On his first full day with his new team in a new hemisphere and a new world, Minnesota United striker Luis Amarilla threw his first snowball in the air and kicked it into scattering pieces while he reaffirmed what he told Loons coach Adrian Heath one day on the phone.
He has come all this way from his Paraguayan home to score goals.
“I promised him 25 goals,” Amarilla said, “and I think that’s something I can do.”
If he can do so, that’ll put him in rare MLS air. It would have made him fourth in the league in goals scored last season, behind only the 34 goals by LAFC’s Carlos Vega, the 30 by L.A. Galaxy’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the 27 by Atlanta’s Josef Martinez.
When United executives analyzed last season, they concluded what their team lacked most was goal scorers. By acquiring Amarilla on loan with an option to buy from a club in Argentina’s first division, the Loons now possess a player they discovered only after Heath went to Ecuador in November to scout another player and came away smitten with Amarilla instead.
After 15 minutes, Heath called team technical director Mark Watson back in Minnesota and told Watson, who was watching the game himself by satellite 3,000 miles away, they might have found their guy.
“There weren’t enough goals on the team last year and we had to make the necessary adjustments to solve that,” Watson said. “We feel that Luis is that player. He had all the things that no one but Adrian knows he wants in a striker.”
From the footage they watched and the people they called, Heath and Watson has the energy, intelligence, professionalism, work rate, scoring instinct and movement around the goal as well as the kind of youth, promise and humility they sought.
He is 24, the same age as the Argentine attacking midfielder, Emanuel Reynoso, United is intent on signing in an MLS where young South American players are becoming the rage.
Watson called Amarilla’s arrival a “long-term play” that gives his team the option to make him much more than a one-year loan. Amarilla scored his first United goal in his 45 minutes played during a preseason game Saturday in Florida.
“We are expecting 25 goals, we’ve been told that’s a given,” Watson said, his tongue firmly in cheek. “We expect Luis to play well and we’ll move forward from there.”
Amarilla is coming off a breakout season in which he scored 19 games in 24 games for Ecuador’s Universidad Catolica, on loan from the same Velez Sarsfield club in Argentina that now has loaned him to United.
That single season is something of an aberration that Heath and Watson concluded after doing their homework came from a lack of opportunity earlier in his career.
From scouting that one game to watching Amarilla basically play one scrimmage Saturday, Heath sees a lot of the striker he once was in England’s first division in Amarilla.
“We call it ‘The Fox in the Box,’ ” Heath said. “He has the knack. It’s a trade some people can pick up and learn or you’re born with it. I think he has that in abundance.”
Amarilla consulted with fellow countryman and Portland Timbers veteran Jorge Moreira about MLS and the USA and decided to swap continents because of the success Paraguayan attacking midfielder Miguel Almiron, who is one year older, has had with Atlanta United and now the Premier League’s Newcastle United.
Amarilla opened an introductory news conference Sunday by saying in English, “Very happy to be here and … yes.” Most of the rest was conducted with a translator.
He called Almiron a “huge influence” and said conversations he had with Heath and Watson struck “that personnel connection that made me feel welcomed and prepared to come up here.”
“A lot of players from South America are making it a goal for themselves and eventually end up playing here,” Amarilla said. “That’s now starting to come here. It’s a bit of my journey now. [Almiron] left a huge mark. I want to be able to represent my country in that way and leave my stamp here as well.”