When Villyan Bijev first landed in the USL Championship in 2016, he produced a career year for the Portland Timbers 2, winning the league’s Assists Champion award while being named to the Championship’s All-League First Team.
As he enters free agency this offseason, the 28-year-old former U.S. youth international wants to recreate those heights for his new club.
“My goal is to be on the Championship’s First Team,” Bijev said this week. “My ultimate goal is to play in MLS, that’s my standard, that’s why I came back from Europe to the U.S., that’s obviously my highest goals, but the goals in addition to that are to be on the Championship All-League First Team, to win the USL Championship, to be a USL MVP.
“My aspirations are high and I’m willing to put in the work that I know it takes to get there. If I reach those goals, great, if not, such is life, but I want to be on a team that their goal is to win a USL Championship.”
In the Championship’s attacking circles, Bijev keeps great company. Since the start of the 2016 season, he’s one of only eight players to have recorded both 25 goals and 20 assists in the regular season, putting him alongside players like Aodhan Quinn, Chris Wehan and Santi Moar. He’s also achieved that in a variety of roles, playing as a No. 10 while in Portland before being used in a more varied fashion at Sacramento Republic FC. That adaptability is something Bijev thinks has become a strength in his game,
“I feel like I can play any of the front four positions really well,” said Bijev. “I like the 10. I had played as a No. 9 my entire life until I came to the USL, then playing in the USL for the Timbers 2 was when I started playing the 10 and I had a lot of success there. Then when I moved to Republic FC the coach moved me out to the left wing, and I was able to more or less find some success in that position as well and learn it, because every new position has a little bit of a learning curve.”
So, there certainly should be options out there. Here are three that make sense.
The Championship’s newest arrival has already brought in some league-tested experience to go with its returning squad, but bringing aboard Bijev makes sense on a couple of levels for Roots as they build out their attacking options. Most importantly, he’s a centerpiece player that can help everyone around him get better on the field, which would help Roots as they make the step up in competition in 2021.
In addition to that, though, is Bijev’s background. While born in Bulgaria, Bijev grew up in Fresno and has strong ties to Northern California. What’s more, he built a sterling reputation for his off-field work in Sacramento which included founding the Villyan Bijev Passback Foundation, which aims to provide opportunities for young players in offsetting club or camp fees for youth soccer players. Given Roots’ purpose-based mission, Bijev could be a great asset for the club’s broader goals in Oakland.
In its first two seasons, New Mexico has built itself into a potential title contender. After the return to his home state of California this offseason by Chris Wehan, however, it feels like there is a gap to be filled in United’s attacking third. Don’t get me wrong, the reinforcements that have already arrived in the likes of Ilija Ilic and Isidro Martinez to go with the returning Devon Sandoval and Amando Moreno are sharp, but Bijev would be a strong complement to those already assembled.
By the numbers, Bijev’s creativity in the final third isn’t a notable step down and the work-rate he brings in United’s favored pressing would be a fit tactically with what New Mexico Head Coach Troy Lesesne is looking to achieve. Add in his reliability – over five seasons, Bijev has missed only 12 of 146 potential regular season games – and he could be a fine addition as United continues to push forward.
SD Loyal already made one big attacking splash this offseason with the signing of Corey Hertzog to provide his goalscoring expertise to its front line. It could do so again with the addition of Bijev, who as things stand would be a plus-level No. 10 to play behind Hertzog while linking with returnees Collin Martin and Charlie Adams and newcomer Jack Blake.
The major turnaround in San Diego’s inaugural season came when its attack clicked into gear with the addition of Rubio Rubin and Miguel Berry midseason. With Rubin now confirmed as having signed with Real Salt Lake for the 2021 season and Berry ready to try and earn minutes with Columbus, building out a quality attack again in front of a strong returning back line is likely going to be the key to SD Loyal building on the momentum it was carrying at the end of the past campaign.