Major League Soccer Deputy Commissioner Ivan Gazidis surprised the world on Tuesday by saying that the "real" story of the year in MLS was the league's broadening ties with Latin America -- and not the heralded arrival of former Real Madrid star David Beckham. "The actual story has been looking to South America and importing players from South America who are very significant performers in our league," Gazidis said while attending the Soccerex International business conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Significant performers, indeed -- the three finalists for the league's most valuable player award all were first-year players and hail from Latin America: Chicago's Cuauhtemoc Blanco (Mexico), New York's Juan Pablo Angel (Colombia) and D.C. United's Luciano Emilio (Brazil), the 2007 award winner.
It's here that the future of MLS lies -- that is, in goal-scoring South American imports and not expensive, glitzy stars like Beckham -- Gazidis told reporters on Tuesday. "South America, that is a market that we are mining internationally in the short term," the MLS official said. It certainly makes sense: unlike Europe, South America is a market where MLS teams can compete, notwithstanding the league's many financial restrictions. Moreover, soccer has the highest concentration of Latino fans compared to any other sport in the U.S.