Does the Future of Soccer in the US Have Latin Flavor?

December 3, 2007

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David Beckham arrived in the MLS this past summer with much hoopla and hopes of drawing in fans that will finally propel professional soccer to the upper tier of sports in the United States. But, with much less fanfare, several developments in recent months point to Latin American players taking on a more significant role in the growth of the sport in our country.

Last week, the MLS’ deputy commissioner stated that Beckham’s transfer to the LA Galaxy was not the biggest event to happen in the league this year, but rather it was the addition of star imports from South America who made a huge difference on the pitch and in the stands. Brazilian forward Luciano Emilio of DC United led the league in scoring and was named MVP. The other finalists for the award were also newcomers from south of the border: Colombian Juan Pablo Angel and Mexican Cuauhtémoc Blanco. In addition to boosting the Chicago Fire’s record, Blanco is a marketing marvel. It has been reported that average attendance at home games rose by 5,000 fans after he joined the team – a not trivial figure in the world of the MLS.

Yet maybe even more telling was the appointment last month of Wilmer Cabrera to lead the US U-17 men’s national team and US Soccer’s Residency Program, the crown jewel of the Federation’s youth development efforts. You see, Cabrera is a Colombian national taking over a position that has featured a string of coaches schooled in the English and German style of play.

Whether all these developments are driven by the goal of finding greater success on the field of play or to make the US game more attractive to the large number of Latino fans who still place their loyalties with teams from their home country is hard to tell. Either way, if this trend continues, it promises to change the face of a sport that in the United States until now has reflected a decidedly Northern European influence.