For someone who just exited his teens mere months ago, Mauro Manotas is surprisingly calm about his move nearly 2,000 miles from home to a foreign nation.
“That comes with the job, being a soccer player. You have to make a lot of sacrifices,” the 20-year-old told HoustonDynamo.com through a translator. “It’s the first time I’ve left home like this. I left my family and friends and everything back home.
“But thankfully there are a lot of Hispanics here in Houston and that has definitely helped me immensely. I made the decision to come to the United States to learn more.”
Manotas signed with the Dynamo in May from Colombian First Division side Uniautónoma F.C. and has seen 70 minutes of field time in seven MLS appearances, but had a goal and an assist in three U.S. Open Cup stints. The lanky forward was part of the recent flood of Hispanic influence into the Dynamo this season, which has served Manotas well as he adapts to a new country and furthers his soccer education.
“It’s very helpful to have other Hispanic players on the team. They’re always telling me things, reminding me of instructions,” he said. “Sometimes they take me to the airport with them when we’re traveling. We’ll go out to eat. They’ve included me and that has helped me a lot.”
Manotas is hardly the first Colombian product to try his hand in the States, with all-time great Carlos Valderama joining the league from the outset and young guns Fredy Montero and Fabian Castillo making their names in recent years. Manotas comes to the Dynamo at a resurgent time for Colombian soccer after the national team’s impressive quarterfinal run at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Colombia had missed the previous three tournaments.
“There is no doubt that we’ve once again gone up in the ranks of international football. You can say we’ve been reborn,” Manotas said. “It's helped Colombian soccer a lot, the young people who at such a young age are being scouted by teams from around the world. It’s always nice to have the Colombian name out there.”
Manotas expressed his desire to join the senior side one day, and hopes that his progression with the Dynamo will one day lead to that. As part of the Colombian U-20 team this past winter, Manotas appeared three times and scored a goal as Los Cafeteros qualified for the 2015 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
“I’m so thankful that I was able to play for my country, represent my country,” he said. “Putting on that Colombian national team jersey is a moment that brings a lot of pride to me, my family and my country. It’s amazing.”
Manotas’ arrival not only coincides with the ascension of Colombian soccer, but Houston Astros baseball as well. That was great news for the avid baseball fan, who says rookie shortstop Carlos Correa—who also made his Houston debut in early summer—is his favorite player. The two were able to meet after batting practice earlier this month.
“It was a beautiful experience. When I first went [to an Astros game], I had just arrived in the country and I honestly felt like a little kid in the stadium,” Manotas recounted. “After that, being able to go down on the field was very awesome. I’ll always remember that.”
While Manotas continues to adapt to his new surroundings, he draws from his homeland to push past the feelings of loneliness: “That strength that my country give me helps me get through it.”
Dreams of Colombia sustain Manotas for the present, but he urges Dynamo fans to visit his country for themselves to see what makes it so special for him.
“Get to know the warmth of my country. It’s a beautiful country and the people are very warm and friendly. Come visit us and share beautiful family experiences there.”