It’s been seven years, and rarely in the Portland Timbers voyage through MLS has the club been blessed with two truly, first XI-worthy forward talents. Today, however, the Timbers took a huge step toward replicating the depth it had in 2015, when a striking tandem of Fanendo Adi and Maxi Urruti helped deliver the team’s first MLS Cup.
Samuel Armenteros, a 27-year-old Sweden international, arrived today as the club’s latest Targeted Allocation Money signing, joining Peruvian Andy Polo as TAM acquisitions designed to bolster the attacking corps. And just like Polo, who had spent time with Inter Milan, Armenteros carries a Serie A connection, moving to Portland after six months with newly-promoted Benevento Calcio.
“He’s another quality striker for us, to create more competition,” said Timbers head coach Giovanni Savarese. “It’s an area that I feel we need a little bit more depth … I think [the move] will add to the quality we already have.”
Armenteros, born in Gothenburg to a Swedish mother and Cuban father, moved to Serie A in August after a breakout 2016-17 season with Heracles Almelo, one where he finished fourth on the Eredivisie scoring charts with 19 goals (in 29 league games). That performance earned him his first international recall, where he scored a late equalizing goal against Norway in his June 2017 debut. Having since appeared in World Cup qualifier against Bulgaria, Armenteros remains a possibility for Sweden this summer in Russia.
“Bringing in Armenteros gives us another player that’s capable of stepping up and getting the job done,” general manager Gavin Wilkinson said. “Last year we had Darren Mattocks, and he filled the role, and he played the role well. The objective, once we traded Darren, was to find a player that is in line with what we wanted and is good enough to play – good enough to start and help the team in a bigger way.”
Although he can play on either flank, Armenteros’ natural position is striker, where he will slot in immediately under Adi on Giovanni Savarese’s depth chart. Six inches shorter than his new teammate, Armenteros provides a markedly different type of attacking option. Whereas Adi’s size and strength make him physically imposing, Armenteros’ off-ball movement may be his greatest weapon, with his one-touch finishing complemented by a nose for space that makes him a strong aerial option.
“They’re two different players, and that’s why we’re interested in bringing him in,” said Savarese. “Armenteros can play the lone striker, but also he can play alongside another striker, just like Adi.
“We wanted to make sure we’re getting players with different qualities, in order to be a team with a little more variety.”
Together, Adi and Armenteros give the Timbers the type of forward corps they haven’t had since the departure of Urruti, who joined FC Dallas via MLS’ Re-Entry Draft before the 2016 season. Between Adi’s June 2014 arrival and Urruti’s December 2015 departure, the duo combined for 33 goals, with the partnership’s last appearance together coming as Portland raised MLS Cup on Dec. 6, 2015, in Columbus, Ohio.
“The reason that Maxi is no longer with this club is purely because of cap constraints,” Wilkinson explained, when asked about the value of having strikers of Adi and Urruti’s caliber. “If we had been in today’s era, with today’s rules, we would have been able to hang on to Adi and Maxi Urruti. We would have been able to hang onto Jorge Villafaña, Rodney Wallace – all of those guys. If we had the current amount of TAM money available, then Maxi would still be at this club.”
Having spent most of his career in the Eredivisie, Armenteros joins Timbers FC with a more accomplished resume than either Adi or Urruti carried into the club. A product of Heerenveen’s youth system, Armenteros made his professional debut with Heracles in 2009, earning a move of Belgian giant Anderlecht four years later. Loaned back to the Netherlands during stints with Feyenoord and Willem II, Armenteros eventually made a move to Azerbaijan, joining five-time league champion Qarabag in 2015. A year later, Armenteros returned to Heracles, where his 19-goal output left him Sweden’s second-most prolific striker (in terms of goals-per-game) during Europe’s 2016-17 season.
Though that form has failed to materialize in Serie A, Armenteros’ addition should still prove a boon to Portland’s depth chart, one that has become an example of Major League Soccer’s recent talent surge. Thanks to initiatives like Targeted Allocation Money, teams are now able to bring in players like Armenteros, Polo, and Cristhian Paredes – players who are not necessarily TAM players because of their wages, but players who, because of their acquisition fee (and how that fee is amortized over the player’s deal entire, per MLS rules), qualify for the funds’ use.
“TAM has broadened the player market that’s both interested in MLS and that we’re interested in,” Wilkinson said. “Now we’re shopping for players in a range where, previously, we would have had to compared them to the value of Designated Players. With TAM, we can acquire a range of players that not only improve the starting XI but also improve the depth of the squad.”
Thanks to the resources acquired in the Darlington Nagbe trade earlier this winter, as well as the wages and roster spot his departure freed up, the Timbers have been able to bring four such signings this winter, adding players that will spark new battles across the depth chart.
“If you look at teams that win MLS Cup, they rely heavily on 14, 15 players,” Wilkinson noted. “You need quality within those players and depth in key positions. Having a good second number nine that also had positional flexibility is key.”
That’s the reality that’s brought Armenteros to North America. Whereas eight months ago he was battling for Netherlands’ Golden Boot, now he’s fighting Adi for time on the field. It’s the type of competition TAM was designed to produce, one that leaves Portland’s depth chart healthier than it’s ever been before.