Since Major League Soccer’s inception in 1996, a balance of homegrown and foreign talent has seen the league through its fledgling years. Within the last five years, though, the North American top flight has enjoyed a tremendous upswing in growth, with more players than ever before making the trip to sign on with MLS clubs. Such signings as David Beckham for Los Angeles Galaxy and former Arsenal ace Thierry Henry with New York Red Bulls have been the headline-grabbers of late, however, it is a less star-studded pack of Colombian recruits who are flocking to the United States-based league in unprecedented numbers.
Thirty players from the South American country have signed on with MLS sides, making Colombia the league’s second-most represented nation only behind the USA. While some point to Carlos Valderrama, who lined up for the now-defunct Tampa Bay Mutiny in the league’s early years, as the pioneer for Colombians plying their trade in the United States, it is a next generation proving the biggest influences of the trend. Seattle Sounders forward Fredy Montero has been pegged the poster-boy for the movement, with many of his fellow countrymen pointing to his success as a key motivation behind their switch from the Liga Postobon to MLS.
Now, over half of the clubs in MLS have welcomed Colombians into their foreign ranks, with San Jose Earthquakes midfielder Tressor Moreno and New England Revolution forward Jose Moreno just some of the latest additions. FIFA.com highlights a trio of players who laid the groundwork for such acquisitions.
Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders)
While Major League Soccer continues to increase its global appeal, one of the more sour criticisms of the 17-year-old league has been its inability to attract up-and-coming stars from abroad. However, with Seattle Sounders’ entrance into MLS four seasons ago, so too came the first appearance of a promising prospect in Fredy Montero. The Colombia-born forward had been swooped up at the age of 13 by Deportivo Cali, and went on to make his first appearance with the senior side in 2005. After a loan spell at Atletico Huila, Montero returned to Cali in rampant form and became the youngest player to lead the Colombian first division in scoring. Despite local pressures to pursue opportunities in Europe, Montero caught plenty of flack for an unfavourable loan move to MLS newcomers Sounders in January 2009. “When I chose to come to MLS, that was a very hectic period,” Montero told MLSsoccer.com. “The people wanted to see me play for a big team, a European team. I was criticised for coming to Seattle.”
Despite the Colombian publics’ dismay, the then 21-year-old burst onto the North American football scene by scoring twice in Seattle Sounders’ season opener against New York Red Bulls. Montero racked up an impressive 22 goals over the course of an initial two-year loan spell with Sounders, and became just the third Designated Player signing as he made his move to the Pacific North-west permanent in 2011. And although Montero has yet to earn a prolonged run in the Colombia national team, the forward continues to shine on the MLS stage and improve the perception of the league among his compatriots.
Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake)
Like Montero, Real Salt Lake defender Jamison Olave started his career in his native Colombia with Deportivo Cali. After a seven-year stint with the Colombian side, the centre-back signed on with RSL for the 2008 season. Lauded for his imposing stature and speed, Olave’s presence in the Claret and Cobalt back-line has, not coincidentally, brought about the club’s most illustrious campaigns to date. After proving himself a formidable obstacle, Olave, nicknamed ‘The Verb’, has garnered a faithful following among the crowd at Rio Tinto Stadium. A testament to the allure and possibility of a trophy-laden mantle, Olave not only helped RSL to their first-ever MLS Cup in 2009, but followed up that success with a runners-up finish in the 2010/11 CONCACAF Champions League. Olave capped off that same year by earning the MLS Defender of Year award and team-mate Nat Borchers has sung his praises, stating: “His speed is so integral to this team in terms of how we want to defend.”
Little has changed for Olave since the start of the latest MLS season and Real Salt Lake currently lead the way in the Western Conference, with the centre-back showing no signs of letting up.
David Ferreira (FC Dallas)
After beginning his career with America de Cali in the Colombian first division, David Ferreira enjoyed successful spells at Atletico Paranaense in Brazil and Al-Shabab in United Arab Emirates, before going out on loan to FC Dallas prior to the 2009 season. The midfielder quickly adapted to life in Texas, becoming a regular fixture in coach Schellas Hyndman’s side. Hyndman himself has said the accomplishments of such players like Ferreira in a league garnering increasingly more world exposure has opened the doors for their fellow Colombians to take the leap to MLS. “Some of the other (Colombian) players come here thinking that this is just as good of an opportunity as going to Europe because you’re getting world exposure,” Hyndman told MLSsoccer.com. “Another thing is, I think they see how their countrymen are doing.
Ferreira certainly made his presence known in Dallas, proving his worth with eight goals and seven assists in his first MLS season. The playmaker went on to better his performance in 2010 and had a hand in over half of FCD’s goals before he went on to earn the league’s Most Valuable Player honour. After sitting out nearly the entire 2011 season with a broken ankle, all eyes are on Ferreira to make a much-anticipated comeback. An additional surgery has kept El Torito off the pitch so far this season, but Dallas are desperate to have the midfield tactician back on the pitch soon.