MLS clubs go heavily on young South Americans

The most dramatic development on the MLS offseason player market is the move of clubs to seek out young South Americans.

Through the years, MLS clubs signed many players from South Americans. Argentine veterans like Guillermo Barros Schelotto, Javier Morales, Federico Higuain and Diego Valeri have been among the key MLS players of the last decade, but they were all known quantities when they joined MLS.

MLS clubs have already signed 20 South Americans from South American or Mexican clubs with an average age of only 20.5. Of the 20 deals, 13 involved transfers while seven were loans with options to purchase. Ten players are midfielders, while six are defenders and four are forwards.

The South America 20:
6 Argentina
6 Venezuela
3 Paraguay
2 Uruguay
1 Peru
1 Ecuador
1 Chile

The big name is 18-year-old Argentine Ezequiel Barco, who led Independiente to the 2017 Copa Sudamericana and signed with Atlanta United for a transfer fee of $15 million plus a percentage of a future sale, depending on the year he was sold.

The winter activity isn't about to end, though. The transfer of highly regarded Argentine Alejandro Romero Gamarra, a 23-year-old midfielder known as "Kaku," from Huracan to the New York Red Bulls is expected to be announced shortly.

Minnesota United's Manny Lagos was reportedly in Colombia, where he hopes to close a deal with Deportivo Cali for 20-year-old Colombian midfielder Nicolas Benedetti.

The Gamarra and Benedetti deals, if consummated, would both be multi-million dollar deals.

Atlanta United
22 Franco Escobar (Argentina DF, transfer from Newell's Old Boys)
20 Jose Hernandez (Venezuela DF, transfer from Caracas FC)
18 Ezequiel Barco (Argentina MF, transfer from Independiente)

Columbus Crew
19 Milton Valenzuela (Argentina DF, loan from Newell's Old Boys)
21 Eduardo Sosa (Venezuela MF, transfer from Zamora FC)

D.C. United
24 Junior Moreno (Venezuela MF, transfer from Zulia FC)

Houston Dynamo

21 Alejandro Fuenmayor (Venezuela DF, transfer from Carabobo FC)

Los Angeles FC
21 Rodrigo Pacheco (Argentina FW, loan from Lanus)
19 Diego Rossi (Uruguay FW, transfer from Penarol)

Montreal Impact
20 Jeisson Vargas (Chile FW, transfer from Univ. Catolica)
New England Revolution
26 Cristian Penilla (Ecuador MF, loan from Pachuca)

New York City FC

20 Jesus Medina (Paraguay MF, transfer from Libertad)

NY Red Bulls
18 Cristian Casseres (Venezuela MF, transfer from La Guaira)

Orlando City
19 Josue Colman (Paraguay MF, transfer from Cerro Porteno)

Portland Timbers
23 Andy Polo (Peru MF, loan from Morelia)
19 Cristhian Paredes (Paraguay MF, loan from Club America)

Real Salt Lake
19 Pablo Ruiz (Argentina MF, transfer from San Luis)

San Jose Earthquakes
20 Yeferson Quintana (Uruguay DF, loan from Penarol)

Sporting KC
22 Emiliano Amor (Argentina DF, loan from Velez Sarsfield)

Vancouver Whitecaps
23 Anthony Blondell (Venezuela FW, transfer from Monagas SC)

Note: Not included is LA Galaxy signing Rolf Feltscher, who was born and raised in Switzerland but represents Venezuela at the senior international level.
17 comments about "MLS clubs go heavily on young South Americans".
  1. Bob Ashpole, February 3, 2018 at 5:39 a.m.

    Interesting and encouraging.

  2. frank schoon replied, February 3, 2018 at 10:57 a.m.

    Bob, Progress??? I think it is a slap in the face of our AD developmental program, of which I've never been fan of....The MLS would always bring older South or Central American players but now , from the looks of it, they are bringing inand signing up vert young players. I can understand bringing older, experienced players who like to add a couple years before reaching retiring age but bringing in young talent which can only stifle our boys...

