MLS Team To Watch in 2014: Portland Timbers (a.k.a. Little Argentina)

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Soccer in the Pacific Northwest is going to get a lot more exciting thanks to the efforts of Merritt Paulson, Gavin Wilkinson, and Caleb Porter. The owner, the general manager, and head coach, respectively, of Oregon’s Portland Timbers football club have signed Argentine players Gastón Fernández (no relation!) and Norberto Paparatto to join the squad for the new season.

The move gives the team a total of four Argentine-born squad members: forward/second striker Fernández, centerback Paparatto, midfielder Diego Valeri, and striker Maximiliano Urruti. Que locura, ¡che!

“When you look at what our system is, what our target is and what our identity is,” said Wilkinson in an interview with, “I think the signings that we’ve made further reinforce the identity that we have.”

He’s not talking about craft beer or fixed-gear bikes either. He’s talking about coach Caleb Porter’s “possess and pressure” style that rescued the Timbers from a terrible 2012 season, at third from bottom, and launched them to the top spot in the Western Conference. The team then reached the MLS Cup semi-finals, the closest it’s gotten to lifting the MLS trophy.

Fernández is known as La Gata for a few reasons. Y’all know how cats are able to find space to stand on and jump off of in even the tiniest of spaces? He’s like that on the field and in the penalty area. He also has an uncanny ability to position himself in exactly the right spot for a rebound 99% of the time. La Gata is also deadly on free kicks and set pieces, which, by the way, the Timbers are already quite notorious for.

Valeri, if you remember, scored the Timbers’s first goal on opening day last year. He scored nine more in the season and also raked in 13 assists. For his efforts, MLS named him the 2013 Newcomer of the Year. He’ll hopefully do more of that this year as well.

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Then there’s Paparatto who will make life easier for Portland’s defensive line thanks to his 6’3” frame. The defensive veteran made a name for himself at Club Atlético Tigre where he was named team captain in his most recent season with the club before arriving in the US.

Urruti could either find himself on the bench as a substitute for most of the upcoming season or could be a breakout star himself alongside his countrymen. He signed with the Timbers in September of last year and only saw action in a total of seven games including two playoff games. He did, however, score the lone and very important goal against the LA Galaxy last year going into the playoffs so there’s that.

In a neat little twist of events, the Timbers have sent Colombian-born forward José “El Trencito” Valencia to Argentina on a season-long loan to Club Olimpo (Olimpo de Bahía Blanca). This love affair between Portland and Argentina seems to grow stronger by the day.