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.