It has been a whirlwind year for Isaiah Noreiga. Last April, the Dynamo Academy forward scored two goals in the championship match of the Dallas Cup to lead the the Dynamo U-16s to the title. He was also on the Dynamo squad that reached the semifinals of the SUM U-17 Cup in Houston this past summer. Now, the junior at Kingwood Park High School will fly to Trinidad & Tobago on Saturday to once again train with its U-17 national team, which is preparing for CONCACAF qualifying for the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup.
“This is the third time I will train with the team,” Noreiga said. “The coach first saw me play at the Dallas Cup in 2009, and after finding out both of my parents were from Trinidad, he invited me down to try out.”
Although Noreiga made the team and was invited back for a preliminary qualifying tournament last summer, a back injury forced him to miss the games and resulted in him losing his spot on the 18-man roster. Trinidad & Tobago easily advanced, however, with wins over Saint Kitts & Nevis and Bermuda and a draw with Cuba.
“I had the back injury for about two years, but it was only a mild pain,” he said. “When I went down there, we had two-a-days, so it began aggravating me more. Eventually it locked up on me, and I couldn’t play. The doctor told me my L2 disc was shifted to the left so I had to come back to Houston to do physical therapy. It was very disappointing because I worked hard to get my spot on the team and then something I could not control happened to me, forcing me to miss the games.”
After two weeks of training in Trinidad, Noreiga will return to Houston for school and, if selected for the squad, he will fly to Jamaica on February 9 for CONCACAF World Cup qualifying. The draw, which was announced yesterday, saw Trinidad & Tobago land in group C with rival Jamaica and Guatemala. The top two teams advance to the quarterfinals, where the four winners clinch a spot in the U-17 World Cup. The Houston native said he would be excited to represent his parents' homeland at the World Cup.
“It would feel very good,” Noreiga said. “Even though I am from Houston, if I were to play for Trinidad at the World Cup, it would make my parents very proud.”
An added bonus for Noreiga would be the opportunity to play against Dynamo Academy goalkeeper Fernando Piña and the U.S. U-17 national team, which could be possible if both teams advance to the semifinals. Noreiga and Piña played together in the Dynamo Academy as well as against each other growing up in Houston.
“It would be a fun experience playing against him,” Noreiga said. “I also know some of the other players on the U.S. team, so it would be great if we played them.”
Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson is excited for the opportunity his player has been given and believes it is the result of the hard work that Noreiga has put in over the past few years.
“We always felt that he had the talent, but at times he wasn’t involved enough in the game,” Clarkson said. “Now he has matured into a good competitor and is starting to take control of the game.”
Noreiga began the season playing with the Dynamo U-16 squad, but after showing good form in the opening matches of the season, has made a seamless transition to playing with the U-18s. Last weekend, Noreiga played 90 minutes in a friendly against Tigres Juniors and played 45 for the 18s in a 2-1 loss to Solar Soccer Club. Although his squad was on the losing end of the match, Noreiga played well as the lone striker in the second half, holding the ball and finding his teammates in the open space.
“We felt that he was ready to make that jump,” Clarkson said. “He has good strength, speed, and is technically sound. This isn’t the first time Noreiga has played with older kids, so we were confident he could make the move and not miss a step.”
When Trinidad & Tobago coaches first saw Noreiga, he was a 15-year old playing on the Dynamo's U-19 squad at the Dallas Cup, a squad that included junior college players. Noreiga has always relished the opportunity to play with the older players and believes it has helped mold him into a stronger player.
“I like playing with the 18s, because the pace is much quicker than with the 16s,” he said. “It forces me to play and think faster. When I played with the older players at the Dallas Cup, it opened my eyes to how much I have to improve and made me realize I don’t have that much time, because that will be me in a few years.”