Major League Soccer (MLS) is the highest level of soccer currently played in North America. Since its inception in 1993, and its first season in 1996, the league has seen its share of ups and downs. Financial troubles, teams folding and empty stadiums marked the MLS’s first years in operation. Recently, however, the outlook has changed. Greater television coverage, new expansion clubs, soccer-specific stadiums, growing public support and the arrival of big-name foreign (and domestic) players has boosted the league greatly. MLS may not yet have the draw of the EPL, La Liga or Serie A, but it is becoming more popular every year.
As in any league, a main draw to MLS soccer are the goal scorers. The strikers, forwards and attacking midfielders are usually the players who garner the most attention because of their spectacular passes and amazing strikes on net. Similar to Europe, goal scoring in the MLS is rewarded in a distinct manner; the Golden Boot. This award is handed out to the league’s top scorer each season. It is also not a coincidence that most fans get their jerseys emblazoned with names like Twellman, Donovan, De Rosario, Henry and Defoe. Sorry defenders, any fan will admit your job is just as vital to the team. Defensive work, however, just doesn’t capture the imagination in the same way an offensive move does.
Since 1996, MLS players have steadily built up their records and statistics. From spectacular strikes to goal-line poaching, a core of players established themselves as the top scorers in the league. A few of the players on the following list remain active and will likely increase their goal tally in the months ahead. Most are retired, their records standing as a reminder to how deadly they were in attack. In any event, these are the top 10 greatest goal scorers in MLS history.
10 T9. Roy Lassiter, 88 goals
Lassiter played for four different clubs between 1996 and 2002. Starting his career with the now-dissolved Tampa Bay Mutiny, the American-born forward set the current MLS single season scoring record by hitting the back of the net 27 times in 1996. Many attribute this success to the on-field chemistry between Lassiter and Columbian midfielder Carlos Valderrama. In total, he made 179 appearances and scored 88 goals. Although he never reproduced the goal tally of his first season, Lassiter managed to score 18 goals in both the 1998 and 1999 seasons with DC United. He lifted the MLS Cup in 1999 and won the Golden Boot in 1996. Internationally, he made 30 appearances for the United States and scored 4 goals.
9 T9. Carlos Ruiz, 88 goals
Ruiz was well traveled during his time as a player. His MLS career was played out in three spells from 2002 to 2013. During this time he also played in leagues in Paraguay, Mexico and Greece. In the MLS, the Guatemalan forward had his best time with the LA Galaxy. From 2002 to 2004 he scored 50 goals and helped the Galaxy lift the MLS Cup in 2002. His personal awards during this period included being named MLS MVP, MLS Cup MVP and MLS All-Star Game MVP. Over the rest of his career, he never regained the form that made him so deadly with the Galaxy. Internationally, Ruiz’ fifteen year career saw him play for Guatemala in 104 games and score 55 goals.
8 Edson Buddle, 98 goals (and counting)
Edson Buddle began his MLS career in 2001 with the Columbus Crew. Since then, the 32 year-old forward has played for four other clubs, including two seasons in the second tier of the Bundesliga, and is currently with the Colorado Rapids. So far, in 274 appearances he has scored a total of 98 goals. The American’s best season was with the LA Galaxy in 2010, when he scored 17 times. This contrasts sharply with his abysmal 2007 season with Toronto FC when he didn’t score a single goal. In 2012, he lifted the MLS Cup with the LA Galaxy. Buddle was also named to the MLS Best XI in 2010. He has scored three times in 11 caps for the US national team.
7 Taylor Twellman, 101 goals
Currently a pundit for ESPN, Twellman played his entire MLS career with the New England Revolution. Before making the move to the MLS in 2002, he played three seasons with the reserves of Budesliga side TSV 1860 Munich. One of the most lethal scorers in the MLS, the American forward struck the back of the net 101 times in just 174 appearances. His most productive season was his first in the MLS, scoring 23 times in 2002. Named to the MLS Best XI twice, Twellman also took home a Golden Boot and MVP award in 2005. He has made 30 appearances for the US international team, scoring 6 goals.
