In some circles, there is blowback already about Sporting Kansas City’s newest designated player, Argentinian striker Claudio Bieler.
Not every player coming from South America has adjusted well to Major League Soccer’s physical style, but Sporting KC believes Bieler can buck that trend.
“Traditionally speaking, Argentinians have fared much better in our league, because the mentality is a little different and Claudio possesses all of those mental qualities to be successful in our league,” Sporting KC assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said. “He’s a winner, he’s a fighter.”
Zavagnin addressed the media during Tuesday’s press conference with manager Peter Vermes away on a family vacation.
Bieler said he realizes MLS is a more physical league than Ecuador’s Serie A, but he insists he is ready for the challenge and believes he can adapt quickly.
“I understand that there’s an adaptation process for every international player that comes to this league,” Bieler said. “But it doesn’t worry me too much. I’ve been to different clubs and I’ve had to adapt to different style before.”
He’s also had to adjust to different locker rooms during his travels and isn’t worried about upsetting the chemistry already established with Sporting KC.
“Even though I’m from a different culture, I’m a pretty open-spirited guy, so I’ll be able to adapt to whatever the new culture is,” Bieler said.
Sporting KC has had some success with designated players in the past.
Claudio Lopez, who was brought in during the 2008 season, scored 13 goals with 16 assists in 59 appearances over two seasons.
Signed in 2011, Omar Bravo, a star for the Mexican national team, was an All-Star and finished with nine goals and two assists in 28 appearances for Sporting KC.
Of course, Brazilian midfielder Jeferson, who signed in midseason 2011, didn’t work out as well. He had the game-winning assist in his MLS debut, but struggled to crack the lineup and made only 11 appearances before he was jettisoned.
“Nothing is guaranteed with player acquisitions, but we feel like Claudio has checked off all the boxes to be a quality and important member of our team,” Zavagnin said.
Among the most appealing attributes that Bieler brings to Kansas City is his team-first mentality and a willingness to work as hard defensively recovering the ball — a critical aspect to Sporting KC’s top-ranked MLS defense — as he does to score goals.
“Claudio, with his work ethic both on and off the field, his ability to play for the team and with the team, is probably the biggest reason why we acquired him,” Zavagnin said.
Bieler won’t be asked to carry the attacking load. Anything north of 10 goals next season would be in line with expectations the club has for his first MLS campaign.
But his presence and crafty ability to make runs and find space ought to relieve pressure on forward Kei Kamara and midfielder Graham Zusi among others, which could free them up for more opportunities as well.
Make no mistake, though, Bieler plans to live up to his reputation as a goal scorer, which he does in a variety of ways – off headers, through his tenacity in the box, from distance and claiming the occasional opportunistic rebound.
He’ll score beautiful goals, but Bieler also has a penchant for putting some ugly ones home too.
“The biggest thing is going to be the trust that the coaches have in me, because I know I can deliver,” Bieler said. “Being in a league that’s growing and has the fast-paced style I prefer, I know I can be successful.”