After rumors, and claims, and confirmation from the player himself, Costa Rican attacker Jose Guillermo Ortiz has officially joined D.C. United on loan from Herediano. United will have Ortiz for the 2017 season, with an option to buy his permanent playing rights built into the deal. The 24 year old Ortiz has spent most of his professional career as a second forward, but is capable of playing on either wing.
Strangely, Ortiz moved to Herediano from Alajuelense very recently, and it’s easy to speculate that said move may have opened up the possibility of Ortiz coming to the Black-and-Red on loan. His agent - former United midfielder and club scout Kurt Morsink - had scathing remarks for Alajuelense’s decision-makers, and the indications from Herediano boss Jafet Soto are that the current situation is just fine for los Rojiamarillos.
In any case, Ortiz - who scored twice against United in Alajuelense’s 5-2 first leg win in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals back in 2015 - immediately makes the battle for playing time among United’s attackers a more difficult one. Ortiz is definitely undersized to play up front in Ben Olsen’s 4141 formation; his career as a forward has always involved partnering a larger, more physical player. That makes him an appealing potential partner for Patrick Mullins, but for United that mostly limits him to coming in off the bench when the Black-and-Red are so desperate for a goal they want to change formation.
That leaves the wings, where Ortiz has seen less time, but is more likely to break through. He’s fast (of United’s existing wingers, only Patrick Nyarko is faster), combative, and clever off the ball. With Nyarko, Lloyd Sam, and Lamar Neagle all entering the 2017 season aged 30 and up, and Nick DeLeon spending most of his time in central midfield or at right back, it was important that United add another potential option on the flanks.
Still, Ortiz will have a hard time finding minutes. Nyarko was excellent in 2016, providing penetration on the dribble, a respectable goal haul, and is as good a winger on the defensive side of the ball as there is in MLS. Sam’s eye for a pass and creativity opened up United’s attack, making him a major factor in DCU’s goalscoring outburst over the final months of the season. Neagle, despite not being a starter for about half the season and playing nearly all of his minutes on the flank, ended up as United’s leading goalscorer.
The good news here is that United has significantly upgraded their offense as a team. Miguel Aguilar was a good player to have around, but Ortiz was until very recently a starter for a CONCACAF giant and is just one year older. He also gives United more tactical flexibility, particularly within games. If United needs to go for broke, they can pull a central midfielder, move to a 442 diamond, and pair Ortiz with Mullins. If they’re in the lead and purely playing on the counter, he could be brought in for Mullins to add speed.
Taking Ortiz on loan also gives United a way out if the move doesn’t work out. That’s an important distinction from past moves for CONCACAF attackers, and increasingly the trend around MLS. If this just isn’t a good league for him, or playing on the wings isn’t a comfortable fit, United can simply let the loan end without losing any money. If Ortiz is a roaring success on these shores, the price tag has most likely been set, agreed upon, and signed off on by both clubs (see also: Luciano Acosta). There’s not much to lose here, and a lot to gain if everything works out.