Paging Mr. White
Mexico's Blanco looks to bring passion, Fire to MLS
Posted: Monday August 27, 2007 10:57AM; Updated: Monday August 27, 2007 10:57AM
Reprinted from SI Latino
The flight from Mexico City had left him tired and bleary-eyed, but that didn't stop Cuauhtémoc Blanco from flashing a million-dollar smile as he and his six-person entourage -- including his stunning fiancée, Rossana Nájera, a popular telenovela star -- entered a plush conference room at Toyota Park, on the outskirts of Chicago, on a late-July afternoon.
Only a few minutes later, Blanco would be introduced as the newest member of the Chicago Fire, and the 21st player to move from Mexico's Primera División to Major League Soccer. Los Angeles may have David Beckham, but it's possible that Blanco will have an even bigger impact on MLS, which is increasing its star power more than ever this season.
"This is a great opportunity, and I'm happy because there are many Mexicans here in Chicago," says Blanco, speaking in a soft voice that belies his reputation for volatility. "The most important thing is to play well and win over the public."
That last task shouldn't be a problem in his new home. How popular is Blanco in Chicago? Consider: More than 6,000 fans (most of them Mexicans and Mexican-Americans) showed up at Toyota Park in April for the announcement that Blanco had signed with the Fire.
"It really surprised me," Blanco says. "I didn't expect it, because I'd signed only the day before, so it was really fast."
Chicago is paying Blanco $2.7 million a year for several reasons, not least because the 34-year-old forward returned to top form in recent months, excelling for both América and the Mexican national team.
After his feud with former national team coach Ricardo La Volpe kept him off Mexico's 2006 World Cup team, Blanco returned under Hugo Sánchez this year and played a central role in this summer's CONCACAF Gold Cup and the Copa América. And in his debut with the Fire (a 1-1 exhibition tie against Scotland's Celtic FC on July 22), it took Blanco only 30 minutes to score his first goal.
"There are no questions about Cuauhtémoc's ability and his talent," says Juan Carlos Osorio, who became the Fire's coach in early July. "He will be very important for us, especially in the attacking third, where we have lacked some creativity."
Indeed, the Fire were lacking a lot of things when Blanco joined the team. They had won only one of their previous 12 games while slipping into last place in the Eastern Conference. Coach Dave Sarachan was fired in June and replaced by Osorio, who left his position coaching Millonarios in his native Colombia. Yet both Osorio and Blanco warned that the Mexican star shouldn't be viewed as a lone savior for the Fire.
"I think we all have to contribute to the team," Blanco explained just an hour before participating in his first training session with his new teammates. "I know the team is going through a bad patch, but I think if we come together in solidarity, we can raise the team."