Amid all the buzz about Giovani dos Santos’ arrival to the LA Galaxy, forgive my skepticism — or, rather, cautious optimism. The relatively short history of Designated Players in Major League Soccer has given us the heights of goalscoring machine Robbie Keane, but it’s also given us the doldrums of Denilson does Dallas (dirty). Hype has proven no guarantee.
Despite my chicano pride, Mexican stars are no exception. The best you can say in Gio’s favor is that history is split.
Let’s start with the bad apples. Mexican defender Rafa Márquez started and won a UEFA Champions League for FC Barcelona in his prime, won a Liga MX title with Club León in his 30s, and performed well for Mexico at the 2014 World Cup, but he laid an absolute turd while with the New York Red Bulls in MLS (2010-2012). He heaped blame publicly on his teammates and was a red-card magnate. He even called MLS “amateur” after leaving for Mexico.
Márquez was bad, but he at least didn’t look totally overwhelmed when he played. The same cannot be said for Nery Castillo (right), the Chicago Fire’s DP signing (2010) who they hoped could fill the offensive hole left by Cuauhtémoc Blanco’s retirement. He made a total of eight appearances and didn’t even last a full half-season.
MLS was smart to offload this guy: He eventually returned to Mexico, where he’s criticized Gustavo Matosas, Jorge Vergara, Pachuca, and basically everybody within his 180-degree radius of sight. He made 11 appearances with Rayo Vallecano in Spain during the 2013-14 season but hasn’t been seen since.
Another out-of-shape DP stinker, Luis Ángel Landín lasted a single season in Houston, scoring two goals in 16 appearances. Every step looked painful.
Still, it hasn’t been all flops for Mexican arrivals. Former national teamer Claudio Suárez played center back for Chivas USA and acquitted himself very professionally. He made 64 appearances in three years (2006-2009) and is still fondly thought of. And, lastly, Blanco’s tenacity and exquisite passing turned a good Chicago Fire squad into legitimate MLS Cup candidates (2007-2009).
Another interesting case is Omar Bravo. The wily veteran was well past his prime when he arrived in Kansas City, and his stats were only decent. Still, his attitude and work rate endeared himself to teammates and fans. In that sense, you could call Bravo a success.
And, of course, the jury is still out and anxious to see how Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres does in Houston. If his play with Chivas USA is any indication, he may be the most successful Mexican in MLS yet.
MLS and El Tri fans may wonder whether Gio be a dud like Rafa or a stud like Blanco. In Gio’s favor, the technical quality of the league has improved greatly over the last few years. If another hormiga atomica like Sebastian Giovinco can do well in Toronto, then why can’t Gio take over in LA? Also, dos Santos has never been one to badmouth teammates or cry to the press, ala Márquez. Unlike Castillo, he should have good fitness levels after a Gold Cup and his tenure as a regular for Spanish club Villarreal.
He also enters a balanced and talented LA Galaxy side. Robbie Keane can both finish and dish assists, Gyasi Zardes provides width when pushed to the sideline, and Steven Gerrard can hopefully reprise the regista role he filled with Liverpool.
Gio’s entering a pretty good situation. Here’s hoping he has the motivation and attitude to make the most of it.