  3. Bob Ashpole replied, February 4, 2018 at 1:29 a.m.

    I remember when DC United obtained Jaime Moreno on recommendation of Marco Etcheverry. That worked out well.

    I found two things encouraging. 1. The number of clubs involved. 2. It appears that some clubs are investing in young players. This may indicate more interest in player development. I find that preferable to hiring older players trying to stretch their careers.

    I also found it interesting because it doesn't necessarily indicate league improvement or a change of attitude about style of play and player development. Time will tell if this helps the league.  

  4. frank schoon replied, February 4, 2018 at 1:41 p.m.

    Bob, I remember Etcheverry and Moreno, they were good for US soccer. I have to look at the bigger picture here, one , you want to bring in good players from elsewhere in order to help our younger talent. Two, how is this done? At Ajax, they always try to keep a good balance of older more experienced players vis a vis young talent, for that's the ONLY way you'll learn the ropes. Bringing a foreign young talent who is the same age or around to our own talent is not going benefit our talent, besides a foreign young talent, likewise, needs direcition. Ships believes that it is good to bring in young talent for it will impove the quality of our play as well, argument there. 
    You have to decide how much the MLS wants to invest in developing their own, which I think is a joke or do they just play lipservice to this contention of home grown talent, for homegrown is not going to learn from young foreing talent but only from experienced foreign players....

  5. Bob Ashpole replied, February 5, 2018 at 9:23 a.m.

    You make good points Frank, and I agree with them. That doesn't mean that bringing a few younger still developing players is a mistake. If successful, I expect they move on. The older players if successful, I would hope remain with the club in some capacity after retirement. As you point out, they could have a positive impact on the young players.

  6. beautiful game, February 3, 2018 at 8:26 a.m.

    If any of these players are half as good as Schelotto or Morales were, consider it progress.

  7. Ric Fonseca, February 3, 2018 at 1:10 p.m.

    Oh que la fregada!!! Here we go effing again, as Frank sorta notes above, MLS is wont more to "impoft" the kids over an older "veterano" BUT!!! this moves angers me more because they the MLS is continuing their so called quest to actually ignore our local talent, whether they be US "native" born, or of Latino/Hispanic descent, just like they and just about everyone else cried in their beers/milk when the most recent Mexican NT player from northern California, opted to sign with the Mexican National side!  Jeezez cripes, and then they - MLS and US NT folks - say we don't p[roduce enough home grown talkent!?!?!  OK, congratulations to the new chamacos from South America, and mucha suerte.  As to progress?  Please, por favor, give me an effing break and look for talent in our own very back and front yards and stop the blatant hypocracy!!!

  8. Bob Ashpole replied, February 4, 2018 at 1:41 a.m.

    Ric, I agree. What I find disappointing is that there is no companion story saying that MLS is signing more players from US Hispanic, etc., leagues. Do they have to go to South America to find technically competent players?  

  9. Ben Myers, February 3, 2018 at 4:01 p.m.

    Do these numbers represent an overall problem with the quality of player development in the US youth, college and academy ranks?  Or is it that MLS teams simply are unwilling to go find US talent?  And we keep saying that MLS is an awful vehicle for the development of USMNT players.  So it seems.

  10. frank schoon, February 3, 2018 at 5:13 p.m.

    I think deep down the MLS academies or the DA programs as a whole are not bringing about or producing the talent which is comparable to young talent of South and Central America. The lack of quality does not surprise me. I wish the MLS would create a reciprocity program  whereby  our more talented players, for example go to Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay for 2 years which is better for their development than any DA program. What we are doing now is to cut off or reduce our own kids from learning and giving them less chance. I can say ,at least, when the MLS signs older South/ Central American players our young kids can learn from the experience from these types of players but bringing some young talent from South/Central America does nothing for our kids. For example, one of kids playing alongside Kaka ,let us say, will learn a lot more about the game than playing next some youth talent from South America of his own age.....This is a losing proposition for us all way round.

