Caleb Porter's allure? Boss a key to Portland Timbers signing Gaston Fernandez, Norberto Paparatto
The Timbers and MLS are clearly on the rise, with Portland coming off a first-ever trip to the playoffs that earned them a berth in the 2014-15 CONCACAF Champions League and the league ushering in a number of high-profile players this offseason.
It doesn't hurt, either, that Portland already have two Argentine players on their roster, reigning MLS Newcomer of the Year Diego Valeri and striker Maximilliano Urruti, the beginnings of a comfort level as Fernández (pictured right) and Paparatto move thousands of miles from their homes.
But hearing it from the two new players themselves, the biggest reason they'll wear green is excitement surrounding what they can accomplish on the field thanks to head coach Caleb Porter and his style of play.
“That was one of the things that got my attention, that the coach can approach you with an idea and a vision of what he’s got in mind and basically telling me that you are part of those plans,” Fernández said through a translator after Tuesday’s training session at JELD-WEN Field. “And that was something I valued very much.”
That connection is easy to make when it comes to a goalscorer like Fernández, 30, a veteran of the top flights in Argentina and Mexico. What offensive-minded player wouldn’t jump at a chance to play a high-pressure, attacking style?
But even for Paparatto, a 6-foot-3 center back, being on the ball and playing a high line is a big part of his game.
“I heard about how much people love [Porter] here, and it’s very well deserved because of all the success that he’s brought to the team,” Paparatto said, also through a translator. “And when we had an opportunity to interview in Buenos Aires, he talked to me about his style of play. … My ability to play that style of game, I was very much interested in the opportunity to come and play for him.”
Paparatto, 30, who spent the past seven seasons with first-division club Club Atlético Tigre in his native country, said that during their conversations last November he and Porter connected over their mutual admiration for former Argentina and Chile boss Marcelo Bielsa’s style of play.
“Now I have the opportunity to play it,” Paparatto said. “And obviously [Porter] has some of his own styles and personal ideas.”
The addition of Fernández was not only somewhat of a necessity – brought on by the likely departure of Ryan Johnson, the team’s second-leading scorer from last year – but also a luxury.
To go along with attacking midfielder Valeri and outside forwards Darlington Nagbe, former Seattle Sounder Steve Zakuani and Rodney Wallace, when he returns from injury around midseason, Fernández can be deployed at multiple positions. At striker alone, Porter now has three viable options with Fernández, Urruti and Frederic Piquionne.
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“He can basically utilize me at either of the three forward positions,” Fernández said. “If I could pick one my favorites, it would be the central forward. But I think that we are going to be able to play different options, and he’s going to find the best way to use me that will be the biggest benefit to the team.”
Outside of their optimism concerning what can be accomplished on the field, both Fernández and Paparatto (pictured right) had very positive things to say about the environment surrounding the club, the league and the city of Portland.
“It was always in the back of my mind that I would like to be playing in this league at some point, I just didn’t exactly know when that was going to take place,” Fernández said. “… I want to leave a mark. Hopefully it will be something that the people can remember me by, my time here in the league.”
Said Paparatto: “It is a league that is constantly improving, progressing and moving up. It’s good competition, and that’s one of the things that first caught my attention. … There’s nothing like the infrastructure here, the facilities. There’s nothing to compare it with.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com.