The quality of Major League Soccer in the U.S. has been steadily growing. For the MLS to come on par with the various soccer leagues of the world, it has needed more international stars. So far the league is made up of mostly American players with a smattering of international talent. Last year, with the introduction of the "designated player" rule (which allows each team to sign a player who is not fully subject to the salary cap), several international star quality players were signed to teams, most notably David Beckham with L.A. More impacting to his team, however, was Mexican forward Blanco signing in Chicago. Juan Pablo Angel in New York was another exciting DP last year in NY. The DP concept is just what the league needs to grow it's fan base.
I have been critical of my Kansas City Wizards for not signing a DP when they knew Eddie Johnson (their top scorer last year) would not be returning. They had considerable cap space available and no designated players. I even wrote an article on one of the local fan blogs that questioned the team's commitment to winning now and actually got a cordial, but defensive response from the team office. The response, however, didn't mention adding any significant players, a key part of my criticism. It seemed like they were in a holding pattern until the new stadium in Kansas City was going to be finished in 2010.
Well, I have to eat a little crow on this one. The Wizards just signed Claudio Lopez of Argentina today! For those who are not familiar with "El Piojo" (the Louse), he has been a contributing member on several elite teams during his career, the most impressive being the Argentinian national team for whom he has played 58 games including two world cups. If you combined all the international game appearances for the entire current KC Wizards roster, I doubt you would come to 30. Lopez is an experienced international scorer and has the potential to be a star in the MLS.
Lopez is definitely on the down side of his career at age 33. He has alot of mileage on the soccer pitch. Still, his experience combined with his unique style of play from the left side, should make him a potent weapon this season and next for the young Wizards. The Wizards also signed a relatively unknown forward from Columbia, Ivan Trujillo, who now stands to benefit greatly from the extra attention teams will have to give Lopez. The value of Lopez is not just the actual goals he will score but his very presence on the field and how it frees up his teammates.
The chief concern about Lopez will be his passion for the game. Will he get excited for games in the U.S. playing in stadiums with less than 10,000 fans? Will his competitive juices be rekindled playing in this new league? Lots of questions for sure. Still, I have to give credit to the Kansas City Wizards for making such an aggressive move. It shows they are committed to winning now rather than settling in to a holding pattern for the next 2-3 years. I would buy season tickets if I could get to all the games. I will definitely be going to as many as I can and I think I know a youth pastor who will go with me. In fact, he owes me the first game as a result of a little bet we made.
Welcome to KC El Piojo!