Around this time last year, Union head of scouting and player development Diego Gutiérrez predicted that Carlos Valdés would become one of the league’s best defenders in his first season in Major League Soccer – and Valdés did not disappoint, anchoring the Philadelphia backline with a dynamic mix of speed and power.
Gutiérrez now has similar hopes for the club’s three marquee acquisitions of this offseason: Costa Rican striker Josué Martínez, Panamanian midfielder Gabriel Gómez and Costa Rican defender Porfirio López.
“I think all three of these guys have the potential to be stars,” Gutiérrez told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “You never know what happens with injuries. You never know what happens with guys not setting nicely in different environments. But soccer-wise, there’s no doubt in my mind all three of these guys can be important contributors.”
Interestingly enough, Martínez, Gómez and López all hail from Central America where, as a former player himself, Gutiérrez has deep inroads.
But according to the Colombian-born Gutiérrez, the club did not specifically predetermine to go after Central American players — it was simply a combination of affordability and the players’ eagerness to play in a league relatively close to home that made it a good fit.
“The common denominator is that you’ve got to be a good football player,” Gutiérrez said. “You’ve got to be a good person, you’ve got to be a good guy in the locker room and you’ve got to be someone that in two, three, five years from now, you can see being part of the organization.”
It’s easy to see why these three particular players were Union targets.
López, 26, played professionally in China, so “he knows what it’s like to be in a strange country and is a player who is extremely hungry,” Gutiérrez said. Gómez, 27, has gained experience in five different countries while racking up tons of minutes with the Panamanian national team. And 21-year-old Martínez debuted with the Costa Rican national team at the age of 19, which according to Gutiérrez, shows what kind of potential he has.
Gutiérrez noted that the club had been in talks with Martínez and López for months, and had hoped to sign Martínez during the summer transfer window but couldn’t pull the trigger because of his family and contractual situation. Gómez, meanwhile, only became available recently, which Gutiérrez called a “nice surprise.”
“Porfirio and Josué are very centered and very hungry,” Gutiérrez said. “They know it’s not easy to come here and make an impact. Both Peter [Nowak, Union manager] and I are very impressed with those two guys’ mentality. And Gabriel Gómez has played in a lot of important games and I expect him to bring more of the same. I know he’ll fit in nicely as well.”
While Gutiérrez noted the club is satisfied with what it has been able to accomplish so far, it still has enough financial flexibility to make more moves — either this offseason or further down the road.
“Satisfied is one way to put it, but at the end of the day we’re not done,” Gutiérrez said. “To bring them all in at the same time — and maybe working on a fourth piece or fifth piece to complement these guys — we’re in a very good position."
Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.