Gregory Sica
Tuesday December 30th, 2008

When Guillermo Barros Schelotto arrived in Major League Soccer in 2007, most were unsure what kind of impact the Argentine legend would have on the league. Sure, he was a proven champion, having won a host of titles during 10 successful years at South American powerhouse Boca Juniors. But in less than two years in MLS, his achievements have surpassed all expectations.

Having claimed league MVP as he guided the Columbus Crew to their first MLS Cup in November, it's no surprise that rival teams are now pursuing his fellow countrymen. And what a wise move it is -- Argentine players are generally renowned as some of the finest in the world, and at bargain prices (because of Argentina's struggling economy), MLS clubs can't afford to miss out.

Conversely, Guille's accomplishments have been a major factor in making MLS an increasingly desirable destination for Argentines, particularly for those players reaching the end of their careers. Other determining influences include better wages, more security, less media spotlight and essentially the opportunity to play week-in, week-out.

With the January transfer window about to open, several high-profile Argentines are on the agenda of various clubs. Here is a list of the top 10 players who could join MLS teams in '09.

No introduction needed here. Verón continues to be one of the most intelligent midfielders in the game and played a key role as Estudiantes de La Plata reached the final of the Copa Sudamericana. Like a fine wine, the 33-year-old Verón seems to get better with age. If an MLS club manages to capture him, it will be a huge purchase (arguably one of the most significant in league history).

D.C. United had been tracking Verón for months, but last year he backed out of a lucrative Designated Player deal to sign with the four-time MLS Cup champs at the last minute. Then only last October there were reports that Red Bull New York was considering a similar offer.

But La Brujita is devoted to his beloved Estudiantes, and despite speculation linking him with a move to MLS, his intention is to participate in the '09 Copa Libertadores with the club. In June, however, the former Manchester United, Chelsea and Inter Milan superstar will be open to offers. MLS clubs may have to beat Brazilian giants Corinthians (Ronaldo's new club) and Santos to his signature, however: Verón recently has admitted he would be tempted by a move to Brazil.

Likelihood: Low (for now)

If Palermo joins MLS in '09, one thing seems likely: He'll instantly be among the league's scoring leaders. With 194 goals, the Boca Juniors icon is the most prolific scorer in the history of the Argentine superclub, and his future could well be in MLS. He may be 35, but his skills as a poacher and aerial target have shown few signs of decline.

Palermo, who for several years played alongside Barros Schelotto in Boca's intimidating attack, has said he would like to join Guille in Columbus, and apparently there has been contact between both clubs. Now is the perfect time for such a move. El Loco is coming off a serious knee injury and may not be guaranteed a first-team place at Boca next season thanks to the emergence of several young new stars. Columbus would be the ideal setting for Palermo, as he'd be able to relive his once amazing partnership with Guillermo.

Likelihood: High

MLS clubs have to act fast, because signing Ortega would be an absolute bargain. Arguably the best close dribbler of his generation, Ortega may be 34, but he hasn't lost any of his magic. A few months ago, FC Dallas made a pitch, but the midfielder opted to remain in Argentina.

El Burrito played a key role as River Plate lifted the '08 Clausura Championship, but immediately after that triumph, he was loaned out to second-division club Independiente Rivadavia of Mendoza in order to cure his worsening alcohol addiction (which has affected his performance in recent years).

Forget Argentina -- the best possible rehabilitation environment for Ortega is the U.S. In MLS, he'd be out of the spotlight and provided with all the necessary support to get back on track. A player of his undisputed quality can't afford to be playing in second-tier competition. The good news for interested MLS clubs is that Ortega probably won't figure into new River boss Néstor Gorosito's plans next year. MLS can't afford to miss out on this rare opportunity.

Likelihood: Medium

The former Inter Milan and Valencia winger has been one of Rosario Central's only bright spots since returning to the club in '06 after 10 successful years in Europe. Despite its extensive struggles, Rosario has relied heavily on the experience of its captain. But after another poor season where it finished second to last with only four wins in 19 matches, the club last week released him for good.

