Timbers sign forward, defender from Argentina

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

Updated: January 15, 2014, 10:37 PM

 

It didn’t cost big money, but the Portland Timbers believe they have added two significant players.

The Timbers made official Wednesday the anticipated acquisition of a pair of players from Argentina.

The announcement that forward Gastón Fernández and central defender Norberto Paparatto have signed with the Major League Soccer club was no surprise. Both players are 30 years old and were previously linked to the Timbers in reports out of Argentina.

Fernández and Paparatto both have multi-year contracts, according to Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson. As is the case with all MLS transactions, terms of the deals were not made public.

Wilkinson confirmed that neither player will be a Designated Player. MLS teams are allowed to pay three players more than what counts against the salary cap. Diego Valeri is currently the Timbers only Designated Player. Midfielder Diego Chara was a DP because of the transfer fee the Timbers paid to acquire him. Under his new Timbers contract, he is no longer a DP.

Owner Merritt Paulson gave Wilkinson the budget to sign a Designated Player, according to the general manager.

“I don’t believe in spending money for the sake of it,” Wilkinson said. “We found the players we were after.”

The Timbers also made official the loan of Colombian forward Jose Valencia to Olimpo de Bahía Blanca of Argentina’s first division, and announced that defender Bryan Gallego has been signed to a homegrown player contract.

The 5-foot-7 Fernandez has played for successful teams in the top leagues of Argentina and Mexico. Fernández has made 224 appearances, scoring 48 goals in Argentina’s top league while with four different teams. In Mexico, he scored 11 goals in 23 league games with Tigres, and eight goals in 28 league games for Monterrey.

“He’s very intelligent. He makes good runs,” Wilkinson said of Fernández. “He’s good in tight areas with the ball. He finds pockets. He’s a very, very talented player.”

Timbers coach Caleb Porter said Fernández is the type of forward he wanted to add this offseason.

“We feel Gastón will not only bring that final-third production, but he will be a compliment to the team and our collective play,” Porter said.

Fernández – who came onto the Timbers radar in November according to Wilkinson -- is the third attacking player from Argentina on the Timbers, joining midfielder Valeri and forward Maximiliano Urruti.

Paparatto, 6-foot-3, brings more size and experience to the middle of the Timbers defense. He has played for Tigres in the Argentine first division since 2007. Wilkinson said he has been aware of Paparatto for more than a year.

“He’s very good in the air,” said Wilkinson, noting that he and the Timbers coaches watched countless hours of game video on each player as part of their research. “Technically he’s very smooth for a big man. He plays very, very simple but he has a good presence, and natural leadership ability.”

At central defender, the Timbers return Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso, who paired together for the team’s playoff run. Veteran Mikael Silverstre returns after missing most of 2013 with due to injury.

Wilkinson said the Timbers loaned Valencia, 22, to get the young forward more playing time. The Timbers have the option of bringing Valencia back to Portland after the loan, Wilkinson said.

“We sent Jose (to Olimpo) to get more playing time, to be developed in a different environment and to continue to develop the player so that he becomes an asset for the Timbers in one way or another,” Wilkinson said.

In 2013, Valencia had one goal and three assists in 21 regular-season matches for the Timbers. He was the top scorer for the club in MLS Reserve League play, scoring five goals. On Wednesday, Valencia scored a goal in his first exhibition match with Olimpo.

Loaning Valencia keeps the Timbers at the limit of eight foreign players on their roster. Wilkinson said two current players might soon get green cards, which would open up two additional foreign slots. He declined to name those players.

Gallego, 20, played three seasons at Akron – the first two under Porter. He played in 10 matches last summer with the Timbers under-23 team in the Premier Development League. A native of New Jersey, the Timbers acquired Gallego’s MLS homegrown player rights in a Dec. 2012 trade with the New York Red Bulls. Gallego, 5-10, was in the Red Bulls youth academy from 2007 to 2011. He has served as a captain for the U.S. under-18 national team and player for the U.S. under-20 national team.

Gallego is the third homegrown player signed by the Timbers and the second on their current roster. Camas native Brent Richards was the club’s first homegrown player. Richards was released after missing all of last season with a knee injury suffered in training camp. Midfielder Steven Evans is the other homegrown player on the roster.

Wilkinson said the Timbers will be looking for one or two players in Thursday’s college draft who have the potential to develop into MLS starters down the road. Portland holds picks 17, 26, 36, 39, 71 and 73 in the draft.

Fernández is the third attacking player from Argentina on the Timbers, joining midfielder Diego Valeri and forward Maximiliano Urruti.

Timbers general manager Gavin Wilkinson called Fernández “a talented and motivated player.”

Paparatto, 6-foot-3, brings more size and experience to the middle of the Timbers defense. He has played for Tigres in the Argentine first division since 2007.

“He is technically and tactically sound and will bring another player in our locker room that has experience and leadership qualities playing at a high level for many years,” Porter said. “Norberto will also help with our aerial ability, which is a critical component we wanted to enhance in our team. We look forward to integrating him into an already deep backline.”

At central defender, the Timbers return Pa Modou Kah and Futty Danso, who paired together for the team’s playoff run. Veteran Mikael Silverstre returns after missing most of 2013 with due to injury.

On Twitter, Timbers owner Merritt Paulson has praised the work of Wilkinson in making the deals a reality, and thanked midfielder Valeri for his help in bringing Fernandez on board.

Wilkinson said the Timbers loaned Valencia, 22, to get the young forward more playing time.

In 2013, Valencia had one goal and three assists in 21 regular-season matches for the Timbers. He was the top scorer for the club in MLS Reserve League play, scoring five goals.

Gallego, 20, played three seasons at Akron – the first two under Porter. He played in 10 matches last summer with the Timbers under-23 team in the Premier Development League. A native of New Jersey, the Timbers acquired Gallego’s MLS homegrown player rights in a Dec. 2012 trade with the New York Red Bulls. Gallego, 5-10, was in the Red Bulls youth academy from 2007 to 2011. He has served as a captain for the U.S. under-18 national team and player for the U.S. under-20 national team.

Gallego is the third homegrown player signed by the Timbers and the second on their current roster. Camas native Brent Richards was the club’s first homegrown player. Richards was released after missing all of last season with a knee injury suffered in training camp. Midfielder Steven Evans is the other homegrown player on the roster.

The Timbers’ Wednesday announcements came a day before the MLS Super Draft of college players. Portland holds picks 17, 26, 36, 39, 71 and 73 in the draft.