The Houston Dynamo boast one of the league's most productive academies, having signed four home-grown players from their youth ranks over the past three years.
Several academy members, including center back Sebastien Ibeagha (U.S. U-20) and forward Isaiah Noreiga (Trinidad & Tobago U-17), are in their youth national-team pools. But one of the more prominent names in the international youth landscape is U.S. U-17 goalkeeper Fernando Piña.
Since joining the Dynamo Academy, Piña has represented the U.S. at the U-15 level and is now positioned to be the U-17s' starting goalkeeper heading into next week’s CONCACAF U-17 Championship, which also serves as a World Cup qualifier. When in the net, the 17-year-old’s physical tools are evident.
“He’s a really good organizer," said Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson. "He has always been very, very good with his feet, and if you look at him now, his distribution is fantastic."
Those abilities allow Piña to bring an aggressive style to the pitch. When in goal, he likes to come off his line to pluck balls out of the air, something that makes him a bigger part of the game.
[inline_node:328059]“I don’t like to just sit under the net and wait for balls to come at me," Piña said. "I like to be in the game, and my coaches are always encouraging me to be aggressive."
Piña's mental approach and calmness has improved over time, too.
"He’s always been confident,” Clarkson said, "Through his experience with the academy, and obviously with the national team, he is maturing at a rapid rate, and his game experience and confidence has skyrocketed."
Piña’s growth has helped him stay at the top of the U-17s' depth chart, which is something he attributes to his experience with both club and country. With the US, he has tallied notable draws against Brazil in back-to-back years. His club achievements include defeating the Real Madrid U-17s when the Dynamo Academy toured Europe in 2009.
“Going to Europe, playing with some of the best players and some of the best teams — and Real Madrid is one of the best teams in the world — that helped me technically," Piña said.
Piña credits Clarkson and the Dynamo Academy as being major influences on his improvement as a player. When asked about his time with the Dynamo, Piña pointed to the coaches helping him become a better communicator on the field — something the youngster feels is vital to his team’s success.
“One of the main things [the Dynamo coaches] emphasized was communication and every goalkeeper has to have the confidence and communication to talk to the team, organize, and motivate them when things are not going right,” Piña said.
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.