Portland Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese held his customary prematch press conference in Beaverton on Thursday, but instead focus being on his team’s Friday match at the LA Galaxy, most questions addressed the news his team had made four hours before.
This morning, the Timbers announced the signing of Colombian winger Santiago Moreno, added the 21-year-old from América de Cali after acquiring his MLS rights from the Philadelphia Union. Moreno is signed to the Timbers through 2025, but during Thursday’s press conference, discussion centered on what the Timbers’ new attacker can bring to the team, now.
“He's a player that has played winger, has played number 10, can adapt to different systems,” Savarese said when asked about the team’s scouting process. “He's a smart player on the field. Even though he's young and talent, he has a good understanding in how to adapt to different positions, different scenarios and situations. that's one of the things that we like: that even though he is young, he looks mature in understanding and adapting to different situations …”
Moreno will be joining Portland after three years with Colombia’s América de Cali, where he emerged as a consistent starter this season. In 17 league games, Moreno scored four goals and recorded four assists. In the process, he reportedly drew the attention of a clubs in Europe. Ultimately, he chose Portland for his first foray away from home.
“[Moreno] wants to be a player that can develop,” Savarese explained. “He's coming here with that desire. He doesn't think that he made it now that he's coming to MLS or coming to Portland. His expectation is very big … You want those kinds of players, and I think he filled to profile that we were looking for.”
Now Portland gets to fill their part of the bargain. Though Savarese and the Timbers staff expect the current version of Moreno to have an impact, the future version of Moreno may be just as important. How good that future version can be, though, is the responsibility of both the player and his new coaches.
“It's always great to be able to have a young player that is talented that is going to be able to get to your team,” Savarese said. Having turned 21 in April, Moreno is the second-youngest player in new squad.
“You can work with [a young player], you can make him a better player, you can be able to mold him into what you need for the team,” Savarese said. “It's always good for coaches to be able to have these options.”
The first part of that molding process will be helping Moreno adapt to his new life. For the first time, he will be playing away from home. For the Timbers, though, this is a situation they know well, and the team’s roster is decorated with players who’ve successfully made the transition from South American roots to life in the Rose City.
“There are different reasons why I think [Moreno] will adapt a lot faster [than normal],” Savarese said, “and it's because we have a locker room in which I think he will feel comfortable, which is going to guide him into understanding this league, this city, the differences from another league and another country. I'm sure that he will adapt very quickly.
“I'm sure as well, looking at the way he plays and his talent, he will definitely be [a player] that, from the get go, will understand some of the things he will do in this league. The important part is to make sure he continues to develop him.”
In that sense, the signing of Moreno isn’t that different than the acquisition of Claudio Bravo, or Jaroslaw Niezgoda, or even players like Eryk Williamson, whose connection to the United States makes for a smoother transition. But there is always a transition period, and while the challenges of each move are different, the coaching staff’s process follows this same course. Players need to adapt to Portland, their new team, a new set of expectations and, ultimately, how they can success in their new world.
“We have to just make sure that we do the same thing that we usually do,” Savarese said, “to make sure that he gets adapted and he starts getting to understand the league … But the good thig is that we acquired a talented young player that I'm sure will contribute to the players that we already have. [I’m] excited about the fac that we are going to have another addition, and I think we become stronger with having more depth into our team.”