Saudi Arabia exports oil. China exports iron. France exports wine.
And Argentina exports playmakers.
MLS struck yet again for South America’s most abundant resource, the “Argentine enganche,” on Thursday when the Portland Timbers signed Diego Valeri to a Designated Player contract. He follows in a long line of exported Argentine maestros who’ve plied their trade in our league. Some – including Valeri’s now-former coach at Lanús – have lived up. Others have not.
Here’s a look at three of the most memorable:
Javier Morales, Real Salt Lake – Sure, he wears No. 11, but Morales is as pure a No. 10 as there is in the league. Even at age 33, he’s a top-tier chance creator, serves a deadly set piece and can get the job done by himself in the box when opportunity presents. His numbers – 20 goals and 43 assists in more than 10,000 regular-season minutes – are not overwhelming, but RSL have been consistently one of the league’s best teams over the past half-decade, and he’s a big reason why.
Morales may be entering the twilight of his career, but he still has enough gas in the tank for another go-around, and his ability to find space – for himself and others – between the lines in that left channel is unmatched.
Marcelo Gallardo, D.C. United – Gallardo didn’t quite reach “Riquelme” status during his playing days, but he was close. And he came to D.C. in 2008 as one of the league’s first Designated Players and the pressure to take the then-defending Supporters’ Shield champs back to MLS Cup glory.
It didn’t happen. Gallardo spent one injury-ravaged season in D.C., playing just 15 games and eventually returning to his home country for a third stint with River Plate, the club for which he’ll always be remembered and adored.
Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Columbus Crew – Schelotto, who’d butted heads with Gallardo in more than a few Superclasicos during his days with Boca Juniors, came to MLS with much less fanfare in 2007. And to be fair, he took a year to get used to the league.
Then, in 2008, he tore it apart.
Schelotto put together one of the most memorable seasons in MLS history that year, guiding the Crew to the Shield/Cup double, winning the regular season MVP, and capping it off with a masterful three-assist performance in the 3-1 final vs. the Red Bulls. He followed it up with another great season in 2009, and another Shield for the Crew.
He returned to Argentina in 2011, finishing out his playing career with Gimnasia La Plata. Currently he’s the manager at Lanús, and is likely trying to figure out how to best replace a certain Diego Valeri in the lineup this coming season.