The South American nation of Uruguay may be comparatively tiny — its population is 3.5 million — but it has always produced talent in numbers that belie its size, having won two World Cups and finished fourth in the 2010 edition.
From the great José Nasazzi in 1930 to Diego Forlán, winner of the 2010 Golden Ball, sons of Uruguay have always found a way to out-perform expectations.
MLS clubs have recently gotten in on the act, with D.C. United signing defender Rodrigo Brasesco in January and the Chicago Fire adding forward Gastón Puerari on Thursday.
They join a short list of Uruguayans who’ve spent time in MLS. Three of the best are …
Paz was an attacker who suited up 25 times for his home country and was the first Uruguayan to play in the English Premier League when he featured 18 times for Ipswich Town in the 1994-95 season.
He then made a brief detour to China and then found himself with the Columbus Crew for the inaugural MLS season in 1996. He scored six goals in 27 games that season, pairing with US national team legend Brian McBride up top.
Paz then went to the Colorado Rapids, where his scoring rate dropped precipitously. He notched just six goals in 53 games over two seasons, and by the end of 1998, the club cut him loose. He played a handful of games in Uruguay and China over the next several years before retiring.
The stereotype of the Uruguayan soccer player is that of a rough, rugged and ruthless ball-winner long on effort but a bit short on skill. Cancela was the opposite of all that.
A pure playmaker, Cancela was silky smooth as he was mercurial, floating in-and-out of games on a regular basis – much to the frustration of New England Revolution coach Steve Nicol.
Cancela came to the Revs in 2003 in his prime at age 27 and immediately produced, notching one goal and seven assists in just 13 games. But his production declined the next three years, and by the end of 2006, the Revs had had enough. He was exposed in the expansion draft and grabbed by Toronto FC, where he spent an unproductive 2007 season.
By the beginning of 2008, he was out of the league, and has bounced around clubs in Latin America ever since.
Fernández (pictured above) was the only Uruguayan in the league until the arrival of Brasesco and Puerari. He capitalized on a strong showing in last year’s World Cup, where he played in four of Uruguay’s matches before signing as a Designated Player with the Seattle Sounders.
Fernández has scored two goals in 12 games thus far and has a strong presence on both sides of the ball. He’s a likely starter on the right side of Sigi Schmid’s midfield, though he’s flexible enough to play pretty much anywhere in the middle of the pitch.
How well Fernández does could have a big impact on how well the Sounders do in this final season of Sigi Schmid’s three-year plan.