The MLS is obsessed with asado

Why grilling meat is the preferred team-building activity in the MLS 🥩

Maxi Urruti mans the grill at an Austin FC team asado

Last week, a video circulated on social media of Inter Miami’s squad enjoying a team cookout after training.

While there was nothing remarkable about the video itself (aside from the immaculate vibes), I couldn’t help but notice this increasingly common sight happening at club facilities around the world: Players hanging out after practice, enjoying the sunshine, each-other’s company, and – most importantly – some grilled meat. 🥩 

While team get-togethers and grilling meat are certainly nothing new, the practice of “asado” is – at least for European and North American players – and it’s become a crucial team-building activity that is quickly taking over the MLS.

What is asado?

Asado refers to both the cooking technique and social event of having a barbecue in various South American countries, especially Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay. The term is most synonymous with Argentina, where people consume more beef per capita (48 kg/year) than any other country, followed closely by Uruguay (45 kg/year) and the United States (38 kg/year). 🇦🇷 

A typical Argentine asado includes cuts like flank steak, skirt steak, ribeye, and rib caps being cooked over an open flame, usually on top of a parrilla (grill). The cuts are served alongside things like chorizo, sweetbread, and grilled vegetables.

A typical Argentine asado

Gas-powered grills are a no-no, as is rushing the parrillero (grillmaster). Drowning your meat in chimichurri is encouraged, and enjoying a cup of maté, fernet con coca, or a glass of red wine with your meal is a must.

Asados are a time to slow down, talk politics, play cards, listen to cumbia, and above all else – talk soccer. From discussing the results of last weekend’s Superclásico (Boca beat River Plate 3-2), to debating the finer points of that day’s training session, the asado has become an important means for Argentine players to share their culture with their teammates and grow closer together.

Gaining traction in the United States

As Argentina’s influence in the MLS grows (hello, Lionel Messi), so does the asado. Austin FC, FC Cincinnati, and FC Dallas are among the teams who have made room for asados in their regular training schedules.

Orlando City FC have made the event a preseason tradition of sorts, and back in 2019, San Jose earthquakes manager Matias Almeyda used the asado as a means of rallying his struggling team.

Outside of formal team get-togethers, Argentine players might invite their teammates over to decompress over steak on a rare day off.

"The fact that we can sit and enjoy an asado and share it with people who maybe never have enjoyed the Argentine style, with people from other traditions, is something really beautiful," San Jose Earthquakes winger Cristian Espinoza said in a recent interview with ESPN. “In Argentina, the majority of houses have a parrilla, but when we go abroad it's not that easy to get a proper parrilla. Luckily, in San Jose we really get together for a lot of asados.”

The practice is growing like wildfire in the States because of journeymen like Maxi Urruti, who has played for six MLS clubs. When the Argentine striker signed for Austin FC in 2022, his first request was for the club’s then-sporting director Claudio Reyna to buy two grills.

Without good players, you can't play well. Without good beef, you can't have a good asado.

Former Orlando SC assistant Josema Bazan

Reyna obliged, and Urruti – who has garnered a reputation as a first class parrillero – has since cooked up regular feasts for the squad. The meals were such a hit that some of his former South American teammates – like now-Galaxy striker Diego Fagúndez – have started organizing regular asados at their new clubs.

Beef is serious business

While the asado is a newer phenomenon in the United States, it’s long been intertwined with soccer Europe and South America, where Argentine players have a more established footprint. This is especially the case in Italy, where a large cohort of Argentines – most notably Diego Maradona – brought with them the finer parts of gaucho culture in the 1980s.

Maradona the parrillero

Maradona’s Napoli still gather round the parrilla today, and last season’s Inter Milan team nearly won a Champions League title fueled by skirt steak alone. This comes as no surprise in a league where Argentines make up nearly 8% of total players – more than any other foreign country except for France.

And while the asado has long taken a foothold in Serie A, it plays an even more integral function in Argentina’s national team (duh).

It's part of our culture, of the Argentine idiosyncrasy.

Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni

The Abiceleste brought 2,000 pounds of meat with them to Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, as did Uruguay. The 72-person Argentine delegation was in the country for exactly a month, meaning each person was allotted nearly a pound of meat per day. 😳 

"My favourite food is the asado, but it's more than that," said Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni ahead of the tournament. “It creates an atmosphere of union and collective chemistry.”

"It's during that time that we get to talk, to laugh, relax and connect. It's not necessarily about the meat, although we love it. It's to be part of a group and the connection that it generates."