Photo by ISIphotos.com
By FRANCO PANIZO
Judging from the start of the MLS season, Claudio Bieler and Sporting Kansas City are a match made in heaven. Bieler provides Sporting KC the type of goal-scoring forward they have been sorely missing in recent years and the club offers him a new challenge in a relatively tranquil setting and a hefty payday.
Their relationship is currently good as can be, but it is also one that began developing more than half a decade ago.
Sporting KC first took notice of Bieler six years ago, and the club sent then-technical director Peter Vermes to Chile to get a first-hand glimpse of what the Argentine striker could do. Unfortunately for Vermes, the relatively short trip seemed to be a wash when Bieler was not included in Colo-Colo’s starting lineup.
Then, some unique circumstances, that some would label as fortunate, allowed Vermes to surprisingly see Bieler up close and personal.
“His team gets a man thrown out and you’re thinking there’s no way they are bringing on a forward,” Vermes, now Sporting KC’s head coach, told SBI earlier in the week. “They bring him on in the second half and he scores a goal with a man down. I followed him ever since.”
Bieler may be someone that Sporting KC was always aware of, but the club only recently signed him as a Designated Player this past offseason. That raises the question as to why did the club wait so long to acquire Bieler, but the answer is simple.
They did not feel the timing was right until now.
“It’s one thing when you see a player and you go, ‘Oh I really like that guy.’ The question is, when does he actually fit into your team,” said Vermes. “I think he comes at the right time because we’re built to help his qualities. That’s a big part of it.
“I also think his personality, being that he is a very quiet guy, Kansas City is a good place for him to live. It’s not New York and it’s not LA, where it’s a whole different lifestyle and then the final piece is that he himself is a really team-centered guy, so being that he’s team centered, he fits into this group really well.”
That much has been true through Sporting KC’s first seven games of the season. Bieler already has four goals – as many as he scored last season with Ecuadorian club LDU Quito – and has helped set up others, such as Graham Zusi’s strike in the season opener against the Philadelphia Union.
It has been a strong start for a player who is going through a big transition on and off the field, but that transition may be part of the recipe to his success.
“I like the city a lot. It’s another culture and a person learns a lot from this,” the 29-year-old Bieler told SBI. “You wish most countries could be like this one. You get very happy by the way things are, how people treat you and how respectful they are. It’s all very nice.”
While Bieler is already impressing, the belief from Sporting KC is that the well-traveled striker who has played for six other teams since 2005 will only get better as more time passes. After all, Bieler currently does not speak much English and chemistry with his teammates is still a work in progress.
“There is no doubt that there’s a high ceiling with him on how he can be with our team, because I still think he’s still getting down to how we want him to do certain things on the field,” said Vermes. “But more importantly, how his movements can really help us because he’s very good with coming off and playing balls into him and laying them off to other guys. He rarely loses possession in those situations.
“It’s just we haven’t been accustomed to playing into a guy like that over the years, so we’re still getting better with that type of play.”
It might take a little longer for Bieler and his teammates to fully understand one another but after waiting six years to sign him, Sporting KC surely will have no qualms with needing to be a little more patient.