From Tata Martino to Gonzalo Higuain’s brother, Argentina continues to be a key country for MLS as the league looks to South America for inspiration
Perhaps it is Gerardo Martino’s Tatalanta that has piqued the interest of the Argentine football fan but this attention is dwarfed in comparison with the eye now being cast in the opposite direction, towards Argentina’s Primera Division, as a rich hunting ground for MLS clubs.
Argentina is the greatest exporter of footballers in the world and while there were examples like Marcelo Herrera, Beto Naveda or Diego Soñora in the 1990s, they were few and far between. Football in the United States today is dramatically different, so too in Argentina, but in 2017, Argentinians are now the third most represented nationality in the league behind Americans and Canadians.
Excluding those two, given they have teams in the league, Argentinians make up almost 9% of the foreign players in MLS. This season there are 24 plying their trade and over half of the clubs have at least one Argentinian in their roster.
As the money in football has increased so too have the scouting networks from around the world and while there was a time when Boca Juniors and River Plate were the primary exporters to Europe for big money, clubs from all corners of the globe now look to get even more value for their cash.
Not only does Argentina produce a lot of very talented footballers but many of its clubs are broke and need to sell to balance the books. Between willing clubs, and players who in many cases are eager to simply earn more money and live in a more comfortable and secure environment, Argentina can be an easy place to do business.
Boca Juniors manager Guillermo Barros Schelotto still speaks fondly about his spell with Columbus Crew and in many ways paved the way for a number of MLS’ current Argentinians.
What is also notable is just how many Argentines that arrive in the United States are designated players. The likes of Barros Schelotto, Marcelo Gallardo and Claudio Lopez were the blueprint for bringing attacking talent from Argentina and the success more recently of even less heralded players like Federico Higuain have only increased the flow.
Brother of Argentina international Gonzalo, Federico’s career had been transitory until he arrived at Columbus Crew in 2012 but he proved an immediate hit and now more and more MLS clubs look to Argentina for their offensive impetus.
So, for the 2017 season who are the Argentinos to look out for?
Blanco arrives as the 99th Argentinian to play in the MLS and is paired with another of the most important in recent times, Diego Valeri at Portland Timbers. The 28-year-old’s European experience may not have been overwhelmingly positive but the tricky playmaker arrives in his prime after displaying his talents for San Lorenzo over the past year.
San Lorenzo and Boca Juniors were desperate to bring Piatti back before the season began but his value in Montreal is too high. A 2016 MLS all-star, the 32-year-old took the Impact within a hair of the CONCACAF Champions League and his elegant ball playing will be evident once more this season.
New York City FC
As an under-20 World Cup winner alongside strike partner Sergio Aguero, Maxi Moralez was destined for greatness but while Kun’s stock kept rising, Enano’s European experience was limited to a brief spell with FC Moscow. Perhaps not quite at the level required for superstardom, the 30-year-old has since proved his worth in Mexico and should excite as NYCFC’s designated player.
While most of the Argentinians coming to MLS are nearing the latter stages of their careers, DC United paid Boca Juniors a club-record fee for 22-year-old Luciano Acosta. The pint-sized playmaker never quite made his mark in Argentina but with twelve assists during his first year in the United States, his technique and creativity are undeniable.
FC Dallas boast four Argentinians among their ranks but attacking midfielder Mauro Diaz is the pick of the bunch. A serious Achilles injury ended his 2016 season early but it didn’t prevent the former River Plate player being named in the MLS best XI. With a direct hand in eighteen goals last season, Dallas will be without Diaz until around June but his return in time for a playoff push could be a game changer.