United’s interest in the 25-year-old left back had spanned months. But with his previous employer, Deportivo Saprissa, preoccupied by an international tournament, D.C. was not able to acquire him in time for the season’s launch.
Saprissa’s loss in the CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinals was United’s gain.
A deal was finally struck and, after less than two weeks of workouts with his new team and the acquisition of a work visa Thursday, Mora might start in the home opener Saturday afternoon against the Houston Dynamo at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds. (United is playing two off-site home games before Audi Field opens this summer.)
“He’s ready to go,” Coach Ben Olsen said, “if he’s called upon.”
If not this weekend, Olsen will call on him next week. Oniel Fisher, a 26-year-old Jamaican acquired from Seattle two weeks into training camp, started the first two matches in place of incumbent Taylor Kemp, who is sidelined indefinitely with complications from hernia surgery last fall. With more than 100 starts in the respected Costa Rican league, Mora offers greater experience and polish than Fisher (18 regular season starts the previous three years).
He is the second Tico to sign with United this year, joining midfielder Ulises Segura, a former Saprissa teammate whom Mora has known since they were kids in the Central Valley.
Despite a short acclimation period, Mora is primed to get onto the field. Fitness is not an issue because he was playing regularly right up until his stateside move.
“The coaching staff has spent a lot of time with me since I arrived to help me understand what they want,” he said through an interpreter. “I’ve tried to apply it and hopefully I can begin to play the way they need me to play.”
Olsen said, “It’s just a matter of getting him on the same page with us.”
General Manager Dave Kasper and others on the technical staff became enamored with Mora during several scouting trips to Costa Rica last year. They liked his clean touch on the ball, his ability to join the attack, his athletic ability and his background — three years with Costa Rica’s most decorated club and youth national team pedigree that could lead to a senior call-up at some point.
United’s chances of acquiring him were unclear as recently as a month ago. Preoccupied by the Champions League, Saprissa was not inclined to sell. But when the team lost the first leg to Mexico’s Club America by four goals, it began to change its tune. After the inconsequential second leg, Saprissa softened its stance and eventually agreed to a transfer fee of less than $200,000.
Mora’s agent, Kurt Morsink, a former D.C. player and scout, helped facilitate the deal.
“They were never going to do a transaction before CONCACAF was over for them,” Kasper said. “We then got into serious negotiations. Even then, there was still a lot of work to do. We finally got it done.”
Mora was a bit apprehensive about leaving Saprissa, a San Jose club with more than 80 years of history and a colorful nickname: El Monstruo Morado (The Purple Monster). Saprissa’s home, La Cueva del Monstruo (The Monster’s Cave), is among the most intimidating places in the Americas to play. Saprissa, Alajuelense and Herediano have dominated the league since its founding in 1921.
“Saprissa is a great club, but I made a decision to grow personally and to join a league that is growing fast,” said Mora, who is among 14 Costa Rican-born players in MLS this spring. “I hear a lot of comments about how it’s not as good here as in other places. It’s a good league, it’s been growing for a long time and it’s still growing.”
Mora said he is growing into his new environment, a transition eased by a longtime friendship with Segura and five other Spanish-speaking players (plus several staff members who are bilingual). Mora understands a lot of English, but for now, is more comfortable conducting interviews in Spanish. He has played in the United States several times but never in Washington.
“Every player wants to play, so I hope it’s this weekend,” he said. “Whenever it happens, it will be a big moment for me.”
United notes: Defensive midfielder Russell Canouse is slated to miss another month with knee and hamstring injuries, Olsen said. … Five players were summoned for international duty, starting next week: Fisher and Dane Kelly (Jamaica), Segura (Costa Rica), Zoltan Stieber (Hungary) and Bruno Miranda (Bolivia). They’ll miss next Saturday’s match at Columbus. Also, Paul Arriola might join the U.S. team; the roster announcement is Sunday. … Kelly, Miranda and goalkeeper Travis Worra have gone on loan to the second-division Richmond Kickers and can be recalled at any time.
D.C. United vs. Houston Dynamo
Where: Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds.
When: Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
Records: United 0-1-1, 1 point; Dynamo 1-1-0, 3 points.
D.C. probable starters: GK David Ousted; Ds Nick DeLeon, Steve Birnbaum, Frederic Brillant, Joseph Mora; MFs Junior Moreno, Paul Arriola, Ulises Segura, Luciano Acosta, Yamil Asad; F Darren Mattocks.
Houston probable starters: GK Chris Seitz; Ds Adolfo Machado, Philippe Senderos, Leonardo, DaMarcus Beasley; MFs Eric Alexander, Darwin Ceren, Alberth Elis, Tomas Martinez, Andrew Wenger; F Mauro Manotas.