Toronto FC, which has a good track record with diminutive attackers, has added flair to its offence in the form of five-foot-two Venezuelan international winger Yeferson Soteldo.
Brazil's Santos FC said goodbye to the 23-year-old on Saturday, putting out a news release saying it had sold Soteldo to the MLS club. But Toronto did not confirm the signing until Monday.
A dangerous winger who likes to take on defenders and befuddle them with his moves, Soteldo can make goals and score them. He had 20 goals and 17 assists in 104 appearances for Santos, scoring in his debut off the bench against San Bento in January 2019.
"He's a really shifty player. Elusive. Good in tight spaces," Toronto GM Ali Curtis said in an interview. "So I think he'll be a handful, like a real handful. And with the other players we have in the front six, he's really going to add a dimension that we need.
"I'm excited. We're all very excited to work with him."
In confirming the transfer, TFC said the Venezuelan had signed as a designated player through 2025 and will be added to the roster pending receipt of his international transfer certificate, work permit, as well as completion of a successful physical.
Curtis said he hopes Soteldo, who is married with three kids, will arrive in Florida in the next couple of days.
Landing Soteldo wasn't easy. The pandemic prevented Curtis from going to Brazil. And things were further complicated by the fact that the club Soteldo used to play for in Chile was entitled to a portion of the sale.
Curtis said it helped that Soteldo "really wanted to come to Toronto FC."
"We really wanted him and when you have those two things happening, you have a chance at trying to bring him aboard."
Several sources said Saturday that Major League Soccer and TFC finalized the transfer deal with Santos on Friday night. One source said then that the parties were working on concluding personal terms with the player.
The sources spoke on the condition of anonymity because the acquisition had not been made public yet. Soteldo shares an agent with Venezuelan Josef Martinez, a star striker with Atlanta United.
“We are very excited for Yeferson to join our club," Toronto president Bill Manning said in a statement Monday. "He is a dynamic, exciting, fearless player who will immediately improve our already strong roster.
“He checks the boxes of what we were looking for in a DP, an attacking player who adds a different dimension to our side, and I think our fans will be excited to see him in a TFC uniform.”
The diminutive Venezuelan will likely make some think of another TFC DP.
At five foot four, Sebastian Giovinco was an offensive dynamo who scored 73 goals and added 57 assists in 125 regular-season and playoff games for Toronto between 2015 and 2018 before leaving for a lucrative contract in Saudi Arabia.
Curtis rejected any comparison between the two.
"Yeferson is his own man, he's his own player," he said. "It's unfair for Giovinco and it's really unfair for Soteldo. It doesn't honour either of the two individuals to just compare them because they're the same size and they play attacking positions.
"They're just different players. The similarities are (they're) difference-makers. And that's what you try to add, bring into the club and to your environment."
Still Soteldo is used to expectations. He wore the same No. 10 that Brazilian legend Pele had at Santos.
With Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo currently wearing No. 10 for TFC, the Venezuelan will wear No. 30 for Toronto. It was his original number with his hometown club of Zamora FC, where he made his first-team debut in September 2013 when he was 16.
Goalkeepers Milos Kocic and Julio Cesar have worn No. 30 for Toronto in the past.
Soteldo was named to the 2020 Copa Libertadores team of the tournament — along with the likes of Carlos Tevez of Boca Juniors — as Santos made it to the final before losing 1-0 to Brazilian rival Palmeiras.
River Plate forward Rafael Santos Borre, an earlier transfer target of TFC, was also named to the team of the tournament.
“I am very excited to come to Toronto FC. It is one of the most important sports organizations in Canada and the United States,” Soteldo said in a statement. “It is an MLS Cup champion, has great players, and most importantly, they are always competing to win. They have amazing fans and facilities.”
Soteldo represented Venezuela at the youth level and was a part of the team that finished runners-up at the FIFA U-20 World Cup in 2017. He has 19 caps and one goal at the senior level for Venezuela.
He joins Pozuelo and striker Jozy Altidore as Toronto's designated players.
Soteldo fills the DP spot left by Argentina's Pablo Piatti, whose option was not picked up by the MLS club after last season. Piatti now plays for Elche FC in Spain.
Soteldo made 99 appearances for Zamora, scoring 24 goals and adding 29 assists for Zamora in all competitions, winning Venezuelan league titles in 2014, '15 and '16.
He moved to Chile's Huachipato in December 2016, collecting six goals and nine assists in 29 matches. He went on to spend 2018 with Universidad de Chile on loan, scoring seven goals and adding nine assists in 37 appearances.
In January 2019, he was transferred to Santos and scored in his debut coming off the bench against San Bento. The Brazilian club said Huachipato will receive a portion of the MLS transfer fee.
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This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 26, 2021.
Neil Davidson, The Canadian Press