10 Real Madrid and Barcelona alumni who played in MLS

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Kelvin Kuo
Real Madrid and Barcelona have sent several players to Major League Soccer over the years, and here's a look at the star-studded list of alumni

As American soccer fans tune into El Clasico on Saturday, they won't be seeing any players who previously plied their trade in Major League Soccer, but they could certainly be watching some players who will eventually make their way across the Atlantic to follow in the footsteps of some of the sport's biggest stars.

Whether it be a Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi one day, or even a veteran like Andres Iniesta or Sergio Ramos, Saturday's installment of one of the world's biggest rivalries should have plenty of talent for MLS teams to drool over, and even potentially bring stateside.

The pipeline of talent from the Spanish giants to MLS has seen some heavy hitters make the move, including some of the best players to ever pass through the American league, and while some of the signings could have been accused of being of the retirement league variety, more recent years have seen veterans of El Clasico come to MLS and dominate.

The 2017 season saw several with FC Barcelona ties come in and make an impact in MLS, from former Barca manager Gerardo Martino, who thrived with Atlanta United, to a trio of La Masia products that enjoyed success, led by Toronto FC playmaker and MLS Cup final goal-scorer Victor Vazquez.

Here is a look back at some the players to play for Real Madrid and/or Barcelona before plying their trade in MLS:


DAVID BECKHAM


David Beckham MLS LA Galaxy 04212017

The British superstar was part of Real Madrid's Galacticos, joining the Spanish giants in 2003. He spent four seasons in Madrid before embarking on his historic move to MLS, where he spent five seasons with the Galaxy.

From a marketing standpoint, Beckham's move to MLS helped boost the league's international profile, while on the field he helped the Galaxy win back-to-back MLS Cup titles in 2011 and 2012 before leaving to finish his career at Paris Saint-Germain.


THIERRY HENRY


Thierry Henry MLS 10042014

The Arsenal legend made a blockbuster move to Barcelona in 2007. He spent three seasons at the Camp Nou, and played a key role in Barcelona's historic 2008-2009 season, which saw the Catalans win six trophies in one of the best seasons in history.

Henry left Barcelona for MLS in 2010, joining the New York Red Bulls, which he spent five seasons with. Henry was still a goal-scoring force, scoring 51 goals and becoming a fan favorite at the club before his retirement after the 2014 season.


KAKA


Kaka Orlando City

The 2007 Ballon D'Or winner spent the last decade of his career struggling to live up to that lofty standard set a decade ago, with his move from AC Milan to Real Madrid in 2009 seen largely as a disappointment.

Kaka's multi-million dollar move to Orlando City saw him become the highest-paid player in MLS, and while he did help the Lions find success off the field, the Brazilian playmaker never could help them succeed in league play, failing to reach the playoffs in any of his three seasons.


DAVID VILLA


David Villa MLS NYCFC 07192017

The Spanish legend followed up his Golden Boot-winning performance at the 2010 World Cup with a move to FC Barcelona, enjoying three successful seasons that included a pair of La Liga titles and a UEFA Champions League crown in 2011.

Since moving to New York City FC in 2014, Villa has been one of the league's best players, earning MVP honors in 2016 while helping NYCFC become one of the league's most entertaining teams. Though he is 36, Villa shows no signs of slowing down, and his ability to parlay MLS success into a return to the Spanish national team could lead to more Real Madrid and Barcelona players making the jump to MLS at younger ages.


HRISTO STOITCHKOV


Hristo Stoitchkov MLS Chicago Fire 08242002

The Bulgarian legend played a big part in one of the most successful periods in Barcelona history, winning five La Liga titles during his seven seasons at the Camp Nou, including the historic 1991-1992 season with a stacked squad known as the 'Dream Team'.

Stoitchkov arrived in MLS with the Chicago Fire well after he had left Barcelona, but still made a positive impact, helping lead the Fire to the MLS Cup final in his first season. Stoitchkov spent three seasons with the Fire, and the final season of his career with D.C. United in 2003.


GIO & JONATHAN DOS SANTOS


Giovani and Jonathan Dos Santos MLS LA Galaxy 08062017

The La Masia products never did quite break through at FC Barcelona despite being considered good prospects, with Gio Dos Santos a high-profile youngster who couldn't break through. He left Barcelona after the 2008 season, while Jonathan spent parts of five seasons at the Camp Nou, playing sparingly from 2009 to 2014.

The brothers eventually reunited briefly at Villarreal in the 2014-2015 season, before Giovani made the move to MLS and joined the LA Galaxy. While he has has mixed results in MLS, sometimes dominating, and sometimes disappearing, his brother Jonathan still chose to join him in Los Angeles, arriving this past summer. The two designated players are still in contention to represent Mexico at the 2018 World Cup, and will be expected to play major roles in helping the Galaxy rebound from an awful 2017 season.


RAFA MARQUEZ


Rafa Marquez New York Red Bulls

The Mexican star enjoyed one of the most impressive runs in La Liga of any player on this list, spending seven seasons at Barcelona and helping the Catalans win four titles, and the six trophies in 2008-2009.

Marquez failed to come anywhere close to that success in MLS. In fact, his tenure with the New York Red Bulls was easily the most disappointing stint in the U.S. of any player on this list. His three seasons with the Red Bulls from 2010 to 2012 were awful, leading to questions of how much longer he would play, but to his credit he moved to Liga MX and revived his career.


HUGO SANCHEZ


Hugo Sanchez MLS Dallas 07101996

The Mexican legend is one of the most accomplished players in Real Madrid history, scoring a jaw-dropping 164 goals in seven seasons. A stint that saw him help Real Madrid to five La Liga titles.

Sanchez's MLS stint was much less memorable, consisting of one season with the Dallas Burn in 1996, the league's inaugural season.


AITOR KARANKA


Aitor Karanka Middlesbrough 12112016

Known more recently for his career as a manager, Karanka had a modest five-season career at Real Madrid from 1997 to 2002. He did play a part in three UEFA Champions League-winning seasons during that time, serving as a defender. 

Karanka's MLS career was largely forgettable, consisting of one solid season with the Colorado Rapids in 2006.

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ALBERT CELADES


Albert Celades MLS New York Red Bulls 05302009

The only player on this list to play for both Real Madrid and Barcelona, Celades enjoyed good-sized stints at both clubs during a good career as a defensive midfielder. A product of La Masia, he spent four seasons with Barcelona's first team from 1995 to 1999, then after a stint at Celta Vigo, he made the move to Real Madrid. He spent five seasons at Madrid, playing sparingly before moving on to a stint with Real Zaragoza.

Celades spent one season in MLS is easy to forget, as it happened to be the 2009 season with a New York Red Bulls side that endured one of the worst seasons in its history. 

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