Cristian Maidana has much to prove as he enters the 2016 MLS season with his second MLS team, and ninth club in 10 years.
Joining the Houston Dynamo via an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Union, the Argentine brings a deft touch, top-class passing vision and an MLS-leading assists rate in 2015, all of which the Dynamo were sorely missing last season.
Before you see Maidana don the Dynamo's orange jersey for the first time, get to know the man they call ‘Chaco.’
About that nickname...
“Chaco is a province in Argentina and it’s where I was born so that’s where it comes from,” Maidana told MLSsoccer.com. “There’s a lot of players in Argentina and outside of it that use the nickname ‘Chaco.’ It doesn’t bother me – on the contrary I’m glad because it’s paying homage to my province.”
His mom had a huge influence on his soccer career
“When I was little my mom would always take me to the local town’s soccer games. She was the one who encouraged me to play soccer and she took me everywhere. I still remember going to those games as if it was today. I’ll never forget that memory. She was the one who who helped me get to where I am today.”
He’s played in Russia, Spain, Argentina, Mexico and now the US. Why so many teams?
“In Russia, life was hard. I didn’t play much. I did get to play in the [UEFA] Champions League and [UEFA] Cup [with Spartak Moscow, pictured below] and those tournaments help you grow as a player. From there I went to Spain and the team that I went to [Recreativo de Huelva] was already stocked and loaded. Obviously when you don’t play, the team isn’t going to re-sign you. Then I enjoyed some good soccer while playing in the Argentinian top [flight], but it was going to be difficult to stay since I had come from playing in Europe and because of the salary. That’s why I didn’t stay there.
“I then played with a team from Chile’s second division [CSD Rangers] and I did well. I helped the team earned promotion to the first division. I then moved to Mexico’s top league, which I thought was a good move for me, but after that season [with Atlante] my contract wasn’t renewed. I returned to Argentina but it didn’t go so well. I had signed with a team but the head coach was replaced and the new one didn’t need me. So I stayed there for six months before the opportunity to come to Philadelphia came. I think I played to the best of my abilities in Philadelphia. I had two very good years for the club and we played two US Open Cup finals. I had never played a final before, so that was an accomplishment.”
With all that traveling, there were always new foods to try, but Maidana isn't the adventurous type
“Truthfully, I don’t like to try new foods that I don’t know. I always try to eat Argentinian food and I love my wife’s cooking. I had never tried a paella and when I got to Spain, they made me try it, and it was good. But I’m not one to try out new foods.”
But there is one distant cuisine that he craves constantly...
“The food I miss is authentic Argentinian barbecue. Honestly, the barbecue my dad and family make is one thing I will always miss. But for now, I enjoy my wife’s cooking throughout the year, and next vacation I’ll travel down to Argentina and eat all the food I don’t get to eat year-round.”
Wherever Maidana's soccer career takes him, his family is right there with him
“My wife and three kids are so important to me. They’ve been able to adapt to everything. At one point I was ashamed because my oldest daughter talked to me about the issue of having to move from one place to the next and not being able to stay in the same school for six months or a year. They are very brave for me.”
All that traveling may have finally landed them a stable home in Houston
“Houston is a great city. Over the issue of school they have a lot of classmates that speak Spanish and they have great teachers. Truthfully, Houston is the [right] place for me to continue my career. I think this year is going to be really good for me and I want to stay in Houston. After this season I have one year left and my idea, if possible, is that I would love to finish my career in Houston and make this city my permanent home.”
What he needs to do to make an impact as Houston's No. 10
“My goal is to keep doing what I did last year and get assists. We have some great forwards here and the coach talks to me about repeating what I did last year, which I think was a very good year for me. Also to try and convert more scoring opportunities, but I’m not selfish at any one moment: I prefer to get assists. I want to replicate my performance from last year and hopefully it will help the club.”
He’s a self-proclaimed huge fan of Adam Sandler movies
“The first movie I saw with Adam Sandler was with my wife when we first started dating. She recommended “50 First Dates” and I saw it and I really enjoyed it. I like a lot of actors but I love comedy, and Sandler is a phenomenon in that aspect.”
'Chaco' was a troublemaker growing up – he used to climb the roofs of his neighborhood as a child
When asked why he used to climb, he said laughing, “por joder,’ which loosely translates to “for the hell of it.”
“Honestly, we didn’t have much to do all day, so we used to climb the neighbors' houses and their mango trees. Its things that I did when I was little. I was about 10 years old. My dad, mom and all my uncles would tell me that I was a really terrible kid, but I’ve changed a lot since then.”
After a long day on the job, Maidana wants nothing more than to see his family and drink mate
“After a long day I love to just be in my house. As soon as a game or practice is over I want to go home right away and see my kids. The first thing we drink is mate, we’re always drinking mate. It’s always with us.” (Mate is a traditional South American beverage, a caffeine-infused tea made of the Yerba Mate plant.)
Even when Maidana is home, soccer is on his mind
He doesn’t partake in binge watching shows and prefers to watch sports: “I’m always watching Fox Sports, Fox Soccer and Argentinian soccer games. I hardly watch anything that isn’t sports.”