It may have taken some adjusting, but after three full seasons in Major League Soccer, Maximiliano Urruti has found his comfort zone – and it shows.
The Argentine attacker has blossomed in his short time at FC Dallas, becoming an indispensable part of one of the league's most dominant sides. His six goals in seven matches in 2017 have him tied for third most in the league – and he has reached that mark playing fewer matches than most of his competition.
But that success didn't come easy. Urruti faced daunting challenges from the moment he entered the league – from his abrupt trade to Portland to the death of his beloved grandfather. Through it all, he relied on the early lessons of his life, pushing past adversity through hard work to find success and happiness, both personally and professionally.
MLSsoccer.com caught up with Urruti this week to talk about his career journey, his family and plenty more, offering a unique window into one of the more colorful personalities in the league:
MLSsoccer: Tell us a bit about where you are from.
Urruti: I am from Rosario [Argentina]. I have all my family there. At a young age, I left Rosario because my father was a footballer [Juan Jose Urruti]. I lived everywhere. We lived in Buenos Aires, and then I came back to Rosario where I began to play for Newell's [Old Boys] and from there I debuted in the Argentine first division. I am always thankful for that experience.
MLSsoccer: Argentines are known for loving their soccer. What was your household like?
Urruti: There are four of us. I am a Newell's fan. My sister is a River Plate fan. My mother roots for San Lorenzo and my father loves Rosario Central, so you can imagine – when the Newell's vs. Rosario Central clasico is on, we go at it pretty hard.
MLSsoccer: To be a fly on the wall for those matchdays, huh?
Urruti: It's crazy – football crazy. We love the game and never miss a match.
MLSsoccer: Was your father an inspiration for you to play soccer?
Urruti: He really helped me a lot and I am really grateful to him. Since I was a kid, he would have me train with him, with the first team of an Argentine second division side. He would have me train with him while my friends were in school. I would go to school and then do double training sessions with him afterwards. He would always tell me 'You have to train to make it – and honestly, it was worth it.
MLSsoccer: Where did your father coach?
Urruti: He was with Club 9 de Julio.
MLSsoccer: Quite the footballing family!
Urruti: Yes, thankfully we are. And he would always push the sport on me since I was a little child. And today, I am absolutely grateful for every opportunity he gave me.
MLSsoccer: What inspired you to be a footballer?
Urruti: I've always loved football. Since I was a child, I played four years of futsal, then I went on to the larger pitches. I always loved the game, but never thought about what the game could do for me or what heights I could reach.
I always wanted to just make it, maintain my position and make a career out of the game. I worked hard to get where I am today. I come from a middle-class family that always watched football and we would talk about the sport every single day.
MLSsoccer: What was it like playing in Argentina's first division and trying to hold on to that starting role – particularly under such a strong Newell's team?
Urruti: Like you say, I was on a very strong and important Newell's side that competed well, won titles and reached the Copa Libertadores semifinals [2011-2013]. I didn't get to play a lot, I was mainly a sub, but I learned a lot from Tata Martino [Gerardo "Tata" Martino, current Atlanta United FC head coach] as a player and a person, everyday. And I knew that as his sub, I didn't have any issues: I just had to make the most of my minutes and show the people that I belonged. I learned a lot with that championship winning side.
MLSsoccer: At what point did you realize you would take your career overseas?
Urruti: I think that even before I made my debut in the Argentine first division, I already knew I would have to sacrifice, be far away from my family. At the age of 15, I was already in Monaco on trial for a month. I came back because I missed my family. I knew I had to suck it up, but I was too young. At 16, I was in Sweden on trial as well. By the time I returned home, I realized I could do it – I could leave home and my family for my career. When the move from Newell's to Toronto happened, I was ready – I knew I would have to leave my family to grow.
MLSsoccer: Before you arrived at Toronto FC, there were several reports linking you to different clubs abroad. If memory serves, Palermo [Italy] and Levante [Spain] were interested, among others. Why did you choose MLS?
Urruti: I knew it was an important and growing league. When Toronto FC wanted to sign me [in August 2013], [the decision] was really quick. My decision was to leave as a champion with the club I loved [Newell's won the Argentine title in June 2013], and the possibility of heading to Toronto was there. So I thought about it and decided to go – and shortly there after, I found myself in Portland.
MLSsoccer: It must have been a difficult transition for you.
Urruti: Absolutely. It was difficult, especially the language. I wanted to communicate with players the way I did in Rosario and I couldn't. That was tough. I would go home frustrated because I couldn't express myself the way I did in Argentina. But I knew it was a question of adapting myself to the situation.
