PORTLAND, Ore. – On a cold, gray Monday at JELD-WEN Field, the Portland Timbers’ second season in MLS got underway. But despite the typical seasonal gloom, the media scrum following the team’s first preseason training session had a distinctly South American feel to it.
It was the first official look at recently signed Colombians in forward José Adolfo Valencia (above) – a 20-year-old forward better known as “Trencito” – and defender Hanyer Mosquera. With translators in tow, the two gushed about the beauty they’ve encountered in their new city, the recently refurbished stadium and an eagerness to play for the team’s famously passionate fans.
And, perhaps most important to the Timbers Army, they spoke of their desire to take the team’s play to the next level.
“I’m really happy to be here in Portland,” said Valencia, a member of Colombia’s U-20 national team who was signed in December as the club’s first young Designated Player. “I’ve heard this city is really beautiful, and from what I’ve seen, it’s true.
“I’m really excited about the fans here. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the fans here in Portland, and I really want to contribute to the team and score a lot of goals and help the team in any way that I can.”
That’s what John Spencer and his staff were betting on when they plucked each player from Liga Postobón. Both were brought in with clearly defined holes to fill.
Portland shipped the leading scorer from their inaugural season, Kenny Cooper, to New York a few hours before the MLS SuperDraft. And defender David Horst, who signed a contract extension during the offseason, was lost for up to seven months after undergoing hip surgery several weeks ago.
“I like challenges, and I thought that it would be a really good challenge just to be here,” Mosquera (right), a six-year veteran of Colombia’s top professional leagues, said. “It’s a way to put a little bit more pressure on my career. I want to grow not only as a professional but also as a person.”
Valencia’s and Mosquera’s additions are also prime examples of Portland’s focus on mining the South American country for its top talent. The duo join fellow countrymen in midfielder Diego Chara and forward Jorge Perlaza, both of whom played significant roles during Portland’s first season.
“It is very important to have their support,” Mosquera said. “They have been really good so far on just me being here. It’s important that they’re here for me because they’re going to make it a little bit easier in my transition, particularly trying to understand the language. They can tell me what I’m supposed to do during practices.”
Despite preseason being just a day old at this point, Mosquera said he’s already very familiar with both Chara and Perlaza.
“I know a little bit about their characteristics as players,” Mosquera said. “I know Perlaza’s speed. I know how Diego likes to look for the open space. So I think knowing that is going to help me be better on the field when I’m playing with them because I’m going to know exactly where they want me to be so they can put the ball right there.”
And even apart from the qualities of his countrymen, Valencia said he’s already been impressed by the talent assembled in Portland.
“It is a team that is coming up,” he said. “It’s on the up and up, and there’s room for growth. And I really want to be a champion here; everyone wants to be a champion here. And this is a really good opportunity for everyone on the Timbers to do that.”
Dan Itel covers the Timbers for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.