IT COULD BE because of the impending holiday, but Union boss Peter Nowak was full of cheer yesterday as he spoke about the latest gift to grace the team's roster.

Yesterday, the Union unwrapped Costa Rican defender Porfirio Lopez, its second addition this week and the fifth signing for a team that has made some serious upgrades this offseason. The team has acquired four internationals and added its second homegrown player since the MLS playoff fallout to Houston in November.

Lopez, 26, previously on loan to Costa Rican first-division club Alajuelense from Dalian Haichang of China, is perhaps the solution at left back. It has been suggested that Panamanian midfielder/defender Gabriel Gomez - given his 6-foot height and penchant for playing defense - might make a suitable fit at that position. But that remains to be seen with the signing of Lopez.

"We know what we need and we are very excited about these signings," Nowak said. "We now have a great mix of youngsters and experienced guys . . . we don't need much, but we need to be active and be set to go. We know it takes time for these players to come in and get settled, but when preseason starts we want to get to work."

Lopez captured back-to-back titles with Alajuelense, but appeared in just 16 matches last season. While the lack of size along Nowak's back line was clearly an issue, it doesn't seem to be a major cause for concern now considering Lopez stands 5-11, according to his bio on the team's website.

"We needed more experienced guys and we brought in a guy who has already won two championships and played on a national team," Nowak said of Lopez. "We have a very good mix now of the needs we had at every position and that makes more competition within the team, so it's good for everybody. I think we have the pieces right now to look for the optimal starting lineup every week."

These recent signings ought to ease the strain of the upcoming MLS Super Draft. While Nowak somewhat agrees with the notion, the club still could have its eyes on a few hopefuls.

Also, keep in mind draft picks make ideal bargaining chips, too.

"We believe the draft is not as strong as it was a few years ago, so we have to look at what's available," Nowak said. "We are going to do what is going to be the best for us, and with these signings we can be more selective . . . Our priority when we sat down after the season was what exactly do we need, and we have to address those issues by getting the players with enough quality and enough experience to fit in our team."

And as far as the gifts of Lopez, Gomez, Nizar Khalfan, Josue Martinez and hometown stud Jimmy McLaughlin that Nowak already has unwrapped?

"We are very excited about these signings," he said. "But we are always looking to see what is out there. We are always looking for the best pieces possible to make our team better."