GUADALAJARA, Mexico – A week ago, it was young Diego Restrepo being called into duty for one of the biggest tests in the long, illustrious history of América de Cali, the most successful club in Colombian soccer. Now, it's another American's turn to be called into emergency service: 20-year-old Kevin Piedrahita.
América de Cali's third-string goalkeeper will start in net for the first leg of his club's critical relegation playoff, which kicks off Sunday against Boyacá Patriotas.
Thanks to a six-month drug suspension to starter Julián Viáfara and a red-card suspension to Restrepo, Piedrahita will be entrusted with preventing his team – 13-time winners of the Colombian league and four-time Copa Libertadores runners-up – from being relegated for the first time in its 97-year history.
“I'm practically the only goalkeeper in América at this moment," Piedrahita told MLSsoccer.com on Friday, "therefore, the great responsibility falls on my shoulders on Sunday."
The 20-year-old made his debut in Colombian league play on Thursday when University of Virginia alum Restrepo was sent off in the 70th minute vs. Once Caldas. Piedrahita, who was born in New York City, raised in Miami and moved back to Colombia when he was eight, said he thrived on the adrenaline the atmosphere gave him.
“When I came on, you realize where you are playing, the institution you are representing,” explained Piedrahita. “It was the opportunity in my life that I've always dreamed about.”
With the score 0-0, the US U-20 was helpless to stop two Once Caldas goals in the last 10 minutes, but he is confident he can step up in the club’s vital playoff game on Sunday.
“It's something I've been preparing for for 11 or 12 years," he said, "through sun, rain, early mornings and everything.”
Restrepo, who Piedrahita said is naturally disappointed after his red card, will be back for the second leg the following weekend. But a report on The USA 10 Kit blog suggests the 23-year-old ‘keeper is considering his future options and could be on his way out of América de Cali.
Tom Marshall covers Americans playing in Latin America. He can be reached via email@example.com.