Coming into Sunday’s reserve friendly with the Monterrey U-20s, the focus for the Houston Dynamo was on two trialists who were looking to impress the club. However, 17-year-old goalkeeper Fernando Piña stole the headlines after a seven-save performance in the 3-1 win.
Tyler Deric, Houston’s first home-grown signee, was slated to start the match in net but was a late scratch due to illness. This gave Pina, who had just returned from the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup and has yet to train with the first team this year, an unexpected chance.
“When they first told me [I was starting], I was a little nervous,” Pina said. “At most I was expecting to play a little in the second half, but I just put it in my mind [that] it was like any other game.”
Pina took full advantage of the opportunity. After Houston took a 3-0 halftime lead, the Dynamo Reserves made sweeping personnel changes, and the 17-year-old was called upon to make six saves in the second half to preserve the win. His best stop came on an 89th-minute Monterrey penalty kick to keep the score at 3-1.
“The nerves didn’t get to [Pina],” said goalkeepers coach Tim Hanley. “For him to step in and play when we brought him here to be available off the bench is pretty good.”
His physical skills were evident, but his ability and confidence to communicate with a veteran back four that included Bobby Boswell, Mike Chabala, Lovel Palmer, and Hunter Freeman was impressive as well.
“I can’t talk to them like I would someone my age,” Pina said. “They’re older, have more experience, and know more about the game than me. But we all love the game and are playing together, and they helped me out and it turned out well.”
Trialists get their chance to shine
Daniel Cruz and Miler Castillo both got significant minutes in Sunday’s match. Cruz played the first 68 minutes, splitting time between midfield and forward, while Castillo was a halftime sub at forward. It was Cruz who ultimately had the greater impact on the game, showing flashes of the passing skill that made him a staple with Germinal Beerschot.
“The game was good, but I have to get used to the heat,” Cruz said. “I was happy I could play 60-plus minutes, because my last game was [on] May 8. I did a little bit of running but need to get my football contact back in my game.”
Cruz is unsure of when his trial will end but is clear about his feelings toward a possible future in Houston.
“I want to stay here,” he said. “I have been here three or four days, and I like the environment. Yesterday in the stadium, there was a nice atmosphere, and I think Houston has a good group, so what’s not to like?”
Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.