Union dip into Central America to bolster squad for 2012

Philadelphia make offseason splash with international signings

The Philadelphia Union are going all in on Central America this offseason.

Two weeks after signing Costa Rican striker Josué Martínez, the Union announced over the past two days the acquisitions of Costa Rican defender Porfirio López and Panamanian midfielder Gabriel Gómez.

For Philadelphia manager Peter Nowak, the moves are indicative of the heavy dose of talent in Central America, some of which is still largely unexplored.

“There are a lot of good guys with national team experience who are hungry for success,” Nowak said on a conference call with reporters Thursday. “I think the talent is there because they give the [US] a hard time whenever we play Panama, Costa Rica. The quality is definitely there.”

The Union have certainly been able to dip into that talent pool to fill a bevy of offseason needs.

The 26-year-old López – who was previously on loan with Costa Rican first division champions Liga Deportiva Alajuelense from Chinese club Dalian Haichang – plays a position where the Union probably had their biggest need: left back. Gabriel Farfan played there during the final half of the 2011 season but admits to being more comfortable in the midfield.

Gómez, meanwhile, could be the kind of box-to-box midfielder the Union have never had. Nicknamed “Gavilán” (Hawk), Gómez comes to Philly from Mexican second division side Indios de Cuidad Juárez, and has experience playing professionally in Europe and internationally with Panama.

Most recently, the 27-year-old central midfielder helped Panama advance to the 2011 Gold Cup semifinals, scoring a penalty kick goal against the United States in a group stage upset.

Between López and Gómez and the younger offseason acquisitions in Martínez, Nizar Khalfan and Jimmy McLaughlin, Nowak is excited about the blend of youth and experience on the 2012 roster.

“There’s going to be more competition within our team because of all the positions they play,” Nowak said. “We’ll look for the optimal starting lineup every week. We’re very excited about the signings, and we’re still looking how to make our team even better.

“We don’t need much [more], but we still need to be active,” the manager added.

One problem the Union may have moving forward is in complying with the eight international slots they are allotted. At the moment, Philly’s roster is loaded with 11 international players – Martínez, López, Gómez, Keon Daniel (Trinidad and Tobago), Levi Houapeu (Ivory Coast), Khalfan (Tanzania), Faryd Mondragón (Colombia), Carlos Valdés (Colombia), Roger Torres (Colombia), Veljko Paunović (Serbia) and Joe Tait (England).

But perhaps because Daniel’s status for next season is still in limbo due to visa issues and the Union always have the option of trading for more international slots – which Nowak called “a good possibility" – the Philly manager did not seem overly concerned with the surplus of international players.

“As I said on Twitter today, there’s always something to worry about, isn’t there?” Nowak said. “Roster compliance is March 1 and we’ll worry about it closer to that date. As of now, it is what it is. We’re going to try to make it work.”

Dave Zeitlin covers the Philadelphia Union for MLSsoccer.com. E-mail him at djzeitlin@gmail.com.