For Porfirio López, attitude is everything.
The 26-year-old left back, signed by the Union on December 22, is the front-runner to take over the club's starting left back role.
“I think I’m a positive person. I try to take everything in a positive manner,” he said recently in a conversation with philadelphiaunion.com.
That kind of outlook has helped the Costa Rican native reach new heights in his career over the past two years, starting back in the winter of 2010.
After spending five seasons plying his trade in Costa Rica, López opted to make a big leap – in the sporting, cultural, and geographical sense – by moving to Dalian Shide of the Chinese Super League, his first move abroad as a professional.
Although he ended up playing just one season in China, López values the experience a great deal.
“The opportunity to play in China was great motivation for me as a person and as a player,” he said.
López's journey to China was also appealing to the Union technical staff.
“He knows what it’s like to be in a strange country and is a player who is extremely hungry," said Union head of scouting Diego Gutierrez.
After his stint in Asia, López returned to his homeland, this time on a year-long loan with Costa Rican powerhouse L.D. Alajuelense. There, he experienced another important first as a professional: winning a championship.
As a regular along the back line, López helped los Rojinegros to consecutive titles in the 2011 Clausura and Apertura tournaments.
Now with a young team in need of veteran leadership, López believes that his championship pedigree will be invaluable in Philadelphia.
“Having a winning mentality is the most important thing in soccer,” he said. “I’m going to try to bring my experiences and positive attitude into the group. Without a doubt, winning championships is the priority.”
López also recently got his first taste of CONCACAF Champions League play, serving as a key cog in the Alajuelense defense in four of six group stage matches. While his team ultimately fell short of a spot in the quarterfinals by the slimmest of goal differential margins, López can take pride in the fact that his first match against MLS competition was a successful one: a 1-0 home victory over the LA Galaxy.
With the Union, López knows that new MLS challenges await.
“Playing in MLS, a league with a great reputation, is going to help me get where I want to be and continue to grow as a player,” he said.
For López, that in part means solidifying his role with the Costa Rican national team, with whom he earned his first cap this past summer. His international debut, another recent career milestone, was a 73-minute appearance in a 2-0 friendly loss to Ecuador last August.
“It was a good experience," López said. "Working with [former Costa Rica head coach Ricardo] La Volpe is serious work, without a doubt. It was a short experience, though."
Too short for López's liking.
“The opportunity to play abroad is the best option for me to get back into the national team,” he said.
In Philadelphia, he’ll play alongside another Tico with international ambitions in Josué Martínez, a player who López is familiar with from their respective playing days in Costa Rica.
“We played a lot of games against each other,” said López, referring to games between Alajuelense and Martínez’s former club, Saprissa, the two heavyweights of Costa Rican soccer.
Even though the 21-year-old Martínez played on the opposite side of the rivalry, López was always impressed by the abilities of his now-teammate.
“Josué is a natural born goal-scorer," López said. "He’s going to add a lot to the offense and make things difficult for opposing defenses."
On the other side of the field, the Union hope López will make a formiddable 2011 defense even stingier in '12.
"We essentially kept the back line pretty much intact," said center back and captain Danny Califf. "We added a left back with a true left foot [López], which will maybe give Gabe [Farfan] a chance to move into the midfield where he's a little more comfortable. I really hope we can be the rock for the team again this year and build from the back forward."
As part of a cadre of international offseason acquisitions that includes Martínez, midfielder Gabriel Gómez and newly-announced striker Lionard Pajoy, López is raring to get the latest chapter of his career underway and impress the fans of his new team.
“[Philadelphia] is a beautiful city, and the people are very passionate,” he said. “The idea now is to play positively and always win for them.”