Sporting KC

Heaven knows Bieler wants to win

Claudio Bieler just wants to win.

Sporting Kansas City signed Bieler as the third Designated Player in club history on Dec. 18 and the early returns have been promising — a goal in each of his first two games.

Of course, he came with a reputation as a prolific goal scorer.

Bieler, a native of Argentina, who turned 29 one day before the season opener, transferred to Sporting KC as the all-time scoring leader for LDU Quito, where he scored 57 goals in 110 appearances in Ecuador’s Serie A. Overall, he has 71 goals in 155 appearances in his career.

“He’s got an incredible finishing touch,” said Sporting KC centerback Matt Besler, who is the reigning MLS defender of the year. “He’s not the fastest guy and he’s not the biggest, but he’s shown the first two games that all he needs is a little bit of space.”

During his MLS debut, Bieler iced a 3-1 win March 2 at the Philadelphia Union with a goal in the 83rd minute. He nearly sparked a comeback a week later when he scored in the 77th minute of a 2-1 loss at Toronto FC.

But sitting at 1-1-0 doesn’t sit well with Bieler, who’d gladly trade both goals for an unblemished record.

“I’m not happy with my performance yet,” Bieler said through Sporting KC videographer Abner Aceves, who served as translator. “I still have much more to prove. I am working hard to get even better and be more productive. On a personal level, it’s great to score a goal in the first two games, but the important thing is to win.”

Bieler’s desire to win knows almost no bounds.

Some of the details get lost in translation, but he’s gone so far as to seek divine intervention.

During his first season with LDU Quito in 2008, Bieler struck a deal promising one of Argentina’s many saints that he’d get the religious icon tattooed on his left forearm if the saint — known to grant an individual’s wish (but at a price) — would deliver a championship in the 2008 Copa Libertadores.

After Bieler scored eight goals in helping LDU Quito become the first team from Ecuador to win South America’s most prestigious club tournament, he lived up to his end of the bargain.

“I got it after we won as promised, but then things started going bad and I covered it up,” Bieler said with a laugh.

Now, Bieler’s left arm is covered with a sleeve tattoo depicting three Archangels — Gabriel, Michael and Uriel.

It’s a faith he came by honestly growing up in Vera, an agricultural hub of roughly 50,000 in the northeast corner of Argentina’s Santa Fe province and located roughly 450 miles from the capital of Buenos Aires.

“I am religious and believe in God and the Virgin,” Bieler said. “I ask for their protection and it’s a reminder they are always with me.”

And, yes, if you’re wondering, Bieler, who grew up in a predominantly Catholic region, was understandably thrilled Wednesday when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was elected as the 266th pope, Pope Francis.

“We’re all very proud,” Bieler said. “Having a pope from Argentina makes us all proud. There’s a lot of people making a joke right now that we have Maradona, we have Messi and now we have the Pope.”

He laughs as he makes the sign of the cross — touching his forehead, the top of the belly then his left and right shoulders — while saying “In nomine Maradona, et Messi, et El Papa.”

Bieler’s religious devotion (and his sense of humor about it) are fitting in a way.

For goal-hungry Sporting KC, which generated the most shots in MLS last season but scored the second-fewest goals among playoff qualifiers, Bieler is something of a godsend.

With those goals in his first two games, Bieler joined former D.C. United striker Luciano Emilio as the second Designated Player in MLS history to score in his first two MLS appearances.

“That news shocks me, but I’m happy to hear that,” Bieler said. “But my goal is to win everything or at least get as far in every competition as we can. Sure, I’d welcome 15 to 20 goals this year, but if it doesn’t come, it doesn’t matter as long as we are winning championships.”

Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes first encountered Bieler six years ago when he was playing for Colo-Colo, where he won a championship in Chile’s Primera Division Clausura.

Bieler also played for LDU Quito’s 2009 Copa Sudamericana and Recopa Sudamericana championships teams.

In other words, he’s no stranger to championships.

When Bieler was introduced, assistant coach Kerry Zavagnin said 12 goals was considered a reasonable benchmark for success in his first MLS season. Anything more than that was going to be a bonus.

“Twelve goals for anyone would be a good season,” Sporting KC midfielder Graham Zusi said. “I’m not going to sit here and try and predict how many goals he’s going to score, but if he stays fit and continues to play the way he does, he’s going to score goals. There’s no question about it.”

More importantly, a bounty of goals from Bieler probably means a bushel of wins for Sporting KC — and that would make everyone happy.