Now that the Chicago Fire have finally got their No. 10 with Thursday’s signing of Nico Gaitan, to say that the 31-year-old has a ton to live up to is quite the understatement.
Not only will the local fans be expecting him to provide the long-missing creative puzzle piece to a Fire side who haven’t been to MLS Cup in 16 years and haven’t won it since their expansion season, but there is also the luxuriously rich legacy of Argentine exports to compete with — especially in the playmaker role.
Gaitan’s arrival has compelled us to put together a top 10 ranking of the best players to ever grace our league from Argentina, and eight of those shining stars made their names by driving the attack up the middle.
No. 10: Leandro Gonzalez Pirez
Leandro Gonzalez Pirez | USA Today Sports Images
Though only beginning his third season with Atlanta United, Leandro Gonzalez Pirez has already made quite an impression. At the back, Gonzalez Pirez is an enforcer and a smooth criminal rolled into one. He can also carry the ball forward with skill or pick a pass. The 27-year-old narrowly missed being named as a finalist for MLS Defender of the Year in each of his first two seasons, finishing fourth in the voting each time. And of course, he shined throughout the Audi 2018 MLS Cup Playoffs as the Five Stripes claimed MLS Cup without allowing a goal in the postseason run of play.
No. 9: Maxi Moralez
Speaking of multi-talented Argentines starting their third MLS season, the New York City FC midfielder certainly fits the bill. Maxi Moralez does everything you’d want from a No. 10 and then some. He’ll drop deep to act as a pressure valve or spark a counter. He’ll make the late run into the box to finish moves. He’ll cover tons of ground, force turnovers and motor past opponents on the dribble. Above all, the veteran has an array of setup methods. After finishing third in the league with 16 helpers last year, Moralez is averaging a hair under half-an-assist per 90 minutes over his MLS career.
No. 8: Luciano Acosta
Luciano Acosta | USA Today Sports Images
Luciano Acosta is a major threat to surge up this list if he can continue last season’s Best XI form. Taking full advantage of quick chemistry with summer catch Wayne Rooney, Acosta exploded for 10 goals and 17 assists in 2018. The 24-year-old playmaker was so impressive, French giants Paris Saint-Germain nearly snared him during the winter transfer window. Like Moralez, he stays very busy, turning up all over the midfield and final third to drive foes bonkers in a variety of ways.
No. 7: Federico Higuain
Federico Higuain has been one of the most consistently dangerous string-pullers of this decade, averaging nearly three key passes per game. Higuain is one of just 21 players in league history to reach a half-century in both goals and assists. Since winning the Newcomer of the Year award in 2012, the creative 34-year-old has proven to be an ace on the rush, against packed defenses and from restarts. He helped Columbus reach MLS Cup in 2015, and set up the team’s lone goal in a tight 2-1 loss.
No. 6: Mauro Diaz
Mauro Diaz | USA Today Sports Images
For five years, the “Little Unicorn” was the straw that stirred FC Dallas’ drink. In 115 regular-season and playoff games, Díaz notched 49 assists (or an impressive 0.55 per 90 minutes for the stat nerds out there) to go with 23 goals. The diminutive No. 10 was among the top free-kick artists and through-ball magicians during his MLS tenure. He led Dallas to the 2016 Supporters’ Shield, and was named the U.S. Open Cup Player of the Tournament that same year as they became just the third club to complete that rare double.
No. 5: Christian Gomez
The former D.C. United engine was one of the top players in the league from 2004 to 2007. During that span, Gomez earned three straight Best XI nods and an MVP award, while the capital crew celebrated the 2004 MLS Cup title and a pair of Supporters’ Shields. That RFK heyday saw the midfielder rack up 43 goals and 29 assists in 108 regular-season and playoff matches. Gomez wasn’t just a great player, though. He was also a fiery leader who thrilled local fans by wearing his Black-and-Red heart on his sleeve.
No. 4: Javier Morales
Javier Morales | USA Today Sports Images
The longtime Real Salt Lake trequartista stands 11th on the all-time MLS assist chart with 83 and holds the league record for games played by an Argentinean with 255. Morales worked another 21 contests in the postseason, including the five that saw him lead the underdog Claret-and-Cobalt to a stunning 2009 MLS Cup triumph. He’s another member of the 50 goal-50 assist club, in no small part because of his nine direct free-kick strikes (in league history, only Sebastian Giovinco bagged more).
No. 3: Ignacio Piatti
Simply put, Ignacio Piatti has been an offensive machine since he arrived in Montreal five years ago. No attacker on this list has had a weaker supporting cast or subsisted on limited touches as often as Piatti, and yet he has scored 69 goals in 134 total MLS contests. In league history, there are only 10 center forwards with at least 100 regular-season and playoff games that can boast a higher goals per 90 minutes rate than the Nacho man’s 0.53. He’s been named to the Best XI twice and nearly willed the Impact to a Concacaf Champions League crown back in 2015.
No. 2: Guillermo Barros Schelotto
Guillermo Barros Schelotto | USA Today Sports Images
Throughout his four years in MLS, the man they call Guille always seemed to come up with just the play Columbus needed at just the time they needed it. He had the touch, the vision and the toughness to pull it all off. But Schelotto wasn’t just a tricky playmaker, he was a genuine leader for a Crew side that raised an MLS Cup and two Supporters’ Shields. He was the 2008 MVP, earned Best XI honors twice, and though he didn’t arrive on our shores until he was 33, no man on this list can match his rate of 0.84 goals plus assists per 90 minutes.
No. 1: Diego Valeri
Really, who else could it be but the Portland Timbers’ magical No. 8 shirt? Diego Valeri has 69 goals and 67 assists in 182 regular-season contests, putting him well within reach of becoming just the ninth player in league history to reach the 70-70 club. This brand of excellence has garnered him a place in the Best XI three times, as well as the 2017 MVP prize.
Truth be told, he’s probably been even better in the postseason, leading the Timbers to the 2015 MLS Cup title and a runners-up finish last season. On top of it all, precious few players in league history have been such a proud and willing civic ambassador for their adopted hometown. It likely would surprise no one if Valeri one day became the mayor of Portland.