Let’s dream you’re a Colombian footballer. About 25 years old, a forward with a bit of pace and a thumping left foot. A journeyman of Categoría A and you don’t want to cut short a dream to settle for a more stable life driving a bus like a race car in Bogotá.
After a solid season with mid-table side Cúcuta Deportivo, you’re looking for a bigger club. One that actually pays on time. But Nacional and Millonarios are stacked up front. The rest are cash-strapped.
So you look elsewhere. Argentina and Brazil won’t sniff you. In Mexico there are options, but you’re a dime-a-dozen there. The United States? You’re listening.
Major League Soccer. A league on the rise. Stable working conditions. A style of play not dissimilar to Colombia. Good pace, physical. You’ll stand out with your technique.
There’s also plenty of Latinos to feel at home. Oh, and dollars. You’re a bargain and those greenbacks will go far for your family. What’s not to like? Aside from the work permit process…
A couple sides are interested. Caleb Porter wants to add another Colombian to his Portland Timbers. Colorado’s Oscar Pareja has already called your agent/brother.
But Porter invites you to a match at Jeld-Wen. Decision made. The paperwork takes a while, but it gets done. You’re now a Timber. And currently the 96th Latin American player in MLS.
Ok, wake up. Sorry, you aren't a real footballer.
But that dream is (roughly) real-life for the 17 Colombian footballers currently playing in MLS, and why they lead a growing wave of Latino players entering the league.*
Last year, Colombians led the Hispanic pack with 24 MLS roster spots. In 2012, the season began with 78 players from Latin America. This season, the league was up to 96.
Of roughly 550 total roster spots in MLS, Latin American players made up about 17.5% of the league in 2013. Consider that 17% of the US population comes from Hispanic countries and this draws a remarkable parallel.
Here's a clear number breakdown:
- After Colombia came Brazil and Argentina with 15 participants each.
- Honduras and Mexico both exported nine players to MLS. (Five of those Mexicans were on loan to Chivas USA from Guadalajara.)
- Costa Rica followed with six MLSers.
- Then Uruguay (5), and Ecuador (4).
- Panama and Haiti tied with three.
- El Salvador, Cuba, and Peru all had two players.
- Venezuela, Guatemala, Martinique and Puerto Rico each had one. (Though Puerto Rico's was Oregon-born, Real Salt Lake GK Josh Saunders. )
Amongst the clubs, Salt Lake, pioneers of farming for high-quality, low-cost talent in South America, have the most Latin Americans in their roster with 10, along with FC Dallas. Chivas USA and Colorado are close seconds with eight each. Then Portland (7) and Kansas City (6). Six teams followed with five Latino players: Philadelphia, San Jose, LA Galaxy, Columbus, Chicago and Montreal. The rest: Seattle (4), New York (4), New England (3), Houston (2), Vancouver (2), Toronto (1), D.C. United (1).
As MLS continues to diversify, this dynamic is interesting to note. Perhaps Latin Americans and success in the league aren't synonymous just yet, but they are certainly raising the level, and profile, of MLS.
*In fact, Colombia is the most represented foreign country in the MLS, even ahead of Canada (16).