The winding road Dani Pereira has traveled to this point is marked with moments, snapshots interspersing the journey like mental milestones.

The first professional goal he scored, a flying volley in Austin FC’s win at Houston on April 30, 2022. The highlights, increasingly hazy with the passage of time, of his childhood days in the academy at Deportivo la Guaira. The thrill of earning an invite to two Venezuelan youth national team camps at age 14, only for the technical staff to deliver some painful news.

“Back then, that coach told me I was too little to play in the South American tournament,” Pereira recalled to, the sting helping commit it to memory, and convert it into fuel. “It was a tough one, but – I don't know, I never give up. I always say I'm a very patient guy, and things always fall in the right place.”

Then there was his family’s exodus from their homeland a year later, the stress and dislocation of leaving behind loved ones and the life he knew in Caracas, bound to seek asylum in an unfamiliar place to the north – little Roanoke, Virginia – when his parents decided Venezuela’s chronic political and economic upheaval was simply too much to bear.

Overcoming the odds to earn a soccer scholarship at Virginia Tech provided another signpost, as did earning Atlantic Coast Conference Midfielder of the Year and All-ACC First Team honors at a program rarely ranked among the traditional NCAA elite.

So did that January afternoon in 2021 when Austin FC surprised many by making him the MLS SuperDraft’s first overall pick, an honor celebrated with smiles under face masks as the COVID-19 pandemic persisted.

“Getting drafted was huge. I never really thought I'd go pro,” said Pereira. “But Virginia Tech gave me the tools for it.”

Dani Pereira - Austin FC

Copa América awaits

Despite doubts in some quarters about the pick, Pereira blossomed in MLS, evolving from a playmaker to an all-round central midfielder, capable in two-way, deep-lying and attacking roles alike. Neither he nor his family will soon forget the morning a year ago when they got word that Fernando Batista, manager of the Venezuelan national team, had taken note, naming him to his roster for two Stateside friendlies.

His older brother Alexei burst into his room to deliver the news with a hug, Dani still in bed. Their father, Hector, posted on the family group chat a selfie of the tears streaming down his face, explaining how he’d had to excuse himself from his workplace as the emotions flooded in.

“My dad, apparently he left work because he was crying. He didn't want anyone watching him,” said Dani.

Pereira and his loved ones will experience another such memorable milestone this summer, perhaps as early as Saturday at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, California, where Venezuela meet Ecuador in their Copa América opener.

After a long process to become fully cleared, the 23-year-old has earned a place on Batista’s squad for the tournament, along with Philadelphia’s José “El Brujo” Martínez and a host of MLS alums like Jhonder Cádiz, Cristian Cásseres Jr., Yangel Herrera, Jefferson Savarino, Yeferson Soteldo, Christian Makoun and Miguel Navarro.

Should La Vinotinto turn to him, which appears highly likely, it will mark Pereira’s first-ever competitive appearance for his country, who’ve long been Conmebol stragglers – the only member of the confederation which has never qualified for a World Cup – but can now dream bigger amid an ongoing soccer renaissance. Notably, Venezuela are off to a 2W-1L-3D start in 2026 qualifying, good for fourth place in a format where the top six book their places automatically.

“It'll be a great experience, but also, we got to make sure we win the games,” said Pereira. “I'm not trying to go there and just be like a fanboy like, ‘Oh, I'm here.’ I'm trying to go there and do something good, and do good in the tournament. If it's starting, it's coming in from the bench, if it's just supporting from the side, just trying to bring something positive to the team. We’ve been doing good lately in the [World Cup] qualifiers too. So just give get my little bit of help.”

Dani Pereira - Austin FC - 6

Life-changing trip

What made all this possible was another life moment – one somehow both visceral and surreal – last month, when he finally returned to Venezuela for the first time since his family’s departure nearly a decade ago. It brought everything full circle, old faces and childhood recollections crashing into his adult present like the passenger jet had become some kind of time machine as it descended into Caracas.

“Yeah, it was weird,” said Dani. “Everything was the same, all the streets. It was weird” – but undoubtedly, indescribably beautiful.

Aunts, uncles, cousins, distant relatives, friends from adolescence – he found himself awash in affection and attention, a kaleidoscope of people eager to welcome him, to catch up, to congratulate him on his successes, or simply to feed him a home-cooked meal.

“Everybody,” he recalled. “They all wanted to be with me. You know, it was a little bit chaotic. Just my whole family wanted to be with me. I was like, ‘I can't be with everyone at the same time.’ ... I spent more time with some people, less time with some other people. So it was chaotic, but it was worth it.”

Everywhere he turned, there was local cuisine, most familiar from that distant past: arepas, empanadas, cachapas, the true definition of comfort food. So much of it that he had to think twice, to remind himself that overindulgence could swamp his usual nutrition regimen.

“My grandma went crazy [in the kitchen],” Pereira said with a smile. “I ate a lot in the streets, too.”

The sheer, vivid intensity of every waking moment made for a powerfully emotional experience.

“The sad thing is having left. The nice thing is to have returned and to be able to relive all those moments, places, people, memories,” Pereira wrote in Spanish in an Instagram post.

