Cristian penilla - closeup - kicking cornerflag

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Cristian Penilla was a relatively unknown quantity upon signing with the New England Revolution in January.


It appears those days are gone.


The Ecuadorian winger has one goal and three assists in his first four Major League Soccer matches, including a Man of the Match performance in last Saturday’s 2-0 win at the Houston Dynamo.


Here are 10 things you may not know about Penilla:


1. Longtime Friedel transfer target


Before being hired as the Revs’ seventh-ever head coach, Brad Friedel and his staff put down a list of potential signings.


High up there? None other than Penilla. In fact, before Friedel went through the entire interview process with general manager Michael Burns, he highlighted the Ecuadorian as a transfer target.


“Once we see the player and know the player on the field, we go do our homework off the field with what type of person he is,” Friedel told MLSsoccer.com. “It’s not a short process, it’s not a quick process.”


2. Ecuadorian connection

Brad, Brazil and Bad Bunny: 10 things to know about Revs' Cristian Penilla - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Plata%20Gruezo.jpg

Ecuadorians like Real Salt Lake's Joao Plata, left, and FC Dallas' Carlos Gruezo both helped Penilla get a sense of MLS before he signed with the Revs | USA Today Images


MLS has benefited from an influx of young South American players in recent years, including two of Penilla’s compatriots.


He’s particularly close with Real Salt Lake winger Joao Plata, who tallied alongside Penilla for La Tricolor in a 5-1 friendly win over El Salvador in 2014.


“We were in the national team and text each other all the time,” Penilla said through a translator. “We’re friends.”


There’s also FC Dallas midfielder Carlos Gruezo, who Penilla played alongside at Ecuadorian side Barcelona SC, a club in their home country which has made two Copa Libertadores finals. Before coming to MLS, Penilla asked Gruezo about the the league.


“He explained to me how things were here and how he’s very happy to be here,” Penilla said. “We talk here and there.”


3. On Equal Footing


The Revs are the seventh club Penilla has played for in his nine-year career, including Liga MX sides Pachuca and Monarcas Morelia. Penilla in fact is on loan from Pachuca with an option to buy for the 2019 season.


The winger thinks there’s little difference between Mexico’s top flight and MLS.


“I think the leagues are similar,” Penilla said. “Everywhere, if you don’t run and prove it, you’re not worth it. As a player, you have to have that presence.”


4. Music Man



Penilla insists he's a relatively simple man.


He makes clear that soccer is a massive part of his life. Then there's music, particularly salsa and reggaeton. He names Puerto Rican artist Bad Bunny, who mixes Latin music with reggae, as his favorite singer.


“I listen to music and watch soccer, those are my passions,” Penilla said.


5. On His Own


Save for a close friend, Penilla has largely been living on his own since arriving stateside.


He hopes to have his girlfriend and children join him soon, as he works through the visa process for them.


6. Close Bonds

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Brad, Brazil and Bad Bunny: 10 things to know about Revs' Cristian Penilla - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/Penilla%20mobbed.jpg?

Penilla gets mobbed after scoring in Houston. He is quickly fitting in with the Revs and especially his Spanish speaking teammates. | USA Today Images


Penilla is slowly picking up English, but he largely hasn’t needed to on a Revs’ squad littered with South American roots.


New signing Luis Caicedo is from Colombia, midfielder Diego Fagundez was born in Uruguay, striker Juan Agudelo could have played for his native Colombia and fourth-round pick Nico Samayoa has Guatemalan heritage.


That makes for training sessions with plenty of Spanish speakers..


“It’s helped a lot,” Penilla said. “Everyone has helped me in the best way they can.”


7. Longtime Idol


As Penilla’s own career has progressed, he’s kept a watchful eye on fellow Ecuadorian Antonio Valencia.


The owner of nearly 100 caps for La Tricolor, Valencia is now in his 10th year with Premier League giant Manchester United, playing as a right back and occasional captain for Jose Mourinho’s team.


While Penilla hasn’t played with Valencia, he hopes to one day get that opportunity.


“I admire Antonio Valencia, his capacity, his play, his potential,” Penilla said. “Since he went to England, he’s made his career there and is an excellent player.”


8. Brazilian Connection


November 17, 2017

Less than a year after tragedy struck Brazilian club Chapecoense, Penilla was loaned there from Pachuca.


During his time at Chapecoense, Penilla said it was hard not to still feel the effects of the November 2016 plane crash which killed 71 of 77 people on board, including many members of the club.


On the field, Penilla said his spell at Chapecoense never quite worked out – he appeared in just 14 matches – because of a coaching change, but he’s thankful for the opportunity.


“I think the people, after the tragedy, united even more than before,” Penilla said. “It was something so tragic that I don’t even want to get too into the subject.”


9. Big Dreams


Penilla is only four games into his MLS career, but he hopes these nascent days are just the beginning.


He’s seen countrymen Gruezo and Plata elevate their careers with Dallas and RSL respectively, and he hopes to do the same in New England.


“My idea is to stay here for a long time,” Penilla said. “I thank God for the moment I’m going through and have to take advantage of it.”


Above all, though, Penilla dreams of his time with the Revs translating into another call-up to the Ecuador national team. His last appearance came in October 2014.


10. Just The Beginning


Around the Revs’ locker room, Penilla’s teammates have made no secret that they think his best days still lay ahead. It’s a sentiment that Teal Bunbury, Scott Caldwell and Matt Turner, to name a few, have all expressed in recent weeks.


Friedel is also a believer.


“Cristian’s an outstanding talent and we knew that when we signed him,” Friedel said. “It’s up to him to stay firmly focused on the task at hand every week and to keep out and enjoy his soccer.”

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