Once a thorn, Jose Guillermo Ortiz is now part of D.C. United’s side.
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.”
Jose Guillermo Ortiz, a native of Costa Rica, introduced himself to D.C. United with two goals in a Champions League quarterfinal.