Wilf Thorne/Houston Dynamo

Hard work pays off for Academy's Piña

After two years of hard work and dedication, one of Fernando Piña’s goals was accomplished on Thursday: He made the United States roster for the 2011 FIFA U-17 World Cup.

“The feeling is hard to describe,” Piña told MLSsoccer.com by phone shortly after the announcement. “It’s good after two years of hard work and sacrifice and all the training to be going to the World Cup in Mexico. I’m just happy that it’s here.”

MORE: Press release announcing selection

A top goalkeeper for Wilmer Cabrera’s group for most of the past two years, the Houston Dynamo Academy product has been a staple in the U.S. lineup in most major matches.

However, the standout was forced to sit out of the CONCACAF qualifying finale against Canada after earning a straight red card for a challenge against El Salvador’s Diego Galdamez. Piña made four saves in the match and was an important part of the U.S. drive to qualify for the World Cup, but the red card could jeopardize his starting position.

“It was tough, but I got over it in the weeks after, and it helped to get back to training hard in the next few sessions,” Piña said. “I’ve tried my hardest to come back and get into the starting 11, but when you know you let the team down in the last minute, it was rough.”

Piña’s work seemingly paid off and earned him the starting nod in both of the team’s April friendlies against Mexico — the U-17s dropped the matches 2-0 and 1-0, respectively — but is expected to battle Kendall McIntosh for the No. 1 spot during the tournament.

After qualifying and a trip to Mexico that got the young group acclimated to their surroundings, Piña is ready to get the competition started. That trip, he said, will was important for the squad as it attempts to get over the nerves that come with representing one's nation on the world stage.

MORE: Fernando Piña bio

The U.S. starts off its participation in the U-17 World Cup with a crucial match against fellow group favorite Czech Republic on June 19.

“The most important thing is to get the first three points,” Piña said. “The way we’ve been playing, it feels like things are going to go well in our first game.”

While Piña aims to be manning the net for the US against the Czech Republic, the young Dynamo is happy to simply get the chance to show his skill on the grand stage in Mexico.

Darrell Lovell covers the Houston Dynamo for MLSsoccer.com. Follow him on twitter at @Dynamoexaminer.