From Academy to first team, Dillon Serna is the latest to make his pro debut
Lost amidst the two disappointing games to end the 2013 season was perhaps one of the brightest moments of the year - the professional debut of former Rapids Academy midfielder Dillon Serna.
In the 77th minute of Sunday's match at Vancouver, Oscar Pareja replaced rookie Deshorn Brown with Brighton, Colo.-native Dillon Serna. The 19-year-old became the third player to come through the Colorado Rapids Academy system to play for the first team in an MLS match. Davy Armstrong and Shane O'Neill made their pro and MLS debuts in 2012 - also under Pareja.
"It was really special for me," Serna told ColoradoRapids.com this week. "I got a text earlier in the day telling me to take a moment to take it all in (if my name was called), and that's what I did at the halfway line when I was about to go in. It was really exciting for me."
In 2010 Serna became the first Rapids Academy player selected to join U.S. Soccer's U-17 Residency program in Florida. The following year he overcame an emergency appendectomy and became the first Colorado-native to make a U.S. U-17 World Cup roster since Littleton’s Seth Trembly, a former Rapids player, was part of the 1999 U-17 World Cup.
Serna trained with the Rapids for much of 2012 before attending the University of Akron on soccer scholarship last fall. After his freshman season, Serna signed by the Rapids in January as the team's third Homegrown player.
Last Sunday he capped off the year by accomplishing a life-long dream.
"I was waiting for that first touch - and that wasn't really that good - I think I got the ball stolen from me," Serna admitted. "But after that I settled in. There was only 13 minutes left so I couldn't really get in a rhythm, but after I got my first touch my nerves kind of went away and I could just try play my game."
Pareja was more than happy with the youngster's debut, which included one shot and even one foul committed.
"I think he went in and did very well. I was very happy with him," Pareja said. "Honestly I regretted not having given him more time because I really enjoyed watching the personality with which he played."
Making the game day roster and entering a match with playoff seeding implications was a sign of his increased growth on the club. Serna also made the game day roster for the MLS Cup Playoff game in Seattle three days later.
"It says a lot to me, being able to go in that type of game and then being on the bench again in the next game," Serna admitted. "Obviously it gives me a lot of confidence and shows that they have trust in me."
Pareja is looking forward to seeing more from Serna in 2014, and beyond.
"(Serna) has grown tremendously and is already fighting for a position with the big guys, the more experienced players, and that makes me very happy," Pareja said. "He has a big future with this club."
Unfortunately for Serna, he'll now have to wait a few months to build on how his rookie year ended.
"Right after the game I was talking to Shane (O'Neill) and telling him how good it felt to be out there, to finally play," Serna said. "Now that the season is over I'm just hungry for next season to start already. Hopefully it becomes routine."
Extra Note: As a youngster growing up in Colorado, Serna attended Rapids games regularly. Although he was just 4-6 years old when Rapids legend Marcelo Balboa played for the club in the first years of the League, Serna told me he grew up wearing #17 in youth soccer because it was Balboa's number. Serna recalled watching videos of Balboa's famous 2000 MLS Goal of the Year bicycle kick, and then receiving instructions from Balboa on how to do a 'bike' at a youth soccer camp when he was eight years old. As fate would have it, #17 was available when he signed in January and he quickly asked if he could wear it. Serna became only the third player - second non-goalkeeper - to wear #17 for the Rapids in an MLS match since Balboa retired following the 2001 season. Defender Kelly Gray wore #17 in his two appearances in 2008, as did goalkeepers Preston Burpo (24 games, 2008-2009) and Ian Joyce (1 game, 2010-2012).