MLS has turned into a hotbed of Argentine soccer.
There are currently 28 players in MLS born in Argentina, more than any other Latin American country. Several are veterans that have become MLS mainstays: Portland’s Diego Valeri, Real Salt Lake’s Javier Morales, Columbus’ Federico Higuaín. But MLS clubs have mined through the systems to find a younger wave of Argentinians—11 of those 28 players are under the age of 25.
Included in that list is the Houston Dynamo’s Leonel Miranda, just 21 years of age and the second-youngest Argentine in MLS. Only Toronto FC’s Manuel Aparicio—who is a homegrown product after his family moved from Buenos Aires to the Toronto area—is younger at age 20.
Miranda, who is on loan to the Dynamo from Indepentiente in his hometown of Avellaneda, never had an extended period away from Argentina before coming to the Dynamo but has continued to adapt to life in the United States on his own.
“Very weird at first,” Miranda said of the transition through a translator. “But then you get used to each day more and more. You try to not think that much about home and focus on what is going on here and do your best.
“But I think this country—at least Houston—is a place where you can adapt quickly, which is good.”
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A big help for Miranda in the move is the core of Hispanic players that welcomed him with open arms—specifically fellow newcomer Raúl Rodríguez. The pair arrived in Houston at the same time and have been connected since, even living next to each other in the same apartment complex.
“He’s been like my dad here,” Miranda said of the 28-year-old defender. “Raúl helped me with practically everything. Getting my papers together, helping me with something like looking for my house. Or talking with someone and helping know what to say to them. He was always there supporting me. I really appreciate and value that.”
Of course, Miranda’s actual father is still in Argentina and like any twenty-something leaving home for the first time the thing he misses most is having his family close by. The recent visit by the Argentina national team allowed him a little taste of home in Texas, though, and he was able to share the moments with his family.
“It was amazing. I got to enjoy it, I got to train with them,” Miranda said of the experience. “ I was able to hang out with them in the hotel. I tried to forget a little about work and tried to focus on having fun and enjoying this sort of once in a lifetime opportunity. When I showed the pictures to the family, they got excited for me and were so proud of me.”
His family can also be proud of his performance in recent weeks for the Dynamo, starting each of the last four matches and scoring his second MLS goal in the 3-2 win over the Colorado Rapids. He’s played a total of 18 matches in MLS play with the two goals and an assist, and added another goal in U.S. Open Cup competition.
The playmaking winger has been buoyed by the recent run, and he’s reveled in the pressure that comes with these all-important games at the end of the season.
“They’re the most difficult games, where you’re playing with everything you’ve got,” Miranda said. “These are the types of games that I like to play the most. Where you give it your all and you stay in the minds of everyone.”
Having overcome the initial shock of being 5,000 miles from home surrounded by relative strangers, Miranda has taken to the U.S. and hopes there’s a future for him in orange when his loan runs up.
“I took it as a challenge, and coming here seeing everything new and different. It was a challenge for me. But I came, and I loved it. I would love to stay here because I’ve gotten used to life here. I think for it being my first year, it’s gone very well for me.”