Star-Studded MLS Is an International Player
Friday, March 28, 2008; Page E04
For the Kansas City Wizards, the ramifications could have been devastating. It was late January, the MLS club was preparing to open training camp and forward Eddie Johnson had just reached agreement to join Fulham in the English Premier League.
The move did not surprise the Wizards, for Johnson had nearly dashed to Europe last summer. But it did leave them in a jam: How do you replace your leading scorer on short notice?
There is no free agency in MLS. The college draft does not offer instant stars. And the handful of U.S. players based in Europe who could fill the void are almost impossible to acquire.
So the Wizards ventured into the vast international marketplace, an increasingly common destination for MLS teams to buy and sell players.
Within six weeks, they had found their man: Claudio L¿pez, a veteran of the fabled European leagues and Argentina's national team.
A foreign signing is nothing new in MLS. Imports have formed the league's personality since its launch in 1996, starting with Carlos Valderrama, Marco Etcheverry and Jaime Moreno and continuing in recent years with Carlos Ru¿z, Christian G¿mez and David Beckham.
But the rapid movement of players this winter -- arrivals from Switzerland, Scotland and all over Latin America, departures to Scandinavia, Germany and Austria -- suggests that MLS has become a full-fledged international merchant, albeit with a smaller credit limit.
"When you lose a player of Eddie's caliber, it's nerve-racking because he's a proven player," Wizards Coach Curt Onalfo said this week. "But you have to deal with change and be ready for the next move. We had a laundry list of foreign players, and when we lost him, we jumped on it."
Troy Perkins, United's starting goalkeeper the past two years, wanted to play in Europe, so the club sold him to a Norwegian club. One new goalie, Zach Wells, was acquired in a trade, and another, Jos¿ Carvallo, arrived on loan from Peru.
Midfielder Bryan Arguez had not shown much progress in his rookie season last year, so when Germany's Hertha Berlin expressed interest, United collected a transfer fee and applied it toward filling immediate needs.
Those needs arrived from Argentina (Marcelo Gallardo, Franco Niell and Gonzalo Peralta) and Colombia (Gonzalo Mart¿nez). All of those players started in the second leg of the Champions' Cup quarterfinals against Jamaica's Harbour View last week and might end up in the lineup tomorrow against the Wizards.