Portland adds two more Argentines: What the Timbers may be getting with their latest South American imports

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Rumors Portland would add two Argentines came to fruition on Wednesday, with the Timbers turning to South America for solutions at their roster’s two biggest areas of need. Looking to the same source that gave them Diego Valeri last offseason, Portland has signed forward Gastón Fernández and center back Norberto Paparatto from Argentina’s Primera División, adding the pair of 30-year-olds to the team’s thin striker and defense corps.

The moves had been rumored for some time, with “internet sleuthing” having already identified the potential acquisitions. With team general manager Gavin Wilkinson and head coach Caleb Porter having flown to Argentina shortly after the Timbers were eliminated from the playoffs, there was little doubt the teams’  signings would likely come from the Primera. Given the Timbers lacked an established striker and ended the season with Pa Modou Kah and Mamadou “Futty” Danso in central defense, it was clear which areas the team intended to target.

As with any imports, the question is what the Timbers are getting, particularly with Fernández (pictured, above). Typically employed as a supporting striker, La Gata hasn’t registered a competitive goal for Estudiantes since June 24, going 33 appearances for El Leon without scoring. Over the past six months in Argentina, the former Monterrey and Tigres attacker has only made one appearance for Mauricio Pellegino’s team, coming on a halftime of the team’s a 2-0 loss to Tigre on Dec. 8.

“It was our priority to find a striker that was the right fit for our group on many different levels,” Caleb Porter said in a statement released by the club. “We had a specific type of player in mind, someone that could create goals but also have chemistry with our other quality attacking pieces.”

Quick, skilled, and capable of playing used as anything from an attacking midfielder to striker through the middle, Fernández has the talent to reestablish himself in Major League Soccer. His main problems in the past — a want to hold to spent too much time on the ball — could be alleviated by playing in a system that’s already defined Diego Valeri and Darlington Nagbe as its focal points. At only 5’7″, however, Fernández lacks the size and physicality the Timbers enjoyed last year with Ryan Johnson.

Size is not an issue for the Timbers’ other Argentine import, with the 6’4″ Norberto Paparatto bringing Omar Gonzalez-level height to Porter’s back line. He also brings six-and-a-half years’ experience at Tigre to Major League Soccer, having been a regular on a team that made the 2012 Copa Sudamericana final. Though his speed and ability on the ball have allowed him to occasionally play on the right, Paparatto should immediately slip into Portland’s central defense, providing the Timbers with the high-quality center back the squad desperately needed at times last season.

“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,” Porter said. “Norberto will also help with our aerial ability, which is a critical component we wanted to enhance in our team.”

Out of the box, Paparatto will improve the Timbers, and in that way, he represents a signing on the opposite end of the spectrum from Fernández. Whereas the former Tigre man has consistently played over the last two years (making 82 appearances), La Gata’s only played 19 games in 12 months. While Fernández will be judged on his ability to rekindle the goal scoring touch he showed when returning to Estudiantes from Mexico four years ago, Paparatto looks to be a steadying influence at the back, his biggest concern being a tendency to mistime tackles (24 cards over the last two years). And whereas Fernández has experience playing outside of Argentina, Paparatto is making his first venture abroad, traveling 6,800 miles to do so.

Given the squad Portland had before signing their third and fourth Argentines, the risks make sense. In defense, where Timbers need more of a sure thing than a dice roll, Paparatto gives them somebody who can partner whomever emerges from the Kah, Danso, Mikael Silvestre battle. In attack, if Fernández can’t rediscover his form, the team still has Maxi Urruti, Frederic Piquionne, or the myriad possible combinations available to a team that could be moving away from playing a traditional striker.

Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.