Foreign exchange program
A flood of newcomers suggests MLS made right move
Posted: Tuesday April 17, 2007 12:08PM; Updated: Wednesday April 18, 2007 1:19PM
In terms of international star power, it's been a dark few years in Major League Soccer. Thank you, Lothar Matthäus.
The German legend came to New York in 2000, played 16 games and proved to be a lazy and useless waste of money. Even though he was 38 when he first arrived, he was hyped to be the Messiah and pampered by the MetroStars brass like he had just won American Idol. But it turned out he was here on vacation. He might've actually played better in flip-flops.
Before Matthäus, there had been a steady stream of marquee players flooding into MLS: Carlos Valderrama, Marco Etcheverry, Roberto Donadoni, Peter Nowak, Carlos Hermosillo, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Hernández, Jorge Campos.
Despite their successes, the Matthäus misadventure soured MLS owners on spending big money for a little star power, choosing to go with cheaper, younger players such as Paul Dalglish and Roberto Mina. Fine players, but not the kind to lure TomKat out to the Home Depot Center.
But things changed this off-season. Teams, finally, have gone out, put their money where their soccer-specific stadiums are and turned on the marquee's lights.
It all starts with David Beckham, obviously. The rule that allows teams to pay seven figures is named for him, after all. Without him, the current carnival of excitement around MLS would be as exciting as a bus ride to Secaucus. With him, MLS is firmly on the international scene.
More importantly, Beckham and his fellow designated players will improve the play on the field, because even if some of these guys are on their last quarter-tank, they're still better than whomever they are replacing.
The biggest name after Beckham is Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who has signed with the Chicago Fire for a reported $2 million a year. I wrote a little bit about him a few weeks ago, basically describing how the 34-year-old Mexican striker is a touch point in MLS circles, a Bill Laimbeer type: You either love him or hate him.
I love him. He's not the same swashbuckling hombre he was at the 2002 World Cup, but he will still make a few MLS defenders look like buffoons. And he might be the kind of pain-in-the-rear-end striker that Chicago has lacked for the past few years.
The current crop of big names has a decidedly Latino feel, which is also nice. The Mexican and South American style -- slower, more creative and open-minded than the European brand -- will lend some much-needed hot-blooded flair to the U.S. game, which for too long has thrived on hard work, speed and physicality. MLS currently resembles the English league, circa 1972. The Latino players that are making their way here should be able to harness that energy and infuse it with something special.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto is the perfect example of this. The mad-skilled Argentine midfielder has signed a two-year deal with the Columbus Crew -- as first reported by my SI.com colleague Gregory Sica -- and he should create plenty of chances for strikers Jason Garey and Andy Herron, while mentoring Eddie Gaven.
With 10 years at Boca Juniors, Barros Schelotto also has a winner's pedigree: six Argentine championships and three Copa Libertadores titles.
A Question Worth Asking: Has anyone warned him that Columbus isn't quite Buenos Aires?
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