Three for Thursday: South Americans who can star in MLS
It's no secret that I've harbored a longstanding love for South American soccer. There is just something intoxicating about the combination of passion, skill and drama that seems to pervade the game there, and I'm a sucker for it. That, and the fact that the continent has shipped some simply exhilarating talent to MLS, from the old days of Marco Etcheverry to today's stars like Fredy Montero and David Ferreira.
And the pipeline doesn't look set to stop flowing either. Argentine-Ecuadorian striker Claudio Bieler was unveiled Tuesday as Sporting KC's newest Designated Player, while the Colorado Rapids appear in line to sign Ecuador international defender Diego Calderón.
So what other South American internationals might make for a good fit in MLS? Well, there are plenty. There are plenty of players from all over the continent that could certainly add something to the league, and three in particular that could really make for some interesting viewing.
Humberto Suazo (Monterrey/Chile)
A player that MLS (and especially Real Salt Lake) fans should be familiar with already. The barrel-chested, bald-headed Chilean forward has not only lit up the Mexican league for 84 goals in four-and-a-half years there, but he's been the driving force behind two consecutive CONCACAF Champions League wins for Los Rayados and was the top goalscorer in 2010 World Cup qualifying in South America.
Of course, there are some question marks, namely concerning fitness. He has suffered some slow starts to seasons and can be susceptible to minor knocks, though it's worth noting that he has logged at least 2,000 minutes in every season he's played since his arrival in Monterrey.
The biggest obstacle, however, could be money. He is on a healthy contract at Monterrey and would certainly command Designated Player status in MLS. However, his occasional problems with the Monterrey front office and recognition within US soccer circles could make him an attractive target to a front office looking to dish out a little cash for a top-end striker who can do more than just score.
Macnelly Torres (Atlético Nacional/Colombia)
Torres is a name that may be a little less familiar to MLS fans, but hard to escape if you follow the South American game.
An attacking midfielder, the 28-year-old could bring a variety of skills to an MLS team, though his passing ability and touch stand out above the rest. In his advanced position, Torres can hurt defenses in any number of ways, whether splitting them with a smart pass or finishing off moves himself.
Apart from a two-and-a-half year stint with Chilean powerhouse Colo Colo and a half-season at San Luis in Mexico, he has never played outside Colombia, but don't mistake that for a lack of pedigree. Torres has accumulated two goals in 24 appearances for the Colombian national team, won five league titles in Chile and Colombia, and put in impressive displays in the Copa Libertadores.
His lack of strength and balance present potential drawbacks, but any team looking for a mobile playmaker would be wise to take a look at Torres, who could certainly add to his country's much-lauded representation in the league.
Mario Yepes (AC Milan/Colombia)
Yes, Yepes will be 37 in January. But he has shown that he can perform at high levels even at the back end of his career. Heck, he didn't even join Milan until he was 34 years old, and though he was in and out of the starting lineup in his first two years, he has turned back the clock with his performances in defense and looks set to log his most appearances yet in a red-and-black uniform.
One would have to look no further than Arne Friedrich's effect on Austin Berry and the Chicago Fire to see the kind of impact Yepes could have in MLS. An experienced hand at the club an international level, the Colombian boasts an excellent pedigree, a good ability to read the game and a no-nonsense style of defending that would be suited to MLS and could rub off on the swathes of young, American central defenders in the league. (A contract that expires at the end of June doesn't hurt, either.)