It was one word, shouted down the west sideline at Robertson Stadium by Dynamo goalkeepers coach Tim Hanley last Saturday, but it meant so much to so many different people.
The professional debut of 18-year-old Francisco Navas Cobo in a Dynamo jersey Saturday did not make the official game highlights on MLSsoccer.com and warranted merely a note in most game stories. But it was the latest in a series of milestones achieved by Dynamo Academy players, and its significance was not lost on the young man himself.
“Obviously I got excited and really happy,” Navas Cobo said. “My first professional game, and it was awesome. I started thinking about my mom and all the work I’ve been doing to get here.”
Navas Cobo quickly rushed from warming up behind the north goal to the Dynamo bench, where he shed his warmup top and got hasty instructions from Dynamo coaches Dominic Kinnear and John Spencer. In the stands, Dynamo Academy players – several of whom were honored as Adidas High School Best XI selections earlier in the day – watched a former peer prepare to take his game to the next level and surely thought about their own dreams.
After all, Navas Cobo was sitting on the same bench seven months ago, watching as the Dynamo Academy U-18 team played its first game in the USSF Development Academy league with a 2-0 win at Robertson Stadium following the first team’s match against Real Salt Lake. Ineligible to play that night while paperwork was sorted out, Navas Cobo was left to wonder when he would get to take the field in a Dynamo jersey, and it finally came to pass.
With the substitution card handed in, all Navas Cobo needed was a stoppage in play to make his professional debut. As he jumped up and down and tried to stay loose on the sideline, neither team seemed likely to put the ball out of play, and one began to wonder if he would miss his first chance at professional action. Finally Chivas USA earned a corner kick, but the Dynamo did not want to risk a substitution on an opponents’ set piece, so Navas Cobo was left to wait some more.
Also waiting was Sinecio Cobo, Francisco’s grandfather, who had been in Houston on a visit from Colombia since the preseason. Sinecio played a large part in raising Francisco, touching the boy’s life so much that ‘Cobo’ was spelled out across the shoulders of the 18-year-old. Almost poetically, Sinecio had arrived shortly before Navas Cobo’s introductory press conference in March, and now he was set to depart on Sunday, the day after his grandson’s professional debut. Here in Houston, boy and grandfather waited the verdict.
Then a header flashed high, resulting in a goal kick, and the moment was upon him. After slapping hands with Geoff Cameron, Francisco Navas Cobo took to the field in competition for the first time as a professional. It was a moment he could not afford to savor, busy with the business of playing professional soccer, but a man watching from the pressbox could.
Wearnig a headset and microphone on the Dynamo television broadcast, Director of Youth Development James Clarkson had to rein in his reaction somewhat, but there was no stopping the pride as he watched one of his players – the first in Dynamo Academy history to make his debut – take the field for the first team.
“The previous time he was on the bench for a game at Robertson was last September,” Clarkson said. “It’s an amazing story, really. I remember talking to him on the field that night about someday doing it for the first team, but I didn’t expect it to be this quick.”
Quick is probably a good way to some up Navas Cobo’s outing, as he was unable to get a touch to the ball in roughly 90 seconds of game action. But that hardly mattered. A resounding 3-0 victory, a professional debut, and a hug for his grandfather were probably enough for one day.
“It’s not going to be my last one,” Navas Cobo said. “I want to have the chance to get the ball and, hopefully, score.”
There remains plenty to come for Navas Cobo, who made his debut for the United States U-20 national team earlier this year and could still make the trip to Chicago with the Dynamo depending on injuries and eligibility for various other first-team players. First, however, there was the small matter of deciding to whom a keepsake from his debut would go.
“I want to give it to my mom, or maybe to James,” Navas Cobo said. “I don’t know yet!”
This first jersey should probably go to his mother in Colombia, who was unable to be in Houston for his debut, but all who have been touched by Navas Cobo’s rise to the first team can appreciate how much it means.