Chicho Arango can be a "transformational piece" for Real Salt Lake

Chicho Arango - RSL - unveiling

Seven months ago, Cristian Arango was at BMO Stadium helping LAFC complete their 2022 MLS Cup-Supporters’ Shield double.

Flash forward to Saturday and the Colombian international striker was at America First Field being unveiled as Real Salt Lake’s newest Designated Player.

As for the in-between? A four-month stint where the 28-year-old played for Liga MX side Pachuca, a brief period away from Major League Soccer before the Claret-and-Cobalt reportedly spent a club-record fee to bring him back.

RSL general manager Elliot Fall, in a press conference after their 0-0 draw with New York City FC, explained how the move is viewed in their eyes.

“Any time you get the opportunity to bring a player in of Chicho's quality, it's a massive day for the club,” Fall said. “Any club in MLS would be thrilled to have him.

“I believe that this is a transformational piece for our roster and a piece that is going to help us in many, many ways. It's going to help a lot of our young players, he's going to alleviate some of the burden on the group. I think that this is a piece that will have massively positive effects for a long time.”

Arango is signed through the 2025 MLS season with an option for 2026 and brings an impressive pedigree from his LAFC career. During Arango’s first MLS venture, he won two team trophies, was named the 2021 MLS Newcomer of the Year, and finished with 35 goals and six assists in 58 games across all competitions.

In an attack that’s spearheaded by fellow DPs Damir Kreilach and Jefferson Savarino, as well as U22 Initiative signing Andrés Gómez, RSL have entered a new tier.

“I think tonight's a good example of why a player of his caliber is so important for us,” head coach Pablo Mastroeni said on MLS 360 after their Matchday 18 result. “We had a lot of good looks in front of goal and when he's playing, he provides not only good hold-up, he runs in behind, but he's got a knack for being at the right place at the right time and his finishing is superb.

“So I think a game like tonight where we create enough, a player like Chico more than likely finishes one of them.”

Arango, a proven goalscorer in MLS, won’t be eligible for selection until after the league’s Secondary Transfer Window opens on July 5. That makes RSL’s July 8 home match vs. Orlando City SC (9:30 pm ET | MLS Season Pass) a possible debut date.

When Arango enters the fray, he has a simple expectation for what they can accomplish.

“I want a title this season, not next season,” said Arango via a translator. “I think we have a good team here, we have the experience, there's honestly no excuse. We just have to continue to work hard and work hard together to get that title as soon as possible.”

RSL are two games away from accomplishing that in the US Open Cup, as they await an Aug. 23 semifinal at Houston Dynamo FC. They also have Leagues Cup this summer and have made the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in both prior seasons under Mastroeni.

With opportunities in their crosshairs, RSL are adamant they have a piece to push them over the top.

“We've been building up to this moment for a long time,” said Fall. “We've put a lot of effort and brought a lot of pieces together on our roster over the last several years. All along, [it was] knowing at the end of the day we needed a striker, we needed one more piece. When we realized that Chicho may be available and we may be able to get something done, we jumped right on it.”

Arango is set to wear RSL’s No. 9 shirt, giving them a centerpiece striker after Sergio Córdova (now with Vancouver Whitecaps FC) wasn’t brought back for 2023. The wait may have been worth it.

“You know how it is: When you have a big player who's got a big reputation, it bolsters the confidence of the whole group,” said Mastroeni. “Really excited to get him on the ground. He'll be training with the group until the first game that he's eligible for. It's great to have him here.”