KANSAS CITY, Kan. — It’s been six long years since Sporting Kansas City had a true No. 10 who made a difference, since Preki last pulled the attacking strings and banged in golazos with a cultured left foot.
If you ask manager Peter Vermes or assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin, the wait for that player may well be over.
Kansas City announced the acquisition of attacking midfielder Jéferson on Sunday, who is on loan from Vasco da Gama in his native Brazil. With the move, he becomes the third Designated Player in club history. Although Vermes and Zavagnin cautioned that the transition to MLS is rarely seamless, both said they saw enough from the 27-year-old during the scouting process to evoke memories of Preki, Sporting’s last great playmaker.
“He absolutely came up,” Zavagnin said. “It didn’t take long to see some of the qualities. As a left-footed, attacking mid that can relieve pressure and bring guys in the game, it’s only natural for us to recollect [Preki].”
Jéferson, who stands 5-foot-11 and is listed at 167 pounds, will wear No. 10 for Kansas City and is expected to be available for selection on Saturday against Toronto FC. He could also appear in Wednesday's friendly against English Premier League club Newcastle United, but it will depend on his fitness level.
The Brazilian recently signed a new contract with Vasco and will be on loan until December 31, at which time Vermes said Sporting has the option to purchase the player outright. Jéferson will officially be added to Kansas City’s roster pending receipt of his International Transfer Certificate and P1 Visa.
He began his professional career with Brasiliense in 2005 before moving on to Esporte Clube Santo André, where he scored 13 goals in 22 appearances during the 2008 season. Due to his success, he earned the club promotion and the ability to facilitate his own move to Brazilian giant Vasco da Gama. The Rio de Janeiro club loaned the midfielderto fellow top-flight club Avaí in 2010, where he scored score four goals in eight appearances.
Though he weighed multiple offers for his services, Jéferson said he decided on Kansas City because of the combination of Sporting’s state-of-the-art facilities, the team’s style of play and the quality of life in the United States. He decided that it made Sporting the ideal place to take the next step in his career.
“In the end, I picked the choice that I believed was going to help me as a player and as a person, too,” Jéferson said through an interpreter. “I feel very fortunate to be in Kansas City, where the infrastructure is laid out for [me]. I, and many other players in Brazil, don’t have that available to us, which tells me that it will help foster even more growth for myself as a player.”
Vermes said Kansas City will use Jéferson somewhere in central midfield. Where exactly he ends up playing and in what role is a bit of a mystery at this point.
Sporting have tinkered around with using either one or two holding midfielders in their midfield triangle this season with Graham Zusi occupying the attacking role during the past few months. Davy Arnaud and Craig Rocastle are both recovering from injuries but will also compete for time in the middle of the park once healthy.
No matter what combination Vermes settles on, however, he said Jéferson brings a skill set that very few players in MLS possess as well as the physical capabilities to adapt to the league’s rough-and-tumble style of play.
“He is a creative guy,” Vermes said. “He can make the final pass. He has a heck of a shot from distance. He’s very technical. The pace of MLS is so fast and up and down. A guy like him can bring a pause to the game when we need it and slip that final ball or at the same time score.”
For his part, Jéferson said he was inclined to agree with Vermes’ assessment of his game. He said he had tried to learn as much as possible about the league and Sporting via the Internet prior to signing and felt he could fill a niche that has historically been a weak spot in MLS.
“What excited me watching from the outside is that I knew I would bring some qualities which lack in the league, [such as] the technical abilities that most players don’t have,” Jéferson said. “I add a lot of the offensive style of the team, especially from shots outside the box.”
First things first, though: Kansas City are focused on integrating Jéferson into the club, one that hasn’t lost in 11 league matches. He may have the title of being a DP, but Zavagnin emphasized that the Brazilian was just another piece in the puzzle rather than some sort of savior.
“It was up to us to bring in a player like this that can complement our group,” Zavagnin added. “We didn’t bring him in to solve the issues or the problems that we have within the team. We’d like to think that we have a strong foundation in which he can now come in and add the final piece.”