Lanús Partido is a province just south of the Argentine capital, Buenos Aires. The province’s capital is the city of Lanús. Lanús is a city of around only 212,000, yet it has produced some of the greatest talent Major League Soccer — and the world — has ever seen.
The majority of Americans have probably never heard of Lanús. If they have, it’s probably because of one man: The late Diego Armando Maradona. Maradona was born in Lanús.
If Maradona’s birthplace does not ring a bell to Americans, it should at least sound a little familiar to fans of the Portland Timbers. Throughout the Timbers’ time in MLS they have seemingly built a unique connection with Lanús.
The Portland Timbers have had 10 Designated Players in their history. Of those designated players three of them have played for Club Atlético Lanús. Two joined directly from the Argentine club and two spent their formative years in Lanús’s academy and helped lead the Granate to their first ever title.
“Lanús is my school,” said Diego Valeri after being named one of the top 25 greatest ever MLS players. “It’s my school of life, my school of soccer. It’s where I got all the values in life and, obviously, soccer too. The way to live it, the way to … be right. And for me it’s a little bit more because I was born in Lanús and it was my home. And it’s still where my family lives, so it’s my school of life and soccer.”
It was not just Valeri’s school of soccer. It was also his current teammate’s school of soccer. Sebastian Blanco was also in CA Lanús’s academy with Valeri. Two years separate the players, so they never played together in the youth ranks. They had to wait until they made it to the senior team.
Valeri’s debut came in 2003 when he was only 17. Blanco made his breakthrough at Lanús three years later. Valeri and Blanco were part of a foundation of youth academy products that helped push Lanús to the top of Argentine soccer.
In 2006, Lanús finished runners up in the Torneo Clausura. The next year was even more historic. They secured qualification for the Copa Sudamericana for the second time in a row and eventually qualified for the continent’s most prestigious competition — the Copa Libertadores — for the first time ever.
They didn’t stop there. Club Atlético Lanús won its first-ever Primera Division title in 2007. Lanús had to travel into la Boca on the 18th matchday to face the mighty Boca Juniors in la Bombonera. Valeri and Blanco started the match and helped the team to a 1-1 draw that ultimately secured the 2007 Apertura title for Lanús.
“It’s amazing, the work they do in the academy system,” said Valeri. “We [had], you know, this big generation of players that identified with the club and we had the chance to make the jump of prestige for the club in the sport perspective so it shows how well Lanús work on it and they keep having players come from the academy system and it works a lot.”
Lucas Melano spent his youth career with Belgrano before joining Club Atlético Lanús in 2013. He too quickly made history with the Granate. In 2013, Lanús won their second ever international title. Melano notched three goals in nine appearances throughout the competition. Lanús won the Copa Sudamericana under the reign of Guillermo Barros Schelotto, one of the men who paved the way to MLS for many Argentines.
“The things that I would see from MLS was when [David] Beckham came to the league,” said Valeri. “The league started to be more famous in Europe and South America and then when I had the chance to [see] some Argetinian players come to the league. That was, you know, a big connection … Right, when [Marcelo] Gallardo, Barros Schelotto and, in my case, Javier Morales [came to MLS], which you know, he played in Lanús and was related with some people I knew in Argentina.”
Valeri was the first of the Timbers’ players from Lanús to make the jump from Argentina to the US, but first he had an earlier opportunity to get a taste for U.S soccer.
“With the reserve team we came to LA and we had the chance to see, to watch a game in LA and I got impressed,” said Valeri. “I was 17 years old and I had a big impression, very good impression of what the league was at the moment and what the league was trying to be in the future. So to make our decision as a family and looking at something I wanted to experience in my career, it was easy for us when the option came to us.”
After a few loan spells, Valeri joined the Portland Timbers from his boyhood club, becoming the first Argentine player to join the club in MLS. He got off to a quick start, winning the MLS Newcomer of the Year and never slowed down.
Valeri has gone on to become the best Portland Timbers player in history and is still building on his legacy. He has won the MLS Cup and MLS Cup MVP in 2015 along with the MLS is Back Tournament. He’s made the MLS Best XI three times and been an MLS All-Star four times. He’s twice been the Timbers Supporters Player of the Year and also an MLS MVP, and just last week was named one of the top 25 greatest MLS players in the history of the league.
Valeri also became only the third player ever to record at least 80 goals and 80 assists in the league. He has made 273 appearances across all competitions, scoring 96 goals and tallying 100 assists.
Lucas Melano also joined the Timbers from CA Lanús. He joined in 2015 and helped the Timbers win MLS Cup, providing the decisive goal in the Western Conference Final. Melano made 69 appearances, scored six goals, and assisted ten times. He did not have the longevity of Valeri, but comparing anyone to El Maestro would be unfair.
Melano eventually left the Timbers in 2019. The ex-Lanús man helped the Timbers to their highest heights in 2015 and will be etched into Timbers history forever.
The latest ex-Lanús man to join the Timbers is Blanco. He didn’t join from Lanús, but he was part of the title-winning side and was groomed in the Lanús academy. Blanco was signed in 2017 from San Lorenzo after stints in Ukraine and England. Since joining the Timbers, Blanco and Valeri have struck up a partnership in a title-winning side just like they did in Argentina.
Blanco and Valeri led the way as the Portland Timbers won the most unusual trophy in MLS history: The MLS is Back Tournament. Blanco was named the MVP after an inspired tournament performance. Sadly, injury struck and Blanco missed the majority of the 2020 MLS season. Blanco has played 111 matches with the Timbers, scoring 29 goals and earning 36 assists.
Clearly this club in Argentina is doing something right and the Timbers have noticed. Two of the most gifted players to ever wear the green and gold went to Lanús’s ‘school of soccer’ throughout their childhood and early adult life.
Now Lanús is making another deep run into the Copa Sudamericana. The Granate play Independiente in the second leg of the quarterfinals on Thursday. If they can knock off the seven-time Copa Libertadores winners, they just might go all the way.
Surely the Timbers management will have their eyes locked on Lanús as they look to get their hands on an international cup again. The city of Lanús is a major industrial center and their club’s academy is a factory of brilliant talent that has propelled the Timbers to become a perennial powerhouse in the MLS Western Conference.