The MLS of Messi or Busquets, another outlet for young Spanish talent | Soccer | Sports


The recent arrival to Major League Soccer (MLS) of stars such as Sergio Busquets or Jordi Alba increased the presence of Spanish players in the North American league and turned the focus more towards a competition where at least a dozen Iberian soccer players were already active. Most of these players took their first professional steps in Europe and then took their careers to the other side of the Atlantic, from the young Riqui Puig (24 years old), a former Barça player signed by the Galaxy in 2022, to the veteran Andreu Fontás (34 years), also a Barça youth player, who has played for Sporting Kansas City since 2018. The opposite is that of Alonso Coello (Madrid, 24 years old), Toronto FC’s starting midfielder who, unlike the rest, completed the last stage of his training in the United States and made the jump to the highest category from university soccer in that country.

Coello’s journey on the American continent began with a scholarship he won at the age of 18 to study Economics at Florida Atlantic University. It was then when the man from Madrid, who had spent eleven years training in the youth teams of Atlético and Rayo, decided to make a complete turn in his life. “I decided to go to the US because they offered me the opportunity to continue playing football without having to leave school, something that in Spain is very difficult to reconcile when you reach a certain more competitive level, because you have to choose one of the two. Here the entire competition system is designed to promote university sports and so that you don’t have to choose,” he explains about his decision in a conversation with EL PAÍS.

In this way, Coello began to show his talent playing for the Florida Atlantic Owls, the university team, while also ensuring an academic degree in case his goal of dedicating himself to football did not work out in the best way, a cushion for the future his parents insisted he have. He graduated in December 2021, a few months before Toronto FC looked for him to join the preseason second team, a common modus operandi in MLS clubs, a competition that brings together teams from the United States and Canada. . He was trying out for a few weeks until they offered him a contract with Toronto II in 2022 and finally rose to the first team in March 2023, the same month in which he would fulfill his lifelong dream: debut as a professional soccer player.

Alonso Coello disputes a ball with Lionel Messi during Miami-Toronto last season. Joe Raedle (Getty Images)

After five years of playing soccer in North America, Coello has witnessed the growth of the MLS as a competition, something that, in his words, is seen season after season: “From one year to the next you can already see that the level has risen compared to to the previous year,” he points out. Furthermore, he attributes that the jump in quality in recent times is due not only to the signing of superstars by some clubs, something that is not new since David Beckham signed for the Galaxy in 2007, but to the general improvement of the bulk of footballers that make up the championship. “Obviously, the arrival of world-class players helps a lot to give the league more visibility and exposure, but it is not only those players who make the level higher, but today the level of the average MLS player is much higher.” higher than the average level five years ago,” he points out. What Coello points out is what magnifies the present of the MLS, a league that in the last 17 years has seen players like Thierry Henry, Andrea Pirlo, Kaká, David Villa, Zlatan Ibrahimovic or Gareth Bale pass through, without the level having been as high as now.

This has to do above all with the investment that North American clubs have allocated to strengthening grassroots football, which has meant that the MLS teams’ own academies may now be able to produce competitive players of local origin. Something that can be reflected, for example, in Canada’s presence in the last World Cup after 36 years of not qualifying for the highest international national team competition. Or in the Champions League title won in 2022 by the American Seattle Sounders, which became the first MLS team since 2000 to win the regional trophy, usually in the hands of Mexican clubs.

Coello has experienced this development from within: “All MLS clubs have been working together for years to strengthen the image of the league and have focused on working better in the lower categories. “They put a lot of resources into making sure that they are no longer just bringing in good players from Europe, but now training them in their own academies.” It is within this ecosystem, in a football that he describes as “much more physical and direct” than Spanish, where Coello stands out precisely for his Iberian school: “The Spanish footballer here stands out, not for his physicality, but for his reading of game and technique in the execution of some actions. For example, they ask me to be in contact with the ball, dictate the game and maintain the tempo of the games,” explains the Madrid midfielder, who shares a dressing room with players like Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, and who has already scored his first assist. of the season last Sunday, March 17 against New York City.

Finally, it was in Miami, more than seven thousand kilometers from his homeland, where Coello lived another of his dreams: sharing a playing field with Lionel Messi. “I grew up in the years in which Messi dominated football for 15 years, so having the opportunity to play against him or against Busquets was an unforgettable experience, which I enjoyed very much, and which will be with me all my life,” he says. who does not hide his desire to return to Europe in the future: “I am a competitive person and, although the MLS is growing a lot, I would like to one day be exposed to playing against the best and, right now, that is in Spain or In England”.

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