SUNRISE, Fla. – Since 1996, MLS has had a strong Cafetero flavor, with Colombians from Carlos Valderrama to Fredy Montero leaving their mark on the league.
The Revs have now gotten in on the act, as the continued success of Colombian imports played a significant role in New England's move to sign Fernando Cárdenas and John Lozano from América de Cali.
“It's been an ongoing process,” head coach Jay Heaps told MLSsoccer.com from the MLS Combine on Monday. “I think when we get two players that we wanted, that we like, that we saw and that have performed at high levels in Colombia – and we believe that league translates well into MLS if you look at the history of Colombian players who have excelled in this league; not just played in this league, but excelled in this league – then you look at it. There are all sorts of players that can help this team win and that's what we're looking for.”
Heaps and Revolution general manager Michael Burns traveled to the South American hotbed at the end of November to run the rule over several potential targets, eventually striking a deal to bring Cárdenas and Lozano to Foxborough. Both players will join the team pending the receipt of their P-1 work visas and their international transfer certificates (ITCs).
After registering the Revolution's interest in the players once the scouting trip concluded, Burns returned to South America last week to clinch the deals with the recently relegated Colombian giants.
“Before the Combine, I went back to Colombia last week to try to finalize the deals and meet the players,” Burns said. “I was down there right before we got to Florida. I met with the players and got the signed documents and contracts. They're both excited to come to New England and that was important to us.”
The feelings appear mutual as the Revs prepare to add two players who they believe will bolster their squad in 2012.
Former Boca Juniors target Lozano should immediately give the Revs options at central defense and could potentially provide a seasoned partner for A.J. Soares. The 27-year-old possesses the physical and technical tools to succeed in MLS, according to Heaps.
“Lozano stood out to me in the game [we watched] because he has the technical ability to play out of the back, but [is] also with his sure defending,” Heaps said. “Obviously, there's a learning curve in MLS, but he's certainly someone we want to have come in, add to our team and be someone who is a solid rock back there.”
While Lozano offers a physical presence up front, the 23-year-old Cárdenas supplies pace in a variety of attacking positions. The shifty, well-traveled winger can feature in any number of attacking spots, though his modest goalscoring record (six goals in 82 games, including six Copa Libertadores matches with Once Caldas in 2010) and his small stature (listed at 5-foot-6) suggests he may feature more regularly in midfield.
“In the game where we saw him, he played a variety of different attacking positions,” Heaps said. “That was another thing that I liked as well. He was sneaky underneath the forward, he could play the second forward, he could play out wide, he could play in the middle. He definitely stood out as an attacking player with some pace. That was something – at the highest level in Colombia – for him to be able to get by the center and turn on people. We want that [quality] to really help us in the attacking third.”
Both Burns and Heaps said that the arrival of Cárdenas and Lozano will not conclude the team’s offseason shopping. Heaps noted that the Revs remain active in their search to add a proven striker, while Thursday's SuperDraft should provide an opportunity to introduce another potential contributor or two to the squad.
“As I've said before, hopefully, we'll still add a few more pieces here,” Burns said. “But we feel like this is a start and we certainly feel these guys address some needs for us in terms of bringing in another center back and another attacking player.”