From 2017-19, Younes Namli emerged as a leading figure for midtable Eredivisie side PEC Zwolle. As the young attacking midfielder caught the eye with classy performances, sound technique and a knack for highlight-reel dribbles, he quickly became the subject of interest across the globe.
Including, it turns out, from the Colorado Rapids.
An American move wasn't in the cards just yet for Namli, who instead jumped to Russian Premier League's FC Krasnodar over the summer. But the Rapids kept following Namli, and finally swooped during the offseason, signing the 25-year-old away from Krasnodar to a Designated Player deal made official this Wednesday.
“We’ve been following Namli for almost two years now, we always thought he’d be a wonderful fit in MLS," Rapids EVP and GM Pádraig Smith told MLSsoccer.com on Wednesday. "Technically, he’s very gifted. Very creative, can spot a pass and play that pass with both feet. He’s goal-dangerous, which is very important for anyone you can put in the attacking midfield position, and we feel he’s coming into his prime.”
Namli didn't quite settle in during his six-month sojourn in Russia, making six league starts and another four appearances off the bench in the club's 18 league matches, and he was used only once in his natural No. 10 position. He started the club's first five RPL games but got a red card in the fifth then made just one more start between mid-August and the club's winter break in December.
“We thought we were within a chance to get him when he was leaving PEC Zwolle," Smith explained. "I think the allure of Champions League, Europa League football and the Russian Premier League was a little too much, so he chose to go to Krasnodar. Very good club. But we continued to talk. When they decided to look for something else, we were able to jump in and get the deal done. He’s someone we know very well at this point.”
The Rapids' scouting and analytics have them convinced Namli will immediately improve the squad and is also capable of another level indivually. He had one goal and one assist overall in his Russian league sojourn, but Colorado believe that isn't indicative of his quality nor a predictor of his future.
Smith believes that could amount to even more production than Namli offered at Zwolle, where he had 10 goals and 13 assists across two league seasons. He cites other recent MLS examples to prove his point.
"I think we see this all the time," Smith said. "If you look at Josef Martinez's raw-goal numbers at Torino or even Carles Gil coming in last year and the incredible impact he had in New England despite not scoring too many goals in Spain. … There's no doubt in our mind that's something Younes can do and do very well. He'll create chances and be goal-dangerous himself."
Martinez had three goals in each of his final two full seasons with Torino — who used him primarily on the left flank — then became a record-breaking striker (in a couple of ways) with Atlanta United. Gil hadn't scored more than two league goals in a season since 2013/14 when he arrived, then was awarded MLS Newcomer of the Year last season with 10 goals and 14 assists.
“We’ve been targeting some young, elite-level prospects, we feel like we’re getting close to our top target in that area," Smith said. "We want to continue this drive to youth that’s so important to us as a club.”
He added that the club have spent time in South America, Central America and Africa over the last 12-18 months to increase their knowledge and network across the globe.
"We feel like we’re close to getting a real elite-level prospect from South America very soon," Smith said.
With one DP now signed and room potentially for two more, Smith was non-committal in if the club plan to fill those remaining slots.
“It’s funny, for me, I think the whole concept of a DP is a little bit archaic now with discretionary TAM," Smith said. "The way we look at it: How can we use our discretionary funds, be it TAM or DP, to improve the team? That’s what we’re focused on. People often forget you can have a DP on $600k thousand and a TAM player on $1.5 million. There’s discretionary funds out there, we’re going to do everything we can to put the best roster together to get us back to where we need to be, which is in the playoffs.”