Bob Bradley, perhaps more than many coaches in MLS, makes a point of getting to know his players. He learned something interesting during his introduction to one of his forwards last month.
Marcos Ureña’s first name has been misspelled for most of his career.
“It’s Marcos,” Bradley said. “Even though sometimes it gets written as Marco, he just goes along with it.”
The mistake apparently happened when Ureña left Costa Rican club Alajuelense to play in Russia seven years ago. His name was written down incorrectly, and he never protested. The error has followed him to two clubs in Denmark, to the San Jose Earthquakes and even back home to Costa Rica, where the “s” has now been dropped.
“I don’t care,” Ureña said of the spelling. “Either one.”
What did trouble him, though, was hearing his named called in December’s MLS expansion draft. After a debut season in which he tied for second on the team with five goals — including the stoppage-time winner that sent San Jose to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons — the Earthquakes left Ureña unprotected. LAFC snapped him up.
“It was a big surprise to me,” Ureña said in Spanish. “I thought I was a player they valued.”
Bradley and LAFC are happy to have him.
“We knew when we picked him up that we had a player that, around the goal, is sharp,” Bradley said. “His qualities are valued and he feels comfortable.
“I feel good about what he can bring to our team.”
Ureña has repaid that confidence with a team-leading three goals in three games heading into LAFC’s final preseason exhibition Sunday in Sacramento against the USL’s Sacramento Republic. That follows a stellar campaign in which he scored four times — including both goals in a 2-0 win over the U.S. — to help Costa Rica qualify for its second straight World Cup.
“I always have a lot of faith in my abilities,” Ureña said. “I have explosive speed. I consider myself a different kind of forward.
“Obviously, scoring goals is my job.”
Ureña, 27, is the center forward in Bradley’s favored 4-3-3 formation, with Carlos Vela and Diego Rossi on either side. Just behind them is Latif Blessing, completing an attacking foursome that is dangerous and young, with an average age of 24.
“You’ve gotta have different ways to create chances, and you have to have three, four or five players capable of scoring good numbers of goals,” Bradley said. “You can never just go into a season where you expect one guy to carry the whole load.”
Rossi, Vela and Blessing are adept at both scoring and setting up goals. Ureña has only one mission in front of the net.
“Marcos,” said Bradley, who is reclaiming Ureña’s given name, “is more of a finisher.”
The four players all come from different countries — Rossi from Uruguay, Vela from Mexico, Blessing from Ghana and Ureña from Costa Rica — and had never played together before the start of training camp last month. Learning to work together is just one of the challenges expansion teams such as LAFC face.
Ureña said he’s already building a rapport with Vela.
“He has a really good game as far as dribbling and making the last pass that forwards are always waiting for,” he said. “We spend a lot of time together, talking a lot away from the field to make us better on the field.
“I think we’re going to have good chemistry with him, Diego and me, with Latif.”
Ureña is eager for a fresh start, something else expansion teams provide. After a disappointing separation from San Jose, where he made more than $289,000 last season, Ureña said he’s glad to be somewhere he’s wanted and can offer a blank slate where he can create something new.
“I feel appreciated,” said Ureña, who already has a house in Pasadena. “But in the end, that’s soccer. One side wants you, the other doesn’t. The most important thing is I’m here; I’m happy.
“I have an opportunity to grow with a new team, to write my own story.”