Portland Timbers looking to newcomer Lucas Melano to bring athletic dimension to attack

BEAVERTON, Ore. – As far as tour guides go, one could do a lot worse than Diego Valeri.

But when you’re Lucas Melano, freshly arrived in the Rose City to play for the Portland Timbers, that’s the kind of treatment you get. It was the capper on a whirlwind first three days in Portland for Melano, the Timbers’ newly signed Designated Player attacker from Argentina, and a fitting anecdote for a club becoming known for its penchant for players from the soccer-crazed South American country.

The 22-year-old Melano, who trained with his new team for the first time Monday after arriving late last week and taking in the Timbers’ 1-1 draw Saturday against the Vancouver Whitecaps, gives Portland five players from Argentina on their roster.

“I wanted to come here; there were a lot of Argentines on the team as well, which will help with my adaptation,” Melano told media gathered at the team facility. “Right off the bat, Diego Valeri picked me up at the hotel and gave me a tour of the city. Even here in training the guys have helped me out with the language barrier issue, so it’s been very helpful.”

It was the first time Valeri and Melano had met, but the two have a lot in common. Melano’s last club, Lanus, is where Valeri played when the Timbers snatched him up before the 2013 season, which ended in him being named MLS Newcomer of the Year. Valeri’s signing was the first in what has turned into a pipeline of Argentines heading to the Timbers, one that has since included Maximiliano Urruti during the 2013 season and Gaston Fernandez and Norberto Paparatto ahead of the 2014 season.

And like Valeri, a lot will be expected of Melano. Head coach Caleb Porter delved further into that Monday, saying he adds an athletic dimension that the team has been lacking in the attack.

“He gives us that option to really stretch and threaten the opponent’s back four, whether that’s counterattacking or whether that’s being up the field,” said Porter, who compared him to a Gyasi Zardes-Fabian Castillo hybrid. “He can stretch in different ways, on or off the ball and central or wide, so he’s a guy that will hopefully eliminate defenders individually at times. If he’s behind the back four, you’re not catching him.

“So I think that threat will open up space for others. I think the opponent will have to worry about him looking to run behind and creating off the dribble.”

Porter said Melano can play in any of the front four positions in his 4-2-3-1 formation. With Valeri seemingly entrenched at the No. 10 spot, he is likely to line up either as a winger or at striker, positions Porter has consistently rotated this season.

As for where Melano prefers to play, he said he’s just ready to contribute any way he can.

“Those are decisions that the coach needs to make,” he said. “I just know that I want to adapt myself and get ready to serve the team however I can in the attack.”

Wherever he lines up, or whether he’s initially starting or coming off the bench, Porter expects it to be soon. He said Melano’s paperwork is in order and expects him to be available for Saturday’s away match against FC Dallas (6pm PT, ROOT SPORTS).

And Melano is ready to go, telling media that he’s fit after having gone through a full preseason training regimen with Lanus before the signing.

“Where we play him and how we bring him along will, like always, depend on him and the other players and the game,” Porter said.

Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.