6 Dwayne De Rosario, 103 goals (and counting)
De Rosario is an attacking midfielder who currently plays for his hometown club, Toronto FC. The 35 year-old Canadian began his MLS career in 2001 with the San Jose Earthquake. At the time of writing this article, De Rosario had scored 103 goals in 325 appearances. His highest production came in the 2011 season when he scored 16 goals while playing for Toronto FC, New York Red Bulls and DC United. His highest production with a single club is 15 goals with Toronto FC in 2010. He has won four MLS Cups, one Golden Boot and one MLS MVP award. De Rosario has also been named to the MLS Best XI a total of six times in his career.
5 Jason Kreis, 108 goals
The current manager of MLS expansion team New York City FC, Kreis’ career in the MLS spanned twelve seasons. From 1996 to 2007, the American midfielder made 305 appearances with Dallas Burn (now FC Dallas) and Real Salt Lake. During this time, he scored 118 goals. As well as scoring the first goal in Dallas and Salt Lake franchise history, Kreis was also the first American-born player to be named MLS MVP in 1999. His records of ‘firsts’ did not end there, as he also became the first player to score 100 league goals. A five-time MLS All-Star, Kreis also won the Golden Boot in 1999.
4 Ante Razov, 114 goals
From 1996 to 2009, Razov played for five MLS clubs. Starting with the LA Galaxy and ending his career with Chivas USA, the American forward made 262 appearances and hit the back of the net 114 times. His most successful period was with the Chicago Fire where he scored 76 goals from 1998 to 2004. It was during this time that he had his most productive season, scoring 18 goals over the course of the 2000 season. Razov also collected 25 caps for the US National team, scoring 6 goals during international play. He lifted the MLS Cup in 1998 with Chicago. Personal awards include being named to two MLS All-Star teams and one MLS Bst XI.
3 Jaime Moreno, 133 goals
Moreno enjoyed a long and distinguished MLS career. From 1996 to 2010, the Bolivian forward made 340 appearances and scored 133 times. Most of his goals came with DC United, except for 11 scored during one season with the New York MetroStars – currently known as the New York Red Bulls. Moreno also enjoyed a 1997 loan spell at Middlesbrough in England, a club he played for before starting his MLS career. Between 1996 and 2004, Moreno lifted the MLS Cup four times and was named the MLS Cup MVP once. Personal awards also include being named to the MLS Best XI a total of five times over his career.
2 T1. Jeff Cunningham, 134 goals
From 1998 to 2011, Cunningham played for five different MLS clubs, beginning and ending his career with the Columbus Crew. The 37 year-old Jamaican-born forward made a total of 365 MLS appearances and scored 134 goals. Following a poor spell at Toronto FC, Cunningham’s best season came in 2009, when he scored 17 times with FC Dallas. No longer playing in the MLS, Cunningham still left his mark. In addition to his impressive goal tally, he also claimed two Golden Boots and was named to the MLS Best XI three times. He has scored once in 14 appearances for the US men’s team and, most recently, was having a trial in the V League 1 in Vietnam.
1 T1. Landon Donovan, 134 goals (and counting)
Donovan began his professional career in 1999 with the Bundesliga side Bayer Leverkusen. From 2001 to 2004, the American forward was loaned to the San Jose Earthquakes where he made 87 appearances and scored 32 goals. In 2005, Donovan made his MLS stay permanent with the Los Angeles Galaxy, the club he continues to play for today. Over his entire MLS career, the 32 year-old has made 304 appearances and scored 134 goals. His popularity was further increased with a loan spell at Bayern Munich and two successful stints at EPL side Everton in 2010 and 2012. In addition to being the current MLS all-time scoring leader, Donovan has also been an important part of the US men's team since 2000. Perhaps not as famous as David Beckham or Thierry Henry, Donovan, nonetheless, remains one of the iconic players of the MLS.