Chicho Arango is a lot of things. He’s moving to a different country with his family. He’s scoring goals. He’s meeting new teammates. He’s assisting those players.
Most importantly? Chicho Arango is happy.
“I think that’s the most important thing for a soccer player: To be happy, to be in your element, to work without worries, to put in an effort,” Arango told MLSsoccer.com. “I think the rest is all extra.”
As recently as last November, Arango was starting matches for LAFC, including the 2022 MLS Cup Final, but he departed for Liga MX squad Pachuca in February. Not long after that, he made a surprise return to MLS in mid-June, signing with Real Salt Lake as a Designated Player, with RSL reportedly spending a club-record fee to bring last year's MLS Cup champion back to the league.
Already the investment looks to be paying dividends, with Arango scoring in his first game back and assisting on goals in each of the following two games. He added another tally as RSL topped the Seattle Sounders in Leagues Cup play. Now, ahead of Thursday’s Leagues Cup Round-of-32 contest against Club León (10:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass, FS1, UniMás), Arango says he’s feeling comfortable with his new club and believes he can keep contributing.
“I feel super good. The coaching staff and teammates have given me a really, really important confidence, they’ve let me know they believe in me and that helps you support the team and give your all in every game,” he said. “With that, the goals and assists have come.”
If it sounds like Arango is putting a premium on his personal happiness, that’s because the 28-year-old feels he’s found success by “focusing on” himself and “not focusing as much on external things."
He continued: "Working and consciously putting in an effort for your future, your career, I think the respect you have for the profession, training well, preparing well has been fundamental to today be able to have these such positive years."
"We agree on a future"
The years have certainly been positive. Arango scored 14 goals in 17 matches with LAFC after arriving in the summer of 2021 from Millonarios in his native Colombia. He followed that up with 16 goals in the 2022 campaign that resulted in LAFC winning the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup, with Arango scoring in each of the team’s first two Audi MLS Cup Playoff games.
He then started slow at Pachuca, something he attributed to the coaching staff believing he needed a preseason of sorts before handing him his first start in April. Yet, Tuzos fans were hopeful he’d be part of the team’s Leagues Cup run and Apertura campaign after he scored in each of the final five games of their 2023 Clausura.
Instead, he was off to RSL, intrigued not only by a return to MLS, but by being a focal point for a team with the ability to contend for MLS Cup – after several previous seasons of teaming with other big-name attackers.
“When I learned of Salt Lake’s interest, I immediately had an interest awakened in me to return, mostly because the plans the directors have are clear,” he said. “We agree on a future when it comes to the goals the club wants. I was interested because of that and came here to work hard, to bring something to the team on and off the field. I think it was one of the motivations to be here, and, obviously, I was really interested when I realized Salt Lake wanted me.”
The quest for trophies
Beyond Arango's now-secured signature, the other thing Salt Lake want is a trophy. Still alive in the US Open Cup (where they'll play a semifinal vs. Houston Dynamo FC on Aug. 23) and Leagues Cup, all while sitting third in the Western Conference with just one loss – last week to Monterrey – since May, Arango hopes to be the missing piece whose offensive contributions push RSL to their first piece of hardware since 2009.
To do that, he’ll have to help push RSL past the team he left just months ago. Of his LAFC exit, Arango said “sometimes you don’t have everything within your control,” and noted he’ll always have positive feelings in his heart when he thinks of the Black & Gold. Those feelings may be briefly suspended when he meets the Western Conference rival, but, even so, he insists he won’t approach the games with any sort of bitterness or rancor.
“I don’t see it as revenge or anything like that, but I do take it on with a positive energy, a different vibe to want to have a fantastic game in front of people who love me,” he said, adding if RSL cross with Pachuca in Leagues Cup he’d look to enjoy that game in the same way.
Whether or not Arango has to make the decision to celebrate after scoring against a former team, or if he's able to lift a trophy with RSL, the forward believes he's right where he needs to be: Leading the line in Utah and doing it with a smile on his face.
"I think God put me on the right path in the right teams to be able to shine, and hopefully it brings many more goals and many more assists and more wins," Arango said. "I’m really happy. My family is really happy. I’m happy with my work. That’s the important thing”