In search of gifted attacking players who'll complement star midfielder Emanuel Reynoso, Minnesota United found the first from Reynoso's Argentine hometown and the same Boca Juniors team for which they played together.
The Loons acquired 31-year-old striker Ramon "Wanchope" Abila on a one-season loan using targeted allocation money, with the option to buy his rights after that.
He joined his new team in Florida last week, trained with them for the first time on Monday and is expected to play some in their final preseason game against Orlando City on Friday.
The Loons open their fifth MLS season April 16 at Seattle.
The club has targeted two other attacking players to play alongside Reynoso and now Abila, maybe even in time for the season opener depending on negotiations, COVID-19 quarantines and work visas. One of those two likely will get a "designated player" tag and salary for a Loons team that came within a minute of reaching the MLS Cup championship game last season.
Minnesota United technical director Mark Watson calls Abila an "incredible goal scorer with world-class numbers" who matches the club's biggest need after last season's loanee, Luis Amarilla, returned to play in Ecuador.
Abila is a talent the Loons couldn't have dreamed about acquiring before Reynoso arrived in Minnesota last August, Watson said. He scored 41 goals in 88 games during six Argentina first-division seasons with Boca Juniors and CA Huracan.
"I'm really passionate about the game," Abila said translated from Spanish in a Wednesday video call. "I love to play the game. What I enjoy most is scoring goals, and that's what I think I'm best at, whatever it takes to help the team. But really I'm there to help convert at the end of the play."
The relationships made with Boca Juniors executives and soccer scouts during Minnesota United's monthslong pursuit of Reynoso a year ago paved the way for the Loons to move fast when one of their contacts in Buenos Aires recently told them Abila might be available.
"That had a lot to do with it," said Watson, who made multiple trips to Buenos Aires during the Reynoso negotiations. "I was close to becoming an Argentine citizen given all the days I was sent down there. You get to know people. We have really good connections at Boca now because of Reynoso. All that was really important in this deal getting off the ground and then eventually getting it over the line."
Watson, coach Adrian Heath and other Loons executives spoke with Reynoso about Abila, who in turn talked to Reynoso about Minnesota and Major League Soccer. Reynosa and Abila both are from Cordoba, a city of 1.3 million residents in mountain foothills of central Argentina.
Abila credited their "longstanding friendship" and Reynoso's MLS success as well as the Loons' swift interest as reasons why he made the move.
"This was the team that not only a deal was agreed upon, but the one I wanted to come to," Abila said. "The team that made me feel the most wanted."
Married with three children, Abila is older than many players the Loons have targeted recently. Included is Reynoso, who's 25.
"He's 31," Watson said. "We think he's got some really good years ahead of him and he's got a proven track record. If he's 28, he's maybe not available. We think he's the right fit for this team."
Watson said Abila is the kind of striker — a No. 9 in soccer vernacular — the Loons sought: One who will stay in the middle of the field and combine with teammates, with good movement in the 18-yard box who scores goals.
Watson watched Abila play in the same games when he scouted Reynoso.
"He was one of those players you've seen play, but in the back of your mind you're thinking, `He'd be great for us, but he's not achievable," Watson said.
When he became available, the Loons inquired along with other teams in Argentina, Brazil and Mexico and did their homework, which started with Reynoso.
"When we started down the road to see if we could do it, a lot of footage we watched, Rey was playing in the game," Heath said. "We had a real opportunity to get a player on the same wavelength. This is a guy who has had plenty of time playing under real pressure. I don't think people understand what it's like to play for Boca Juniors in the Bombonera."
Like Reynoso before him, Abila pushed the deal through because he chose Minnesota over other options, Watson said.
"It's not a situation where you just trade a player," Watson said. "Players can say yes or no. It's a testament to our league — but more importantly Minnesota United — that we're attracting these types of players.
"The player was instrumental in getting this deal over the line."