HOUSTON – In just his sixth start of the season, Houston Dynamo striker Mauro Manotas notched a hat trick in an impressive 3-1 win Saturday over the defending MLS Cup champions Portland Timbers. The 21-year-old Colombian now has four goals in the last four games – all starts – and from the looks of it, has the makings of being something special.
That was the thought behind Houston signing Manotas as a Special Discovery signing in 2015 and then changing his status earlier this year to Young Designated Player. In a season that hasn’t gone as expected for the Dynamo, Manotas’ development has been a major positive.
Here are 10 things about the Dynamo’s young striker you may not know.
Houston wasn’t his only choice
Before signing with the Dynamo, Manotas had his choices of three other MLS teams as well as interest from teams in Europe. So what compelled him to sign with Houston?
“I had the opportunity to meet Matt [Jordan, the Dynamo's General Manager/Vice President],” Manotas said. “He went personally to Colombia to talk with me. He told me about the team’s intentions with me, the project, the future, the accommodations, the stadium and the city. I really liked that the vice president came to talk to me. It showed how interested he was in having me.”
Before making his decision, Manotas said he sought the opinion of his parents, who advised him that MLS was the right choice for him.
For all but two weeks of his stay in Houston, Manotas has lived with a host family. His hosts, a Mexican-American family, have two kids, and Mauro could be considered the older brother.
“When I arrived to Houston last year, I lived by myself for two weeks but I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t live alone,” he said. “I reached out to Matt [Jordan] to have him find me a host family. And thank God he found them. I have a lot of love for them.”
Living with the host family reminds Manotas of being at home with his own family, he said.
“I still live with them and I couldn’t be happier, and them with me. Honestly, they feel real comfortable with me, I don’t mess up their lives, either!”
As much as he enjoys living with his host family, though, Manotas knows it won’t be permanent.
“The idea is to ultimately be independent and to live with my own family and girlfriend in the future.”
A soft-spoken striker
The first words out of Manotas' mouth to the media after his hat trick were about the team’s performance and the win. That is just who he is – a humble man who cares more about the team winning than his own personal agenda.
“My humility comes from my dad and mom,” he said. “They’re people, that, when they were younger, they had a lot of needs growing up, so I have them as an example. My family is very humble, always thinking about others first. My dad always tells me that the team is first, second, third and fourth, and if there’s a fifth, then that’s for me.”
Observations on MLS
Manotas has only gotten extensive league minutes in the last few weeks under interim coach Wade Barrett. But he’s seen enough of the league to say his biggest surprise in joining MLS has been the quality of play. More than that, though, Manotas says he’s astonished at the atmosphere and stadiums.
“In Colombia we always play to packed stadiums – packed with empty chairs,” he said. “People don’t go to support as much, but here there’s always packed stadiums. I’m surprised every time I take the field at all the support groups always cheering on.”
Perhaps recalling his first year in the league, Manotas added that he wished MLS would give younger players a chance. He said it appears that players have to be in their mid-20s to see action on the field.
“There’s no 18- or 19 year-olds playing or getting an opportunity to start, that’s something that I don’t like much.”
Note to my younger self
What would Manotas tell his 19-year-old self as he joins the Dynamo?
“So many things. To give a little bit more effort, to want it a little bit more, to fight for my place on the field a little more,” he said. “I was missing that little extra stuff last year. To be better physically and stronger mentally.”
Bald is beautiful
Manotas has been sporting a bald head since September, but the mop chop was for a good cause. The Dynamo Charities host an annual ‘Bald is Beautiful’ campaign to raise funds in support of MLS’s Kicking Childhood Cancer campaign. Manotas was one of a handful of players to have his head shaved by local children battling cancer.
“It was an opportunity and something that I wanted to do for a long time,” he said.
A Brazilian and a Colombian
The Dynamo are loaded with Latino players from Honduras, Brazil, Colombia and Costa Rica, which made it easy for Manotas to acclimate to the team. Among all the players, however, Manotas says Brazilian Alex Lima and fellow Colombian Yair Arboleda are his closest friends.
“With Lima I have a longstanding friendship with him since we shared a room on road trips,” he said, “but you know with Colombians it’s always easier to understand one another.”
Houston heat, southern hospitality and water parks
The Bayou City's climate poses challenges for many newcomers, but not Manotas.
“The heat is incredible, but it’s the same heat that we deal with in Barranquilla [Colombia], so I feel right at home,” he said. “The people here are lovely, very friendly. The fans have a lot of love for us. [Houston] is a fun place. I had the opportunity to go to a water park with my family and I loved it. Before I leave Houston, I’ll be going back no doubt.”
Going green and Colombian food
Manotas said he will give any food a try, and that in Houston he learned the importance of eating right to fuel his body.
“I didn’t like broccoli, but here [Houston] I learned how important it is,” he said. “It gives you energy and that’s vital for a soccer player. But honestly, there’s nothing like the food my mom makes.”
The best is yet to come
Though they are statistically still alive in the playoff race, the Dynamo’s season is effectively five games from being over. Manotas already has plans to start next year the same way he’s finishing the current one.
“The intention is to stay here an extra month [after the season] and keep working to not lose the rhythm,” he said. “I’ll visit Colombia and for a couple of weeks just to enjoy it before returning and getting back to the routine, so I can start next season on the right foot.”