VANCOUVER, BC – Vancouver Whitecaps FC's raids on the South American transfer market these past two seasons has proven both bountiful and, on the whole, successful.
With seven South Americans on the current 'Caps roster, it won’t be a surprise to see coach Carl Robinson continue with his Latin American acquisitions in the off-season. After all, he unearthed the hidden gem in winger Cristian Techera.
Techera is one of a quartet of Uruguayans in Vancouver right now, and although it was striker Octavio Rivero who grabbed all of the early season headlines with his run of goals, it’s the former South American who's currently stealing all the headlines. He hit the ground running in Vancouver, and boasts six goals and four assists from his 17 appearances so far this season. He came up big again on Wednesday night, leading Whitecaps FC to a 2-0 victory over Colorado with a goal and an assist.
"He's in a groove,” Robinson said of Techera’s play these past few weeks. “He's playing with confidence and he's causing problems, and I think he'll still get to the next level as well, in relation to being a little bit more comfortable with the group that he's surrounded himself with. I still think there's more to come, and I hope there's more to come as well, because he's been fantastic."
The compact winger has inspired Vancouver since he joined in April, on a season-long loan from Uruguayan Primera División side Club Atlético River Plate Montevideo.
He perfectly fits the mold of the players Robinson has recruited: highly skilled and impactful, but relatively unknown and an excellent value.
When Robinson first signed the Uruguayan, some questioned how the 5-foot-2 Techera would cope in MLS' physical environment. But it didn’t take long for any such doubts to disappear.
"The league is known to be a strong, physical league,” Robinson said. “You look at the size of players coming in, Kendall [Waston], Roman Torres. You're talking about 6-foot-4 players. When you bring in a player that's 5-foot-2, some eyebrows are raised. But it doesn't matter about the size you are, for me. It's about the technical IQ you've got and football brain."
Robinson also said that from the first time he saw Techera, he knew he was the type of player to rally fans from their seats.
"He has a creative aspect to him and I think that's what we missed last year. So that's the reason I went out to get him," he said.
Techera isn’t the first smaller player to thrive in MLS – in fact, this seems to be the season for it. Sebastian Giovinco and Michael Barrios, both two inches taller than Techera, are having standout debut seasons in MLS for Toronto and Dallas respectively. Joao Plata, also 5-foot-2, is now in his fifth season in MLS and continues to excel.
Techera laughs off questions about his height. The man nicknamed “The Bug” has heard it all before, and knows the best way to answer any critics and doubters is on the pitch.
"Soccer, in general, is physical and there are stronger players than me, a small guy,” Techera told MLSsoccer.com, with translation assistance from his teammate Mauro Rosales. “A few of the guys that you named [Giovinco, Barrios, etc] are also small, but we have our own quality to get away from the bigger guys and not try to play man to man, because we're going to lose against them, in terms of physically. So my quality is to move quickly with the feet to get away from them, and that is the reason that I'm doing well."
And Techera isn't done yet. The winger says he's eager to continue his North American adventure, and he’s been delighted how quickly he’s settled into his new surroundings.
"The league is growing and becoming one of the most important leagues in the world,” Techera said. “I feel really, really good. The reason why I'm playing well, at the quality I want, is because I have the advantage of having a lot of Latino guys [here]. A lot of players that I know from before. It's made me adapt to the team quickly. I feel that I can still play better."
It’s now easier than ever to be a part of the best sporting atmosphere in Vancouver. Get 2016 Season Tickets for as little as $35/month all in.