[MLS SPOTLIGHT] How tough is it to break into MLS? Even for big-name imports, there is often a period of adjustment. Just 18 first-year players signed from foreign clubs have played more than half the time for their new MLS clubs. While Jermain Defoe has been injured and Designated Player signings like Gilberto and Andres Escobar have gone without scoring, other, lesser known players have contributed in big ways to the early success of their clubs.
One can think of Costa Rican defenders Waylon Francis and Giancarlo Gonzalez and American keeper Steve Clark, who all started every game for the Columbus Crew, first in the Eastern Conference.
No player has been a bigger surprise than Gonzalo Pineda, who was signed by the Seattle Sounders three days before their opener and only got a chance to play when Brad Evans was injured. The former Mexican international quit the Liga MX last season because of a sports hernia and almost gave up soccer after a tryout last year at Chicago.
Economic troubles in Spain mean lots of players are looking for security abroad, and Cristian at D.C. United, Armando at New York andJose Mari at Colorado have translated moves to MLS into starting jobs. But all moves have not panned out. A fourth Spaniard, Daniel Fragoso,is already out of MLS after being released following just 11 minutes of action.
Vincent Nogueira and Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi both left starting jobs at small French clubs for the American dream, but while Nogueira has played every minute for the Philadelphia Union, Pierazzi lost his starting job in midfield at San Jose two weeks ago to rookie JJ Koval.
Argentines were supposed to turn around Philadelphia and Chivas USA and put Portland over the top, but the first two clubs have one victory each and the Timbers are still winless.
Leandro Barreraand Agustin Pelletieri have played well for Chivas USA, but DP Cristian Maidana has been in and out of the Union lineup. The same goes for Gaston FernandezandNorberto Paparatto at Portland. Fernandez has three goals for the Timbers, but Paparatto has come under lots of criticism for his shaky play in the middle of the Portland backline.
FC Dallas has arguably been the hottest team in MLS over the first two months, but it has done it without much support from Uruguayan forward David Texeira (one goal in 298 minutes) and none from Colombian winger Andres Escobar (38 minutes), playing on a DP salary on loan from Dynamo Kiev.
The inconsistency has been evident in the play of Uruguayans Sebastian Fernandez and Nicolas Mezquida and Chilean Pedro Morales at Vancouver, but when they have been on they've looked tremendous. Fernandez has two great goals, while Morales has contributed a goal and two assists.
Perhaps the best first-year import has been Swede Stefan Ishizaki, who has two goals and two assists in two starts for the LA Galaxy. His excellent passing skills contributed to a change in tactics -- a switch to a diamond midfield -- and personnel with Landon Donovan moving back up top for the Galaxy and a couple of other imports, Canadian Rob Friend and Brazilian Samuel, finding themselves on the bench.
2014 MLS First-Year Imports:
MIN. PLAYER, TEAM
810 Vincent Nogueira, Philadelphia-France (1 goal, 1 assist)
630 Steve Clark, Columbus-USA
630 Giancarlo Gonzalez,Columbus-Costa Rica
622 Cristian Fernandez, D.C. United-Spain
618 Agustin Pelletieri, Chivas USA-Argentina
601 Waylon Francis, Columbus-Costa Rica (1 assist)
601 Gonzalo Pineda, Seattle-Mexico (1 assist)
587 Leandro Barrera,Chivas USA-Argentina(2 assists)
544 Armando, New York-Spain
540 Julio Cesar, Toronto FC-Brazil
479 Gaston Fernandez, Portland-Argentina (3 goals)
472 Pedro Morales, Vancouver-Chile (1 goal, 1 assists)
431 Jose Mari, Colorado-Spain (2 goals)
423 Gilberto, Toronto FC-Brazil
369 Cristian Maidana, Philadelphia-Argentina (2 assists)
362 Bradley Orr, Toronto FC-England
360 Thomas Piermayr, Colorado-Austria
360 Norberto Paparatto, Portland-Argentina
350 Sebastian Fernandez, Vancouver-Uruguay (2 goals)
327 Jean-Baptiste Pierazzi, San Jose-France
299 Stefan Ishizaki, LA Galaxy-Sweden (2 goals, 2 assists)
298 David Texeira, FC Dallas-Uruguay (1 goal)
242 Jermain Defoe, Toronto FC-England (3 goals)
222 Issey Nakajima-Farran, Toronto FC-Canada (2 goals)
218 Benji Joya, Chicago-USA (1 goal)
180 Andreas Goerlitz, San Jose-Germany
142 Luke Moore, Chivas USA-England
132 Rob Friend, LA Galaxy-Canada (1 assist)
121 Yannick Djalo, San Jose-Portugal (1 goal)
110 Samuel, LA Galaxy-Brazil
103 Adolfo Bautista, Chivas USA-Mexico (1 assist)
56 Nicolas Mezquida, Vancouver-Uruguay
54 Antonio Dovale, Sporting KC-Spain
39 Santiago Gonzalez, Montreal-Uruguay
38 Andres Escobar, FC Dallas-Colombia
11 *Daniel Fragoso, Chivas USA-Spain
Note: Players in bold have played more than half the time for their team.