COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – The Colorado Rapids’ newest South American acquisition is a little awkwardly shy and is maybe a bit self conscious about his inability to speak the local tongue in his new home.
But once he begins to speak, Kevin Harbottle, signed from Chilean powerhouse Universidad Católica only last month, opens up freely. And Rapids head coach Oscar Pareja is hoping his signing will help open up the field by providing width along the left wing this season.
The Rapids had been tracking the diminutive winger, whom they signed in January, for much of the offseason. And although he only stands at just 5-foot-5, Harbottle brings the skill and pace they are looking for in their midfield.
“He’s a kid that people are going to like, he has quickness,” Pareja said. “He likes to take people on. He has ability one-vs.-one, which is very good. Like any other player that comes to the team, it’s an adjusting time. But I think we’re going to take a lot of advantage of his skills.”
Harbottle’s versatility makes him an option at two different spots. With attacking midfielder Martín Rivero out for at least the first month of the season, Harbottle is battling Kamani Hill to take Rivero’s place on the field. Harbottle can also play as a left wing striker atop Pareja’s 4-3-3, giving Pareja two places to put the Chilean.
At the start of the winter, Harbottle had been in negotiations with an unspecified club in his native Chile, but once the two sides couldn’t come to agreement, the 22-year-old looked north. Once seen as one of Chile’s rising young stars, including a 2010 call-up to the national team, Harbottle endured a difficult Clausura campaign in 2012, where he only made three substitute appearances for Universidad Católica. But now on the other side of the globe, he is busy transitioning from summer to winter, humid to dry, Spanish to English, and hopefully for him, the bench to a spot in the starting XI.
“It’s totally different. A different world,” Harbottle told MLSsoccer.com this week in thickly Chilean-accented Spanish. “But on the field, everyone is equal.”
As far as his English goes, well, it’s a work in progress.
“I can understand a little bit. Actually, close to nothing,” Harbottle said. “I’m going to learn a little bit I think.”
Harbottle isn’t the only Rapid who can’t speak English, in fact, Rosetta Stone will come in quite handy at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park this season. With Honduran Hendry Thomas, Argentine Rivero, Ecuadorian Diego Calderón and Colombian Jaime Castrillón all added under Pareja’s 13-month tenure, Harbottle knows he has plenty of Spanish-speaking players to turn to.
“There’s lots of players that speak Spanish, so it’s helpful. It’s good,” Harbottle said.
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.