GUADALAJARA, Mexico – The signings of Jose Villarreal, Rafael Baca and Michael Farfan to Liga MX side Cruz Azul – still unconfirmed by all three MLS clubs involved – may have taken fans on both sides of the border by surprise, but the Mexican club has been scouting the United States for some time.
The idea to bring players from MLS to the Liga MX came partly because of a friendship between Cruz Azul sporting director Agustín Manzo and former US international and current LA Galaxy assistant Curt Onalfo.
“I have a very good friendship with Curt Onalfo and he told me many times about the players,” Manzo said in a press conference in Mexico City on Saturday. “I’ve traveled to the United States to see them.”
Manzo went on to praise soccer in the United States and added that MLS teams’ performances in the CONCACAF Champions League are getting attention in Mexico.
“We’ve realized if we watch the CONCACAF Champions League that all the American and Mexican teams reach the final stages, they are teams that play very well,” stated the former forward.
Manzo also has a lot of confidence that Villarreal, Farfan and Baca will be fighting for first-team places at La Máquina, who reached the quarterfinal stage of the past Apertura championship playoff.
“Sincerely, they play very well,” he said. “You will love how these boys move and above all how they will challenge for a spot with a lot of dignity.”
The influence of other Americans in Mexico and the success Liga MX teams have had in recent years bringing in talent from the United States also seemed to play a crucial part in the deal, which is yet to be made official north of the border.
“We’ve seen in other teams, like Tijuana and Santos [Laguna], that there are players that come from the first division there and function very well in Mexico,” explained Manzo.
In the same press conference, all three of Cruz Azul’s new recruits made brief statements in Spanish, talking mainly about what type of players they are and the difficulties of winning a place in a team that has regularly challenged at the top of the Liga MX table in recent seasons.
“It’s not going to be easy here, I’ll have to win a place,” said Villarreal (pictured above). “With a lot of effort on the field, it can happen.”
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.