Cristian Maidana never expected to come to the United States to play soccer. And growing up in Argentina, the 27-year-old midfielder didn’t know a thing about Philadelphia.
But when the Philadelphia Union began to recruit the Argentine winger (pictured above, left), Maidana started thinking about what playing in Major League Soccer could do for his career. And now, after being signed by Philly as a Designated Player in January, he represents an unlikely yet important piece to the Union’s ambitious rebuild.
“At one point, if you would have asked me if I would be coming to the United States to play, I wouldn’t have thought so,” Maidana said through a translator. “But then this opportunity came up and here I am. And I’m really happy here.”
Maidana joins fellow offseason acquisitions Maurice Edu and Frenchman Vincent Nogueira in the Union’s revamped midfield. But while Edu and Nogueira will likely play in the middle of the field, Maidana appears poised to start on the left wing, filling a position of need for the Union.
“I talked to the technical staff and I had told them that I feel natural playing as a left winger,” Maidana said. “I’ve mostly played there on that side. But I can also play as a high attacking midfielder, playing just behind the striker.”
Whether he stays on the wing or pinches in closer to the middle of the field, having an attacking midfielder like Maidana should help a Union team that struggled to create chances toward the end of last season as they fell out of the playoff race.
And for Maidana – who, at 27, is very much in his prime – playing alongside Edu and Nogueira and creating scoring chances for strikers Conor Casey and Jack McInerney could perhaps help take his career to the next level after stints in Argentina, Chile, Spain, Mexico and Russia.
“I think being here can allow me to play to my maximum potential, and I’ve started to see that more since training here in the preseason,” he said. “At the same time, I want to be a champion. And I think as I continue to develop here and with my experience, it can add a lot to a team that already is doing very well.”
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Maidana doesn’t have to look too far to find Argentine success stories in MLS. Portland’s Diego Valeri emerged as one of the best midfielders in the league last season, and Maidana specifically mentioned Columbus Crew captain Federico Higuaín as a player he looks up to.
“I was in a lot of different places and I always was aware of players that have played here in [MLS],” he said. “And whenever a player does well here, you’re aware of it in Argentina. The reality is that any player would like to come and play here. I had read and seen a lot about Argentines who had come here and been successful.”
Now he hopes to be the next one.
Dave Zeitlin covers the Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.