South American pipeline proving to be fruitful for Black & Gold
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Guillermo Barros Schelotto hasn't played for the Columbus Crew since 2010, but even three years after his departure, his influence on the club is strong as ever.
When the Crew were looking to sign Argentine forward Federico Higuaín in the middle of last season, for example, technical director Brian Bliss sought Schelotto's opinion. And in turn, Higuaín wanted insight from Schelotto, an iconic figure in Argentina, about playing for the Crew and living in Columbus.
Higuaín signed with the Crew in late July, and went onto win the MLS Newcomer of the Year award.
Columbus added Argentinean midfielder Matías Sánchez this year and have scoured other countries in South America – Uruguayan midfielder Agustín Viana, Brazilian defender Gláuber and Venezuelan midfielder Bernardo Añor are also on the roster – but it’s Higuaín who has wetted their appetite to go back to Argentina.
"We consciously have been looking in Argentina over the years," Bliss told MLSsoccer.com. "It's a matter of finding the right guy at the right price to make it work."
A factor in the Crew's success in that part of the world is assistant coach Ricardo Iribarren, who originally came to Columbus from Argentina as a defender in 1996.
"He speaks the language. He played for Estudiantes," Crew coach Robert Warzycha said, referring to the Argentinean club that also produced Sánchez. "The transition is easier because of him. He and his wife and family help tremendously if you're looking for an apartment, you need a car or find a doctor. "
Sánchez, for one, has seen the benefit of having countrymen pave the way with the Crew.
"I'm very comfortable," he said. "My teammates, the staff, all the people have made it easy for me to play here."
Not all acquisitions have panned out, but the list of Argentineans to wear black and gold over the years include Marcelo Carrera, Mario Gori, Nicolás Hernández, Sergio Miguez, Silvio Rudman and defender Gino Padula, who started with Schelotto on the 2008 championship team.
But none had greater aura than Schelotto himself.
Viana, born in Chicago but raised from an early age in Uruguay, told MLSsoccer.com after his signing in January that he wasn't very familiar with Columbus or MLS.
"Columbus I know of because Guillermo Barros Schelotto won the championship," Viana said. "In my country of Uruguay, there is a lot of Argentinean soccer on TV. That championship made a great impact. He is a great star like Beckham or Thierry Henry that made an impact on the league."
Bliss has made clear that with the success of Schelotto and Higuaín, he’s eager to head back to Argentina to mine for talent.
"That Argentine league is a tough league to play in and you can see it in the character of the people themselves," he said. "Whatever their DNA or background, they're rugged in terms of not only playing in this league with its physicality but also the general travel and way of life.
"Historically, Argentineans travel well, meaning that they go outside the county and play well. They adapt better outside their country than some others."