|Guillermo Barros Schelotto is frequently on the ball. (Nick Ut/Associated Press)|
Star of Crew given his due
Schelotto, 35, is league's MVP
The Columbus Crew's Guillermo Barros Schelotto, a midfield wizard who was a longtime star in his native Argentina, won Major League Soccer's Most Valuable Player award yesterday.
In his second season with Columbus, the 35-year-old had 19 assists and seven goals as the Crew bounced back from a 9-11-10 record the previous year to finish with an MLS-best 17-7-6 mark.
He and his teammates face the New York Red Bulls Sunday afternoon in Carson, Calif., for the MLS Cup.
Schelotto said he was honored to receive the MVP trophy, adding, "It will be even better when we win on Sunday."
Schelotto outpolled runner-up Landon Donovan of the Los Angeles Galaxy and Cuauhtemoc Blanco of the Chicago Fire in the voting by the league's coaches and general managers, players, and media.
The Argentine has adapted quickly to the Crew and to the city of Columbus.
"My teammates and coach had a lot to do with it. They made the transition much faster, a transition that could have been very difficult," said Schelotto.
Schelotto said he hopes to play another year or two in MLS.
Donovan led the league in scoring with 20 goals, and Blanco keyed the Fire's drive to the Eastern Conference final, where they lost, 2-1, to Columbus.
Boost providedWhen the season began in April, Red Bulls goalkeeper Danny Cepero was playing for a minor league team in Harrisburg, Pa.; defender Diego Jimenez was playing for a Mexican team; defender Luke Sassano was a rookie; and midfielder Sinisa Ubiparipovic was a little-used second-year player.
But with a month to go in the regular season, Red Bulls coach Juan Carlos Osorio was forced to make radical alterations to his lineup, especially after starting goalkeeper Jon Conway and top defender Jeff Parke were suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. The changes included putting Sassano, Jimenez, and Ubiparipovic into the lineup, replacing some high-priced imports Osorio personally recruited, and turning the responsibility of guarding the goal to Cepero, who never played a minute for the franchise for two years.
It's turned out to be a brush of genius - the Red Bulls are now at a point where the franchise has never been before in its 13-year history. Cepero has gone from a virtual unknown to becoming the first goalie in the league's history to score a goal, not to mention shutout victories over Houston and Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference semifinals and finals.