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Thursday, April 19, 2007

MLS Column By Jim Riggio

MLS Column

April 18, 2007

By Jim Riggio for World Football Commmentaries.

MLS Starting to Move in Right Direction

Just a few short days ago, I have to admit I wasn’t too keen on the idea of supporting Major League Soccer this season. The reason was that I disliked the direction I felt Major League Soccer was headed.

I wasn’t sure MLS was interested in bringing quality players and creating quality team play for the league or more interested in simply selling tickets and jerseys.

Now I am convinced the league has its priorities in order by making both important.

The addition of several key players with quality credentials was something that made me realize this league might actually start getting some more respect with some of the new names that have joined ship.

Many of the international players in MLS either play for nations that have either never played in or won a World Cup game, and or have never represented their national team. Without signaling out players or countries, sometimes I’d say to myself ‘They actually play soccer there,’ in reference to some of the past MLS imports.

But the additions of Guillermo Barros Schelotto to the Columbus Crew and Juan Pablo Angel to New York Red Bull are big eye openers. While David Beckham and Cuauhtemoc Blanco will help the league from a marketing standpoint, Schelotto and Angel give the league players with a proven track record.

Schelotto will be 34 in May. But his background is very impressive, even though he never moved over to Europe, like many of his fellow countrymen from Argentina.

Schelotto has played for Boca Juniors, one of the top clubs in the world since 1996.

Among his career highlights include playing on two Intercontinental Cup title-winning teams (sometimes referred to as the Toyota Cup). The game pits the winner of the UEFA Champions League, Europe’s top club against the winner of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s equivalent to the Champions League. And by the way, Schelotto has played on three Copa Libertadores winning teams. He has won 17 trophies in Argentina, more than Argentine, who hasn’t gone over to Europe. He also has 10 caps for his country, something very impressive considering the massive depth of talent Argentina enjoys.

Schelotto even has his own biography in Argentina in which he received praise from the likes of managerial greats Cesar Luis Menotti, Carlos Bianchi and Oscar Washington Tabarez as well as legendary players Diego Maradona and Daniel Passarella.

While Angel’s track record isn’t quite as impressive as Schelotto’s it certainly is not far off.

Angel joined Boca Juniors rival River Plate in 1997 and scored 55 goals in four years for the Argentine club, which is also one of South America’s legendary clubs.

In 2001, English Premership side Aston Villa spent a club record $14 million dollars to bring Angel to Europe and away from River Plate. This season, Angel has scored four goals in 23 matches for Aston Villa. While the numbers aren’t earth shattering, the level of competition is certainly much stronger than what he is expected to face in MLS.

Angel scored 16 goals in 33 games in the 2003-2004 season, proving he is capable of putting up big numbers. With Colombia’s National Team, Angel has scored nine goals and has 33 caps.

My hope is that Schelotto and Angel are just the start of a number of quality veterans that will join MLS and give it the credibility the league needs and the fans a ticket worth paying for.

Note:

Mr. Riggio has written about Italian and international soccer for ESPN/Soccernet, and was an interviewee for my column at AC Cugini Scuola Calcio. Last summer, he contributed an interview with Gianluca Zambrotta for my World Football site.

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