KANSAS CITY, Mo. – When Claudio Bieler came to Sporting Kansas City in the offseason, fans knew the club was getting a proven goalscorer in their new Designated Player.
The Argentine forward hasn't disappointed in that respect, leading Sporting with nine goals in league play and 10 across all competitions. But he has also proven himself more than just a destination for passes, showing both the pitch sense and the willingness to play the ball off to teammates.
“He's a very smart player. You can play through him,” manager Peter Vermes said earlier this week. “He's not just an around-the-goal guy. You can play the game through him as well, and that's why he's so valuable.”
Besides his two assists, Bieler often helps open up play on the wings with flick-on headers into space, as he did throughout last weekend's 3-0 home victory over Toronto – which also saw him score Sporting's third goal of the night after a brace from Soony Saad.
“That's a strong asset of my game, the ability to hold up the ball,” Bieler told MLSsoccer.com through an interpreter on Thursday. “Peter has asked that more and more of me. I feel that if I can contribute that to the team, that's a great thing – but obviously I live by scoring goals.
"So getting chances in front of the box are my world. That's what I like to do, and the nine goals are a reflection of that. But if I have to do other functions to help the team, too, then that's what I'm going to do.”
And while he takes pride in leading Sporting in scoring, Bieler said he's even happier to see his club atop the Eastern Conference standings heading into Saturday's match at West leaders Real Salt Lake (10 pm ET, watch FREE on MLS Stream of the Week).
“Obviously, if everybody fulfills their individual duties, then the team will do well,” he said. “If the team does well, then everybody on the team looks good too. What matters is that we keep our consistency and finish strong the second half of the season.”
That ethic shows on the training pitch as well, Vermes said: “He's very humble, but he's also a perfectionist. He goes about his business. He's a professional. I think from Day 1, he's tried to make himself fit into the team. He's never taken the position that 'Here I am.' He's just come in and done his job, and he's made his mark.”
And that's with only a little more than a half-season to click with his new teammates, most of whom have had multiple seasons to learn Sporting's system.
“We still need to continue to get better at playing with him, because there are things we haven't taken advantage of with him yet,” Vermes said. “But I think we're getting better at that. I think you saw the other night, the strike force we had. There was a lot more familiarity and consistency in the way we executed.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.