Minnesota United coach Adrian Heath traveled to Ecuador in late November to scout someone in a playoff game between LDU Quito and Universidad Catolica del Ecuador. Instead, he found Paraguayan striker Luis Amarilla.
Two months later United acquired the 6-foot attacker, who could be one of three young, talented South Americans on the team’s roster when its regular season begins March 1 in Portland.
The team announced Amarilla’s signing on Wednesday. He joins the team on a 12-month loan from Vélez Sarsfield in Argentina’s Primera Division, with the Loons using targeted allocation money with an option to buy.
He’ll join 21-year-old Mason Toye out front on a team that needs scoring punch. The Loons lost 2017 No. 1 overall pick Abu Danladi to Nashville in the expansion draft. And last week it bought out the guaranteed contract of former designated player Angelo Rodriguez.
That buyout created salary-cap space United can use to make other moves, including Amarilla’s acquisition. He will join the Loons pending a physical and receipt of his P1 Visa and international transfer certificate, and occupy an international roster spot.
Heath came away impressed that November night with Amarilla, who scored the game’s first three goals in a 3-2 victory.
Heath called himself more impressed with Amarilla’s anticipation, instincts and runs inside the 18-yard penalty box than with his hat trick.
“I went to look at somebody else,” Heath said, “and while I was in the stadium, I rang people here and said, ‘There’s a kid here I really like.’ The more we worked on it, the more we’ve had a chance to look long and hard about it.”
Amarilla, 24, fits what Heath and United management sought — youth and athleticism — after the team reached the playoffs last fall for the first time in three MLS seasons.
He’s the same age as Argentine attacking midfielder Emanuel Reynoso. United technical director Mark Watson arrived in Buenos Aires last week seeking to acquire Reynoso from his Boca Juniors club and didn’t leave until Tuesday.
United has waited weeks to finalize all the particulars involved in acquiring Amarilla. After signing Uruguayan teenage midfielder Thomas Chacon last summer, it’s now aimed to land Reynoso — following an MLS trend that is bringing young, talented South Americans to the league.
Amarilla is right-footed but scores goals with both feet.
“He’s got unbelievable movement in the box,” Heath said. “He’s a really good finisher, scores all type of goals. You look at his goals last year: tap-ins, overhead kicks, headers. He’s got a little bit of everything. He’s somebody I think will score goals.”
Amarilla also impressed Heath with his determination and ability to cover ground.
“He caught my eye not only because of what he did, but it was his work rate,” Heath said. “We spoke to him. He’s really hungry. He can’t wait to get here. He’s got all the tools. There are certain characteristics you look for. This guy has a little of everything.”