Paging Mr. White (cont.)
Posted: Monday August 27, 2007 10:57AM; Updated: Monday August 27, 2007 10:57AM
Throughout his career, Blanco has had a host of reputations, from creative genius to immature crybaby, from tough-as-nails workhorse to villainous instigator. You never know what you're going to get with him: Do a search for "Cuauhtémoc Blanco" and "bailando" on YouTube and you'll see a clip of him ballroom dancing (and quite well at that) on Mexican television during a benefit for incapacitated children.
In fact, Blanco's unpredictable, often controversial nature is one reason the Fire wanted to sign him. As Fire president John Guppy says, "It's like the old saying: 'Love me, hate me, but don't ignore me.' I think in the past this league has been ignored by some of the Hispanic soccer fans in this country. He won't be ignored."
For his part, Blanco admits that he enjoys playing the villain for opposing fans. "Yes," he says, flashing a sinister grin. "Back in Mexico, the team I played for is the most hated. I really don't know how it is here, but I believe I'll defend this land to the death."
For all of their talent, Mexican stars don't have a history of prospering in MLS. Sánchez didn't play long enough in Dallas to make an impact, nor did Carlos Hermosillo with the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Jorge Campos drew fans in L.A., but he always seemed more committed to his Mexican-league team and even rode the bench during his final MLS days in Chicago. Luis Hernández was a high-priced failure with the Galaxy, and Ramón Ramírez, Juan Pablo García and Francisco Palencia never gained much traction with Chivas USA.
Blanco hopes to be different, and Guppy thinks he'll be motivated in part by his desire to show that a Mexican star can thrive in MLS, which is known for a faster-paced, more physical and less creative style than the Mexican league.
But Blanco and Osorio may be changing that notion as well. Even though MLS officials have long proclaimed their desire to reach Hispanic fans -- who comprise about 50 percent of the league's supporters -- Osorio is one of only two Latino coaches among the 13 in the league. (Colorado's Fernando Clavijo is the other.) As for players, MLS still doesn't have many as many Hispanics as you'd expect given their numbers in the U.S. population.
"MLS is not a very Hispanic-looking product at the moment," says David Downs, the head of Univision Sports, which began broadcasting MLS games again this year. "They are taking steps to work on that, but until more games are played with more of a Hispanic flair, I think they're not going to be the equal of the other soccer leagues."
Don't assume too much about Osorio, however: In addition to his South American background, he also spent five years as an assistant coach at Manchester City in the English Premier League, and he hopes his team mixes English-style long balls with a more Latin short-passing game. Ultimately, though, Osorio wants his team to resonate with Hispanic soccer fans.
"I hope that through my hard work and through Cuauhtémoc's talent and ability -- and that of other Hispanic players -- we can represent our community well," Osorio says. "The most important thing is that we can contribute to the progress of the MLS. It's now a global league that is watched by many European countries, and that's something that encourages us and drives us to produce on the pitch."
Blanco also believes his arrival can help extend to MLS the passion of the rivalry between the Mexican and U.S. national teams.
"The U.S. has grown a lot in soccer," he says. "It's beaten us several times. I think that in five or six years, this league will be very important. You'll find important players here."
The way things are going, that day might come even sooner. Blanco vows to try to recruit other Mexican stars to MLS, and he says he's in this project for the long haul.
"I'm going to study English," he says. When a U.S. reporter tells Blanco that he'll be speaking better English than the reporter's Spanish within a year, he shakes his head. "Nooo, in four or five months. I'm going to study, and I'll learn."
Rossana laughs. The reporter laughs. But Blanco is serious. If he's as competitive in this endeavor as he is on a soccer field, he'll be rattling off English in no time.
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