later, and then Ibrahimovic equalized with a spectacular 40-yard half-volley.
Then, he scored the game-winner in stoppage time to complete the Galaxy’s comeback from 3-0 down, winning the first derby between the teams. It was just the second time in league history that a team came back to win a game after trailing by three goals.