MLS: The rise of the Argentine DP looks set to continue in MLS
Of the 49 active Designated Players in Major League Soccer, 10 hail from one nation. Employing more players from this country than any other, you may think the nationality in question is American, but you’d be wrong. It is in fact Argentinian.
Far from a recent trend, of the 121 designated players in the league’s history, 21 have hailed from Argentina, more than any nation, including the United States, Mexico, and Brazil. Beginning with the likes of, Claudio Lopez, Marcelo Gallardo and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, the league today counts on talented Argentines such as: Federico Higuain, Mauro Diaz, and Juan Manuel Martinez.
“MLS clubs have decided that the best attacking players are from Argentina,” agent Michael Gorman tells Yahoo Sport UK. “And this trend has been pronounced in the past few years, based in part on the immediate success of Federico Higuain and Diego Valeri, who happened to square off in the 2015 MLS Cup. It is unsurprising that a number of clubs have tried to find similar players, especially attacking midfielders.”
Gorman’s theory is backed up by the fact 9 of the 10 Argentine DPs in the league are attackers. For many teams, the idea of owning a player like Diego Valeri is appealing. The former Porto and Lanus midfielder arrived in MLS without much fanfare, but has since enjoyed considerable success in Oregon, “With Valeri, we were looking for a specific type of player,” Portland Timbers’ technical director Gavin Wilkinson says. “That player was going to come from one of the South American countries because of the skill and the flair required.”
However, there is more to consider than just flying down to Argentina. For an MLS club to be successful, they must identify the player they want then them that his future is in Major League Soccer. Consequently, it begs the question, what is the appeal of MLS to these players?
“The first thing that called my attention was the country, and the organization,” FC Dallas midfielder Mauro Diaz explains. “I liked the tempo of the game here. I think it is a very good league, which is growing year after year, so that is good. I hope to continue growing and I’m very happy to be here, and to be part of this team.”
In some instances, financial factors can play a part in persuading a player to join the league. The Argentine economy has been far from stable in recent years. Bleeding over into the domestic soccer league, the Association of Argentine Footballers threatened to boycott the 2014 season if their wages remained unpaid. The issue reportedly came to a head after the players of Colon, without pay for 7 months, refused to turn out for a game against Atletico Rafaela.
“It was a complex and meticulous task because we had to check every single situation individually; club by club and member by member,” the AFA said after settling the dispute. “In the end every player got paid. For some players it took eight months to get their salaries. We are very satisfied with the result.”
With MLS able to pay their players on time, it offers a stability to players they cannot always achieve at home, “Why we ended up going to Argentina was just the resources that we had, the availability of Diego Valeri, and the economy was starting to go down in Argentina,” Wilkinson says. “It was a situation where Valeri also wanted out of Argentina. If he didn’t, I don’t think we’d have been able to get him.”
Although, it is not only the players that are willing to negotiate with MLS, but also the clubs, “I know for a fact, that the teams in Argentina are more willing to sell players because MLS clubs do what they say they’ll do,” Wilkinson explains. “Its up front business. I think Argentine clubs have had success dealing with MLS clubs and its always been honourable dealings. We were able to get Lucas Melano, amid interest from 5 teams in the US, because we could pay the transfer fee in one lump sum, and not stagger it.”
Creating something of a perfect storm, the aforementioned factors are not prevalent in neighbouring South American countries, “It is slightly more complex to sign Brazilian players because of their high domestic salaries,” Gorman says.
Furthermore, Argentine players also benefits from a solid reputation in MLS, “There had already been many Argentinians in MLS and we’d seen how they’d acclimated, which was by and large very good,” Wilkinson says of the club’s decision to sign Melano.
Mention of the 23-year-old also points to an emerging development in the acquisition of Argentine designated players. For the most part older, aged 28 or over, teams are now attempting to sign those with a long-term future. Typified by Melano, examples like Diaz and Matias Laba of the Vancouver Whitecaps, prove that teams can still acquire young talent from Argentina, “I think that year after year more players, more young players will arrive to the league,” Diaz said. “That’s what will make it more interesting.”
As for those that fail to find success in MLS, the risk to their club is minimal, “I think the Argentine player’s salary demands are also competitive relative to those around them,” Wilkinson says. “With the salary cap structure you have to maximise what you get from every player so they’re not overpriced. They’re also players that manage to maintain their value. They’re respected internally, meaning they can be moved internally or even sold overseas.”
An important part of the league’s identity, it seems the influx of Argentinian designated players to MLS has not reached its peak yet, and Wilkinson agrees: “There’s plenty of talent there, and if you look at Brazil & Argentina, at one stage they did account for 30-40% of all transfers out of market. I don’t think there’s anyone answer, but as far as MLS, it’s a good fit, and I think it will continue to be a good fit.”
Follow Kristan Heneage on Twitter: @Kheneage