For all the hype around the arrival of David Beckham stateside, no mid-season signing has had the affect on its team than that of Cuauhtemoc Blanco for Chicago. Blanco’s signing was far from a sure thing: After all Mexican Internationals have come to MLS and flopped previously, the most notable being Luis Hernandez who spent a miserable year and a half with the LA Galaxy, and many myself included took Ricardo LaVolpe’s decision to dump Blanco from the Mexican World Cup Team as a sign that his volatile personality had reached a boiling point.
At 34, Blanco seems to have reached the pinnacle of his career. Despite now being nothing more than a reserve for the National Team, he was the most valuable player in this spring’s Mexican Clausura where he led Club America to the finals where they lost to Pachuca. Like a fine wine he seems to have gotten better with age and also dumped his immature and temperamental side, channeling his emotion into leadership for his club.
His arrival in Chicago was not met by the fanfare Beckham’s was in LA, but with three goals and four assists in four league games and one friendly he has played, the Fire has been transformed. The team which looked out of sorts for months, now has a genuine playmaker. This has turned the Fire, a team that looked more desperately lost than even the LA Galaxy a month ago into a likely playoff team. Blanco has thus far been able to dictate play with his new team unlike Beckham, and as a playmaking #10 he has made his quality has rubbed off on his teammates.
Blanco has also had a hidden affect on attendance. Unlike Hernandez whose affect on crowds was limited to his debut with the Galaxy (where they did draw 40,000 plus) Blanco has increased Chicago’s attendance by an average of 5,000 fans for each home date since he arrived. In addition, larger than usual crowds in smaller markets like Salt Lake City and Kansas City have come out to see him and have loudly cheered every touch he has made during the run of play. When Blanco does play against FC Dallas, Colorado and Houston on the road expect large crowds cheering his every touch once again.
No disrespect intended towards the great David Beckham who has given MLS immense international visibility and credibility or Juan Pablo Angel, but this season’s top “designated player” addition to this point has been Blanco. Of course when David Beckham is healthy and the Galaxy actually make an effort to surround him with players that compliment his abilities that may change, but for now Blanco is the key impact “Beckham Rule” newcomer in the league.