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October 2019
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MLS and FIFA: Beginning of the World Cup Games




As the most diverse sports league in the world,
MLS sees players from six countries set to participate in World Cup in Russia

NEW YORK (Thursday, June 14, 2018) – The 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia begins today, and for Major League Soccer’s contingent of 19 players, representing six countries, it is a chance to be immortalized in history books during the greatest sporting event in the world.

Celebrations were in full swing Wednesday as FIFA announced that the 2026 FIFA World Cup will be hosted by the United States, Canada and Mexico, but now all eyes turn to this year’s tournament as the globe halts to watch the world’s game.


MLS: The World’s Most Diverse Sports League: As the league of choice for many top players, MLS is the most diverse sports league in the world with players from more than 70 countries competing in 2018. Again leading the charge in diversity (as determined by birthplace) in the North American sports landscape, from a pool of 637 current players, 72 countries are represented in MLS compared with the second-most diverse league, the NBA, that boasts players from 45 countries.

Among those 637 players, 234 have been capped by their national teams and a total of 27 players from 11 FIFA World Cup-bound countries played a part in their respective nations’ World Cup Qualifiers during 2017.

League (year) Total # of Players Players Born Abroad (% born outside U.S.A. & Canada) Countries Represented (incl. USA & Canada) Average Age of All Players (in years)
MLS (2018) 637 315 (49.4%) 72 25.36
MLB (2017) 1087 326 (29.9%) 24 28.33
NHL (2017-2018) 779 225 (28.8%) 22 27.17
NBA (2017-2018) 496 96 (19.4%) 47 26.22
NFL (2017) 2104 57 (2.7%) 26 26.36

Six-nation representation: For a second straight World Cup, six nations have current MLS players on their rosters, which, alongside the 2014 tournament, ties for the most in league history. The country representation includes six MLS players on both Costa Rica and Panama, three for Mexico, two for Peru and one each for Egypt and Sweden. Two other countries include former MLS players, with Australia featuring former New York Red Bulls forward Tim Cahill and former Montreal Impact midfielder Blerim D��emaili representing Switzerland.

Sixteen are new to the big stage: A total of 16 players will be competing in their first FIFA World Cup. Six players among this group are part of Panama’s first trip to the World Cup, including Seattle Sounders FC defender Román Torres, whose late goal against Costa Rica in the finale of the qualifying stage propelled his nation to Russia.

Three World Cup returnees: The MLS pool features three players who have competed at the World Cup previously, led by the LA Galaxy’s Giovani dos Santos, who is headed to his third World Cup for Mexico (2010, 2014, 2018). Dos Santos and the Los Angeles Football Club’s Carlos Vela (in his second World Cup appearance) were teammates on Mexico’s 2010 squad. LAFC forward Marco Ureña also prepares for his second World Cup appearance after representing Costa Rica at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Dos Santos duo marks first MLS brother pairing in World Cup: Heading into the 2018 FIFA World Cup, there have been 58 individual brothers who have played in FIFA World Cup history, either in the same tournament or in different tournaments. This year is unique one for MLS as the LA Galaxy’sJonathan dos Santos and Giovani dos Santos will play alongside each other for Mexico. This year’s World Cup includes four sets of brothers: the dos Santos (Mexico), Eden and Thorgan Hazard (Belgium), Noureddine and Sofyan Amrabat (Morocco), and Anton and Alexei Miranchuk (Russia). Two sets of brothers have won the World Cup alongside each other: Germany’s Ottmar and Fritz Walter (1954) and England’s Bobby and Jack Charlton (1966).

FIFA World Cup Winners: Only 422 players throughout history have lifted the world’s most coveted trophy, two of whom currently play in MLS in the Chicago Fire’s Bastian Schweinsteiger (Germany, 2014) and New York City FC’s David Villa (Spain, 2010).  All-time, 11 World Cup winners have played on MLS squads yet none have won both the World Cup and MLS Cup in the same year. The 19 MLS players headed to Russia have the opportunity to join some illustrious company, for both country and club.

LA trio leads Mexico to most successful qualifying run: Mexico clinched its trip to Russia 2018 with several qualifying matches to spare following a 1-0 win against Panama on Sept. 1, 2017. It marked Mexico’s earliest World Cup qualification clinch in the country’s history. The Los Angeles Football Club’s first signing, Carlos Vela, and LA Galaxy brothers Giovani dos Santos and Jonathan dos Santos all featured during the qualifying stage to help Mexico earn its 16th FIFA World Cup appearance.

Torres boosts Panama to first World Cup: Seattle Sounders FC defender Román Torres is being hailed a hero after scoring the winning goal that lifted Panama to its first-ever FIFA World Cup. The last-minute drama took place on Oct. 10, 2017, when Torres’ right-footed strike in the 88th minute completed a 2-1 rally victory over favorited Costa Rica to book Panama’s spot in Russia.