The connection between Major League Soccer and South America continues to grow by leaps and bounds. MLS has has consistently sent its scouts to the continent, notably Argentina, where they have found good deals. Players like Mauro Diaz, once seen as a big prospect at River Plate, spent the best five years of his career at FC Dallas. And although Miguel Almiron is Paraguayan, he was plucked from Argentine football when Atlanta United FC signed him from Lanus in 2017 before letting him join Newcastle United for $29 million two years later.
Now another MLS upstart is hoping to continue that trend of importing talent from South America. Austin FC will make its debut this season and has put together a roster with notable talent from the region. Then again, Claudio Reyna, Austin FC’s sporting director and one of the first truly great players produced by the United States, is the son of an Argentine player, Miguel, who played professionally with Los Andes. So perhaps the link up is natural.
Reyna most recently looked to Argentina in landing a marquee player. Midfielder Tomas Pochettino, who signed as a Designated Player last month, will be a key cog to the Texas club’s debut campaign. Unlike more slightly-built players from Argentina who have thrived in MLS at the No. 10 position, the 25-year-old is bigger, stronger and more dynamic, and may well start off playing a little deeper. His outstanding asset is the power and precision in his right boot; he can spray long diagonal balls from deep and emerge in the penalty area to test the opposing goalkeeper himself too.
After coming through the ranks at Boca Juniors, Pochettino had to move to the provinces, to Talleres de Cordoba, to get some game time. So well has he done over the past two years that he was reportedly on the radar of a number of big Brazilian clubs and the fact that he has chosen to head to the United States is testament to the rising financial power and sporting credibility of MLS.
Pochettino should find a welcoming South American environment in Austin. Uruguay’s Diego Fagundez and MLS SuperDraft No. 1 pick Daniel Pereira, who moved to the U.S. after his parents sought asylum from Venezuela, will be among his new teammates.
Austin FC manager Josh Wolff, a longtime MLS player and assistant coach, will lean on his newly formed South American contingent in hopes of reproducing the type of success that Atlanta had when it debuted in 2017. In addition to the three players above, Austin also have tapped into a pipeline from Parguayan side Club Guarani.
Jhohan Romana, 22, is a Colombian centre-back who is strong, quick and uncomplicated; Rodney Redes, 20, is a barrel-chested wide midfielder; while great things have been expected from 26-year-old Cecilio Dominguez, a subtle and skillful wide striker. Dominguez’s career has also taken spells in Mexico and Argentina without him yet hitting the heights of which he seems capable, but perhaps the connection with fellow Designated Player signee Pochettino will be the key and ensure a stable partnership.
Those three players were part of a Guarani side that punched magnificently above their weight last season to reach the round of 16 of the Copa Libertadores, having fought through three qualifying rounds and eliminated the mighty Corinthians of Brazil along the way. They also put up a strong domestic showing — finishing fifth in the Clausura, then losing in the playoff final on penalties to eventual champions Olimpia.
Austin may mirror Atlanta’s initial success, or stumble out the blocks like Inter Miami CF — another club that has signed young South American talent with mixed results — but it’s clear that Reyna and his staff laying the foundation for an eventful debut campaign.