Commentary

MLS 3.0 and the new Paraguayan connection

Atlanta United's signing of young Paraguayan Miguel Almiron in 2017 may go down as one of the most important signings in MLS's history.

If MLS 1.0 was its launch in 1996 with all the Latin American stars Sunil Gulati brought into the league for its launch -- Marco Etcheverry, Carlos Valderrama and Jorge Campos -- and MLS 2.0 was David Beckham and the new Designated Player initiative started in 2007, MLS 3.0 is the league's move into South America for young talent like Almiron.

Until recently, MLS teams been reluctant to enter the transfer market and spend money in a serious way. MLS owners are cautious by nature and playing the transfer market is risky.

Almiron reportedly cost Atlanta United around $8 million to sign him from Argentina's Lanus and is worth probably double that now. Tata Martino, who coached Paraguay to the quarterfinals of the 2010 World Cup, had a lot to do with Almiron coming to MLS and his success in his first season so that personal connection can't be there for every transaction.

Atlanta United's winning parlay on Almiron should not be the reason alone for other MLS clubs to jump into the South American transfer market. After all, FC Dallas paid a reported $2 million for another Paraguayan, Cristian Colman, and he only managed two goals in 26 games, a $1 million a goal if you want to put it that way.

But the opening of the pipeline has brought two other Paraguayans into MLS as Young Designated Players: Jesus Medina, from Club Libertad to New York City FC and Josue Colman from Cerro Porteno to Orlando City.



What is different about Medina and Jose Colman is how much younger they are -- 20 and 19, respectively -- than Almiron and Cristian Colman, who were both 23 when they signed a year ago.

In that regard, they are similar to the two greatest Paraguayans to play in the United States: Julio Cesar Romero and the late Roberto Cabanas, 19 and 18, respectively when they signed with the New York Cosmos for the 1980 season.

Everyone remembers Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto, Giorgio Chinaglia, Johan Neeskens and the like, but the Cosmos pounced on Romero and Cabanas after Paraguay won the 1979 Copa America. (Romero scored twice in the final against Chile.)

Romero and Cabanas both started when the Cosmos won Soccer Bowl 1980. (Romero had the first goal in the 3-0 win over Gerd Mueller's Fort Lauderdale Strikers.) Cabanas played until the end of the NASL, which folded after the 1984 season, while Romero left after 1983. Both went on to have long and successful careers after they left the Cosmos.

But the market conditions that favored the Cosmos and the rest of the NASL, for that matter, were far different than today. Most European leagues had tight restrictions on foreigners and there was no free agency -- the Bosman ruling didn't come until a decade and a half later -- so the Cosmos were free to pick off pretty much anyone they'd like on the international market.

With pipelines opened in Paraguay and Venezuela and expanding in Argentina, the foray of MLS clubs today into the South American transfer market is huge by MLS standards and is starting to compare to that of Mexican and Portuguese clubs, but it is still baby steps.

It will take at least five years to know the payoff.

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