As Fernando Piña strode onto the pitch at the Reach 11 Sports Complex in Phoenix last week, he looked across the field and saw the famous yellow worn by the Brazilian U-17 national team. While most players might feel anxious at the prospect of facing a country many consider the best in the world, home to such stars as Ronaldinho and Neymar, Piña took one look at the opposing team and went back to his regular routine.
“I always put into my mind that any team I play against, I will play the same as if it were any other team,” he said. “We knew it would be a hard team technically. They are fast with the ball and show a lot of movement, but we felt confident heading into the match.”
For the 17-year-old Dynamo Academy goalkeeper, the match against Brazil was his opportunity to put previous mistakes behind him and prove that he was worthy of the starting spot on the national team. Two days earlier, in a 2-1 victory over South Korea, Piña cost his squad a goal when he misjudged a corner kick that landed on the foot of Shin Il Soo.
“What bugged me most was right after the mistake, I got more nervous, and in the second half I was not the same player,” Piña said. “The coaches spoke to me at halftime and told me that mistakes happen and that they will keep happening, but that I had to put it out of my mind and continue playing. I was motivated against Brazil to show what kind of player I was, and I felt as if I did a pretty good job.”
In a physical match that saw two Brazilian players sent off, the U.S. tied Brazil 0-0. Piña was not shy to come off his line and made multiple plays to stem the Brazilian attack and keep the Seleção off the scoresheet. As one of the older players on the squad and one who also competed in last year's Winter Showcase, Piña has undertaken the role not only as a vocal leader on the field, but as a moral leader off it.
“Coaches and teachers always tell me to be a leader,” he said. “It’s just natural for me. I’ve been here for a year and a half. I was one of the first players in this group to come to residency, and because I am one of the oldest, I have to show that maturity and keep the guys on track.”
Piña attended Challenge Early College High School in Houston before entering the U-17 residency program in Florida and credits much of his maturity to Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson and the rest of the Dynamo coaching staff.
“Not only on the field, but away from the field, they taught us to be the kind of player that any coach would want,” he said. “They taught us to be respectful and not do anything dumb, never to talk back to coaches and always shake everyone’s hand before and after training sessions. Many of the things I learned on the field as well, from [Dynamo goalkeepers coach] Tim Hanley, are invaluable and have helped me to develop.”
Clarkson, who was on hand with the Dynamo Academy squads and watched Piña perform in Arizona, was impressed with the way Piña handled himself to overcome the mistake against Korea.
“Piña continues to prove he’s the best young goalkeeper in the country,” Clarkson said. “He responded brilliantly after his mistake in the first game and came back with a very confident performance against Brazil. It’s very exciting to see his continued development, and it all leads hopefully to playing in the U-17 World Cup next summer.”
Next summer’s event, to be held in his parents' homeland of Mexico, will be an important one for Piña. If the United States can advance through the qualifying stage in February, Piña will have the opportunity to showcase his talents on the international stage against the best teams in the world.
“It would be an honor and a privilege to represent my country at the World Cup,” Piña said. “It’s one of my short-term goals and what I have been working for the past year-and-a-half. Down the road, I would love to continue playing with the U.S. national team and eventually make it to the senior roster.”
While Piña dreams of representing his country on the international stage, he would relish the opportunity to sign a professional contract and further his soccer career. Knowing that former Dynamo Academy products Francisco Navas Cobo and Tyler Deric made it to the Dynamo first team gives Piña the confidence that he, too, can make that leap.
“It is inspiring to know that they made it to a professional team and signed that first-team contract,” he said. “It gives me the motivation, the inspiration, and the confidence to train hard and lets me know that if I continue down my path, I can achieve my goals and play professional soccer.”
Academy squads fall in last day of Showcase
After getting off to a hot start at the USSF Development Academy Winter Showcase, both Academy squads fell on Tuesday to California DA. The U-18 squad lost 4-0, while the U-16s lost 2-0. Both squads return to Texas Division action on Sunday with matches against Solar (Dallas) at Carl Lewis Track and Field Complex. The U-18s kick off at noon while the U-16s kick off at 2 p.m.
Dynamo Academy Tryouts scheduled for December 27-30
The Houston Dynamo will run their Elite Camp and Junior Elite Camp from December 27-30. The Elite Camp is the official tryout for the Dynamo Academy.
“The Elite camp is a fantastic opportunity for any player to make it into the Academy,” said Clarkson. “It’s a very competitive camp and a great learning environment. We are able to put every player into situations where they are challenged, and we can evaluate them properly. Every player will leave better and with a much clearer understanding of what it takes to succeed with the Dynamo.”
To register for the camp, visit www.HoustonDynamo.com/elitecamp or call (713) 276-7524.