Phoenix Omar Bravo is a veteran star on Mexico’s most popular club and has been all over the United States for games in big cities. When he agreed to play for a Major League Soccer team, he wanted to make his mark where other players from Mexico had not.
He settled on Sporting Kansas City, which opens its season this month along with other MLS teams.
“There had already been other (Mexican) players in other states in the United States, and in Chicago, Los Angeles,” Bravo said in Spanish after a recent preseason practice in Arizona.
Plus, the heart of the Midwest represented something different, something removed from the distractions of bigger-money, bigger-visibility soccer in Mexico, where Bravo has long played for Guadalajara, the popular team known as Chivas.
Bravo had a chat last year with Sporting Kansas City coach Peter Vermes and liked what he heard. In August, he agreed to come to Kansas City as an MLS designated player through a loan agreement with Chivas, MLS and Sporting KC.
Luis Angel Landin of Mexico was the Houston Dynamo’s first designated player,joining the team last year. Mexican star Cuauhtemoc Blanco signed with the Chicago Fire in 2007, boosting home attendance and helping the team reach three straight conference finals.
Two other Mexican stars joined the MLS last summer — Nery Castillo signed with Chicago and national team captain Rafael Marquez with New York — but Bravo’s deal allowed him to finish his season with Chivas before heading to preseason practices.
The 30-year-old Bravo has 16 goals in 65 international appearances, scoring twice in the 2006 World Cup. He said he is at an important point in his career, and that he likes a challenge.
Never mind the fact that designated players haven’t always fared so well in the MLS, or that most Mexican stars who’d come to the mainly American league had failed to live up to expectations.
“It’s different. It’s a good league,” Bravo said “There’s a lot of ignorance with respect to the league in other places, you can say that about Mexico, too. It’s good, though, to recognize how much this league has grown, both how physical it is and how much talent there is, and that’s the important thing right now.”
During the preseason, Bravo has been playing wide as part of a three-man group of forwards with the first unit.
“Comes to training every day, puts it in, doesn’t take a play off,” Vermes said. “He’s added something, the mentoring aspect. He’s working with some of the other guys on the team, and he waits for the specific times to do it, most opportune times to do it. And then finally, just his experience on the field and the way he plays. He’s a very good player and he’s fitting into our system very well.”
It’s a big season for Sporting KC, formerly the Kansas City Wizards. Expectations of success are raised with the arrival of Bravo, the re-branding of the club and a new soccer-specific stadium that will open this summer.
“I think what it does is it just keeps putting us out there, with a face like his and a player like him,” Vermes said of Bravo. “He isn’t just a face, he’s an icon to the Mexican community for sure. We have (a significant) Mexican community (in the Kansas City area) and I think they’re really excited to come watch him play.”
Bravo has drawn small crowds of Mexican fans in Chivas jerseys even at preseason matches in Arizona. In Kansas City, he said he was initially surprised at how many Latino fans he’s encountered.