KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Ask Claudio Bieler how it feels to be back for a second season with Sporting Kansas City, and the first two words of his response need no translation from his native Spanish.
The Argentinian center forward is happy, at peace and hoping to help Sporting defend their MLS Cup title, contend for a CONCACAF Champions League trophy and regain the US Open Cup after winning it two seasons ago.
“I'm happy to be back,” Bieler told MLSsoccer.com through a translator after Wednesday's training session. “For me, it's a new season. What happened last year is a good memory, and now it's about competing in these three competitions that we're going to be involved in this season, and try to get the most fruit out of it.”
Bieler led Sporting with 10 league goals in 2013 – Kansas City's first Designated Player with double-digit goals in MLS competition – and found the net 12 times across all competitions, including the extra-time series winner against New England in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
But he also lost his starting job to Dom Dwyer late in the year, and some reports after the season had Bieler looking to make an offseason move.
That wasn't the case, Bieler said on Wednesday.
“For me, my head at the end of the season was to enjoy the title and to go back home and enjoy my family,” he said. “Not at any moment did I think about leaving. My head was to come back and stay here. I'm comfortable with this team, with the head coach, with the city now. My head was always to come back. I don't know where those rumors came from.”
Bieler came back fit and motivated, manager Peter Vermes said on Tuesday.
“He's been very impressive,” Vermes said. “First of all, if you compare his fitness level that he came in last year, it's difficult to measure. It's just incredible, the change. He understands our league and what's necessary, understands our team, but he also is a professional and he gets it. He's worked very hard in the offseason. He's at a place that's fantastic for the team.”
“What's great is that he's made himself extremely valuable in a couple of positions now, because he can play and he gives us a different look,” Vermes said. “So it's fun to see him play in there, because he's got a great vision for the game. He's made himself extremely valuable, that's for sure.”
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It's a familiar position for him, Bieler said.
“It comes naturally to me,” he said. “Most of my youth I played in that position, in that role, from about 12 years of age until 17, when I turned pro. It's easy for me to adapt to that position because of that previous experience, but for me it's the same. I'm all about scoring, so if I can do it from that position too, I'm going to do it.”
Bieler hasn't set a goal-scoring target for 2014, beyond surpassing his all-competitions total from last season.
“But as always, the team comes first,” he said, “So as long as the team's winning, I'm going to be happy. I'm not going to be worrying about scoring as many goals, as long as the team's going well.”
Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.