The Portland Timbers latest blockbuster Argentine signings – announced Wednesday with the acquisitions of striker Gastón Fernández and center back Norberto Paparatto – were less about their country of origin and more about augmenting the club’s emerging style under head coach Caleb Porter.
Sure, adding Fernández and Paparatto give the Timbers four players from Argentina currently on their roster – in addition to midfielder Diego Valeri and forward Maximilliano Urruti. And with Valeri’s emergence as one of MLS’ top players in just one year, who wouldn’t want to go back to that well?
But Portland’s newest players could have been from Mars, as far as general manager Gavin Wilkinson was concerned, as long as they could do a job for the Timbers in 2014.
“When you look at what our system is, what our target is and what our identity is, I think the signings that we’ve made further reinforce the identity that we have,” Wilkinson told MLSsoccer.com in a phone conversation from Philadelphia, where he and the rest of the Timbers technical office are ahead of Thursday’s SuperDraft (9am PT, ESPNEWS).
So what roles are the two newcomers expected to fill?
Fernández, 30, who grew up in Lanús, the same hometown as Valeri, has spent the bulk of his career in the top flights of Argentina and Mexico and adds to Portland’s attack “experience, ability to finish, technical ability and intelligence,” Wilkinson said.
Portland are facing the likely departure of striker Ryan Johnson, who was second on the team with nine goals last season, and earlier this offseason Wilkinson hinted that they were looking for a player in the vein of a Camilo, Robbie Keane or Mike Magee. They got it with Fernández, Wilkinson said.
“I think you would label him as a 9½,” Wilkinson said. “He’s not your target player; I think everyone knows that. He’s very intelligent, he finds little pockets within the game, gets himself on the ball and he deserves the attention of the defenders and is someone who will occupy several defenders. He’s a perfect fit.”
Wilkinson said that before signing, Fernández spoke to Valeri about the club, living in Portland and playing under Porter. And the fact that the Timbers will make their CONCACAF Champions League debut this year factored into his decision, Wilkinson said.
“He’s ambitious,” Wilkinson said. "We were very lucky to get his signature.”
Paparatto, 30, is another proven commodity from Argentina’s top levels, having most recently served as Tigre’s captain. Along with experienced center backs Mamadou “Futty” Danso and Pa Modou Kah, who the Timbers relied heavily on down the stretch, Paparatto gives Portland another veteran presence in defense.
“Having a little bit more depth and experience would have been a positive [last year],” Wilkinson said.
Wilkinson also noted that Paparatto’s size at 6-foot-3, something Portland lacked last season, gives them more aerial defending ability, and that “for a big man is very technical.”
“Everybody knows we would like to play out of the back a little bit more maybe, and this gives us that option,” Wilkinson said.
All in all, Wilkinson said it was a good day for the club.
“It’s exciting times, to be honest,” he said. “… It shows a little bit more about the direction the club is taking and the quality of players we are looking to bring to both the Timbers and MLS in general.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.