[MLS 2014 COUNTDOWN] Winning a Western Conference title and earning a Concacaf Champions League spot in their third season have prompted the Portland Timbers to ramp up for season No. 4.
Announced Portland on Wednesday, the day before the MLS SuperDraft, were the signings of forward Gaston Fernandez and defender Norberto Paparatto. Both are Argentine, both are 30, and both are longtime veterans of league play in their native country as well as international competitions. They increase the South American influence on a team paced by Argentine playmaker Diego Valeriand buttressed by Colombian central midfielder Diego Chara with Argentine forward Maximiliano Urrutialso on the roster.
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The Timbers also confirmed it has loaned out Colombian forward Jose Valencia, whom it had signed as a Young Designated Player in December, 2011, to Olimpo de Bahía Blanca of the Argentine first division.
“El Trenito” (Little Train), 22, missed the entire 2012 MLS season after suffering a knee injury in preseason and in 2013 scored one goal and registered three assists in 21 games.
Fernandez (5-foot-8, 160 pounds) has played for clubs in Argentina -- including San Lorenzo, River Plate and Estudiantes de la Plata – and with Monterrey and Tigres in Mexico since starting his pro career in 2002. He scored 48 goals in 224 Argentine league and helped his teams win four league titles. He also scored three goals in Estudiantes championship run in the 2009 Copa Libertadores competition. In Mexico for Monterrey and Tigres he scored a combined 19 goals in 51 games.
"We are extremely pleased to add a player the caliber of Gaston Fernandez to our club,” said Timbers head coach Caleb Porter in a team press release. “It was our priority to find a striker that was the right fit for our group on many different levels. We had a specific type of player in mind, someone that could create goals but also have chemistry with our other quality attacking pieces. We feel Gaston will not only bring that final third production but he will be a compliment to the team and our collective play.”
Paparatto (6-foot-3, 180 pounds) has played more than 100 Argentine league games since breaking into the first team at Tigre in 2007, and is a veteran of two campaigns in the Copa Sudamericana, making more than 100 appearances and scoring one goal in league play. He also played six Copa Libertadores games last year as Tigre advanced to the knockout rounds.
“One of our objectives in the offseason was to add another central defender with a specific profile, and we feel Paparatto is the ideal fit,” said Porter. “He is technically and tactically sound and will bring another player in our locker room that has experience and leadership qualities playing at a high level for many years. Norberto will also help with our aerial ability, which is a critical component we wanted to enhance in our team.”
Valencia’s move can be perceived as one of regression; he seldom impressed last year while coming back from the knee injury and given all the hyperbole swirling about his acquisition – he’s the son of former Colombian international Adolfo “Big Train” Valencia – the fact he’s been shipped out in favor of Fernandez and other players isn’t a good sign.
The Timbers have re-signed forward Frederic Piquionne. He scored one goal and recorded five assists in 21 matches (seven starts) last season, his first in MLS. He has the size (6-foot-2, 170 pounds) to serve as the target forward in case Ryan Johnson, who tied for second on the team with nine goals and is looking abroad for a new club, does not return.
-- The Philadelphia Union also signed an Argentine, 26-year-old midfielder Cristian Maidana, to a Designated Player contract,
“I was able to see Cristian play several times and I came away extremely impressed with his technical skills, creativity and one vs. one ability,” said Union manager John Hackworth in a statement. “After having met him personally, I felt even more confident that he was the type of person and player who can benefit our club on and off the field. We are excited that Cristian is a member of the Union.”
Maidana was most recently with Atlante in Mexico after bouncing around clubs in Russia, Chile and Spain.
SOUNDERS TRADE TWO ORIGINALS.Seattle sent Tayt Ianni and Jhon Kennedy Hurtado -- defenders who had been with the Sounders since their MLS launch in 2009 -- to Chicago for defender Jalil Anibaba. The deal also included draft picks: The Sounders acquired the eighth overall selection in the 2014 SuperDraft and a 2015 conditional third-round SuperDraft pick from the Fire for the 13th overall selection.
"One of the most difficult parts of this job is losing good people," said Sounders co-owner and general manager Adrian Hanauer. "Jhon and Patrick are both quality individuals who have been with our organization from the beginning. We wish them the best in Chicago."
Anibaba, 25, has started 93 of 96 appearances for Chicago over the past three seasons. He started all 34 regular-season matches in 2013, scoring one goal with a career high three assists.
"Jalil is a center back who has tremendous upside," said Sounders coach Sigi Schmid. "He has been very durable and we expect him to contribute right away."
Ianni, 28, and Hurtado, 29, made 191 MLS appearances between them for Seattle. Also leaving the Emerald City were Eddie Johnson, Steve Zakuani, Mauro Rosales, Adam Moffat, Michael Gspurning and Marc Burch.
-- The Sounders also announced the signing of 22-year-old Tristan Bowen, who came to the Sounders in the deal that sent Rosales' rights to Chivas USA.
HOMEGROWN WATCH. Bryan Gallegobecame the first player to sign a homegrown contract after his rights were traded as he joined the Portland Timbers.
He will join fellow Akron products Darlington Nagbe, Michael Nanchoff, Steve Zakuaniand Ben Zemanski on the Timbers, coached by Porter, a former Akron coach.
Gallego, who will forgo his final year of eligibility at Akron, is a product of the New York Red Bulls academy program. He is also the sixth Akron player to sign a homegrown contract in the past 12 months.
Homegrown Zips (2013-14):
Chad Barson (Columbus Crew)
Scott Caldwell (New England Revolution)
Dillon Serna (Colorado Rapids)
Wil Trapp (Columbus Crew)
DeAndre Yedlin (Seattle Sounders)
Bryan Gallego (Portland Timbers)