MLS' second wave of Argentines
A survivor of many passionate, sometimes fierce, battles in league and cup matches for Boca Juniors,
He's also tormented MLS defenses numerous times with precise chips, incisive through balls and deadly set plays and won midfield duels with fierce tackles. By moving thousands of miles north to trade Boca blue-and-yellow for Middle America black-and-gold, Schelotto left behind more than a decade of passion and glory to toil in a league still occasionally referred to as "MSL," even in a wildly more visible era marked by the arrival of
"Every day it's better, but it's very different with Argentina," says Schelotto, who left Boca last summer to sign with MLS and has a rudimentary command of English. "But I like the soccer, I like the city, I like the people, I am very good here."
He has brought guile and flair to America's "Hardest Working Team," which itself symbolizes a gritty persona that the league is trying to shed, layer by layer, by importing larger numbers of foreign players, most of them South American, and many of those Argentine.
Steeped in toughness and schooled in skill, exported by the hundreds to dozens of countries and many of the world's biggest clubs, Argentine players possess the qualities that are vital to flourish in foreign lands.
"He's an aggressive game player," Columbus right back
Yet to be determined is if
But the track record of Argentines leaving home is a good one, partly because they know the value of landing in the right spot and squaring away the personal side of a move.
"I try to find the best place where I want to be, and I've managed to do that everywhere I go," says López, whose impressive résumé lists Racing in his native country and Valencia and Lazio as well as Club América in Mexico. "As far as picking a favorite, I don't have a favorite, because I tend to find a place where I can be comfortable and adapt easily. Besides family, I like to fish, I like to hunt, and hang out with friends and eating out. That's always fun."
Argentines first came to MLS in its early years but other South Americans, such as
"The thing that I say about him is there's no one better in the league at the weight of the pass of a ball," says Hejduk of Schelotto. "You notice it in practice, being with him every day. There's no one that does it better since I've been in the league. The closest guys, maybe, Valderrama or Etcheverry. He's right up there with them for sure."
A rather dreary procession of Argentine players passed through MLS before Gómez arrived:
"I think in a lot of different leagues, the soccer has been kind of evolving into this style of play we're used to seeing here, a lot more running and defending," says Gallardo, blessed with finesse he has honed during stints with River Plate, Monaco and Paris St. Germain.
"I think it's going to continue to evolve to a place where running and defending can go together with a more attacking and more thinking mentality, a physical and tactical style," continues Gallardo. "I think it's going to be really good for soccer to evolve into that, where you can combine both aspects and give the fans a really good show."
D.C. fans, though, weren't much impressed by the Gallardo Show during the first few months of the season. The team had shuttled Gómez off to Colorado rather than pay him a maximum salary and signed Gallardo as a Designated Player at a salary of $1.9 million. Through April, May and June, Gallardo didn't come close to making the same impact as fellow DPs Beckham and
"I knew it wasn't going to be easy for him," says Moreno, who went through his own growing pains after arriving from English club Middlesbrough at age 23 in the middle of the 1997 season and is the league's all-time leading scorer.
"There are a lot of things you have to adapt to," Moreno explains. "He's settled down with a house and his kids are going to school, so I think with that part of it everything is OK. He's done a good job to do whatever the coach has been asking. He's a good guy to have around in the locker room and with all his experience hopefully we get a championship."
MLS may lack the majestic stadiums and elegant play found in Italy, France, Spain, England, Germany and Portugal, and the fervent support endemic to many countries, but enjoying a quiet life away from soccer is something many foreign pros are experiencing for the first time.
"We immediately took a liking to what we saw and we've adjusted fairly well," says Marinelli, who came to MLS as a discovery player in April '07, after stints in England, Italy and Portugal as well as his native land. "It's a really quiet way of living. We saw that the team was going in the right direction and we started doing things that everybody does. My daughter started going to school here recently, and we just hang out like everybody else, watch TV, especially the Argentine channels."
Being hounded by adoring fans, stalked by paparazzi or abused by disgruntled supporters is more than inconvenience; it can be annoying and draining and with children in tow, frightening. A smashed car window isn't unheard of.
"Boca is the better life in Argentina and it is very beautiful playing for Boca," says Schelotto, "but life in Buenos Aires is crazy. Here I am relaxed, take it easy. But Boca and football in Argentina is very fanatical. Here is very good for me and my family, too."
López, also a DP at big money ($820,000 guaranteed), scored just three goals in his first 11 games as Kansas City fell to last place in the Eastern Conference. Those three goals tied him for the team lead, but so anemic has been the Wizards attack that his co-leader was defender
"I started following MLS a few years ago and there were a couple of reasons," says López. "When I was with [Club] America, I had the chance to come up and play games here, and it got my attention even more, because I really got to see for myself the style of soccer and people's attitudes. What caught my eye most was the lifestyle of the U.S. That interested me in coming in this direction."
López and Marinelli usually rush off after training to pick up their children from day care. Gallardo has mastered, somewhat, driving from his home in McLean, Va., through Washington, D.C., and its bewildering array of streets intersecting at all angles. His oldest son,
"I haven't really gotten lost yet," says Gallardo, whose wife,
Gallardo's own father voraciously followed many sports, not just soccer, and Gallardo lives much the same, somewhat like an American who can flip TV channels between sports depending on his mood and what's on.
"Ever since I was young, I've always watched every kind of sports," he says. "One of my favorites is watching the NBA, and of course
"My father used to record boxing matches and we would watch them together all the time. He was a huge, huge fan of
If there's a common thread to the new breed of MLS Argentines, in addition to talent, it may be acclimation, not just to a new team and a new league, but a new culture, a new lifestyle.
"Speaking for Argentineans, it's definitely our adaptability that brings us to other countries," says Marinelli. "There are well-known players from Brazil and Paraguay and other countries who are bred to play this game in a certain way. If you love the game, you want to adapt so you can play at your best. We focus on our technique, and we are tough, and we are definitely known around the world for that."