  11. Wooden Ships, February 3, 2018 at 7:19 p.m.

    I have mixed feelings. First off, these incoming players more than likely have superior skills, which will make MLS more enjoyable to watch. And, perhaps refereeing will be positively (technical game) influenced. It seems ownership is finally conceding that having soccer players trumps athleticism. This will also help us become a more viable market for the higher tiered international clubs to purchase transfers. 
    On the other hand, if we followed the more traditional (FIFA) pro-rel, training-compensation and mandated minutes and roster spots for US players, perhaps we wouldn’t be in this situation. I understand everyone’s views above, but, bottom line is of the pipeline we’ve been using for 50 years the players skill isn’t good enough. I say pipeline, because we’ve followed a false road. You can’t take a kid that doesn’t have soft feet at the age of 16-18 and make him something he’s not in an academy. I do appreciate the older veteran to learn from, but too many teams have been burned by those DP’s and they’re deciding on youth and pay days down the road.

  12. frank schoon replied, February 3, 2018 at 11:44 p.m.

    Ships, I agree that these young players coming to the MLS will help the game quality wise and I  can see the MLS making money off these players a few years down the line, both of which are good moves for the MLS? Like you say thecurrent  DA and player development in the past 50 years has done zilch for our player . I too,have mixed emotions about this this whole
    The MLS has come to cross roads whereby they have to admit the failure our own player development and that the the USSF coaching school academy is not going about it right in the right way. But no matter ho w you look at it we can't let our own just hang there on a willow. 

  13. R2 Dad replied, February 4, 2018 at 4:01 p.m.

    MLS should be worried that even more soccer fans might pivot to Liga MX. They sign all these hispanic kids--we can watch a whole lot more if Liga MX signed up with, say, Fox Soccer Match Pass or some other internet-based provider of video-on-demand. Can't be any worse than Earthquakes viewing.

  14. Bob Ashpole replied, February 5, 2018 at 12:07 p.m.

    Frank, the closest thing USSF had to coaching education was the former annual continuing education requirement for the A license. That was suspended when they split the A license into several licenses. Worse yet, they stopped recognizing NSCAA diplomas as coaching qualifications. It would be interesting to see if those changes had an impact on the number of enrollments. 

    About 10 years ago I reviewed what was available on the internet from USSF and NSCAA regarding systems of play. I was surprised. To call what they were providing rudimental flatters it. I think some of that is because coaches consider how they organize teams to be trade secrets. But if there is one deficiency in US Soccer collective knowledge that stands out, it is in systems of play. To me it seems that way too much attention is given the subject during the fundamental stage, but then when we get to U16 the substance isn't there to teach players. This view comes from someone who is a product of American amateur soccer during the 1980s. Not some sophisticated former pro from Europe or South America.

    For example, there is no information at all on organizing off-the-ball movement during possession. Most of the information is on maintaining "shapes" which is contrary to universal concepts of soccer as a dynamic game. I still use concepts from basketball and American football.   

  15. frank schoon replied, February 5, 2018 at 1:49 p.m.

    Bob, what you are saying here is very eye opening, but not surprising. You stated there is no off the ball movement info. etc. You wonder why? it is because those who teach at the coaching academy like KNVB in Holland or here at the USSF are not good enough, to teach the finer higher level elements of the game that coaches really need. What we have here at these coaching academies are professors who have had some playing experience and are good in the classroom, with flip-overs, use of their jargon and present the course in a nice classroom format.
    Ernst Happel one of the greatest coaches, as considered by Cruyff, was asked by the head of the Dutch Coaching School Academy KNVB, George Kessler, to talk TACTICS with him. Happel declined the invitation and stated only becomes TICTAC for me. In other words real Tactics is "seeing" the finer insights of the game which is not taught at the coaching academy which is just kids stuff..tictac...
     Guardiola once stated at every practice when Cruyff coached Barcelona was like a going to a seminar for he learned so much and obviously he never would have learned the deeper insights at a coaching. Cruyff lamented over the dutch KNVB that they don't even know how to teach the 4-3-3 system for they have never played it themselves at the highest level and thus are unable to teach it to those coaches. I wish Cruyff had employed the Youtube for example taken any game and pick it  totally apart , what to look for, what is happening ,why is it happening, everything, aspects that you just don't realize or see. Why hasn't the USSF invite Beckenbauer, other greats, that know so much about the game to have coaches avail themselves of their knowledge.

