In 2013 the Portland Timbers accepted the loaned contract of Diego Valeri, the first in the series of Argentine players to come to Portland. At the time it meant little more than the signing of a talented attacking midfielder, something the team needed vitally. As time has progressed it became clear Portland had a knack for men from Argentina.
Anyone that has been a fan of Argentina's Primera División will tell you it is one of the most attacking minded leagues in the world. The matches are heated, fast paced, and at times violent. Now some would say, why is the Argentine national team not exactly like that? Well, there are a few reasons, the biggest is that many of the top players from Argentina leave when they are young. The most famous player to leave Argentina is Lionel Messi, who famously moved to Spain to enter the FC Barcelona system at the age of twelve. That is not to say Messi is not attacking minded or fast paced; he is. He has just been raised around a different style for most of his life in Spain.
The counter to Messi is Sergio Aguero, the Manchester City striker who has an eye for goals and blistering pace. Look how differently Messi and Aguero move on the field. Both are among the greatest players alive right now, not just strikers. Messi is more gentle on the pitch, more elegant. Sergio is gritty, and plays with an anger, it almost seems at times. Aguero is the world class version of what many of Argentina's players tend to look like. It is no coincidence he spent a significant part of his career playing for Independiente in Argentina.
Here are the recent attacking sequences with Aguero to get an idea of how he plays:
Now with Messi there is a clear difference, hes a bit more fancy as the video describes.
There are countless players that do not fit this mold, but the rule in general holds true.
Along with that, look at the current elite players for Argentina's national team. There is a theme that flows throughout the roster. The depth for Argentina is in their attack. Argentina is weakest in defense.
While Argentina do have world class defenders it is not the brick wall other nations house and the quality dips considerably in comparison to their attacking minded positions. Even then, their defenders are aggressive, fast paced and in many ways, violent.
The best example of this on their defense is the heated young central defender Marcos Rojo who plays for the Prestigious Manchester United. For a central defender, Rojo is known for his willingness to go for the goal and set up goals. His willingness to do so has won games countless times and is one of his most sought after qualities.
His mindset reflects exactly that, an attacking minded defender who gets up the pitch. The confidence in himself to get the ball is evident in the tackles he is willing to attempt.
Now, what does this have to do with the Timbers? Everything. Slowly, Caleb Porter has been signing his Argentine's and placing them meticulously into the team with the end goal of producing putting points on the board. Porter's plan worked.
On August 6th, 2013, Portland signed Diego Valeri to a full contract with the option to buy with his loan. Just over a month later on September 9th, Maximiliano Urruti would be signed. Both these men share something similar on their career history. The Two spent lots of time being developed in Argentina's Primera División, Valeri at Lanus, and Urruti at Newell's Old Boys. This has spilled over into the whole Portland squad, and for good reason. MLS like the Primera División has much stronger attacking players than defenders. This style of play does well and will do well for the team. Only 2 years into this experiment and results are being yielded that cannot be denied.
Here is Urruti's first goal, and one of his best:
I have covered the epic goals of Valeri, but here is another for the road:
In both shots, anyone could tell these two have a knack for goals. They take risks and they have the skill to balance the shots in their favor. There is raw aggression, and then there is aggression with quality. These two have just that.
A few months later, Caleb Porter would find himself signing two more Argentine players. This time a veteran striker in Gastón Fernández, and experienced defender in Norberto Paparatto.
Now, here we have probably the best link up in Portland history (Editor's note: Will Johnson and Fanendo Adi might disagree), and its definitely the best link up between Argentines in the MLS:
Admittedly Paparatto does not have the finishing the other two have and is not a wing back, but rather a center back. He resides in the back as a good back should and gets up for headers. While he hasn't finished one this past year he puts the effort in more so than many of his peers.
Fernández, on the other hand, is the veteran explosive striker that has a knack for creating goals in tight spots when they're needed most. He is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest but he puts himself in great positions for his team mates and works around players in a masterful way at times. The best attribute to Fernández is that he creates goals out of nothing at times.
Between the four men they have 279 shots, 31 assists, and 44 goals since January, 2013. These numbers are strong evidence of the output, and testament to the mindset they have on the field. They fight for goals they make chances where there are none, and push the pace.
This has bled into scouting strategies of the team and other players play styles. The quality for the most part on the Timber's is in the forwards, and midfield. There is no question effort has been made to shore up the defense, these players are all attacking minded. Look at Alvas Powell for a moment. Powell embodies exactly the same pressure, pace, and create mindset. He moves up and down the pitch like clock work and puts pressure on anyone coming up his wing.
It is possible this is the strategy to get the team to the MLS cup. The plan went into action 2 years ago now, year three will be truly telling.