In the scope of world soccer, clubs don’t come much bigger or more successful than Boca Juniors in Argentina. While teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona, Manchester United and Chelsea, AC Milan, Inter Milan and Bayern Munich may dominate the American landscape because of the availability of European matches on television, Boca and River Plate fit into that tier of club on the world stage.
So when Juan Manuel Martinez, at 29 years old, decided to leave Boca to play for Real Salt Lake it makes a statement about the growth of the league and RSL.
“It's like Real Madrid or Barcelona in Spain. If you play for River or Boca, everyone knows you. You can't go to the restaurant. You can't go to the mall. It's a huge, huge team,” Real Salt Lake midfielder and Argentina native Javier Morales said.
Added Sebastian Jaime, “It is a huge team, not just in Argentina – around the world. Everywhere you go, everyone knows about Boca Juniors. They won a lot of trophies – not just in Argentina but international trophies. Everywhere you go, they know Boca Juniors.”
Boca Juniors has won 30 league titles, 22 international championships and 11 other national championships in Argentina. Some of the best players from Argentina have suited up for the club, including Diego Maradona and Carlos Tevez, among others. And now Martinez becomes the second player in league history to move directly from Boca Juniors to MLS.
The first to make that move was Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who was a two-time MLS Best XI selection and 2008 MLS Cup winner with the Columbus Crew, and while Martinez is a different player, he can make a quick impact with RSL, according to his countrymen.
“He's a big player. He's going to be great for us,” Jaime said. “He has a lot of experience playing for big teams in Argentina. He's going to be a good addition for us.”
Morales made the move to Real Salt Lake in 2007 along with Fabian Espindola and Matias Mantilla. Having those two players joining him aided in his ability to adjust to a new landscape on and off the field.
Since then, he has served as something of an ambassador for the club when new players arrive from South America and that will be the case with Martinez too.
“I'll try to help him. Try to show him the city. Try to tell him about the guys and about the club and the mentality. It's nothing different. The sooner he is adapted to the team, the better it is for us,” Morales said. “I think he's going to be important for us.”
Morales and Jaime look forward to having another top-quality player join the team. That Martinez is another player from Argentina is just a bonus.
When asked about the prospect of adding another top-quality player from Argentina, Morales smiled gleefully.
“It's going to be a good thing to drink mate,” he laughed.