Juan Carlos Osorio pulled a chair up to the breakfast table, pointed a fork at his inquisitor and cleared up a misunderstanding before cleaning up his eggs.
“I was misquoted as saying I don’t like the MLS,” the Mexican national team coach said this spring. “No. I never said that. I said it’s a strong league.”
There’s no misunderstanding Osorio’s preference that his players stay in Europe through next summer’s World Cup instead of coming to MLS.
And since he’s the guy who will be picking the Mexican roster, his words carry weight.
“I would prefer my players to play in Europe,” he said. “In the top leagues.”
Yet in the last several weeks, two of Mexico’s biggest stars have ignored those words, jumping from teams in Spain to ones in Southern California. Midfielder Jonathan dos Santos, 27, made his MLS debut with the Galaxy last Sunday after a transfer from Villarreal, where he had played since 2014, and Real Sociedad forward Carlos Vela, 28, signed Wednesday with expansion team LAFC, which will begin MLS play in March.
With Jonathan’s 28-year-old brother, Giovani, already in Carson with the Galaxy, that means three of El Tri's biggest stars will prepare for the World Cup in Los Angeles next year. The reaction in Mexico was swift and, predictably, negative.
Mexican journalist Ricardo Carino’s comments on Twitter reflected the views of many.
“Osorio’s going to have a problem with Vela, Jona and Gio in MLS,” he wrote. “If they all play like Giovani, we’re fried.”
ESPN reporter John Sutcliffe, who is based in Mexico City and follows El Tri closely, says the reason Mexican players have turned toward MLS is simple.
“Dinero,” he said. “Y más dinero.”
Vela was reportedly making between $3.3 million and $4 million at Sociedad, where he played 230 games in all competitions over the last six years, scoring 72 goals. He will play with the Spanish club through the end of the year, then likely get a raise in January when he joins LAFC, who also had to pay a transfer fee, reported in Spain to be $5.87 million.
Jonathan dos Santos’ salary of approximately $2 million in MLS is roughly equal to what he grossed in Spain, so for him the money was only part of the draw. Joining the Galaxy also reunited him with Giovani, one of four national team members playing in the U.S.
“I didn’t give up any money but I’m not getting much more than I got in Villarreal,” Jonathan dos Santos said in Spanish. “The important thing for me is to keep growing as a person and as a player. That’s why I’m here.”
Once dismissed as a retirement league for aging European players, MLS is increasingly becoming a destination for young Latin Americans, with the league starting play this season with 115 players from the region.
Among those players were Paraguay’s Miguel Almiron and Cristian Colman, Venezuela’s Josef Martinez and Argentina’s Hector Villalba – all are high-paid designated players and none are older than 24. Since joining MLS, both Almiron and Martinez have been called up to their national teams for World Cup qualifying.
“The quality of our league has to be strong, it has to be competitive for players who want to be on their national teams,” Galaxy president Chris Klein said. “With the 2018 World Cup coming up, it’s vital.”
Now comes Vela and Jonathan Dos Santos, who have combined to play in 87 games for Mexico.
“The league is very competitive. It’s growing,” Dos Santos said. “And there’s great players here already.
“In Europe there are incredible leagues. But MLS is on its way to becoming one of the best in the world very soon.”
It’s not happening soon enough for Osorio, though. The Colombian got his coaching start in MLS as an assistant with the MetroStars, then took the Chicago Fire to the conference finals and the New York Red Bulls to the MLS championship game as a head coach. And he says he would like to coach again in the U.S., so he insists he has nothing against MLS.
He just doesn’t think playing in the league is the best way to prepare for the World Cup.
“I will give the same advice to any American player,” he said. “If you play in the MLS, it’s good. But if you play in Europe, it’s better.”
The team Osorio took to the Confederations Cup in June included 12 players off European teams; two others have moved to the continent since.
Osorio said playing in the league won’t eliminate a player from national team consideration — in the last two months he used the Galaxy’s Giovani dos Santos in the Confederations Cup and Houston’s Cubo Torres in the CONCACAF Gold Cup. But it may make selection more challenging.
Jonathan dos Santos says the decision on whether he’s called up for next month’s World Cup qualifiers comes down to how he plays, not where he plays.
“It depends on me,” he said.
Follow Kevin Baxter on Twitter @kbaxter11