BEAVERTON, Ore. – It’s a nickname that tells you so much about Marvin Loría, albeit one he shies from.
“Everybody has always called me Di María,” he says, referencing Paris Saint-Germain star Ángel, with whom one of the latest Portland Timbers signings bares a vague physical resemblance. The 21-year-old, coming off an initial season in North America with Portland Timbers 2, was signed to a Major League Soccer contract this week, hinting the versatile attacker will be a part of the Timbers’ long-term outlook.
That versatility, in addition to the physical parallels, play into the “Di María” moniker, though Loría only wants the comparison to go so far.
“But to be honest, I don’t really like the name,” he explains, “because Di María is a tremendous player, and I’m still trying to establish myself. I’m still trying to be more like him.
“I do like the way he plays, and I like him because he is a lefty, also … His style, the positions - we have a lot in common. So, I can see why, when I got to Benfica, with us both in Europe, even more people started calling me ‘Di María.’”
Their games are nearly identical, albeit at different levels. Fast, threatening in space, capable of playing through the middle or out wide, both Loría and Di María meld their physical dynamism with an in-game intelligence that leaves each both essential and, to the lay person, occasionally overlooked. Though his six goals and seven assists last year in USL are strong numbers, they don’t jump off the page, even though Loría was habitually the best player on the field.
“I think I fit in well (at USL),” he explained, in Spanish, toward the end of T2’s season, “because I can play physical and fast, or with more technique. The fact that I can keep up, it’s something that’s given me confidence.”
It explains why Benfica had interest, though they weren’t the first world-renown club linked with Loría. At 18 years old, the Deportivo Saprissa product embarked on a stint in Europe, initially trying to link up with one of Benfica’s rivals, FC Porto, in the summer of 2015.
“I spent a few weeks (at Porto), but I didn’t like it,” he remembers. “The second team, while I was there, had a lot of days off, and you ended up feeling really detached from the rest of the team and the players. So, after two weeks, my agent told me there was an opportunity in Lisbon, and I immediately thought that would be better, at Benfica.
“Within two days, my agent was already in serious talks with them,” he says, describing how his year-long loan in Lisbon came about. “I got into a (under-20) game, and everything was going well. I scored a goal, everybody there was really happy with how I played, and we quickly decided to commit to a full year.”
Those opportunities speak to the fortune Portland had in signing Loría to T2 last winter, but it was not fortune without risk. As past signings – as well as Loría’s experience with Porto – show, dropping players into new places carries a chance of failure that can’t be ignored. Sometimes it’s the culture. Sometimes it’s the lifestyle. Other times, it’s just the fit. There are a myriad ways these types of moves can go wrong. There are far fewer avenues to success.
With that in mind, Portland’s begun using their United Soccer League team as a transition ground for certain players, seeing whether life in the United States is a fit, for both sides. For some talents, it hasn’t worked, but having known about the Timbers before his arrival, Loría hit the ground running.
“The Timbers played against [Saprissa] in Concacaf Champions League,” Loría notes, “so people in Costa Rica know a lot about the club.” Players like Roy Miller, David Guzmán and Julio Cascante have cemented a link between Portland and Saprissa. Loría’s signing deepens the bond.
“I was really happy when I heard I had an opportunity to possibly join – that I might be provided that chance,” he remembers, “because I knew there would be other Costa Ricans here. The transition could be so much smoother.”
Not only was the transition smooth, but its speed proved vital to T2’s first playoff season. A steady starter on the right side of Portland’s attack, Loría was one of the main factors opening up the game for players like Foster Langsdorf, Jack Barmby, and Eryk Williamson. Late in the year, when Victor Arboleda returned from Colombia (and Williamson was loaned to Portugal), Loría moved into the No. 10’s role, exhibiting a versatility that could prove valuable with the MLS team next season.
“I’ve only played a 10 a little, here,” Loría explains, “but I played it a lot at Saprissa. Here, I’ve had to play wide, as a winger, and if they want to put me there, I can definitely do that. I’m comfortable in both positions, because both positions fit my game well, right now.”
His game, according to him, is about speed. It’s about challenging his opponents. It’s about making them work over the length of the field, and using his technique and aggression to punish them, when they don’t.
Various USL opponents found that out the hard way, no more so than at eventual Western Conference first-place finisher Orange County SC on Aug. 1. Picking the ball up from well within Portland’s half, Loría slalomed through OCSC’s transitioning defense, eventually breaking clear at the edge of the penalty area before chipping the host’s onrushing goalkeeper. If the rest of the USL world didn’t know, they found out in that moment, with Loría’s 12-second burst confirming he wouldn’t need much more seasoning at the second-division level.
Moments like that left no doubt Portland would want Loría on a Major League Soccer deal. And for Loría, speaking during the season, the Timbers were always a desired option: “I know I have a good future (either in Portland or Costa Rica), and if that is here with the Timbers, it’s a future I’d want.”
That future is now, and given how Portland head coach Giovanni Savarese used his squad in 2018, there is every chance Timbers fans could see Loría often, next season. As of Monday, it’s just a matter of “Di María” seizing his next moment, just as he seized last year’s with T2.