  16. frank schoon replied, February 5, 2018 at 1:50 p.m.

     What we get from these coaching academies is stale ,not thought inspiring, not dynamic, as you state info. What you say in your post ,I discovered back in the 80's. I realized reading interviews from players gave me more insights about the game that just isn't covered at a coaching academy. In other words there is a whole other level of knowledge that isn't dispensed at the coaching School, due to these coaches who haven't played at a high level themselves. This is why Van Gaal as a national coach failed because he lacked the deeper insight knowledge that comes with having played for Dutch NT. Can you imagine  a Coaching school run and taught by Cruyff, Guardiola, Marinho, Beckenbaur, and some the other greats.. what insights you would learn . That high level info ,I discovered was found in interviews given by many great players or regular players in autobiographies and interviews. For Example I have every interview of Tonnie Bruins Slot(as well as Cruyff), Cruyff's assisstent for many years. He, likewise, has so much insight into the game. He once stated,that Cruyff's knowledge begins where it ends for another coach after 20 years of pro-ball.. He once sat at a kitchen table at Cruyff's house along with Beckenbauer. He stated that listening to these two 'greats' talk soccer made his ears flap back and forth much real info. Tonnie learned so much from Cruyff that when scouting another team for Cruyff he is able to note or see 120 different aspects, but Cruyff is able to note over200 aspects that you need to be aware of. Coaching at this level is not coaching but seeing. In other words you can obtain all the highest level licenses and what not, but the real secret is being able to SEE the game which is so difficult for there are so many aspects ....But this is the only way to learn is to read the comments or rather insights of smart players about the game

  17. Ben Myers, February 5, 2018 at 6:16 p.m.

    Two further comments:

    Soft feet --- Soft feet start when the kids are very young, 6, 7 and 8 years old, when they can learn to handle the ball well.  One serious deficiency of US coaching is the propensity to discourage kids from dribbling too much, urging them to pass.  Parent fans on the sidelines do not help one bit.  Often, in their complete ignorance, they exhort kids to pass, whether it is appropriate or not.

    Formations --- First, I'll confess that I have only a D license and I have only coached at the youth level up through U19.  I'll also confess that I never played at a high level, only adult rec leagues.  But I do have eyes to observe the very best players and teams in the world, to see what they do and understand why they do it.  I've also coached some very talented and very bright players who have had little difficultly playing different formations and understanding when to make a tactical change in formation.  My teams variously have played 4-4-2, 3-5-2, 4-5-1 and that's about enough for advanced youth players not on a fast track to Division 1 or professional ranks.  The 4-5-1 is not much different than 4-1-4-1 or 4-2-3-1, the difference being that the holding midfielder(s) role is/are not clearly defined.  With three center mids of very similar skills, it is enough for them to switch roles, which improves their mental flexibility in playing the game.  This also empowers kids to make the game their own, so the coach does not have scream and shout at them all the time.  Too often, coaches do not respect the intelligence and good soccer sense of their players.  When I spoke to a couple of college coaches about this a few years ago, the reaction was to ask how did I get these realtively young men to play different formations and to change during the course of a game.  They could not do it with their college teams or maybe they did not even try. 

    So the punch line is once again is that rather than winning at all costs, which seems to be the case even with 2nd and 3rd graders, coaches need to back off a bit, focus on foot skills and player development and increase their emphasis on the mental part of the game (mostly for older players, of course), teach and use different formations, so the kids get a more complete view of the game.

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