As for the culture and the food, that was difficult as well, but I got used to it. Today, I am totally adapted to the US and keep some of my customs from back home because it's hard not to. We always eat together with our friends and that is the most beautiful part of Argentine culture.
MLSsoccer: The idea of being traded is a such a unique concept to American sports. What was that experience like?
Urruti: [Toronto] never really told me it was going to happen. I've had people around me that always supported me, like Carlos Quiroz, a person who is very important in my arrival to Toronto. He was from Mendoza as well. We are still friends to this day.
When I found out about Portland, it was after a match. They told me I wouldn't be coming back to Toronto. They told me they traded me and I would be training with Portland that very week. It was really hard. That never happened to me and I didn't even realize such a thing as a trade existed!
Afterwards, I had to adapt myself to Portland. I loved Portland: the people, my new teammates. We did very well and were able to secure the [MLS Cup] title we so sought after [photo below].
MLSsoccer: You definitely found some comfort in Portland. What was that transition like?
Urruti: It was very difficult. I was adapting myself to Toronto. Then I was sent to Portland which was totally different. Thankfully, I met a phenomenal man in Diego Valeri. He opened the doors of his house to me and refused to let me stay at a hotel. We shared so much with his family, knowing I was all alone.
It was a tough moment in my life with a lot of uncertainty. What was I going to do? Should I head back home? Should I not? Do I rescind my contract? It was really hard. But after some time, I adapted, and I am always grateful to the people of Portland for helping me adjust.
MLSsoccer: You play very aggressively, contributing on both sides of the ball. Is that an attribute you took on from your father? Where did that work ethic come from?
Urruti: Honestly, once Tata Martino took over at Newell's, he taught me the value of pressure and what he needed on his team. From there, it became natural: running constantly and pressuring. It's something that I do naturally now and [FC Dallas] coach Oscar Pareja likes to play the same way. I have no problem playing that way.
MLSsoccer: How do you compare the play of the Argentine first division to MLS?
Urruti: I love being here. I always say it. It's very competitive, the stadiums are amazing, the pitches are great, people respect you everywhere – and that is beautiful. Knowing that it is a show, that the people are coming to see big name players and stars, it's beautiful. The league will continue to grow and will be one of the best of the world.
MLSsoccer: You mentioned Oscar Pareja and your move to Dallas earlier. And though it has been a short time, it seems you have continued to mature at the club. What has been the biggest change there and what is it about Dallas that is bringing the best out of you?
Urruti: I think more than anything, the team. They give you that confidence and we are always working to carry out the coach's orders, which is fundamental. For me, they have opened the doors to me in this organization and I am trying to pay them back with goals and positive play. But I think this moment has been great for me and it's a testament to this team. Everyday we are working hard for each other, to get better.
MLSsoccer: You lived a memorable experience in your short time at Dallas in the recent CONCACAF Champions League. Looking back at the semifinal series against Pachuca, do you feel that the series should have swung in your favor?
Urruti: Yes, we were different teams. I never played against a team from Mexico and we played them toe-to-toe. It escaped us at the very end and that is something that will hurt us for a very long time. We really wanted to win that cup.
MLSsoccer: Now, something folks may not be aware of is that you are quite the prankster! What are some of your favorite pranks?
Urruti: I love pulling pranks, like cutting the tips off players socks, so that when they put them on, their toes are sticking out. And they know it's me. If someone is wearing colorful, unfashionable clothing, I'll take their clothes out of the locker, lay them across the floor for all to see and hang signs all over it to make sure they never wear those things again – just to make them feel a little uncomfortable.
I love to have a good laugh, I love being happy – and that translates to the field. You should be having fun when you are playing soccer.
MLSsoccer: And it shows! Would you ever entertain living in the US permanently?
Urruti: Today, speaking to you, if I were to finish my career today, I would go back to Argentina. My whole family is there and like I said before, the culture, the friendships, barbecuing with your friends – it's something uniquely Argentine – and very important to me. I want to continue having a meaningful career. And when my time comes, I'd like to go back and enjoy my family, which for many years I have had so far away from me.
MLSsoccer: Finally, is there a moment in your career that stands out – one that you will take with you for the rest of your life?
Urruti: I think I have to say my grandpa, he passed away about two years ago after I played a match. That was very hard for me. He was a person that always gave me everything, that helped me look at soccer in the best possible light. We shared a lot of great moments together watching football, and we always talked about the sport. I always think of him. I miss him. And I know he is somewhere up there, guiding me along the way.