It’s been an eventful past few weeks for new Chicago Fire forward David Arshakyan.
The 22-year-old Armenian signed with the Fire from FK Trakai in Lithuania just before Major League Soccer’s summer transfer window closed in early August. Upon receiving his visa and coming stateside, Arshakyan made his Fire debut off the bench Aug. 27 at D.C. United.
Just eight days after debuting for his new club, Arshakyan debuted for his country. He started in Armenia’s 1-0 loss at Denmark to kick off World Cup qualifying, which was his first senior national team cap after previously playing for the youth sides.
“First I’m happy to make a debut, but unfortunately we lost this game against Denmark,” Arshakyan said. “That’s a good experience for me.”
By leaving to play for the national team so soon after joining the Fire, Arshakyan still has not had much of a chance to settle in off the field. He’s with a new club in a new league in a country he had never been in before. That does not make for a quick transition.
“To be honest it’s not easy because it’s my first time in America so I have to get used to it,” he said. “For this weather, for these people. I think I need just more time and maybe after one, two weeks it will be easier.”
One thing he won’t have to worry about is a language barrier. Arshakyan, who was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia, is fluent and seemingly comfortable in English.
As for his knowledge of the league, Arshakyan said he had been hearing about MLS the past couple of years.
“In Russia everybody knows it’s developing very fast,” Arshakyan said. “I know that many famous players are playing here from famous teams like Drogba, Gerrard, Lampard, Pirlo. So for me this league is a big opportunity to grow as a football player, to grow up and show that I am ready to play in big football.”
Arshakyan’s background is not common for MLS players. Real Salt Lake’s Yura Movsisyan is the only other Armenian playing in MLS. On top of that Arshakyan was playing in Lithuania, which is not typically on the radar for MLS clubs.
However, Fire coach Veljko Paunovic was able to spot Arshakyan. Paunovic noticed the 6-foot-4 forward through, as he put it, “the daily work that you have to do” of checking other leagues and other players.
“I saw a couple of games that he played,” Paunovic said. “I found him very interesting in terms of his soccer qualities. Of course the profile he has, a big guy who can keep the ball, who can score goals, which is most important for a striker. The profile is something what we need.”
Paunovic said Arshakyan’s skillset and his numbers for FK Trakai, 34 goals in 52 Lithuanian A Lyga matches, made him worth pursuing.
“We started to follow him,” Paunovic said. “He played very good and (later) we contacted him and contacted the club and the agent so everything went well.”
After Arshakyan’s acquisition was made official, general manager Nelson Rodriguez gave Paunovic “100 percent of the credit” on finding Arshakyan.
“I don’t even know how to quantify the number of games and the number of countries that Pauno watches over the course of a week, less over the course of a month or the course of a year,” Rodriguez said on Aug. 4. “He started to look in other leagues that he thought players could easily adapt from and towards our league. In doing that he found David. He started to watch video, he made calls to connections of people that he has in that part of the world. We had David scouted in person in his last game where he scored a hat trick.”
It makes sense for a coach to watch other leagues in search of talent to bring into the team, but Lithuania? Lithuania has the 48th-highest UEFA coefficient out of 54 counties. The UEFA coefficient is used to allocate spots in European club competitions and is the closest thing to a league ranking system. In other words, it’s not the first place most would look.
“Honestly, we are checking everything,” Paunovic said. “It always comes from you have to look for international level players. He has been playing for the national team, under-21 before that, now with the national team with the senior team.”
Now, Fire fans will have to see what Arshakyan can do in MLS. He rejoined the Fire in training this week after his stint with Armenia.
“I have to score goals,” Arshakyan said. “I have to create chances. That’s my role.”