Rouge et Blanc (et Bleu!): AS Monaco and the MLS
With Major League Soccer going strong in 2022, celebrating its 27th season with the All-Star game set to be played in Los Angeles on August 10th, what better way to honor America’s top flight by looking at the links between the Rouge et Blanc and the league. More than a half-dozen players have worn La Diagonale before going on to success in the United States, and here are some of the biggest:
Mexican defender Rafa Marquez is one of the most well-known players in the Club’s history, having joined from his childhood team, Atlas, in 1999. During his time in the Principality, he won the Ligue 1 title in his first season, as well as the Coupe de la Ligue in 2003, before joining Barcelona. After his spell with the Blaugrana, however, he headed to New York, to join New York Red Bulls, winning the Eastern Conference title in his first season. While Rafa was one of the first former Monegasques to play in the United States, he wasn’t the last, as one of his teammates during his time in New York was none other than…
Thierry Henry! After leaving Monaco in 1999, having won a Ligue 1 title with the club, as well as the World Cup in France, Henry spent a long and successful spell at Arsenal in England, before meeting up with Rafa Marquez again in Barcelona. He would then join Marquez in coming to the US in 2010, also playing a key role in the team’s Eastern Conference title that year. That was just the start of a very successful spell in New York for the Frenchman, as he was named to the league’s All-Star team four times and also won the 2013 Supporters’ Shield, the team’s first major honor.
Before Rafael Marquez and Thierry Henry, though, Marcelo Gallardo was the first player to leave the Principality and move to the United States to play. Having joined the club and left at the same time as Rafa Marquez, he also won a Ligue 1 and Coupe de la Ligue title during his spell, before rejoining his boyhood club River Plate. After a brief spell in Paris, he played half a season with DC United in 2008, helping the capital side to win the US Open Cup for just the second time in their history before finishing his career in South America.
Well-known to fans on the Premier League for his spells at Liverpool and Portsmouth, Djimi Traoré joined AS Monaco in 2009, helping the club reach the final of the Coupe de France in his first season. The arrival of Petter Hanson the following summer meant that Traoré had a smaller role, and after the team’s relegation in 2011, he briefly joined Marseille before finishing his career with Seattle Sounders, helping the team to the Supporters Shield in 2014 before retiring to spend several years with the team as an assistant coach.
While Marco Di Vaio’s time at Monaco was not wholly successful, his two-and-a-half seasons with Montréal Impact were quite the opposite. Averaging nearly a goal every other match, he was named to the MLS Team of the Season in 2013, and helped the team capture the Candian Championship — the country’s national cup competition — in that season and again in 2014 before retiring.
While we can easily speak of legendary former players playing in MLS, there are two currently plying their trade in the US: Samuel Grandsir and Nicolas Isimat-Mirin. Grandsir, who signed from Troyes in 2018, joined LA Galaxy after spending seasons on loan in Strasbourg and Brest, and remains a regular for Greg Vanney’s team, as they’re currently in contention for a playoff sport. Isimat-Mirin, whose time at the club saw him struggle for a place in the team behind Ricardo Carvalho and Éric Abidal, also joined the league in 2021, and has been a regular for Sporting Kansas City.
Finally, while most former Monaco players have headed to Major League Soccer at or near the end of their careers, one who took the opposite path was American Freddy Adu. The youngest player ever to sign a professional sports contract in the United States, after breaking through with DC United and a spell with Real Salt Lake, he joined Portuguese club Benfica, who loaned him to AS Monaco for the 2008-9 season. Although his time in the Principality was largely unsuccessful, he did make history by becoming the first American to play for the club.