In the early days of Major League Soccer, assists were handed out to players like goody bags at a toddler's birthday gig. Nowadays, a pass has to "unlock" the opposition defense to qualify as an assist, writes Shawn Mitchell, and this season it's clear who is the chief locksmith -- Columbus Crew's Argentine playmaker, Guillermo Barros Schelotto.
Schelotto leads the league with 14 assists, way ahead of the chasing pack, and could become the first player to register 20 assists in a season since Carlos Valderrama (26 in the 2000 season). But those were back in the day when, according to Crew coach Sigi Schmid, "there were some pretty scandalous assists that were given out. [Schelotto's] are pretty much true assists."
"Schelotto's game has gained consistency as the stakes have risen this season," writes Mitchell. "The Crew has won back-to-back games and moved into a tie for first place in the Eastern Conference on the strength of five consecutive unanswered goals. Schelotto has contributed to all five with four assists and one penalty." Teammate Frankie Hejduk is impressed that Schelotto can raise his play on the biggest stages: "He is sensing this team can go places and having a guy who has been in big games week in and week out for 15 years doesn't hurt."
In the off-season, many thought Schelotto wouldn't return to complete the second year of his contract in Columbus. Now he wants to acquire a green card and continue for another year or two in MLS. He would like to stay in Ohio, but the Crew no longer has the allocation money it used to sign him to his $375,000 contract. "I am very happy here," Schelotto. "Very relaxed and no problem. If I have to choose, I choose Columbus."