Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi was recently nominated for the 2023 Ballon d’Or and his nomination for the prestigious France Football award puts him beside only one other MLS player nominated while active in the league. So, who is on the list of MLS players nominated for the Ballon d'Or in the past? There may be only one other player to have been nominated while active in MLS, but there is a long list of MLS players to have been nominated for a Ballon d'Or at some point in their career (full list at the bottom of this article).
Lionel Messi is the first active MLS player nominated for Ballon d'Or since 2007
After having an exceptional 2022-23 season with PSG in the Ligue 1 and leading Argentina to their third-ever World Cup last December as the tournament’s MVP, Messi is the front-runner to take the Ballon d'Or for what would be the 8th time in his career.
He scored 38 goals and provided 25 assists (63 goal contributions) in 54 matches and won the Ligue 1, French Super Cup and the World Cup.
These statistics and honors were enough for the 36-year-old to be named into of the nomination list for award ceremony in October. This, even after making the move to the MLS with Inter Miami last July.
The Argentine’s nomination for the Ballon d’Or as an active MLS player places Messi onto a small list of players ever to make the list whilst playing in the United States. It's a list of just two. Who is the only other MLS player to have been nominated for the Ballon d'Or while active in the United States? The person who made his transfer to Miami possible.
Before Messi, who is the last player nominated for the Ballon d'Or while active in MLS?
In 2007, after coming off a league title-winning season with Real Madrid, David Beckham shocked the world and made the move to MLS with the LA Galaxy. He was 31 years old and was still a starter for the Spanish champions.
Despite making the jump to MLS, his 2006-07 season was enough to be part of the nomination list for the Ballon d’Or that year. Messi was also nomintated and placed third in the list for the award won ultimately by Ricardo Kaká.
Major League Soccer royalty.
Like Messi, who is off to an incredible goalscoring start with Miami, Beckham arrived to MLS at a stage in his career where he was still able to deliver at an elite level, making their pair of nominations difficult to match.
With Lionel Messi one of the favorites to win the award, seeing him bring the golden ball back to DRV Pink Stadium will definitely be something difficult for another player to repeat.
In case you're curious, here's the full list of players to have won the Ballon d'Or who also played in MLS.
MLS players to have won the Ballon d'Or at any point in their career
- Lothar Matthaus (Ballon d'Or winner in 1990, joined MLS in 2000)
- Hristo Stoichkov (Ballon d'Or winner in 1994, joined MLS in 2003)
- Ricardo Kaká (Ballon d'Or winner in 2007, joined MLS in 2014)
- Lionel Messi (Ballon d'Or winner in 2009/2010/2011/2012/2015/2019/2021, likely winner in 2023, joined MLS in 2023)
Current and former MLS players nominated for the Ballon d'Or at any point in their careers
- Lionel Messi, Inter Miami (16 nominations)
- Zlatan Ibrahimovic, LA Galaxy (11 nominations)
- David Beckham, LA Galaxy (10 nominations)
- Thierry Henry, New York Red Bulls (9 nominations)
- Didier Drogba, CF Montréal (8 nominations)
- Wayne Rooney, DC United (8 nominations)
- Ricardo Kaká, Orlando City SC (6 nominations)
- Steven Gerrard, LA Galaxy (6 nominations)
- Lothar Matthaus, New York MetroStars (6 nominations)
- Andrea Pirlo, New York City FC (6 nominations)
- Gareth Bale, LAFC (5 nominations)
- Frank Lampard, New York City FC (5 nominations)
- Bastian Schweinsteiger, Chicago Fire (5 nominations)
- Hristo Stoichkov, Chicago Fire (5 nominations)
- David Villa, New York City FC (5 nominations)
- Eric Cantona, New York Cosmos (3 nominations)
- Sergio Busquets, Inter Miami (1 nomination)
- Giorgio Chiellini, LAFC (1 nomination)
- Gonzalo Higuaín, Columbus Crew (1 nomination)
- Rafael Márquez, New York Red Bulls (1 nomination)
- Javier Hernández (1 nomination, long list)
- Giovani Dos Santos (1 nomination, long list)
Note: While Pele played for the New York Cosmos, it was while they played in the NASL (North American Soccer League) and before non-European footballers were eligible for the Ballon d'Or. In 2016 France Football revisited the years Pele played and announced if he had been eligible he would have ended up winning the Ballon d"or in the years 1958, 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963, 1964, and 1970 respectively.