Academy players train with first team
As the spring semester comes to a close and most kids head
to the beach to work on their tans, two Houston Dynamo Academy products will spend
the summer training with the Dynamo first team as they look to improve their
game heading into their senior seasons in college soccer.
Pana Vasquez spent 10 years with local club Houstonians and joined the Dynamo
Academy in 2007. Josue
Soto plied his trade with the Olympic Developmental Program of the South Texas
Youth Soccer Association before joining the Academy, also in 2007. For
the past year, the two shared the field together at Southern Methodist University,
and they will continue to do so this summer, as they train with the Dynamo
first team and hope to catch the eye of first team head coach Dominic Kinnear.
“It’s a good atmosphere,” Vasquez said of training with the
first team. “The game is much faster than in college, and the intensity is
Soto, who previously trained with the first team in 2008, said
he had a better idea of what to expect from the coaches and the players this
“I know how much running I am going to do and that I am
going to have to carry the balls and the goals,” he said. “It is always a
challenge coming from college, but it is great playing against players better
than I am. It pushes me to become a better player.”
Soto began his college career with two years at Campbell University
in Buies Creek, N.C., then transferred to SMU prior to last
season. Now 21, Soto had an outstanding two years at Campbell; he was named a freshman
all-American in 2007 and ranked fourth in the country in assists per game as a
sophomore in 2008. At SMU last year, Soto started slowly while returning from
his shin injury but was a starter by the end of the year and finished with two
goals and three assists for the Mustangs.
Vasquez started 14 games for the Mustangs last season,
tallying one goal and one assist, after redshirting his sophomore season. He
credits the Dynamo
Academy for making him a
better player on the field and a better person off it.
“Training with the Dynamo Academy
and James [Clarkson, Director of Youth Development] was great,” he said. “They
taught me about professionalism, and the training was much more structured and
serious, much like the training for the Dynamo first team.”
Soto said that playing on the same field with Tyler Deric
and Francisco Navas Cobo, two first-team players who were signed from the Dynamo Academy,
makes his dream of playing professional soccer seem closer to a reality.
“It’s nice to know that the Academy is not just there,” he
said. “The coaches are actually looking at the players and giving them the
opportunity to earn spots on the first team.”
While some players could resent college players joining training sessions, Dynamo assistant coach
Wade Barrett said the Dynamo see it as a pleasure to have the young guys train with the first
team, as long as they can keep up.
“I think it’s
good for them to see what it’s like to train with a professional team,” he
said. “When those guys come in, have a positive attitude, and work hard, it’s
easy for those guys in the locker room to accept them and welcome them, and I think
they have done that so far.”
Veteran Dynamo defender Craig Waibel echoed Barrett’s
sentiments and, as usual, has not been shy about dispensing advice.
“Josue has improved a lot since the last time he trained
with us,” Waibel said. “His game is faster, simpler, and he has terrific vision
for his age. ... I was joking with Pana in the locker room about how even
though the game is faster here, you need to play more simple. He is a good
player, but I told him he needs to work on his first touch because, up here, a
good first touch is essential.”
Waibel believes that it will be a few years before Academy
kids can come in and make a contribution right away, but with the recent
ascension of Bill Hamid and Andy Najar to D.C. United’s lineup without even any college experience, that day might
be not be far off.
“I always dreamed about playing professionally, but I never
really envisioned it happening,” Soto said. “I was never 100 percent sure I
could make it, but now that I am training with the first team, the dream is
definitely more of a reality.”