COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – Dillon Serna only weighs 140 pounds and has all of 13 minutes of MLS experience under his belt. But despite the shyness of a quiet 19-year-old off the field, his on-the-field production has him pushing for major minutes in his second MLS season with the Colorado Rapids.
“I think Dillon’s one of the players that has shown well in every game he’s played in,” new Rapids head coach Pablo Mastroeni told MLSsoccer.com recently. “For me, it’s not a game of old people, young people, inexperience.
"It’s a game of can you or can’t you? It’s a game of ability. And so come first game, it’s those guys that I think have pieced together a good preseason and grasped the concepts in a way that we feel comfortable putting them out on the field.”
That first game comes this Saturday against the defending Supporters' Shield champion New York Red Bulls (4 pm ET, MLS Live), and Serna appears in the mix for a spot either as a starter or as a second-half substitute. Ask anyone with the Rapids which players have impressed the most during the preseason, and Serna’s name rolls off the tongue. The nimbly skilled attacking midfielder – who will still periodically shift to outside back – has dazzled not only with his known ability to create, but also with a blossoming ability to score.
Signed as a Homegrown player after his freshman year at the University of Akron, Serna helped the US Under-20 national team qualify for last year’s U-20 World Cup and saw mostly Reserve League action with the Rapids, scoring three goals in 13 games while waiting behind a crowded midfield.
There remains plenty of competition this year – fellow 19-year-old Charles Eloundou could be Serna’s top competition at right wing – but the Brighton, Colo., native has clearly forced his way from the periphery to the forefront of the midfield discussion.
“I think I’ve done really well to prove myself so far this preseason,” Serna told MLSsoccer.com after a recent practice. “Coming in, I knew [this] was a really big year for me. I’m just coming in with the mindset that every day I have to prove myself and hopefully get in the lineup however I can.”
Serna would be the latest in a string of Colorado youngsters to get their shot. In fact, fellow Homegrown player Shane O’Neill could join him on the right side of the field with a shift to right back, and that duo would be in addition to Deshorn Brown, reigning Rookie of the Year winner Dillon Powers, Chris Klute and Clint Irwin, all with less than three years of MLS experience, who could be regular contributors in 2014 and beyond.
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In other words, don’t be surprised if Serna becomes the latest in the line of “RapKids,” as the team has affectionately come to nickname their baby-faced stars of today and tomorrow.
“It’s a big jump, and last year was a big learning year for me,” said Serna, who trained with Everton during the offseason. “This year, hopefully I can come in and compete for a spot.”
Chris Bianchi covers the Colorado Rapids for MLSsoccer.com.