Sporting Kansas City signed the fourth designated player in club history Tuesday, introducing Argentinian striker Claudio Bieler as its newest member during a news conference at Livestrong Sporting Park.
“He’s a player that’s been on our radar for a number of years now,” assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said.
Bieler, 28, joins Sporting KC from Ecuador’s first division, where he played with LDU Quito last season and scored 20 goals in 36 games.
His presence is meant to shore up an attack that generated the most shots in Major League Soccer last season (542), but also scored the second-fewest goals (42) among the league’s 10 playoff teams.
Only Vancouver, which was the only sub-.500 club to reach the postseason, scored fewer goals (35) among playoff participants last season.
“I know the team is looking for somebody who can provide support up top and put the goals away,” Bieler said through Sporting KC fitness coach Mateus Manoel, who served as translator. “I’m here to do that as much as possible. I’m looking forward to a great year and hope to win as many tournaments as possible.”
Sporting KC has won the last two Eastern Conference regular-season titles, but that success hasn’t translated to the playoffs with manager Peter Vermes’ squad falling short of the MLS Cup final both seasons.
Bieler certainly comes with a scorer’s pedigree.
He is LDU Quito’s leading scorer with 71 career goals across all competitions, including 57 goals in 110 appearances in Ecuador’s Serie A.
“Claudio’s record speaks for itself with his goal-scoring abilities, which is one of his biggest strengths,” Zavagnin said. “To add him to an already athletic, powerful, promising young group, it’s a tremendous addition to that part of the field. … No doubt, if he does what he’s done over the course of his career, he will provide goals for us.”
In 2008 with LDU Quito, Bieler scored a team-leading 13 goals, including three during the Copa Libertadores championship run. The club went on to finish second at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan that year, losing 1-0 against Manchester United on a goal by Wayne Rooney in the final.
Bieler led Ecuadorian Serie A with 22 goals in 2009, when he was named the top striker by the Ecuador Association of Broadcasters, and also scored a tourney-best eight goals in leading LDU Quito to the 2009 Copa Sudamericana title.
That caught the eye of Racing Club, one of the most successful teams in Argentina’s first division, which signed Bieler in 2010.
Argentina’s Primera Division is where Bieler’s professional career started in 2005 with Club Atletico Colon. After a stint with Atletico de Rafaela, where he led Argentina’s Nacional B with 16 goals in 2006-07, Bieler moved to Colo-Colo, helping that club win a championship in Chile’s first division in 2007, before joining LDU Quito.
Bieler, who was called into camp with Argentina’s national team by Diego Maradona in 2010, also spent a short loan spell with Newell’s Old Boys in Argentina.
He joins a group of forwards that already includes Kei Kamara and C.J. Sapong, who combined for 20 goals last season, and expects to have Teal Bunbury back from a torn ACL by midseason at the latest.
“Claudio offers a little bit different characteristics,” Zavagnin said. “He’s a little bit more mature in and around the box, certainly in age he is. He can help these guys come along, but we’re going to need all these guys to be successful in all the competitions that we play in next year.”
Signing Bieler is the latest move in Sporting KC’s offseason makeover, which includes swinging a trade with New England for crafty midfielder and World Cup veteran Benny Feilhaber last week.
“It’s not a simple thing to do in a small market,” Sporting KC CEO Robb Heineman said when asked about adding a designated player. “It’s a big commitment, but I think we’ve been pretty clear on what our goals are, and that’s to win championships.”
Sporting KC was thrilled to win the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in August, a title that earned the club a berth in CONCACAF Champions’ League.
Still, Sporting KC’s ambition goes much farther than one title in one season.
“This is a time in our organization that it’s time to go for it,” Heineman said. “And it’s a time not to just try to win an Open Cup in a year and say that’s great. It’s a time to win multiple cups in multiple years and string them together. Now is the time to do that.”
Bieler is viewed as a critical piece in making a run at sweeping the MLS Cup, Open Cup and Champions’ League in 2013.
Sporting KC, which re-signed 2012 MLS defender of the year Matt Besler last week, had already made several moves on defense — trading for fullback Josh Gardner from Montreal and centerback Ike Opara from San Jose and signing promising young centerback Yann Songo’o of Cameroon.
Bieler joins Claudio Lopez (2008, former MLS All-Star Omar Bravo (2011) and Jeferson (2011) as Sporting’s only other designated players.