Fernandez, Paparatto Add Experience, Depth to TimbersBoth Argentine players have excelled on domestic, continental stages
by Ray Marcham | Thursday, January 16, 2014
If it worked the last time, why not do it again? Twice?
That’s what the Portland Timbers have done, and 2 more Argentines are heading to the Rose City.
After numerous rumors and some paperwork delays, the Timbers announced that Gastón Fernández and Norberto Paparatto have signed on for the coming season. The Fernández signing was first rumored in December, while first word about Paparatto heading to Portland came around the beginning of the year.
Both bring a lot of experience to Portland, not just in domestic soccer but in continental competitions, as well. With the Timbers starting in the CONCACAF Champions League in August, that experience could come in handy.
Their signings brings the number of Argentines on the club to 4, joining MLS Newcomer of the Year Diego Valeri and Maxi Urruti.
The acquisition of Fernández, nicknamed “La Gata”, will add another dimension to the Timbers attack and another target for Valeri to look for. He’s played in Mexico as well as Argentina, so he’s used to playing in the tight spaces that the physicality of MLS often forces strikers to work in. He will be seen as the perfect complement to Darlington Nagbe up front.
Also an important part of Fernández’ experience will be in continental play. He was a starter on the Estudiantes side that won the 2009 Copa Libertadores (he scored the tying goal in the 2-1 win) and made the finals of the 2008 Copa Sudamericana (South America’s equivalent to the Europa League). He also helped Mexico’s Tigres UNAL win the SuperLiga in 2009, beating the Chicago Fire in the final.
He also has won 3 Argentinian titles with 3 different clubs. Those include the 2003 Clausura with River Plate (his original club), the 2007 Clausura with San Lorenzo and the 2010 Apertura with Estudiantes.
One thing that could affect the 30-year-old Fernández’ play at first will be a long layoff. A dispute between Tigres and Estudiantes over his transfer in 2010 led to him being suspended for all of the 2013 Apertura. He hasn’t played a full match in 7 months. The preseason will be crucial for La Gata to get back into match shape and being ready for March 8 MLS opener against Philadelphia. With over a decade of top-flight soccer already behind him, how long this will take might be a concern.
The signing of Paparatto may help in numerous ways. The 30-year-old centerback was the captain of Club Atlético Tigre for the 2013 Torneo Inicial (first half) season, leading them to a 12th place finish in the 20-club Primera División. He made 126 appearances for Tigre over 6 years, including helping them reach the 2012 Copa Sudamericana final and the knockout stages of the 2013 Copa Libertadores.
His ability to track down forwards quickly, force turnovers and gain control of the ball quickly will be a big part of his game. He is also known for having an effective aerial game, which is a major plus for the 6’4’’ Paparatto.
Paparatto will be asked to anchor a defense that, while improving, can still be taken advantage of (as Real Salt Lake showed in the 2013 Western Conference Finals). Assuming that Michael Harrington, Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso start a majority of games, Mikael Silvestre comes back healthy and hoping for improvement from Alvis Powell, Bryan Gallego and Rauwshan McKenzie, the backline could steadily become better as the season wears on, and become deep enough to allow PTFC manager Caleb Porter to flex a bit during the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League campaigns.
One of the biggest aspects of these signings is that neither got a designated player contract, leaving Valeri as the Timbers’ only DP (Portland owner Merritt Paulson mentioned earlier this week on Twitter that Diego Chara was no longer under a DP contract). This gives the Timbers room to go after a player to fill a DP slot should they want, or extend one of their stars to a DP contract.
The 2 signings weren’t the only moves Portland made on Wednesday. They agreed to loan Jose Valencia to Argentina’s Olimpo de Bahía Blanca for the 2014 season and signed Bryan Gallego to a Homegrown Player contract. Both moves were expected, and Valencia has already started training with Olimpo as they get ready for the 2014 Torneo Final (2nd half). Gallego, a University of Akron graduate, was initially acquired from New York in December in what is thought to be the first MLS trade involving a Homegrown Player spot. He also played with the Timbers U-23s during the 2013 USL PDL season.
But it’s the signings of Fernández and Paparatto that are getting the most attention. If they can mesh in with the rest of the Timbers quickly, then their impact will be large
NEXT UP: February 1 – Portland Timbers vs. Sporting Kansas City, North Stadium, Kimo Sports Complex, Tucson, Ariz. 9 p.m. EST, no television.