Viva Colorado is a branch of the Denver Post that targets a Spanish-reading audience, and I was fortunate to receive an assignment with a single question: What are the Colorado Rapids doing to attract Hispanic fans?
People have been asking this since 1996. The answers have varied over time. For example, we had a pairing of a Brazilian and a Peruvian in 1998 (Marquinho and Waldir). But Marquinho’s wife was miserable here without a social network, so they left town before the end of the season. Showcasing a star seemed like the best strategy, even though it’s hard to do with the limited funds available.
Here’s a passage from my original draft, which didn’t make it to the final version.
“The league has been structured to grow slowly,” Pareja said. “And the financial part of the league is one of the keys to make this happen. So, it can be difficult when the normal fan asks you why we don’t bring in a superstar from Barcelona who is 23 or 24 years old. The league cannot afford them yet.
“Instead,” Pareja explained, “the league is trying to get affordable young guys who are still in their prime – or are almost in their prime. The Rapids have Latin American players who can attract the community. I’m talking about Martin [Rivero, Argentina]. I’m talking about Kevin [Harbottle, Chile], Hendry Thomas [Honduras], Diego Calderón [Ecuador], and Germán Mera [Colombia].”
So I started to compile a list of “Hispanic” players and concluded that it’s a silly exercise because fans want to see good soccer and don’t care as much about a player’s background. If he plays well, they cheer. If the “fans” still cross their arms and complain that he doesn’t speak Spanish, then they’re not really soccer fans.
Considering where they’re born and where they’ve played recently, here’s the current status as of May 17, 2013:
- Diego Calderón, Ecuador
- Jaime Castrillon, Colombia
- Germán Mera, Colombia (still finalizing paperwork)
- Kevin Harbottle, Chile
- Pablo Mastroeni, Argentina (but he grew up in Arizona)
- Martin Rivero, Argentina
- Hendry Thomas, Honduras (they’re looking at another trialist from Honduras this week, a friend of Hendry’s named Porciano Avila)
TOTAL (not including Caribbean countries or Spain)
Rafael Amaya, Colombia, 1997
Roberto Brown, Panama, 2007
José Cancela, Uruguay, 2007-2008
Jorge “Tote” Castañeda, Mexico, 1997
Antonio de la Torre, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2004
Jorge Luis Dely Valdés, Panama, 1999-2000
Raúl Díaz Arce, El Salvador, 2001
Facundo Diz, Argentina, 2009
Facundo Adrián Erpen, Argentina, 2007-2009
Christian Gómez, Argentina, 2008
Denis Hamlett, Costa Rica, 1996
Hárrison Henao, Colombian, 2012 (but he was on loan and appeared in only one game)
Nicolás Hernández, Argentina, 2006-2008
Claudio López, Argentina, 2010
Daniel Osorno, Guadalajara, Mexico, 2007
Raúl Palacios, Chile, 2002
David Patiño, Mexico, 1997
Adrián Paz, Uruguay, 1997-1998
Marvin Quijano, El Salvador, 2002-2003
Gregory Richardson, Guyana, 2009
Waldir Sáenz, Peru, 1998
Diego Serna, Colombia, 2005
Carlos Valderrama, 2001-2002
Luis Eduardo Zapata, Colombia, 2012
Luís Eduardo Schmidt, aka Edu, Brazil, 2012
Rafael Gomes, Brazil, 2008
Marco Antônio dos Santos “Marquinho,” Brazil, 1998
Thiago Martins, Brazil, 2006
I could compile another list of all players not born in the U.S., but that’s silly too. Shane O’Neill was born in Ireland but grew up in Boulder, Colorado. Players don’t start developing soccer touch and vision in the womb or cradle, so it probably makes more sense to identify where they really started to make the transition to top-notch playing.
Pablo Mastroeni grew up in Arizona, starting with a Dutch coach who taught the kids how to tackle first. It makes sense. A player needs to know how to get the ball before he can use all the skills that most coaches emphasize because it’s the beautiful part of the game. Actually, tackling can be very elegant and beautiful, but folks usually associate tackling with ugly destruction. I digress…