Stop me if you heard this one before: An MLS club scouted Argentina to identify and acquire an attacking midfielder on a Designated Player deal.
That's no surprise given the country's pedigree, of course. In recent years Argentina has been the shopping place for MLS clubs to bring a number of stars to the league: Nico Lodeiro (Boca Juniors), Miguel Almiron (Lanus), Diego Valeri (Lanus), Luciano Acosta (Boca Juniors), Ezequiel Barco (Independiente), Emanuel Reynoso (Boca Juniors) and countless others.
On Thursday, Austin FC became the latest MLS side to pluck a star attacker from the Argentine Primera Division. The expansion club acquired No. 10 Tomas Pochettino from Talleres de Cordoba, who reported the deal to be worth $2.5 million.
“The league has gone down to Argentina for the last many years and brought excellent talents to MLS," sporting director Claudio Reyna told media on a virtual press conference. "Tomas is another for sure. ... The whole continent is an incredible pipeline of talent, goes all over the world. In recent years, MLS has positioned itself as a league where a lot of these players want to come and play. We picked up upon that momentum. From day one, it’s an area where we’ve watched players.”
Pochettino had seven goals and 10 assists in 62 appearances with Talleres, though was perhaps in the best form of his professional career immediately preceding his move to Austin with three goals and five assists over his last 12 appearances.
“We’re very excited," head coach Josh Wolff said. "Obviously he had other suitors but he made it clear this is where he wanted to be."
The 25-year-old reportedly had interest both domestically and abroad before eventually joining Austin, something Pochettino commented on himself.
“Look, there were a lot of rumors about European transfers and Boca or River Plate," Pochettino said through a translator. "But Austin was my number one option because they trusted me from the get-go. I’m here in Austin, I signed my contract and my future is here. My head is in Major League Soccer. I’m very focused.”
Pochettino has played a handful of positions in his professional career, though is likely bound for a No. 10 role for the expansion club.
“He has very good qualities to the way that we want to play," Wolff said. "He’s an attack-minded midfielder, has very good dynamics around the penalty box to combine and shoot from distance. He’s able to link up the game and he’s at a great age.”
“I think I’m a versatile player," Pochettino added. "Depending on what the game dictates, I can play in different positions. I like to have the ball, give assists and score.”
Pochettino joins an Austin roster that's becoming increasingly clear as the 2021 season nears. With a few weeks ahead of preseason, they have a number of positions filled and highly-rated players signed.
The backline is stout already, featuring a likely-starting unit of Nick Lima, Matt Besler, Jhohan Romana and Ben Sweat, while Pochettino helps boost an attack that already features Cecilio Dominguez, Rodney Redes and a handful of MLSers.
Dominguez and Pochettino are the club's two DPs thus far, something that Reyna doesn't expect to change soon.
“As far as our next DP, we will be adding a third DP but it’s very likely that’ll be in the summer," Reyna said. "We need to look at our squad. We feel really good about it right now, but we need to see everybody in person and that we add the right piece to the team in the summer.”