Hanyer Mosquera was just minutes away from becoming the one that got away from the Timbers.
The Colombian central defender was sitting in the airport counting down the minutes before catching a flight to Bogotá to sign with Millonarios of the Colombian Primera A division, a team he’s been a fan of since childhood.
Then, his cell phone rang and on the other line was an offer from MLS and the Timbers.
“It was a difficult decision,” Mosquera said in Spanish through a translator. “All my family members are fans of Millonarios, so to me it was kind of a dream come true to be able to play for that team. Then this offer (from Portland) came through and I started talking to Diego (Chara) and Jorge (Perlaza). What they told me about the lifestyle here, how well they’ve been treated, how nice it is and the professionalism of the team, it was the best decision for my career.”
Mosquera has made an instant impact on the Timbers back line, despite missing a handful of games early in the season, first due to delays with his transfer certificate, then because of a concussion and slight orbital fracture after a blow to the head in the first half of a match against New England on March 24. His ability to win balls in the air and a penchant for strong tackling has helped disrupt many counterattacks as the defense searches for stability in the first half of the season.
Still in the early stages of learning English, Mosquera opened up to Green & White Magazine, giving supporters the opportunity to see a more complete picture of the center back.
Raised in the Pacific northwest region of Colombia, Mosquera explained that the town of Istmina and surrounding area is rich with quality players, and said people are always playing soccer, but added that for “a lot of people who don’t have the opportunity to go to school and advance in that regard, the only other option is to work in the plantain or yucca fields.”
The son of a now-retired police officer, Mosquera was provided with stability at home and the opportunity to go to school and mature both on and off the field. While his father worked, his mother was able to stay at home and raise the kids.
“My parents always supported me,” Mosquera said. “They didn’t buy me the most expensive pairs of soccer shoes. Whatever they were able to provide me with and taking me to fields for games — that support is why I’m very grateful today. It’s important to feel that kind of help from your parents because that’s what forms a person. They gave me the opportunity to do this.”
It probably didn’t hurt having an older brother around to toughen up the future defender.
“It was a little rough growing up,” Mosquera said with a smile recalling memories of his only sibling. “My brother, Johans, was older and he would always want to get the remote control from me, so he was kind of a bully about that. Then, I got into sports and I grew bigger than him, so now I look like the older one.”
Continuing in their father’s footsteps, Johans, Mosquera’s senior by two years, is a police officer in the city of Tolima. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that Mosquera patrols the Timbers defense, seeing as enforcement runs in the family.
“We have a great relationship,” Mosquera continued. “I have the utmost respect and admiration for what Johans does, and he admires me for what I do.”
As a 14-year-old, Mosquera caught his break when he was invited to play in a tournament put on by Colombian club Deportivo Cali’s youth branch, called Intercampos, which mined the Pacific region for talent.
Mosquera played well enough to be selected as one of the standout players in the tournament and discussions started around the teenager joining Deportivo Cali, but there were inconveniences, according to the 25-year-old, and he eventually started playing some games for Boca Juniors de Cali — a youth club under the Deportivo Cali umbrella. It was during his time playing with Boca Juniors de Cali that Mosquera was offered to sign with Centauros Villavicencio of the Colombian Primera B division, his first fully professional team.
Mosquera, however, already knew he had the skills to be a professional even before signing the contract.
“When I was playing for Boca Juniors de Cali, I was called to play for the selection of Valle del Cauca (essentially, the regional all-star team),” said Mosquera, who counts Manchester United defenders Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic as two of his idols. “There was a history behind that where all the players said that the day you are called to play for the selection of Valle, then you can say that you’re a professional player.”
Deportes Quindío (where he would be teammates with Timbers midfielder Diego Chara) scooped up Mosquera from Centauros in 2007 and eventually loaned him to La Equidad on a deal that was supposed to last through December 2013, but some complications arose in 2011 when Quindío refused to pay for some medical expenses, Mosquera said.
The defender eventually had his contract terminated, paving the way for him to make his way to Portland, signing with the Timbers on January 17.
Mosquera’s adjustment to life in the Rose City has been made much easier by the presence of four fellow Colombians on the roster, but also because his wife, Karen, moved to Portland with him.
“She is a big support for me,” said Mosquera, who specifically mentioned missing how his dad would travel to several road games during his Colombian career. “She gives me a sense of calmness when there are difficult times. To have her support here is really nice.”
As Mosquera continues to acclimate to the Pacific Northwest, the defender has taken note that life seems to move at a slower pace here than in Colombia, especially when out-and-about in the city.
“There was a time when Diego and I were walking to dinner,” Mosquera said when asked about one of the first differences he noticed between the two places. “There was no traffic light in the intersection and we were just waiting for the traffic to be a little bit lighter so we could cross the road. All of a sudden we see these cars stopping and inviting us to cross the road. That doesn’t happen in Colombia, and it was sort of a nice surprise. It would be nice if people in Colombia would do the same.”
Despite varied results through the early stages of their second season in Major League Soccer, head coach John Spencer has made Mosquera a main piece of the back line.
And, Mosquera, for his part, seems pleased with his new surroundings, even though it meant passing up an offer to play for his dearest club in Colombia.
“I’m really happy I made that decision and hope to continue to develop as a person, player and professional in Portland,” Mosquera said.
Be sure to pick up the latest edition of Green & White Magazine at the next home match at JELD-WEN Field on May 20, 2012 when the Portland Timbers host the Chicago Fire.