Guillermo Barros Schelotto, known as Guille, came to MLS, saw how things were done in 2007, then conquered in 2008.By Andrea Canales
Boca Juniors and River Plate came together to help inspire Guillermo Barros Schelotto in Major League Soccer's championship game.
Sigi Schmid mentioned more than once how his star player was especially motivated for big games.
While there's a long way that MLS has to go to contend with the most heated rivalries in soccer, the adjacent corners of Red Bull New York and Columbus Crew fans did a fair approximation. Their chants could be heard vying for supremacy, driven by pounding drumbeats while a number of flags waved the colors of the respective competing interests.
It likely harked Schelotto back, just a little bit, to his days as one of the most dynamic players on the Boca Juniors' home turf of La Bombanera. During his time there, no opponent's loss was more required than that of River Plate.
Now, part of what stood between Schelotto and the ultimate triumph in MLS was a former River Plate player, Juan Pablo Angel. If that didn't drive Schelotto on enough, he could look into the stands to see Carlos Bianchi, his coach at that club, urging him on. Bianchi had arrived as a special visitor to see Schelotto at the game.
His family was also on hand at the final. Schelotto was thinking of his three little boys when he made the move to the U.S., especially since the fan culture in Argentina had turned increasingly violent. Players were threatened for poor games, for example. Now his family was settled, enjoying a quiet life in a nice neighborhood.
Though cheers for his play are heard in stadiums filled with soccer fans, Schelotto is unknown to the American world at large.
When he exited the elevator to attend an MLS gala event as one of the VIP guests, to accept the honor of being named the League's Most Valuable Player, Schelotto was stopped by a hotel employee. It wasn't for an autograph, but because Schelotto wasn't carrying a ticket to the show that planned to honor him.
While anonymity can have its annoying moments, Schelotto has been generally relieved to escape the microscope of constant scrutiny.
One more element pushed Schelotto to perform well - his best friend on the team, Gino Padula. Unlike his countryman, Padula had never won a title of any kind. The veteran defender had traveled and played throughout Europe for club teams in England, Spain and France, but he formed a special bond with his Crew teammate.
"I've never been on a team with another Argentine before," Padula acknowledged. "Our families have barbecues together."
That closeness emboldened Padula to ask for a special favor, even though, truth be told, he was once a River Plate player, too.
"I told him to help me get my first title - that he has many, but I've never won one and I really wanted one," Padula said. "He's such a special player, I knew he could lead our team here."
Perhaps that was part of the reason why, when Columbus looked overwhelmed in a first half that had the Red Bulls running rampant, Schelotto put in some extra effort. He did it where no one would expect it, either, on defense.
"The ball was going out," Schelotto recalled. "Dave van den Bergh thought it was going to go out, but I just tried to get it and then I did."
He certainly did, but while many MLS players could probably chase a down a ball someone was trying to shield out of bounds, probably only Schelotto could send it forward so precisely, threading the maze of running players perfectly to pick out Alejandro Moreno on the run for the first goal.
It stunned New York to see their momentum thwarted. Schelotto wasn't done yet, though. As soon as the Red Bulls managed an equalizer, the midfielder led his team back, serving up a perfect cross for Chad Marshall to establish the lead again.
Padula also proved to be a warrior, fighting through a knock on his knee during the game to stay in the match and limit the chances of speedy Dane Richards. Schelotto embraced his emotional teammate on the field.
The final killing blow came when Schelotto's deft chip pass found a charging Frankie Hejduk.
"I don't know how he saw me," Hejduk said. "He's amazing. He's got eyes in the back of his head."
Too often, players who have accomplished a lot elsewhere seem to carry the attitude that because since their name is established, they just have to show up in MLS. But the league doesn't need to be grateful for the mere presence of anyone. Fans deserve to see the fight and effort along with the skill.
Schelotto brought it, and he saw it all through. The league MVP insisted before the game, "This award is nice, but what I really want is a championship for my team." No surprise, then, that after his effort Schelotto was the MVP of the final match as well.
"He was incredible," said Padula after the game, his wide smile framed by the winner's medal around his neck.
A celebratory barbecue in Columbus is probably sure to follow.
Andrea Canales is Chief Editor of Goal.com USA