Just back from South America, general manager Adrian Hanauer shares some of his observations of his trip with technical director Chris Henderson to Argentina and Uruguay.
There’s been an influx of South Americans, particularly Argentinians, into MLS, and I thought we owed it to ourselves to get down there. Originally the plan was for me to go alone back in December and early January, but that trip got delayed so Chris was able to go as well.
We really wanted to get to the bottom of what was causing this influx, and why Argentinians fit into MLS so well. Argentina is also a pretty good launching pad for a lot of quality players from other South American countries. Many players from Uruguay, Paraguay, Chile and Colombia may end up in Argentina. We had several good contacts in Argentina and we were able to get an enormous amount of information out of the 10 days we spent down there.
I had traveled to South American before. In fact, in the past I’d spent quite a bit of time–probably a total of two months–in Brazil vacationing and cruising all over because I have a cousin who lives there.
I’ve done things like this before, that is searching for players, in Europe and in China. Although this was a slightly different process in that I was thinking with my MLS hat on, really it’s about the same.
It’s about building good relationships; identifying players that fit the system, the mentality, and the budget and then trying to make sure you stay on top of those players and follow them and know when an opportunity may present itself.
The reality is most of these players are under contract and, in the Argentine first division, they will command transfer fees from $1-10 million. Those players don’t fit very well into the MLS structure. However, you may find players who are interested in a move to North America, who may have had an off year but they are quality players just the same. Maybe it’s a player coming through the second division, or maybe a player in a top league somewhere other than Argentina.
You just look for the right opportunities and at the same time, you look for players such as a Designated Player. There may be players who can help us win a championship early on, who can make us a very good team out of the gate. So we were able to go to those games and look at players thinking about that as well.
At some of the games, the fans’ passion is unbelievable. Last Saturday night we went to see Boca Juniors host Newell’s Old Boys and on Sunday evening Tigre hosted Estudiantes. I have to say that those games rate as the 1st and 2nd-best atmosphere for sporting events in my life. The Boca game at the La Bombonera was spine-tingling, hair-raising. Fifty-seven thousand fans packed into the stadium, the passion and the constant singing and beating of drums.
Soccer in Argentina is so far and away the biggest sport. If you had all of the passion of the NBA, Major League Baseball and NFL wrapped into one game at home every two weeks, we would have that kind of passion as well. Those stadiums are filled, it’s tough to get a ticket and Estudiantes had a lot of fans there as well. I’m hopeful we can build that kind of passion over time here in Seattle.
We saw no violence but we always left the stadium early, to get from one game to the next. Otherwise, if you’re there when the game ends, the stadium is closed for about a half-hour to allow the visiting fans to get out of the area before the home fans are let out.
This was the first trip together for me and Chris. We see the game similarly, including some of those more obscure things like mentality and how a player might be in the locker room, whether he’s a smart soccer player, whether he’s coachable. It’s easy to see a guy who’s really good technically and tactically, but there’s also a lot more than that to becoming a good professional.
We knew ahead of time that our itinerary would keep us busy. Still, we saw more soccer than I expected, we identified more individual players than I expected, and we learned more about the youth systems and academies in Argentina and Uruguay than I expected. We made many contacts who will pay dividends down the line.
All and all, I would say it was a very productive trip, and it exceeded my expectations by a mile. Next, it’s on to Africa. I’ll let you know how that goes as well.