TORONTO – It took a really long time but Toronto FC finally got its man.
The Major League Soccer club announced Friday that it has signed Argentine forward Maximiliano Urruti, a player that Kevin Payne has been tracking since his days with D.C. United, before he became TFC’s new president and general manager last November.
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Urruti, a 22-year-old native of Rosario (the same hometown of Lionel Messi), will travel with the team for Saturday night’s road game against the Columbus Crew. Payne said Urruti will be available for selection against the Crew pending the arrival of his international transfer certificate, which TFC expects to come on Friday evening.
Payne confirmed that Urruti has not been signed as a designated player.
“The guaranteed portion (of the contract) is through 2015, and then we have options. We hope that he’s (someone) who can be an important player here for years to come and part of the young group (of players) that we’re trying to build around, that we’re trying to make the nuclease of Toronto FC,” Payne said.
Urruti arrived in Toronto earlier this week and trained with the club while an agreement was being worked on.
“Finally, it all came together. The news is great news for everyone. Now it’s time to get to work and start playing for Toronto FC,” Urruti said through a translator.
Urruti has been a long-term target of Toronto, and his official signing brings to an end a tale with more twists and turns to it than a campy soap opera plot.
Earlier this year, TFC management had been working to lure away Urruti from Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys, with coach Ryan Nelsen even publicly stating a few times that a deal was “virtually done.”
But things hit a snag after former Newell’s Old Boys manager Gerardo Martino, recently named FC Barcelona’s new coach, put his foot down and made it known to the club’s owners that he did not want to release Urruti.
TFC slowly lost patience, and the deal was quashed. Urruti seemingly become available recently after he walked out on his team over unpaid wages, and Payne said TFC was once again working to sign him. Newell’s Old Boys quickly posted a message on their official website saying that Urruti was still under contract and that any team interested in his services would have to negotiate with them.
When last Thursday’s MLS transfer deadline passed, it looked as though TFC might lose out on signing the Argentine prospect. When Payne was asked to clarify Urruti’s contract situation with Newell’s and the chances of him coming to Toronto, all he said was, “We’re monitoring the situation, I’ll put it that way. Anything is possible.”
Now Urruti is the finally newest member of TFC and the second Argentine on the roster, joining midfielder and designated player Matias Laba, who transferred from Buenos Aires-based club Argentinos Juniors to Toronto earlier this season.
Urruti was being pursued by other teams, but Laba helped to convince him to come to Toronto.
“I managed to get Matias’ phone number back home and I did make contact with him,” Urruti said. “Once I spoke to Mati with respect to the (team) and the quality of the organization, it really settled me down, and made it an easy choice for me.”
Payne declined to comment on talks between Toronto FC and Newell’s Old Boys, and the involvement of a third-party administrator in settling the issue over Urruti’s contract with the Argentine club.
“All I can tell you is that we reached a satisfactory conclusion with Newell’s. I think Newell’s is satisfied and we’re satisfied. Other than that, I can’t say anything. We have a strict confidentially agreement in place, so I can’t comment at all on that,” Payne stated.
It’s hardly a surprise that Toronto was looking for some attacking reinforcements.
The Reds have scored 21 goals in 23 games this season, the third-worst offensive record among the 19 teams in MLS. A 2-1 win over Columbus on July 27 halted one of Toronto’s longest goal droughts in club history at 423 consecutive minutes.
“He’s a very clean and sharp forward. His movement is really good. He has decent size. He is good on the ball and can take people on but he’s also a slasher – he’s a guy who gets onto the end of things,” Payne said of Urruti.
According to Payne, fans shouldn’t read too much into Urruti’s lacklustre strike rate of 14 goals in 56 games over a two-year period of Newell’s, as he was second-choice to fellow Argentine forward Ignacio Scocco before his transfer last month to Brazilian club Internacional.
“He was playing behind the best player in Argentina at Newell’s,” Payne offered. “Scocco was a difficult guy to get ahead of, but (Urruti) was productive when he played. … He’s shown that when he has the opportunities that he knows where the net is.”
Expectations of Urruti are high, not only because this process has been so protracted but because of Payne’s previous public and glowing comments about the Argentine, including his claim that Urruti “will be one of the absolute top forwards in (MLS).”
On Friday, Payne backtracked somewhat, suggesting it would take time for Urruti to settle into MLS.
“I’m partly to blame for (the fans’ expectations) because I’ve talked about him a lot,” Payne admitted. “It’s always challenging for (new players) who show up (in MLS) in the summertime. There’s been very few that have arrived at this time of the year and had an immediate impact.
“Maxi is a young guy, I expect he’ll get fit pretty quickly, and we’ll see how quickly he can adapt. We’re certainly optimistic.”
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Payne revealed he and TFC chief scout Pat Onstad first became aware of Urruti when they were still at D.C. United after being contacted by one of MLS’s Argentina-based scouts.
“We weren’t really in a position to act on it at that time but when I got here I resurrected the idea. Pat went down and saw him again, and then our coaches have watched him in a dozen games,” Payne said. “I like Argentine players. I just think they are well trained and they travel well.”
Citing Swedish striker Zlatan Ibrahimović and Scocco as is two biggest influences, Urruti admitted he was interested in coming to MLS long before Toronto expressed an interest in him.
“It’s a league that I’ve been following for quite some time now with respect to Argentine players coming into the league. When there’s news of that happening, back home they tend to follow it a bit more and see what’s going on. So it’s a very interesting league, and at the same time it’s becoming a very competitive league,” Urruti explained.
TFC’s dubious history of never making the playoffs and routinely being one of the worst teams in MLS didn’t scare him off.
“I was well aware of the situation that Toronto has been in, in the past and now. At no moment did that hinder my decision to come here – quite the contrary. I’ve seen an institution that is well organized and has the right things going forward. That’s what intrigued me to come here,” Urruti offered.
Bringing in Urruti to compliment the team’s growing core of youngsters, which includes Laba and Canadian prospect Jonathan Osorio, is part of TFC’s master plan.
“It’s one of the things we wanted to do. We don’t want to build a team that you’re looking to replace year after year after year,” Nelsen stated. “We’ve always had have a long-term plan, and it was to get a good group of guys who are going to grow together a steam, coupled with experienced players who can help with that education.
“We’re getting there now. I think most people can see how it’s evolving and it’s exciting.”