FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – While the port city of Rosario is commonly known for its significant contribution to Argentina’s export economy, it also exports some of the most high-profile soccer players in the world today, most notably FC Barcelona star Lionel Messi.
In August, the New England Revolution looked to Rosario for offensive reinforcement in the form of 22-year-old forward Milton Caraglio, the team’s first-ever Designated Player. Since his arrival in Foxborough, Caraglio has successfully transitioned by relying on his instinctual soccer ability despite the challenges presented by the high fitness level required in MLS and the language barrier.
Argentina is historically competitive on the international soccer stage, and as Caraglio demonstrates, the passion for the sport begins with its people. Caraglio got involved in soccer in Rosario at age five, when he signed up for his neighborhood’s youth club team, Amistad y Progreso.
He played there for three years, and after demonstrating his understanding of the game, Caraglio went on to the Club Atlético Rosario Central youth system and later the senior team, an experience he described as “hermosa.”
Hermosa, the word for beautiful in Spanish, is the only way Caraglio is able to articulate the experience of playing for his local and favorite team growing up.
“It’s the dream of all boys to play for their childhood team,” Caraglio said.
Caraglio’s inspiration to pursue a career in soccer came from the culture in which he grew up. He credits much of his success to the supportive people that have surrounded him.
“You always meet people along the way who help you a lot,” Caraglio said about his former coaches and mentors. “But a large part was my family who always provided support.”
Caraglio debuted with Rosario Central’s senior team in 2007 and, in four seasons, made 49 appearances in both the Primera División and Primera B Nacional, while scoring 11 goals in that span.
In the years leading up to 2009, Caraglio was on track as one of Argentina’s rising soccer stars.
“I was called up to Argentina’s senior National Team. I spent some time with the squad and it was a great experience,” Caraglio recalled. “I spoke with Maradona for a long time. He is an incredible person.”
Unfortunately, a knee injury would keep him out of the running for a potential spot on the World Cup team that went on to compete in South Africa in 2010.
Before he signed with the Revolution on August 2, 2011, Caraglio had not featured in an organized match since June 2010. He admits that the extensive time away from the game affected him more than he could have imagined.
“I’m not the same [as] I was before,” explained Caraglio. “I still have not returned to the level I was on with Rosario Central.
“Physically I am at 100 percent, but football-wise, I’m not there yet,” Caraglio continued. “I came here to work hard and do my best. (When I arrived) it had been a long time since I had played.”
From the moment he took the field for the first time on U.S. soil, he was excited to see and experience everything the league had to offer.
“When I arrived, I trained for two days and played in the first game (against Chivas USA on August 6),” said Caraglio. “I was tired from the flight, but I wanted to play. No one obligated me.
“I played, and to tell you the truth, I was surprised because I was expecting something else,” Caraglio added. “It is a very difficult league to play in, and there are some teams that present bigger challenges than others, but the majority are strong and play well as a unit.
“Obviously this league here is very new,” Caraglio said. “But I’ve already noticed that the majority of the players here truly have the passion for the game.”
Caraglio’s first two MLS goals came in the first half against the New York Red Bulls on August 20, and highlighted his strengths both in the air and on the ground. The first showcased Caraglio’s ability to beat multiple defenders with his dribbling skill and the second resulted from a Kenny Mansally cross which Caraglio headed past the goalkeeper.
It may be too soon to tell what his legacy with the organization will be, but Caraglio knows what he wants to be his lasting image.
“I want to be able to convert goals,” states Caraglio assertively. “A striker, if he doesn’t score goals, is not a striker. I want to score goals (for New England) the way I did before.”