Once a thorn, Jose Guillermo Or­tiz is now part of D.C. United’s side.

The Washington Post Sunday - - SPORTS - BY STEVEN GOFF steven.goff@wash­post.com

The first time D.C. United and Jose Guillermo Or­tiz crossed paths was Fe­bru­ary 2015 in the Costa Ri­can city of Ala­juela. It was not a pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ence for the MLS side.

Lit­tle did they know they would join forces two years later, thanks to two fac­tors: Or­tiz’s twogoal per­for­mance against United and the role of a for­mer D.C. midfielder-turned-agent with Costa Ri­can roots.

This win­ter, in need of front­line depth, United ac­quired Or­tiz on a sea­son-long loan from Here­di­ano. He made a 21-minute de­but in the opener last week­end against Sport­ing Kansas City and fig­ures to fill a re­serve role Sun­day against New York City FC at Yan­kee Sta­dium.

Or­tiz, 24, flashed onto United’s radar dur­ing the first leg of the 2014-15 CONCACAF Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nals with a pair of goals in the first 54 min­utes of Ala­jue­lense’s 5-2 vic­tory.

The sil­ver lin­ing: The de­feat in­tro­duced United to a long-term tar­get.

“When we play th­ese CONCACAF games, it’s al­ways a scout­ing op­por­tu­nity,” D.C. Coach Ben Olsen said. “The prep work go­ing into it, the game it­self, re­view­ing video af­ter­ward.”

Or­tiz played 90 min­utes in the re­turn leg at RFK Sta­dium. United won, 2-1, but not by enough goals to ad­vance.

“When I scored those goals [against D.C.], I didn’t think about what it meant for the fu­ture,” he said through an in­ter­preter. “But when I came here and saw the city and the team, I said to my­self, ‘One day I want to play for a team like this.’ ”

The sec­ond in­gre­di­ent in Or­tiz’s move kicked in this win­ter. Kurt Morsink, a Costa Ri­can Amer­i­can, had fin­ished his play­ing ca­reer with United in 2012 and stuck with the club as the scout­ing co­or­di­na­tor. Last win­ter, he be­came a player agent. Among his clients: Or­tiz.

Morsink and United of­fi­cials had re­mained on good terms, and the for­mer midfielder helped fa­cil­i­tate the loan.

Or­tiz had starred for Ala­jue­lense for four years and scored 35 goals across all com­pe­ti­tions (17 in 2015-16) be­fore Here­di­ano pur­chased his rights this win­ter. If all goes well in Wash­ing­ton, United could ex­er­cise an op­tion to buy his con­tract for an undis­closed fee after this sea­son.

Be­fore re­port­ing to United train­ing camp in Florida, Or­tiz re­ceived his first Costa Ri­can na­tional team call-up, for Copa Cen­troamer­i­cana in Panama. He scored twice against Belize and ap­peared in three other matches as the Ti­cos, 2014 World Cup quar­ter­fi­nal­ists, qual­i­fied for this sum­mer’s CONCACAF Gold Cup. He is in the player pool for the 2018 World Cup qual­i­fiers, which will re­sume late this month and con­tinue in early June.

What’s to like about him?

“He’s a guy that knows how to ma­neu­ver in the box, and he can cre­ate space one-[on]-one,” Olsen said. “His hold-up play is good but can get bet­ter. His ath­leti­cism is good enough for this league.”

On the depth chart, Or­tiz is be­hind Pa­trick Mullins, the lone for­ward in United’s 4-1-4-1 for­ma­tion. He also of­fers the proper skill-set to serve on the wings.

“And he’s Costa Ri­can, so he plays with that ‘Pura Vida’ [pure life] that I love,” Olsen said. “Costa Ri­can play­ers play with a very nice edge.”

The coun­try has been among the big­gest sup­pli­ers of play­ers to MLS, ex­port­ing close to 50 since the 1996 in­au­gu­ral sea­son.

Asked about those Tico char­ac­ter­is­tics, Or­tiz said: “All Costa Ri­cans al­ways fight, and they al­ways give every­thing ev­ery time they play. It’s our love of life and love of the sport.”

Or­tiz was born in San Jose but grew up in the north­ern town of Upala, 10 miles from the Nicaraguan bor­der and a four-hour drive from Costa Rica’s pop­u­lous Cen­tral Val­ley. His grand­par­ents owned a dairy farm, and his par­ents had a small farm of their own. His mother cooked at a school. His fa­ther worked as an elec­tri­cian in San Jose and vis­ited Upala when pos­si­ble. A nephew hopes to some­day play for San Car­los, a first-di­vi­sion club.

At age 11, Or­tiz was cho­sen for a board­ing school af­fil­i­ated with Ala­jue­lense and left home. He rose through the youth sys­tem and earned a first-team con­tract in 2012.

Liv­ing in a ru­ral area set him apart.

“We’re very hum­ble, very hard­work­ing,” he said. “That’s how I try to be. I al­ways give my all and work for what I dream.”

Or­tiz speaks only a few words of English and, along with Ar­gen­tine midfielder Lu­ciano Acosta, will be­gin work­ing with a tu­tor soon. Bilin­gual team­mates and staff mem­bers have helped ease the tran­si­tion.

“I like this group, and I think I am fit­ting in,” he said. “It’s an ad­just­ment, but I think I can make a dif­fer­ence.”

ARNULFO FRANCO/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Jose Guillermo Or­tiz, a na­tive of Costa Rica, in­tro­duced him­self to D.C. United with two goals in a Cham­pi­ons League quar­ter­fi­nal.

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