“I love all of you who were part of this beautiful week, you didn't take my smile away even for a second.”

Dani Pereira - AUstin FC - 4

Passport in hand

There was a very real, crucial logistical task at the heart of this trip. Like many thousands of other asylum applicants waiting for their case to be taken up by US officials, the Pereira family have been in immigration limbo for years. It’s a state of chronic uncertainty involving complicated processes and documentation, particularly when it comes to leaving the country, which requires special permission.

Over his first three MLS seasons, that complicated Dani’s ability to travel to away matches against Canadian teams and limited him to international call-ups for Venezuela matches on US soil. As he rose in the Vinotinto reckoning, it made it functionally impossible for him to be available for the national team’s biggest occasions: those vital World Cup qualifiers.

That finally changed when his US sporting visa came through near the end of last year. This enabled him to make the trip back to Venezuela, hosted by the national team staff, to obtain a new passport, and in the process, come full circle after a decade of detachment from his roots.

He and his family are “very relieved that I can do whatever I want and now go wherever I want,” said Pereira, “and yeah, it just opens a lot of doors for the future.”

Upon returning to ATX, he felt as if a weight had been lifted, and his performances reflected as much. Pereira produced probably his best game of 2024 in the wake of his homecoming, notching two assists in a man-of-the-match outing in a 3-2 win over Sporting Kansas City, and continues to be one of Josh Wolff’s more reliable contributors on a short-staffed Austin squad.

“I would say the passport – getting that stuff done,” said Pereira when asked what inspired his uptick in form. “I haven't been to Venezuela since I left, so it was nine years and just being able to go back and visit family and get my stuff sorted out, that gave me an emotional boost. And I got back here happy, ready to go. Wherever I am, I'm going to give my 100%, and that boost gave me another 100%.

“And also the form of the team; it's not just me, it's just everyone. We might be short on players, but everybody’s just competing week in, week out. We’re all just focused and we don't listen to any noise outside – we listen to fans, but we try not to listen too much to them. Or to MLS writers,” he added in a deadpan callback to Wolff’s memorably laminated use of’s predictions as a motivational device in 2022. “They say we're going to be last again this year. That's pretty good. So I’ll give a lot of credit to all that.”

Austin FC - Dani Pereira - cropped in

Dreaming big

In a life that’s already unfolded like something from a Hollywood script, taking part in Copa América draws Pereira closer to another dream: Earning a transfer to one of Europe’s top leagues to test himself against the world’s best. Distinguished performances this summer can only raise his profile in that regard.

While Austin would probably be happy to keep hold of such a versatile engine-room presence for the longer term – and LAFC reportedly came close to swinging a big trade for Pereira last winter – ATX’s Spanish sporting director Rodolfo Borrell is experienced and well-connected when it comes to the Old Continent. An outbound sale could prove both financially and reputationally beneficial for the Verde.

“He came to us as an attacking midfielder from college that had some potential and certainly unique qualities, and I think we've enhanced those along the way, and he's worked extremely hard,” Wolff said of Pereira earlier this month. “As an organization, as a high-performance staff, we try to elevate our players as much as we can. He's still learning, he's still growing; his maturity is something that I always talk about, and his quality is clear. You can see it.

“His flexibility on the field for us this year has grown a little bit, and his final third product is something that, again, I think can continue to grow. But you see an elusive player, a very ball-secure player, a dynamic player, and at the international level those things will always be necessary.”

Wherever his next step takes him, Pereira is already the type of success story that can underline MLS’s growing reputation as an incubator of talent.

“I was inexperienced and small and just didn't know what the league was like. But I'm also calm with the ball, I've always had that, and being a 6, I just had to learn how to defend first,” Pereira reflected. “With the years going along, I get more experience, I get more situations that I live every game – just about making the right decision, and with that, that just brings you experience and I think that's what I've gotten – just experience, games.

“Now I just feel very comfortable. A lot of the guys listen to me, I'm starting to have a little bit more voice. It’s just great development that I've had here. It comes from Josh, it comes from the staff and all the teammates I’ve had.”

Added Wolff: “He's a young player in some regards, but he's 100 games in, and I think his desire to play abroad is something he always talks about. I want nothing but the best for him at this point. If it's to leave, it’s to leave. But while he's here with us, our job is to continue to help him evolve and develop his game.”

Dani Pereira - Austin FC - 3

Making a home

Pereira is growing up off the pitch, too. His mother, father and brother relocated from Roanoke to join him in central Texas, and the quartet live together in a comfortable suburban home in Pflugerville. Providing a home for his family after all they’ve done for him is a source of pride, and all four of them profoundly cherish their version of the American dream.

“Yeah, my mom mentioned that when I got drafted, and I've been living it, too,” said Pereira. “I’ve always been grateful for it and always will be. I’ve just got to keep doing good.”

Those blessings are only multiplied by his long-awaited freedom to come and go from his homeland, to reconnect with his roots in Caracas.

“I’m going back,” he said. “Any free time I get, I’m going back.”