MLS has a great opportunity at snapping up a former Argentine international with the ability to lead a team to success. Kily's vast experience and leadership skills could prove vital for most MLS clubs. If he's offered a decent contract, there's a great chance he'd accept it.

Likelihood: High

By signing Sand, MLS would be investing in one of the most underrated strikers in Argentine league history. Sand is a class act, and finished as the leading scorer of the '08 Apertura Championship with 15 goals. At 28, he's in his prime, and it's somewhat of a surprise that he still plays for a small club like Lanús. Sand is big-league material, and he'd be a huge buy for any MLS club.

Apart from a brief stint in Brazil with Vitória in '01, Sand has played his entire career in his homeland with six different clubs. Last week Lanús rejected an offer for the player from an unidentified club, rumored to be from Italy. Apparently the sum was too small. No matter the asking price, Sand would be a valuable investment. Need goals? Buy Sand.

Likelihood: Low

The Newell's Old Boys captain won everything with Boca at the international level: the Copa Libertadores, the Copa Sudamericana, the Intercontinental Cup and the South American Super Cup. After brief unsuccessful stints in Spain and Brazil, he returned to Argentina, and since then has been an instrumental player for Newell's. MLS isn't only in need of attackers, but high-quality defenders as well. Schiavi is a proven leader and is also strong in the air and secure on the ground. He'd be interested in trying his luck abroad for the final time, and MLS is definitely an alternative.

Likelihood: High

Although highly undisciplined both on and off the field (he's constantly in and out of relationships with some of Argentina's top models), Fabbiani is one of the greatest talents to have emerged from Argentina in recent years. He's a chubby yet exciting forward with lots of personality, but that often plays to his disadvantage.

The unsettled attacker, who has played in Chile, Israel and Romania, declared earlier in the week that he hasn't been paid since joining Newell's earlier in the year, and he has no choice but to part ways with the club. With a good offer, he'd be more than happy to try his luck in MLS. But whichever club wants to sign him has to be prepared to dish out large sums of cash, because El Ogro has attracted interest from Spain, Italy and Mexico, as well as that from two top clubs (River Plate and Independiente) from his homeland. A DP deal could be the only way to lure him to the U.S., and an MLS club isn't likely to dish out that kind of money.

Likelihood: Low

There has been talk that Riquelme might be keen on a move to MLS in the future. While that might be the case in three or four years, right now it's impossible. The Argentine international is happy at Boca and could well end his career there. He was offered deals by AC Milan and Atlético Madrid this past year, but as was expected, he rejected them both.

In April it was reported in Argentina that an unidentified MLS club had offered Boca $15 million for Riquelme's services. But he affirmed that he has no intention of leaving Boca, no matter the price. If he eventually moves to MLS, the league will have added one of the best playmakers in the history of the game. A player of Riquelme's quality could make a greater impact on the league than someone like Barros Schelotto.

Likelihood: Very Low

Perhaps the best right back in Argentina, Ibarra is not only a great motivator, but whenever he moves forward to the attack, he unleashes a venomous drive. Like Palermo, Schiavi and Riquelme, Ibarra has won every possible title in South American club soccer with a total of 12 trophies. Despite his age, the 34-year-old Ibarra was in inspired form with Boca this past year as the club claimed the Apertura Championship. In recent months, there has been talk linking him with a possible MLS move, and if presented with a tempting offer, Ibarra would make a smooth transition. Like Guille when he joined Columbus, Ibarra is looking for a relaxed environment to bring an end to a glorious career.

Likelihood: Medium

Like Ortega, the former River Plate captain will be released from the club because he doesn't fit into the plans of Gorosito. The 34-year-old Tuzzio has consistently been one of the best defenders in the Argentine First Division, and his vast experience could be valuable to any MLS club. Apparently he has been offered a contract by Colón de Santa Fe, but the defender has yet to make up his mind. Formerly of San Lorenzo, Olympique Marseille and Real Mallorca, Tuzzio would be a great buy. He is a solid defender who rarely makes mistakes, and certainly has at least a couple more years of top level soccer ahead of him.

Likelihood: High

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