After a short summer break, the Houston Dynamo Academy began training two weeks ago ahead of the grueling 10-month season that awaits. The late-summer practices begin in the late afternoon, under the sweltering Houston sun, with the chance of defending the Frontier Division championship and returning to the Academy Playoffs nearly a year away.
In rare moments, the light at the end of the tunnel can appear much brighter than expected. The Houston Dynamo Academy experienced a few such moments to last a lifetime this week at Houston Sports Park. The Dynamo Academy Under-18s trained with the Argentina national team on Tuesday and Wednesday at the Dynamo training field as the world’s top-ranked team and 2015 Copa America finalist prepared for Friday’s friendly match against Bolivia at BBVA Compass Stadium.
“Argentina tries to leave a legacy wherever they play,” Dynamo Director of Youth Development James Clarkson explained. “When they play an international friendly, they select a club to train with leading up to the game. They selected the Dynamo and our players were able to train 11 versus 11 with Argentina (on Wednesday).”
Pretty amazing for Houston Dynamo academy players to train with Argentina & get some dap from Lionel Messi. https://t.co/eWIocJTf0M— Grant Wahl (@GrantWahl) September 3, 2015
After training with the 2014 FIFA World Cup runners up on Tuesday, the Academy took part in Argentina’s training again on Wednesday, with a total of 24 Academy players from the new U-18 squad included to assist Argentina’s preparations for Bolivia.
“I wanted all the kids to experience it,” Clarkson said. “It is once in a lifetime opportunity, and hopefully it has an impact on their development with the club.”
Clarkson, who is head coach of the Academy Under-18s, was especially impressed with the graciousness and humility of Argentina manager Gerardo Martino and his coaching staff, along with La Albiceleste’s collection of worldwide stars.
“They have been amazing – how open and friendly they’ve been. To be at the level, and the way they’ve accepted those players into training has been absolutely first class.”
After playing against the likes of four-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez, Javier Mascherano, and countless other famous players for a 80-minute training session, the Dynamo Academy players were understandably bashful as the Argentina team walked toward the bus to depart for the team hotel.
Christian Molina, who joined the Dynamo Academy in 2008, was being interviewed by a Dynamo videographer as Messi walked past, delivering hugs and handshakes to several of Molina’s teammates on his way to the team bus.
Molina, who is better known as “Little”, stopped the interview and politely asked Messi back, just before he left the field. He couldn’t miss out on this chance. The four-time Champions League winner walked back to Molina and the pair exchanged a hug before the 17-year-old returned to the camera with a wide smile before declaring, “Wow. That’s something I’ve imagined in my head for so long, I never thought it would happen, but it just happened a few second ago. It’s just a normal hug, but it’s from the best player in the world.”
Following the practice, Argentina’s coaching staff was complimentary of the young competition.
“They thanked us for participating,” Clarkson said. “They hoped it was an experience our players would never forget. They were incredibly appreciative of the effort and intensity our players put in, and they said it was very beneficial in their preparation (for Bolivia).”
Clarkson said despite the grand expectations, his players were still amazed with the speed of play, and the speed of Argentina’s players. Still, he believes the players may not completely understand what they did this week.
“As much as they were amazed by it, they may not fully appreciate it until later in life.”