Mex­i­can play­ers take own route

Na­tional coach wants team mem­bers in Euro­pean leagues, but some opt for MLS.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Kevin Bax­ter

Juan Car­los Os­o­rio pulled a chair up to the break­fast ta­ble, pointed a fork at his in­quisi­tor and cleared up a mis­un­der­stand­ing be­fore clean­ing up his eggs.

“I was mis­quoted as say­ing I don’t like the MLS,” the Mex­i­can na­tional team coach said this spring. “No. I never said that. I said it’s a strong league.”

There’s no mis­un­der­stand­ing Os­o­rio’s pref­er­ence that his play­ers stay in Europe through next sum­mer’s World Cup in­stead of com­ing to MLS.

And since he’s the guy who will be pick­ing the Mex­i­can ros­ter, his words carry weight.

“I would pre­fer my play­ers to play in Europe,” he said. “In the top leagues.”

Yet in the last sev­eral weeks, two of Mex­ico’s big­gest stars have ig­nored those words, jump­ing from teams in Spain to ones in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Mid­fielder Jonathan dos San­tos, 27, made his MLS de­but with the Gal­axy on Sun­day af­ter a trans­fer from Vil­lar­real, where he had played since 2014, and Real So­ciedad for­ward Car­los Vela, 28, signed Wed­nes­day with ex­pan­sion team LAFC, which will be­gin MLS play in March.

With Jonathan’s 28-yearold brother, Gio­vani, al­ready in Car­son with the Gal­axy, that means three of El Tri’s big­gest stars will pre­pare for the World Cup in Los An­ge­les next year. The re­ac­tion in Mex­ico was swift and, predictably, neg­a­tive.

Mex­i­can jour­nal­ist Ri­cardo Carino’s com­ments on Twit­ter re­flected the views of many.

“Os­o­rio’s go­ing to have a prob­lem with Vela, Jona and Gio in MLS,” he wrote. “If they all play like Gio­vani, we’re fried.”

ESPN re­porter John Sut­cliffe, who is based in Mex­ico City and fol­lows El Tri closely, says the rea­son Mex­i­can play­ers have turned to­ward MLS is sim­ple.

“Dinero,” he said. “Y más dinero.”

Vela was re­port­edly mak­ing be­tween $3.3 mil­lion and $4 mil­lion at So­ciedad, where he played 230 games in all com­pe­ti­tions over the last six years, scor­ing 72 goals. He will play with the Span­ish club through the end of the year, then likely get a raise in Jan­uary when he joins LAFC, who also had to pay a trans­fer fee, re­ported in Spain to be $5.87 mil­lion.

Jonathan dos San­tos’ salary of ap­prox­i­mately $2 mil­lion in MLS is roughly equal to what he grossed in Spain, so for him the money was only part of the draw. Join­ing the Gal­axy also re­united him with Gio­vani, one of four na­tional team mem­bers play­ing in the U.S.

“I didn’t give up any money but I’m not get­ting much more than I got in Vil­lar­real,” Jonathan dos San­tos said in Span­ish. “The im­por­tant thing for me is to keep grow­ing as a per­son and as a player. That’s why I’m here.”

Once dis­missed as a re­tire­ment league for ag­ing Euro­pean play­ers, MLS is in­creas­ingly be­com­ing a des­ti­na­tion for young Latin Amer­i­cans, with the league start­ing play this sea­son with 115 play­ers from the re­gion.

Among those play­ers were Paraguay’s Miguel Alm­iron and Cris­tian Col­man, Venezuela’s Josef Martinez and Ar­gentina’s Hec­tor Vil­lalba — all are high­paid des­ig­nated play­ers and none are older than 24.

Since join­ing MLS, both Alm­iron and Martinez have been called up to their na­tional teams for World Cup qual­i­fy­ing.

“The qual­ity of our league has to be strong, it has to be com­pet­i­tive for play­ers who want to be on their na­tional teams,” Gal­axy Pres­i­dent Chris Klein said. “With the 2018 World Cup com­ing up, it’s vi­tal.”

Now comes Vela and Jonathan dos San­tos, who have com­bined to play in 87 games for Mex­ico.

“The league is very com­pet­i­tive. It’s grow­ing,” Dos San­tos said. “And there’s great play­ers here al­ready.

“In Europe there are in­cred­i­ble leagues. But MLS is on its way to be­com­ing one of the best in the world very soon.”

It’s not hap­pen­ing soon enough for Os­o­rio, though. The Colom­bian got his coach­ing start in MLS as an as­sis­tant with the New York\New Jersey MetroS­tars, then took the Chicago Fire to the con­fer­ence fi­nals and the New York Red Bulls to the MLS cham­pi­onship game as a head coach. And he says he would like to coach again in the U.S., so he in­sists he has noth­ing against MLS.

He just doesn’t think play­ing in the league is the best way to pre­pare for the World Cup.

“I will give the same ad­vice to any Amer­i­can player,” he said. “If you play in the MLS, it’s good. But if you play in Europe, it’s bet­ter.”

The team Os­o­rio took to the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup in June in­cluded 12 play­ers off Euro­pean teams; two oth­ers have moved to the con­ti­nent since.

Os­o­rio said play­ing in the league won’t elim­i­nate a player from na­tional team con­sid­er­a­tion — in the last two months he used Gio­vani dos San­tos in the Con­fed­er­a­tions Cup and Hous­ton’s Cubo Tor­res in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But it may make se­lec­tion more chal­leng­ing.

Jonathan dos San­tos says the de­ci­sion on whether he’s called up for next month’s World Cup qual­i­fiers comes down to how he plays, not where he plays. “It de­pends on me,” he said.

Yuri Cortez AFP/Getty Im­ages

MEX­I­CAN na­tional team coach Juan Car­los Osario in­sists he has noth­ing against MLS.

Scott Var­ley As­so­ci­ated Press

AF­TER a stint in Spain, Jonathan dos San­tos joined his older brother on the Gal­axy ros­ter. He made his de­but Sun­day.

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