Football – Xherdan Shaqiri, a 21st Swiss in MLS?


SoccerXherdan Shaqiri, a 21st Swiss in MLS?

Very close to the Chicago Fire, the 30-year-old playmaker will discover a championship surveyed by several compatriots before him. Overview.

Stefan Frei (in white), here in 2016, is one of the best goalkeepers in MLS.

Stefan Frei (in white), here in 2016, is one of the best goalkeepers in MLS.


There are heavier legacies to bear. In all likelihood, after having spent a decade wearing the most prestigious jerseys in European football, Xherdan Shaqiri is therefore preparing to go down a notch, by signing for the Chicago Fire. A change of course towards a championship which has already seen twenty Swiss players pass since its first edition in 1996. The playmaker is therefore preparing to be the twenty-first. And, in fact, the most prestigious name on the list.

Nothing surprising in that. MLS has welcomed all kinds of profiles. Scouring the profiles of the Swiss representatives to have crossed the Atlantic is also telling the evolution of this championship, which is certainly progressing and which tends to want to offload the image of a vacation spot for good players in early retirement. Even if they are still the ones who contribute to its audience in Europe. At 30, Xherdan Shaqiri will not necessarily be one of them, he who still has a few years ahead of him.

Early retirement for some

Unlike the precursor Alain Sutter. When he made the jump in 1997, the Bernese was a year younger than Shaqiri, but an already long career. By leaving Freiburg for the Dallas Burn, Sutter joined a still embryonic championship. It only lasted a year, the current sporting director of Saint-Gall having to put an end to his career in 1998, after an injury. He will have opened up a path that a Swiss had already taken two decades before him: Fritz Künzli, a former international who had played in 1978 for the San Diego Sockers and the Houston Hurricane. But « Soccer » was still a long way from serious MLS.

Still, Sutter’s successor was also slow to arrive. It was none other than Raphaël Wicky, former coach of the Chicago Fire. The Haut-Valaisan had had their first American experience in 2008. The Swiss team then moved away, and after leaving Hamburg in the summer of 2007, Wicky returned to Sion for a few months. Without success. Before committing to the Chivas of Los Angeles at the beginning of 2008. He only played five matches there, then ending his career for personal reasons. While keeping a link with the United States, of which he was also coach of the national U17 team in 2019.

Tranquillo Barnetta, in the jersey of Philadelphia

Tranquillo Barnetta, in the jersey of Philadelphia


The USA have therefore regularly been a base for ex-internationals at the end of their course. In 2010, after the World Cup in South Africa, Blaise Nkufo wore the Seattle Sounders jersey. Only a few months, the time to score 5 goals in 11 matches and end his career. Tranquillo Barnetta, he spent a year and a half between 2015 and 2016 at the Philadelphia Union, before returning to his training club St. Gallen to come full circle. Finally, Servette sports director Philippe Senderos also tried the jump, spending a year and a half at Houston Dynamo (2017-18). He even won the US Open Cup (equivalent to the United States Cup). After several months without a club, the Genevan will make another final freelance in Chiasso, before bowing out.

Ziegler and Dzemaili, good examples

For others, the American adventure was temporary, while not preventing a return to Europe afterwards. For example, it allowed Reto Ziegler to remain very competitive with Dallas between 2018 and 2020. Three seasons during which he notably wore the captain’s armband. Before returning to Switzerland at the end of his contract, committing to Lugano a year ago. Where it continues to be an important element.

For Blerim Dzemaili too, he who had been loaned by Bologna to the Montreal Impact during the second half of 2017. The Zurich player will have performed there, with 7 goals and 13 assists in 22 appearances. While continuing to be called up for the Swiss team by Vladimir Petkovic. Alain Rochat, he will have only one national selection, but after his experience in Vancouver and DC United (2011-13), he was able to continue his career in Switzerland, at Young Boys and Lausanne.

Reto Ziegler, in Dallas between 2018 and 2020.

Reto Ziegler, in Dallas between 2018 and 2020.


And then there are all the others (see below). With very different fates. Some, like José Gonçalves or Scott Sutter, imposed themselves and made the experience last. Others, like Carlos Varela who only played six games for DC United, quickly came back. Even if the most outstanding Swiss footballer in MLS is still the very unknown Stefan Frei. The Seattle Sounders goaltender, now 35, is regularly mentioned as one of the best goalkeepers in the league. A challenge for Xherdan Shaqiri?

The 20 Swiss passed through the MLS

1. Alain Sutter: Dallas Burn (1997-98)

2. Raphael Wicky: Chivas Los Angeles (2008)

3. Stefan Frei: Toronto FC (2009-13), Seattle Sounders (since 2014)

4. Blaise Nkufo: Seattle Sounders (2010)

5. Carlos Varela: DC United (2010)

6. Davide Chiumiento: Vancouver Whitecaps (2010-12)

7. Alain Rochat: Vancouver Whitecaps (2011-13), DC United (2013)

8. Dennis Iapichino: Impact Montreal (2012-13), DC United (2013)

9. Jose Goncalves: New England Revolution (2013-16)

10. Jonah Elmer: Toronto F.C. (2013)

11. Innocent Emeghara: San Jose Earthquakes (2015-16)

12. Tranquillo Barnetta: Philadelphia Union (2015-16)

13. Adrian Winter: Orlando City (2015-16)

14. Jerome Thiesson: Minnesota United (2017-18)

15. Scott Sutter: Orlando City (2017-18), Vancouver Whitecaps (2019)

16. Blerim Dzemaili: Impact Montreal (2017)

17. Philippe Senderos: Houston Dynamo (2017-18)

18. Francois Affolter: San Jose Earthquakes (2017-19)

19. Reto Ziegler: Dallas F.C. (2018-20)

20. Leonardo Bertone: FC Cincinnati (2019)

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