Author: Gerry Maravilla
While David Beckham’s injuries prevented him from making a big impact on the Los Angeles Galaxy’s season this year, another big star new to Major League Soccer (MLS) is making his presence known in a big way. To Mexican Soccer fans, the name Cuauhtémoc Blanco stirs up emotions of either love or hate. The footballer from Mexico City has been one of Mexico’s biggest stars in both the club and international forum. He was a major part of Club America’s attacking team and helped his home country gain their highest honor: the 1999 FIFA Confederations Cup, a tournament in which he and Brazil’s Ronaldinho hold the record for most goals scored.
Blanco is known for fantastic dribbling and a particular technique called the “Cuauteminha”—he grasps the ball between his feet and bunny hops in between two defenders—which he claims to have invented. There is no doubt that the player, nicknamed “The Hunchback” for his slouching posture, is one of Mexico’s most popular and skilled players. His temper and tactic of play, however, are what make him a controversial player.
For years fans of the Mexico First Division teams have come to love or hate Blanco. He is known for “diving” and playing referees in order to get calls in his favor and he is not afraid to tell off other players or officials during matches. His fiery temper has caused him to butt heads with several coaches, including former Mexican National Team Coach Ricardo Lavolpe who decided to leave Blanco off the 2006 World Cup Roster. He has imitated urinating on opponents after scoring goals and even punched a TV reporter while on-air. While his particular style has aggravated his critics and opponents, they have in fact produced results.
In July of this year, Blanco made a much quieter entry into the MLS than a certain British footballer. Playing his first game on July 24, 2007 for the Chicago Fire in a friendly against Celtic F.C., Blanco scored his team’s only goal, resulting in a tie. While the 34-year-old Blanco may be considered too old, he has, to the chagrin of his critics, made a big difference to Chicago and saved them from what could have been another lackluster season. Blanco holds the spot for third most goals scored in the MLS in 2007 despite coming in mid-season and has created the midfield support the Fire desperately needed. It was in the final regular season game that a goal assisted by Blanco led the Fire to crush David Beckham and the Los Angeles Galaxy’s dreams of making up for their terrible start of the season and taking the final play-off spot in this year’s MLS Cup Tournament.
Slowly, players of the MLS are learning and loathing some of the Mexican attacker’s controversial tactics. In the first round of play-offs, the Fire met the league favorites D.C. United, a game which resulted in a 1-0 win for Chicago. Many of D.C. United’s players have since expressed their annoyance with Blanco’s diving and his arguments with the referees in which he often demands fouls be called. His dramatic tendencies of tumbling towards the floor whenever a player makes contact with him slowed down D.C.’s attack, and in the end contributed to their loss. Chicago’s next game ended in a tie, which allowed Chicago to progress into the Eastern Conference finals against the New England Revolution. While the Fire failed to overcome New England in the Conference Final, Blanco has undoubtedly made his presence known, and his pride will only make him work harder to ensure that Chicago gains a championship in his time with the team.
Already many players on the team have cited Blanco as a mentor and positive influence. His experience has been instrumental in coaching some of the younger players during the high-stress situation that is the play-offs. He is proving that, despite his age, he still has plenty to offer the game of soccer and a lot to bring to the MLS. Several of his friends still playing in Mexico’s First Division have questioned him about the MLS and have expressed an interest in migrating to the United States to play. Blanco has already publicly made positive statements and endorsed the league, calling it a “new challenge” for footballers in his native country. Blanco is the type of controversial and polarizing star that the league needs to spur passion and zeal into fans, and perhaps transfer this passion into the MLS itself.
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