Gringo Report: Restrepo takes top spot at America de Cali
GUADALAJARA, Mexico — University of Virginia alum Diego Restrepo is set for the biggest couple of weeks of his fledgling career after América de Cali's first-choice goalkeeper, Julián Viáfara, has been suspended for six months after testing positive for a banned substance.
That means the 23-year-old Under-17 World Cup veteran will step in and start for one of Colombia's most successful clubs in one of the most important months in its history.
América scraped through to the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and will play Once Caldas at home in the quarterfinal first leg on Saturday, followed by the second leg next Thursday. The club is looking to win its 14th domestic league title and secure a spot in next year's Copa Libertadores.
At the back of everyone's mind, however, is relegation. Because América finished the regular season second to last in the relegation table (based on average points per game over the last three seasons), they face a relegation playoff that will determine whether the club can remain in Colombia's top division.
The first leg of a playoff, against the runners-up in the second division, will be held 72 hours after América go out of the domestic playoffs. It's possible the club could win the domestic tournament, gain access to the Copa Libertadores and be relegated.
Restrepo has been on the bench for much of the season, but started the first two games and earned rave reviews in the Colombian press.
A graduate of the US Soccer Academy in Bradenton, Fla., Restrepo was born in Venezuela to Colombian parents and raised mainly in the United States, where he was a key figure in Virginia capturing the College Cup in 2009.
Viáfara's suspension means another American 'keeper, Kevin Piedrahita, is likely to take Restrepo's place on the bench.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org.