Things are not great in Argentinian soccer at the moment.
The world knows about Leo Messi declaring to the heavens that he was done with national team duty after Argentina’s penalty loss to Chile in the Copa America finale. To the uninitiated, it looked like a petulant decision fueled by a missed penalty and a(nother) devastating loss in a cup final. One thing leads to another.
But that was always a surface reading of the situation. The subtext of Messi’s retirement involved the ever mercurial AFA and the absolute firestorm going on in Argentinian soccer at the moment. As if to drive home the point, some whacko called in a bomb threat on the AFA’s offices the day after the Copa America final.
To put it politely, Argentinean soccer is in a period of crisis, which could force more players than merely Messi to jump off the Argentinean national team train. And it isn’t just the national team. The entire system is falling.
– No president
– No idea how next season’s Primera will be
– Hawk nat’l team around for $
– Might be about to be deaffiliated from FIFA
— Sam Kelly (@HEGS_com) June 27, 2016
You can be certain the rest of the world is looking on with baited interest. With the storm comes passengers looking for sturdier ships to weather the onslaught. And for all its faults, MLS is one of the steadiest things going. The fact that it has already established itself as a friend to Argentines will only help.
This has happened before in Argentina’s soccer history, albeit in different form. In 1949, Juan Perón’s controversial first term as Argentinean president triggered a mass exodus of players, many of whom went to the recently formed Colombian league. The most famous defector was some gentleman named Alfredo Di Stefano, who followed fellow River Plate star Adolfo Pedernera to Millonarios in Colombia later that year. The team became known as Ballet Azul for its aesthetically pleasing play, and it launched Di Stefano onto a career track that would ultimately make him the most influential soccer player ever born. The Argentine moved to Real Madrid in 1953, just in time for the foundation of the Champions League two years later. Los Blancos won the competition’s first five titles going away, and by the time Di Stefano left the club in 1964, he’d scored 307 goals in 396 games.
This is simply what happens when municipal soccer infrastructures break down before reorganizing themselves. And players embroiled in the middle of that storm inevitably look to break for calmed waters. It’s a natural response, and smart teams and leagues are aware of it. And this time, it isn’t country turmoil pushing players out. It’s the AFA’s mythic incompetence.
Argentina is not exactly a new frontier for MLS squads, who’ve been raiding its bountiful shores for years. There are more Argentinean No. 10s in the league than Americans, after all. But never has the opportunity been quite as ripe to offer an escape from the madness as it is right now.
It would appear that the trawling effort has already begun. Atlanta United might be on the verge of signing mega-talented 21-year old Argentinean winger Hector Villalba. The Sounders, meanwhile, are reportedly chasing Argentinean attacker Sebastian Blanco. Earlier this year, D.C. United secured the loan of skittery 5-foot-3 Boca Juniors attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta, who has been a revelation in spurts.
In fact, according to Transfermarkt, there are more Argentines in MLS than from any other foreign country on earth. Right now that number is at 25, which makes up nearly 10 percent of the league’s foreign contingent. That includes neighboring Canada, which houses three MLS teams. And of those 25 players, 16 are attacking midfielders or forwards.
See where this is going?
MLS clubs can be sympathetic to the AFA’s turmoil while doing what it’s done for years: offer a more stable outlet for its players, which enriches both the player and the league itself. And if the league’s teams are honest with themselves, there’s never been a better time to offer talented players stuck in the AFA’s blender a life raft.